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French Culture

The French School System Explained

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on August 29, 2018

This is always a problem for my students. Understanding the French school system, l’√©cole fran√ßaise, knowing which grades are which is a real nightmare. So here is a post that should make things easier. I wrote the equivalent grades in the US/UK school system, and the age of the students for reference.

Navigating the French school system and the equivalent US/UK grades can be tricky. Here’s a list of each grade as well as related French school vocabulary and French school supply vocabulary.

1 – “L’√Čcole Maternelle” =¬†Preschool in France (Not Compulsory)

  1. La petite section de maternelle ou PS (3 ans) = Nursery.
  2. La moyenne section de maternelle ou MS (4 ans) = Pre-K (Reception UK)
  3. La grande section de maternelle ou GS (5 ans) = Kindergarden (Year 1 UK)

Read my thoughts about switching from an American to a French preschool system.

2 – “L’√Čcole Primaire” = French Elementary School¬†(Compulsory)

  1. Cours préparatoire ou CP (6 ans) = 1st Grade (Year 2 UK).
  2. Cours élémentaire 1re année ou CE1 (7 ans) = 2nd grade (Year 3 UK).
  3. Cours élémentaire 2e année ou CE2 (8 ans) = 3rd grade (Year 4 UK).
  4. Cours moyen 1re année ou CM1 (9 ans) = 4th grade(Year 5 UK).
  5. Cours moyen 2e année ou CM2 (10 ans) = 5th grade (Year 6 UK).

Les écoliers = elementary school children

The teachers are called traditionally “le ma√ģtre” and “la ma√ģtresse” (be very careful with this word since it means “elementary school teacher” AND “a woman lover”… go figure…) and there is a main teacher that teaches several “mati√®res” such as le fran√ßais, les math√©matiques, la g√©ographie, l’histoire, les sciences‚Ķ

Click here to watch a video of Leyla telling us a poem about going back to school


3 – Schoolchildren Age in France

The age indicated in this article is the minimum age you are supposed to be when entering that grade.

Of course, it’s a bit flexible: Leyla is from November, so we had a choice: she could have been one of the youngest or one of the oldest in her class. With the agreement of the school director, she joined CP at 5, turning 6 in November and therefore finishing that grade age 6.

It could be the contrary as well: kids entering CP at 6, turning 7 that year: it’s the majority of the cases.

And some kids also repeat years.

Of course, there are always unique cases.

4 – “L’Enseignement Secondaire”Compulsory Until Minimum 16 Years Old

There are several “professeurs” (un professeur, always masculine even when referring to a woman teacher. Camille est un bon professeur, but in slang, you can say “un/mon prof” or “une/ma prof”)

5 РLe Collège = French Middle School, From 11 to 16 Years Old (Compulsory)

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Un collégien, une collégienne

  1. La sixième (11 ans) = 6th grade (Year 7 UK).
  2. La cinquième (12 ans) = 7th grade (Year 8 UK).
  3. La quatrième (13 ans) = 8th grade (Year 9 UK).
  4. La troisième  (14 ans) = 9th grade (Year 10 UK).

The coll√®ge ends with a test called “le brevet“.


6 РLe Lycée РHigh School in France, 16 to 18 Years Old

Le lyc√©e can be in general studies, with some specialty as in languages or sciences, leading to the diploma of Baccalaur√©at g√©n√©ral (commonly called “le bac” – do say the “c”), or prepare you for a special trade (hairdresser, a cook, mechanic…) leading to CAP or BEP diplomas – you can stop at 16 years old – or to a Baccalaur√©at technologique.

Studies in France are compulsory until you reach 16 years old, but they can be in school or in some kind of study/apprentice program.

  1. La seconde (15 ans) = 10th grade (Year 11 UK).
  2. La première (16 ans) = 11th grade (Year 12 UK).
  3. La terminale (17 ans) = 12th grade (Year 13 UK).

7 – “L’Enseignement Sup√©rieur” – Higher Studies in France

They then go for “des √©tudes sup√©rieures” (higher studies) √† la fac, √† l’universit√© (watch out this is college…) or in les Grandes √Čcoles (the French Ivy League: SciencePo, HEC, more… ). You need to have le baccalaur√©at to get into these schools, and Les Grandes √Čcoles often require that you have “une mention” (honors of the jury) to get in, or that you pass a special test.

8 – “Le Homeschooling” in France

“Le homeschooling” (yes, we use the English word) is not illegal in France, but extremely rare. Most children that are home-schooled are so because their parents are traveling, or because the kids have a medical condition. Homeschooling parents have to register with the school authorities and potentially face yearly inspections/evaluations to make sure the children keep up with French educational standards.


– Here we are!
– Not already?!

9 – French Vocabulary About School

  1. La maternelle = preschool
  2. L’√©cole primaire = elementary school
  3. Le collège = middle school
  4. Le lycée = high school
  5. L’universit√©, la facult√© (la fac) = college
  6. Un écolier, une écolière = elementary school child
  7. Le ma√ģtre, la ma√ģtresse = elementary school teacher
  8. Un collégien, une collégienne = middle school child
  9. Un professeur = teacher – always masculine
  10. Un prof, une prof = teacher, common slang
  11. Un lycéen, une lycéenne = high school child
  12. un étudiant, une étudiante = a student
  13. Les vacances – always plural in French – vacation
  14. La rentrée (des classes/ scolaire) Р1st day back to school
  15. Faire ses devoirs – to do one’s homework
  16. Suivre un cours de fran√ßais/ une classe de fran√ßais – to take a French class – watch out, you can’t say “un cours fran√ßais/ une classe fran√ßaise”, it’s a class OF French (language) in French, the class itself is not French – more in this blog article.
  17. l’APEL – association des parents d’√©l√®ves (parent association)
  18. Le directeur, la directrice – principal
  19. La cantine Рthe cantine / cafeteria
  20. La récréation (la récré) Рrecess
  21. L’√©tude – study hall
  22. Une colle – detention
  23. Se faire coller – to be sent to detention
  24. Les notes – grades

10 – French School Supplies

  1. Les fournitures scolaires (f) – school supplies
  2. Un classeur – a binder
  3. Un cahier – a notebook
  4. Un livre – a textbook
  5. Un agenda – an agenda
  6. Une feuille de papier – a piece of paper
  7. Une copie double – I don’t know how to say that in English… it’s 2 pieces of paper together, so 4 sides total – we use them for exams
  8. Une trousse – a pencil case
  9. Un crayon (à papier / de couleur) Рpencil / color pencil
  10. Un feutre – marker
  11. Un stylo, un bic (say the c) – a ball-point pen
  12. Un stylo plume – an fountain pen (ink) – yes, French kids still use these!
  13. Un effaceur – ink eraser + marker
  14. Une gomme – an eraser
  15. Une calculatrice – a calculator
  16. Une règle Рa ruler
  17. Un tableau – black/white board
  18. Une craie – a chalk
  19. Un sac à dos Рbackpack
  20. Un bureau – desk (un pupitre is quite old-fashioned)

Voil√†, I hope you’ll find this article useful.

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