The French School System and a Day in my Life at School in France

Bonjour à toutes et à tous, j’espère que vous allez bien. In this blog post, I am going to talk about the système scolaire français and I will highlight some of its similitudes et différences to the education system in Scotland. I will also give you an overview of a journée typique in my life as a teaching assistant at my school in France.

French School System

France constantly ranks parmi the top 10 systèmes éducatifs du monde. Most children go to public schools which are free to attend and laïque. Contrairement à l’Écosse, most public schools do not have a uniform, les élèves peuvent donc porter ce qu’ils veulent. Children in France go to school lundi au vendredi but have mercredi après-midi off. Most children typically use this time to practice des activités extrascolaires. The school year in France runs de septembre à juillet, with 5 main holiday breaks throughout the year. This means every for every 6 weeks at school, il y a 2 semaines de vacances. The exception is the summer break which lasts for 8 weeks.

Comme en Écosse, it is mandatory for children in France to go to school jusqu’à l’âge de 16 ans, however most pupils decide to stay until their final year when they are 17/18 years old. En France, les élèves vont à l’école primaire entre 6 et 11 ans, puis au collège entre 11 et 15 ans, et enfin au lycée entre 15 et 18 ans. (There are different types of lycées that pupils can attend. Those who intend on following a more academic pathway and want to go to university generally attend a lycée général ou lycée technologique, whilst those who want to go directly into employment attend a lycée professionnel which is more vocational).

I have made this table to better compare the French and Scottish systems.

Exams

Diplôme National du Brevet

At the end of troisième, students sit the brevet exam to assess their knowledge and skills acquired at collège in core subjects such as le français, les mathématiques, l’histoire-géo et les sciences. This exam is similar to the level of National 5 in Scotland.

The grade the students receive are based off of the end-of-year brevet exam, ainsi que the students behaviour and the marks they have received in class tests over the course of the last year. En outre, students are expected to pass a computer skills assessment and have reached level A2 in their first modern language e.g. English. To pass le brevet, students must get at least 400 out of the 800 points available.

Baccalauréat

During their final year au lycée, students sit the baccalauréat exam. This is similar to ‘Highers’ in Scotland. Le bac, as it is commonly refereed to, is graded out of 20. Pupils need to score at least 10/20 to pass. The type of baccalaureate taken depends on which type of lycée the student attends. Par exemple, if a student goes to a lycée général, they will sit the bac général, if they go to a lycée tecnologique they will sit the bac tecnologique and if they go to a lycée profesionnel they will sit the bac professionnel. Students spend their final two years of lycée preparing for the baccaulaureat exam.

In 2021 the Ministry of Education made some reforms to the baccalaureat and this is how it now works: 60% of the students grade is based off of the final baccalaureat exam with the other 40% based off of contiunous assesment. (Previously the students result was 100% exam based).

Bac général – Prepares students to enter university.

All pupils will study a common curriculum consisting of

-French (La premiere only as they sit their French bac exam at the end of this year)
-Philosophy (La terminale only as they study this instead of their French classes as they have already completed that part of the exam)
-History & Geography
-2 Modern Languages
-Sport
-Science

Students choose three out of the following speciality subjects during la premiere, one of which will be dropped at the end of la premiere while they will continue to study the other two in la terminale.

-Art
-Classics with Ancient Greek or Latin
-Economics & Social Science
-Biology & Earth Sciences
-Physics & Chemistry
-Computer Science & Programming
-Language, Literature & Culture English
-Human Sciences, Literature & Philosophy
-History, Geography, International Relations & Politics
-Mathematics

Bac technologique – Prepares students to work in laboratories, management, applied arts or further studies.

Students choose from 8 series of specialised higher vocational studies:

STAV (Sciences and technologies of agronomy and life)
STD2A (Sciences and technologies of design and applied arts)
STI2D (Sciences and technologies of industry and sustainable development)
STL (Laboratory Sciences and Technologies)
STMG (Sciences and technologies of management and administration)
ST2S (Health and Social Sciences and Technologies)
STHR (Sciences and technologies of the hotel and catering industry)
S2TMD (Sciences and techniques of theatre, music and dance)

Bac profesionnel – Prepares students to work immediately in a specific trade.

It combines studying the general curriculum alongside industry specific skills. Teaching is split 60% vocational subjects and 40% general subjects. Students pick their career option, which are grouped into families of careers, at the end of collège and they then choose their specialism at the end of their first year at lycée.

The grades for le bac look like this…. (I’ve given the Scottish grade equivalents alongside)

  • Echec (fail): 0 – 9 = D
  • Suffisant (sufficient): 10 = C2
  • Satisfaisant (satisfactory): 11 = C1
  • Assez bien (quite good): 12 – 13 = B2
  • Bien (good): 14 – 15 =B1
  • Très bien (very good): 16 – 17 = A2
  • Excellent (outstanding): 18 – 20 = A1

N.b. It is impossible to pass in one subject and fail in others. The only mark that counts is the final weighted average, which must be at last 10/20 for a student to pass. A student who narrowly misses the overall pass mark of 10/20 can take supplementary oral examinations in up to two subjects shortly after the bac results have been published in July. The marks achieved in these oral examinations (known as rattrapage) replace the original written marks in these subjects and may allow the student to achieve an overall pass without having to redoubler (repeat) their final year.

