In France, education is compulsory for all children from 3 to 16 years old since September 1st, 2019 (instead of 6 to 16 years old, before).
Parents must therefore guarantee their child’s education whether by public or private school, or provide home schooling or education by correspon. If the family wants the child to go to school, he will be enrolled in preschool or elementary school depending on his age. If the family chooses home schooling, it must be declared to the mayor of its town of residence and to the academic director of the national education services.
You will find below the enrolment procedures for the public schools of the first degree (preschool and primary school) and the second degree (high school – collège and lycée), depending on the age of your child(ren).
If you have any questions about the French education system, consult the EDUSCOL website of the Ministry of National Education. You will also find bilingual welcome booklets (about ten foreign languages available) explaining the organization of education and the specific support implemented for learning French as a “language of schooling”.
For the dates of the start of the school year and school holidays, consult the official school calendar
Education in public school
Children’s preschool education (3 to 6 years)
Public preschool is free and open to all, but is not mandatory. Education is compulsory for all children from 3 to 16 years old since September 1st, 2019 (instead of 6 to 16 years old, before).
Parents living in France can enrol their child, regardless of nationality, in a public or private school.
Enrolment usually begins in March and is completed by June, but can be requested throughout the year. Late enrolments will be based on the availability of schools in the residential area. Please check with your local town hall (mairie).
Children are usually admitted from the age of 3 years. The child’s age for admission is determined according to his/her age at the start of the school year, at the beginning of September. The child must also be “clean” (not wear nappies during the day).
Children who turn three at the beginning of the next calendar year or those who are very mature for their age may be enrolled occasionally, especially for half-days. In fact, children in the first preschool grade still take naps in the afternoons. Most of the teaching and activities are performed in the morning.
Preschool is organised into three levels:
- the Small section (Petite Section), from 3 to 4 years;
- the Medium section (Moyenne Section), from 4 to 5 years;
- the Big section (Grande Section), from 5 to 6 years.
To enrol your child, first go to the Town Hall of your place of residence. At the reception of your Town Hall you will be provided with information on where to find the Office of Schools (Bureau des écoles) where you can apply for enrolment and submit the required documents. One of the parents must be present but it is not necessary for the child to be present.
The Office of Schools will immediately provide you with an enrolment certificate (certificat d’inscription) and inform you of the address of the school where the parents and the child must meet with the headteacher (directeur/directrice). The child’s enrolment is recorded by the headteacher upon presentation of the family record book, the health record book and the enrolment certificate.
If the child does not change schools, the enrolment does not need to be renewed every year.
Children’s primary education ( 6 to 11 years)
In France, education is compulsory for all children from 3 to 16 years old.
Parents must therefore guarantee their child’s education whether by public or private school, or provide home schooling or education by correspondence.
The simplest way is often to enrol the child in the French public school system where he/she will quickly learn French, as the case may be.
Instruction being mandatory, the State must take all steps necessary to allow your child to be admitted into a school at any time of the year, but it is nevertheless preferable to enrol or re-enrol your child in March for the school year starting in September.
The primary school includes the nursery school, la maternelle (from the small to the big section, between 3 and 6 years) and the elementary school (from the CP to the CM2, between 6 and 11 years).
Primary school includes five levels:
– CP (Preparatory Course), from 6 to 7 years;
– CE1 (1st year of Primary Course), from 7 to 8 years;
– CE2 (2nd year of Primary Course), from 8 to 9 years;
– CM1 (1st year of Middle Course), from 9 to 10 years;
– CM2 (2nd year of Middle Course), from 10 to 11 years.
Criteria and French language
Children are usually admitted to primary school from the age of 6 years. From the CP, if he/she does not have sufficient knowledge of French or school learning, he/she can integrate an educational unit.
Non-French speaking children will be enrolled in a class in their residential sector.
In the first stage, they will do an intensive French course within an Educational Unit for non-French speaking new students (UPE2A) provided for this purpose. Depending on his/her level of French, the child may begin to take some lessons in the regular class while joining the UPE2A secondarily. Based on his/her progress and evaluations, the time spent in UPE2A will be re-evaluated until the student can do without it and only take the ordinary class.
UPE2A includes all levels of primary education. Since all schools do not have this type of class, the child will go to the one nearest to his/her home.
