Reader question: Is there any kind of logic behind France’s school holiday zones?

Reader question: Is there any kind of logic behind France's school holiday zones?
Photo: AFP
If you either have a child in school or are trying to avoid busy travel days and are looking up French school holidays you will stumble across the zone system.

Question: Is there any kind of logic to how France divides itself up into zones for school holidays or did someone just pick town names out of a hat?

Certain school holidays occur at different times of year in different parts of France, but unlike countries like the UK where this evolved over time based on – among other things – the date of the potato harvest in different parts of the country, the French system is a deliberate creation that has a specific purpose.

Here’s how it works.

Mainland France is divided up into three zones – A, B and C which include different regional education authorities known as académies basically a local education authority under the Ministry of Education (see map below). Each académie includes several départements.

The Christmas, summer and Toussaint (All Saints) holidays happen on the same dates through the country, but the Easter and February holidays happen at different times in different zones.

This isn’t a particularly historic thing, it’s only been in place since the 1960s and it was created for a very specific reason – to help out the tourist sector.

Instead of the whole country being on holiday in the same fortnight, the holidays instead span a month and mean that tourist businesses such as ski resorts, hotels and beach resort owners get a longer ‘peak’ in order to accommodate everyone.

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A side effect of this is reduced traffic congestion around the spring holidays, although the start and finish of the Christmas and summer holidays – when it frequently seems like the whole of France is on the road – are definitely days to avoid travelling.

Zone A comprises the academies of Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers 

Zone B – Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg

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

The zones are created so that they have a roughly equal number of pupils each. So although Zones A and B seem much larger, zone C contains the greater Paris area, by far the most densely populated place in France.

The zones have a vague logic as dividing France into three horizontal stripes with Zone B in the north, Zone A in the centre and Zone C in the south . . . except for the small matter of Zone C also including the Paris region and the ‘northern’ Zone B encompassing Marseille and Nice.

Oh, and Corscia sets its own holiday dates like the French overseas territories do, even though it’s a part of mainland France for all other administrative purposes.

There have been several reorganisations of the zones over the years as demographics shifted, the most recent being in 2015.

2020-2021 holiday dates

School year restarts, all zones – Tuesday, September 1st 2020

Toussaints (All Saints) holiday, all zones – Saturday, October 17th to Monday, November 2nd

Christmas holidays, all zones – Saturday, December 19th to Monday, January 4th

February holidays, zone A Saturday, February 6th to Monday, February 22nd

February holidays, zone B – Saturday, February 20th to Monday, March 8th

February holidays, zone C – Saturday, February 13th to Monday, March 1st

Easter holidays, zone A – Saturday, April 10th to Monday, April 26th

Easter holidays, zone B – Saturday, April 24th to Monday, May 10th

Easter holidays, zone C – Saturday, April 17th to Monday, May 3rd

Summer holidays start, all zones – Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

Some French schools do Saturday morning classes to school holidays always officially start on a Saturday, even if most children break up on Friday afternoon. For the full holiday calendar, click here.

If you have a question about any aspect of life in France, email us at [email protected] and we will do our best to answer it

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