How to enrol your kids in school in France

by Audrey Sivadier
April 1, 2021

In France, whether your children are French or not, whether they speak French or not, they must attend school from the age of 3 to 16. But what happens before the age of 3? And for school, who should I talk to? Here is a step-by-step guide to settling your children in to France.

Enrolling your children to school in France

Before school – childcare arrangements in France

Do you have young children? Do you work and need to have them looked after? If you’re lucky, some large companies offer ” crèche d’entreprises ” places. These are usually located close to your work and are willing to adapt to your work schedule.

For others, you’ll need to be patient… Daycare places are in great demand. Sometimes it is necessary to plan a year in advance. As soon as they are pregnant, some parents reserve a crèche place for their future baby. This is particularly the case in Paris.

Legally, you can have your child looked after from 2 and a half months (after the end of maternity leave).

How does the French school system work?

There are several types of childcare in France:

  • The crèche: they can be public (in this case you should contact the town hall of your city) or private (in this case, contact them directly). It is a collective childcare scheme, there can be 15, 20, 30 children per crèche, depending on the size of the structure.
  • “La halte-garderie” (Drop-in daycare): this type of daycare offers the possibility of occasional childcare. The cost varies according to the parents’ income.
  • Employing a childminder (assistante maternelle): your employee will look after your child with 2 or 3 other children at home. The advantage is that their hours are often more flexible than those of a crèche.
  • Home childcare: on the other hand, some companies specialising in childcare offer childcare assistants who come to your home to look after your child.
  • The MAM: Maison des Assistantes maternelles (“Nursery assistants’ house”). This is a place where childminders receive children, often in small groups, as a childminder is only allowed to look after a maximum of 3 children. So if there are 4 childcare assistants, there can be a maximum of 12 children at the MAM.

Making a choice is quite complicated because unlike the United Kingdom, France does not have a rating system like OFSTED. You have to meet the people and see how you feel about them and the way they work. In any case, the person looking after your child must have an “agrément” issued by the department where he or she works.

Financial aid, managed by the CAF, is possible, depending on your income, in particular the childcare supplement (CMG).

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The different schools in France

L’école – from 3 to 11 years old

Enrolment in the French school system is compulsory from the age of 3. Whether it is in “maternelle” or “élémentaire”, you will find all the information and papers you need to fill in at the town hall of the place where you live.

If there are several schools in your town, the town hall will tell you which school corresponds to your area. This is called the ” carte scolaire ” (school map). If you want to enrol your child in a school other than the one in your area, you will need to get an exemption from the mayor. 

French public schools are completely free of charge.

Le Collège – from 12 to 15 years old

Your child is usually assigned to the public school in your area. However, you can apply for admission to another public college. To do this, you must obtain a permission (« dérogation ») from the Dasen (Directeur académique des services de l’éducation nationale (Academic Director of the National Education Services). Yes, the French love abbreviations.

Le Lycée – from 15 to 18 years old

For the lycée, it is the same principle as for the collège, your child is generally assigned to the lycée closest to your home. However, if your child is interested in certain subjects or options, he or she can be enrolled into another lycée.

Whether it is for school, collège or lycée, financial aid is available, check with the Caf.fr for information on whether or not you qualify.

Écoles privées

Private schools in France are fee-paying, but less expensive than independent schools in the UK, for example.

If you want to enrol your child in a private school, collège or lycée, you should apply directly to the head of the school: ” directeur ” at the school, ” principal ” at the collège and ” proviseur ” at the lycée.

Now you know all about French schools for children. What about you? Have you booked your next course with Lingoda? Start perfecting your French skills today!