To enrol your child in a public school, go to the Town Hall (mairie) of your place of residence. At the reception of your Town Hall you will be provided with information on where to find the service (Bureau des écoles, Direction de l’enfance or other) where you can apply for enrolment and submit the required documents. One of the parents must be present but it is not necessary for the child to be present.
If the child does not change schools, the enrolment does not need to be renewed every year.
The Office of Schools will immediately provide you with an enrolment certificate (certificat d’inscription) and inform you of the address of the school where the parents and the child must meet with the headteacher. The child’s enrolment is recorded by the headteacher upon presentation of the family record book, the health record book and the enrolment certificate.
Between 11 and 15 years : Education in middle school (le collège)
– the 6th (la sixième), from 11 to 12 years ;
– the 5th (la cinquième), from 12 to 13 years ;
– the 4th (la quatrième), from 13 to 14 years ;
– the 3rd (la troisième) from 14 to 15 years.
Between 15 and 18 years : Education in highschool (le lycée)
– the 2nd (la seconde), from 15 to 16 years;
– the 1st (la première), from 16 to 17 years ;
– the last (la terminale), from 17 to 18 years.
The child must be in France to be enrolled. It is not possible to enrol your child directly in public first and second level secondary schools (called collèges and lycées respectively) since the relevant institution depends on the child’s knowledge of French.
Please do not hesitate to contact your local acc&ss center to get help in order to know whom to contact for this process also according to your home address.
Your child is fluent in French
If the child has been educated in French, you must first verify if his/her last educational institution is recognised by the French Ministry of National Education.
Recognised institutions can be consulted on the official bulletin (the list is reviewed annually and published in the official bulletin), or on the Internet, with a search based on the country and city:
You may of course obtain information directly from the school, especially to verify if an approval procedure is in progress. The list is reviewed annually and published in the official bulletin.
If the child was enrolled in an approved school prior to his/her arrival in France
A parent will only be required to proceed to the Student Life Division of the Local Education Authority of the family’s place of residence : for Paris, the Division de la Vie de l’Elève of Rectorat de Paris ; for other départements, the DSDEN (Direction des Services Départementaux de l’Education Nationale) of your département of residence. Among the other usual documents, a parent will have to provide administration with the certificate of schooling in progress with the student’s INE (National ID) number.
If the child was enrolled in a school not approved by the Ministry of Education
A parent must proceed with him/her :
- either in a welcome service of the CIO of the place of residence
- or directly to the CASNAV (Centre for Reception and Schooling of Children Recently Arrived in France and Travellers’ Children) of their place of residence
where he/she must have French and Mathematics tests.
After submitting the file, your child will be assessed by a CASNAV or CIO advisor on his/her academic achievements and level of French and then assigned to an institution. After assignment, you will need to contact your child’s college or high school head quickly to finalize the registration.
Your child is not fluent in French
If your child is not fluent in French or does not speak French at all, he/she cannot attend school in an ordinary classroom. Special reception classes are organised to enable the child to integrate into a general education class in the short or medium term.
In this case, depending of your place of residence, you will need to contact :
- either a welcome service of CIO (Centre d’information et d’orientation) in your département
- or directly CASNAV (Centre d’Accueil et de Scolarité des enfants Nouvellement Arrivés en France et des enfants du Voyage), the organisation created to receive the child and assign him/her to the appropriate class for his/her level.
Your child will have tests on his/her academic achievements and level of French, in his/her native language, in order to orient him/her towards the appropriate host class and he/she will be assigned to an institution.
During your appointment, if neither you nor your child speaks French, it is advisable to come with someone who can translate for you. If possible, bring all your child’s school documents (bulletins, diplomas, etc.), preferably translated into French.
You will receive the assignment letter within 3 weeks of your visit to CASNAV or CIO. From the receipt of the assignment letter, you must contact the head of the designated institution to enrol your child. After a certain time period, the CASNAV assignment will no longer be valid.
On enrolling your child with the institution, you must submit his/her birth certificate and proof of address. Sometimes the child’s vaccination card may be required, as well as passport photos. You should check the list of required documents before the appointment.
There are three types of classes: intensive French as a foreign language (FLEI) classes, reception classes or CLA (integration into an ordinary class for some general and intensive French subjects) and direct entry into an ordinary class along with support courses in French as a second language (SFLS class).
General information in all cases
School insurance is essential. It may be required by the school for optional activities and is mandatory for extracurricular activities.
Some examples of insurance companies: