French school children ranked worst at reading in Europe

French school children aged 9 to 10 have been ranked the worst in Europe for their reading skills, marking a steady decline in levels since 2001, a new study has revealed.

French school children ranked worst at reading in Europe
Photo: AFP
It's not good news for French schools. 
The study by PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), which has been carried out every five years since 2001, ranks the reading skills of school children aged 9 to 10 in 50 countries. 
Thousands of French school pupils took part in the study in the spring of 2016, answering a series of comprehension questions on literary and informative texts.
And the results weren't good news, with the country coming last in Europe and 34th overall on a list that saw Russia claim the top spot, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland and Finland. 
France received a total of 511 points in the survey, which was led by the IEA, a Dutch consulting firm specializing in comparative studies of international school systems. 
This score puts French children 25 points below the average for children participating in other European Union countries (544 points). 
By comparison, Russia received 581 points and England, which was ranked tenth, received 559 points. 
Infograph: Le Parisien
And the low ranking marks a trend for France, which is one of just two countries to see their scores steadily decline since the study began in 2001, along with the Netherlands. 
In 2011, the country received 520 points and when the study began in 2001, it received 532 points.
When looking at the results closely, it appears that French schoolchildren were fairly successful when it came to answering simple questions about texts, for example the names of major characters.
However when the questions involved interpretation, for example, using information from an informative text to build reasoning, French children had trouble.
Third of French primary schools to return to a four-day week
Photo: AFP 
But why?
It doesn't seem to be a question of time dedicated to the subject, with French schools spending an average of 37 percent of their time teaching reading, compared to an average of 27 percent in other countries. 
But while French teachers are equally as experienced as their counterparts, they were also found by the study to be the least satisfied with their job and teaching conditions. 
France is also among the countries that gives the least amount of teacher training, with the study revealing that 38 percent of schoolchildren were taught by teachers who did not receive continuous training to teach reading in the two years preceding the survey.
This rate is well above the average of other countries studied which stood at 16 percent. 

Why schools are to blame for the French being so glumPhoto: AFP

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Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.


Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

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Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.


Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

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State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.


Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.