France goes back to school as reforms get underway

It was back to school for 12 million school students and 880,000 teachers in France on Monday. But what changes are they facing as they take up their stylos once more?

France goes back to school as reforms get underway
French President Emmanuel Macron's government and his minister for education Jean Michel Blanquer haven't wasted any time introducing their new vision for France's school system. 
As a result, school is going to look a little bit different for the 12 million students and 880,000 teachers returning on Monday.
Here's how:
1. Smaller class sizes for (some of) the youngest students
Blanquer has halved class sizes for children in the first year of primary school (CP) in schools in priority areas (or REPs). Schools falling under the REP umbrella have been identified as belonging to
areas where educational inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Now, in these priority areas, there will be just 12 or 13 students per class in the 2,500 classes concerned.
While around 85 percent of pupils in REPs will be in lessons of 12, 15 percent of them will share a room with another class, due to a lack of space. However, where two classes have been grouped together, two teachers will be present.
In order to help the changes go through smoothly, 90 percent of the teachers working in the shared classrooms have at least three years experience, according to Blanquer.

2. School timetable
Another big change for primary school students is the return to the four-day week, with 37 percent of French towns opting to reduce the timetable from 4.5 days.
This translates to a little over a third of French primary schools extending the school day from five to six hours.
3. Tests
Blanquer has indicated that students will be evaluated at national level during the first year of primary school (CP) as well as in the first year of secondary school, when they are 11 or 12 years old, in November.
4. Homework
A new measure to help students with their homework is due to launch from November 1st in secondary schools (11-15 year-olds).
Students will be able to stay behind at school and get help with their homework in an attempt to tackle the problem of some pupils not having much help at home from their parents or siblings.
For members


‘Section internationales’: How do France’s bilingual secondary schools work?

For foreign parents in France looking at secondary school options for their children one option to consider is the bilingual 'international sections' in certain state schools. But how do they work?

'Section internationales': How do France's bilingual secondary schools work?

What is an ‘international section’

Essentially international sections in French secondary schools allow students to learn a modern foreign language, such as English or German in much more depth than a standard state secondary. These sections also facilitate the integration of foreign students into the French school system.

There are about 200 ‘International’ establishments (primary schools, colleges and high schools) around France offering international sections in 16 languages.

Most are state run, so for many foreign families they are a much cheaper alternative to private schools, though it should be noted that some of the international sections are fee-paying.


Even state establishments can charge for enrolment into their international sections. Fees are usually in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 per year (although that’s still cheap compared to somewhere like the American school of Paris which charges between €20,000 and €35,000 a year)

American and British sections are particularly popular – and, as a result are usually the most expensive, while less-popular German sections are less costly. 

Why do they exist?

These sections are ideal for the children of immigrant families, as well as those where one parent is of foreign origin. Syllabuses are set up and developed by French educational authorities and those of the partner country.

In addition to lessons dedicated to modern languages, students benefit from lessons in another subject given in a foreign language. The international sections promote the discovery of the culture and civilisation of the countries associated with the section.

Top tips for raising a bilingual child in France

What languages are available?

According to the government website, 19 languages are available. But that’s not strictly accurate as it then lists American, British and Australian as separate ‘languages’, along with Portuguese and Brazilian. It’s more accurate to say these establishments offer education in 16 languages.

It’s more accurate to say that there are 19 “sections”, dedicated to learning with a linguistic and cultural education slant in favour of the following nations/languages:

American, Arabic, Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Franco-Moroccan, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian.

In total, there are two Australian schools, 20 American ones, over 50 British schools – most in Paris and the Ile-de-France (Versailles is very popular)

So, what’s studied – and what qualifications do you get?

As well as usual collège-level classes in core subjects, such as maths, history and the sciences, students have four hours of classes in the language, including literary studies, of their choice.

From troisième (age 14), an additional two hours of classes per week cover that country’s history and geography and moral and civic education – the latter is replaced by maths for those studying in Chinese sections.

They can obtain the diplôme national du brevet with the mention “série collège, option internationale”. The dedicated brevet includes two specific tests: history-geography and foreign language.

At lycée, students study four hours of foreign literature per week, as well as two hours of history-geography in the language of the section (maths for the Chinese section) as well as two hours of French as they study towards an OIB (option internationale du bac), often at the same time as a standard French bac.

How to enrol

The first step is to contact the collège you wish your child to attend. This should take place no later than January before the September rentree you want your child to go to the collège.

If you live in France, and your child is attending an école primaire or élémentaire, you should do this in the January of the year they would move up to collège.

Be aware, that some schools require potential students to pass a language test – written and oral – before they can enter an international section. A child wishing to enter sixth grade must be able to read books of the level of Harry Potter in English, to enter the international school of Sèvres’ British section, while another has said that only 20 percent of candidates achieve the grade that would allow them entry into an international section.

Find a school

You will find sections internationales de collège at educational academies across the country. For a full list, with contact details, click here.