School days: The French vocabulary parents need to face la rentrée

La rentrée scolaire is here but are you ready to be hit by concepts and words particular to French school life? Here is a survival guide for parents with kids in French schools.

School days: The French vocabulary parents need to face la rentrée
Photo: AFP

French pupils are now back to school after months away from their teachers.

This year la rentrée des classes has a lot of extra rules and health regulations in place, but a lot of things remain the same. From supplies to le périscolaire, here is everything you need to know before going back to school.

READ ALSO These are the Covid-19 health rules in place in French schools


Les fournitures scolaires – Before D-Day, there is every parents’ nightmare: the school supply trip to the supermarket. And know that in France, it is sacred.

But there's a reason to why the list your child’s school gave you is so long. In France, it’s common to put everything together, meaning that the first day of school teachers gather all the supplies and only take them out when a pupil needs something.

Some schools even ask for everybody to purchase the same brand to avoid mockery and discrimination.


Allocation de rentrée scolaire – Buying all that stationery is generally quite costly, not to mention other expenses, and that is where the allocation de rentrée scolaire comes in. This is an allowance created to help parents on medium to low incomes provide their children with school material – for more details on how to claim it, click here.

L’ardoise – In primary school especially, it is more than likely that your child’s teacher will ask for one. It's generally translated as 'slate' but there's no need to climb on the roof to get one, supermarkets sell these mini-blackboards that your child will most generally use to do some mental arithmetic or handwriting practice. It's actually quite a good way to save wasting too much paper in the early stages of school. 

La gardienne d’école – The school guard is the person in charge of opening and closing the school so will probably be the first staff member you meet at the school gates (and will be the one to tell you off if you're late).

Generally the gardienne lives on site and reports to the municipality and not to the headmaster. She (or sometimes he) “takes care” of the school in cleaning it, making sure it is safe for children and also answers the school's phone.

Les surveillants – In secondary school and high school, there are generally so many pupils that surveillants are needed. These are non-teaching staff who mostly help with supervising the youngsters when there are not in class (recess, lunch break, office hours…) and do administrative work as well.

Le baccalauréat – This is the big exam that marks the end of French students' secondary education.

It's recently undergone some fairly major changes. Before the reform, there were three main types of Bac, the general one, the technological one and the professional one. The pupils used to choose a specific path at the end of the seconde (the first year of high school). 

A reformed version of the baccalauréat général was introduced in 2019. Seconde students now have to pick three specialty subjects from a wide-ranging list and 40 percent of their eventual grade comes from continuous assessment. 

Le périscolaire – This extended school program is very practical for parents who work beyond schools hours. Held in the morning (usually from 7.30am), in the evening (up until 6pm) it includes :

  • La garderie : taking place in the morning and the evening, children play games, draw etc
  • L’étude ou l’aide aux devoirs : where pupils do their homeworks and if needed, get helped by teachers or périscolaire agents
  • Some schools offer other activities such as sports, crafts, book clubs.

La cantine scolaire – In France, children generally don’t go to school with their lunch box, they are provided with healthy meals in exchange for a certain amount of money per month from the parents (the price of the meal is calculated in regards of the family’s earnings).

The menu changes every day and each meal is composed of a starter, a main dish, cheese or a dessert.

Les vacances scolaires  – In France, the school holidays dates vary across three 'zones' so you will need to know which zone you're in.

– Zone A : Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers

– Zone B : Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Lille, Nacy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Normandie, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Strasbourg

– Zone C : Créteil, Montpellier, Paris, Toulouse, Versailles

Some holiday dates are the same across France while others vary according to zones.

In the 2020/21 school year they are;

Vacances de la Toussait (fall break) : October 16th to November 2nd (whole of France)

Vacances de Noël (Chritsmas break) : December 18th to January 4th (whole of France)

Vacances d'hiver (winter break) : February 5th to February 22nd in Zone A, February 12th to March 1st  in Zone B, February 19th to March 8th in Zone C

Vacances de Pâques (Easter break) : April 9th to April 26th in Zone A, April 16th to May 3rd in Zone B, April 23rd to May 10th in Zone C

Les jours fériés – There are a lot of public holidays in France and schoolkids get them off too, here is the list for the 2020-2021 school year : 

November 11th : Armistice

April 5th : Easter Monday 

May 13th to May 17th : Ascension weekend 

May 24th : Pentecost Monday 

The rest of the public holidays fall on either weekends or during the school holidays.

And you will also need to know about the types of school;

La maternelle – preschool (from 3 to 6)

L’école primaire – primary school (from 6 to 11)

Le college – secondary school (from 11 to 15)

Le lycée – high school (from 15 to 18)

La récréation – recess

Se faire coller – to get detention

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What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.