Here are a few facts about the French school system. The French educational philosophy emphasizes the authority of the teacher; individual competition; stress on analytical thought as opposed to creativity; and generally high academic expectations. The French educational system is divided into three stages: primary education (Primary school classes CP to CM2), secondary education (Junior High and High School classes 6eme to Terminale) and higher education ("Grandes ecoles" and public universities). In higher education, the following degrees are recognized by the EU: Licence/Licence professionnelle, Master and Doctorat. All educational programs in France are regulated by the Ministry of National Education, which is the nation's largest employer. Every educator from the earliest levels of schooling to professors and researchers are employed by the MNE.
French schools are divided into four levels: Maternelle (kindergarten) 3 to 6 years old, École élémentaire (Primary school) 6 to 11 years old, Collège (Junior High) 11 to 15 years old, and Lycée (High school) 15 to 18 years old. Their grades count downward (1st year of primary school is the 11th grade, last year of high school is called Terminale meaning last grade). No uniform is required at any stage of schooling.
Schooling in France is mandatory as of age 6, the first year of primary school. However, many parents start sending their children earlier around age 3 as nursery classes (maternelle) are usually affiliated to a borough's primary school. Some even start earlier at age 2 in pré-maternelle or très petite section classes, which are essentially daycare centers. The last year of maternelle, children are introduced to reading (about 5-6 years old).
After nursery, the young students move on to primary school. The primary school curriculum in France is similar to that in other countries, and includes literacy and numeracy, classes in French, arithmetic, but also geography and history, the arts, and more and more frequently a foreign language, usually English. It is in the first year (cours préparatoire) that they will learn to write and develop their reading skills. French primary school students usually have a single teacher (or perhaps two) who teaches the complete curriculum, such as French, mathematics, science and humanities among other subjects. Note that the French word for a teacher at the primary school level is maître or its feminine form maîtresse.
After primary school, collège is designed to provide all students with a fundamental secondary education, after which a certain degree of specialisation will be introduced. The program in collège includes French, maths, history, geography, technical education, art/music, physical education, civic education, some science, and at least one foreign language. The Brevet is a big exam given at the end of the last year in collège (Junior high), the first official diploma a student can obtain. It is however not required in order to enter the lycée (High school).
Classes in a traditional lycée cover the same range as in collège, with the addition of philosophy (for all) in the final year. The baccalauréat (also known as bac) is the end-of-lycée diploma students take in order to enter university, a classe préparatoire, or professional life. It is generally taken at age 18 if the student has not repeated a class during secondary school. The term baccalauréat refers to the diploma and the examinations themselves.
There are roughly 158 school days per year, less than in many anglophone countries, but the school days are longer. The french school system calls for 26 hours of class per week; students preparing the baccalauréat may have as many as 40 hours per week. The traditional schedule consists of Monday through Friday with no classes on Wednesdays and a half-day on Saturdays, but this schedule is one of the ongoing educational debates where many want to eliminate Saturday classes. The typical school day starts at 8.30am and ends at 4.30pm, with a 90mn lunch break. Children can go home for lunch or stay at school for a fee-based lunch service, la cantine. The school vacations for primary and secondary schools is usually as follows (with some regional variations): 2 weeks in February, 2 weeks at Easter, 12 weeks from 15 June to 15 September, 1 week around November, 2 weeks at Christmas. Report cards are distributed three times a year, once per trimester.
Higher education (After high school)
Since higher education is funded by the state, the fees are very low; the tuition varies from €150 to €700 ($200 to $920) depending on the university and the different levels of education (licence, master, doctorate). One can therefore get a Master's degree (in 5 years) for about €750-3,500 ($985 to $4585). Additionally, students from low-income families can apply for scholarships, paying nominal sums for tuition or textbooks, and can receive a monthly stipend of up to €450 ($590) per month. A few private schools may charge more.
The French system has recently undergone a reform, the Bologna process which aims at creating European standards for university studies, most notably a similar time-frame everywhere, with three years devoted to the Bachelor's degree ("licence" in French), two for the Master's, and three for the doctorate. France also hosts various branch colleges of foreign universities. These include Baruch College, the University of London Institute in Paris, Parsons School of Art and Design and The American University of Paris. I hope this enlightened you on French education!