A Day in my Life at School

Now that you know a bit more about how the school system in France works, I am going to give you an insight into what my life is like on an average day at my school in France. I am a teaching assistant at Lycée René Cassin in Rive-de-Gier. It is a lycée profesionnel and I teach pupils aged between 15-18 years old. My job is to assist the teacher in English classes by sharing unique cultural traditions with my classes and allow students to hear and experience a native anglophone accent. Here’s an overview of what a typical Monday teaching is like for me.

Le lycée commence à 8 heures and this is when I have my premier cours de la journée. Rive-de-Gier is about 40km away from Lyon so I have to me lever assez tôt in order to commute. I usually set my alarm for 6am and after hitting snooze a couple of times, I eventually force myself to be out of bed by 6.10am. Je m’habille, me brosse les dents, me coiffe et me maquille. I leave my flat at 6.45am and walk to la gare, which is fortunately right beside where I live. Mon train part à 7 heures and it takes about 40mins to get to la gare de Rive-de-Gier and from there it is a 10 minute walk to mon lycée, qui est située en haut d’une colline. Once I arrived at the lycée, I have 10mins to say « Bonjour » to every teacher I see. (This is a polite formality and cultural norm that if you do not do or miss someone out, you will come across impolite). Ensuite, I eat my cereal bar and have un café to give me some energy to teach my pupils.

At 8am la cloche sonne signalling it’s time for my first class. Normally, I present a PowerPoint which I have prepared explaining une tradition culturelle britannique intéressante. I also try and play games during my lessons to make the learning process more fun. Classes last for around 1 hour and after 2 classes there is a short 15 minute break for the staff and pupils. What I do in each class depends on what teacher I am working with and if they have asked me to prepare anything. Par exemple, my second class of the day is learning about la traite des esclaves in English. They were reading an English text about the slaves journey d’Afrique en Amérique. They had to answer some questions relating to the text and then write a summary in French. I wandered around the class and helped anyone that was a bit stuck. Afterwards, the class played a Kahoot quiz that I made. It was on the key vocabulary from the text. The pupils really enjoyed this as it was more interactive than the traditional French teaching methods and because they were allowed to use their phones which are normally interdits pendant les cours.

Parfois, mes cours sont annulés because my school is a lycée professionel, the students go en stage multiple times a year to gain work experience. A lot of my pupils specialise in becoming chefs and waiting staff so they usually do their work experience in restaurants locaux. In the case that a class is doing work experience, I will either use this time to do lesson preparation or I will work with another class instead.

At 12 o’clock it’s lunchtime. An interesting difference between the school in Scotland and France is that in France the lunch break lasts longer. Dans mon lycée, la pause déjeuner est de 1 heure et 30 minutes. I normally bring a packed lunch with me but most of the teacher’s either go home or eat à la cantine. I have tried la cantine and the food served there is very nutritious and filling. For 4,30 euros you receive a four course lunch. A vegetable starter (e.g. piémontais ou betterave vinaigrette), warm main course served with a side of grains or vegetables (e.g. côte de porc sauce moutarde ou pavé de merlu citronné avec ratatouille), cheese (e.g. baguette et cantal) and dessert (e.g. clafoutis, yogurt et fruits frais). Le menu est différent chaque jour et chaque semaine !

(On a Friday, I usually eat at the school restaurant as the food is very good and so cheap – it is also acceptable to have an alcoholic drink with lunch such as un verre de vin ! De plus, manger au restaurant est un bon moyen de socialiser avec les autres enseignants. What is especially cool about the school restaurant is the fact that tous les plats sont cuisinés et servis par les élèves. It gives the students further experience in their specialism of cookery and hospitality. Members of the public can also dine in this restaurant. An average 3 course meal here costs around 9 euros.)

After lunch on a Monday, j’ai 3 cours dans l’après-midi however after the 2ndclass there is another récré qui dure 15 minutes. My final class finishes at 4.30pm. One of the English teacher’s lives in Lyon so she gives me a lift home if when we finish at the same time, otherwise I have to wait for le train. It’s great getting a ride back as it gives me an opportunity to pratiquer mon français et de mieux connaître ma collègue who has now become one of my close friends.

When I get back to Lyon, je fais généralement les courses, je prépare le dîner puis je me détends pour le reste de la nuit as I’m normally très fatiguée from my long day at school. Living abroad is fun but it’s not always glamorous 😉

Bien que the days at school in France are long, I find find my role as an English Language Teaching Assistant très satisfaisant. No two days are the same which keeps things interesting. J’aime la liberté d’utiliser ma créativité pour planifier les leçons. Another reason why my job is si gratifiant is that it’s not just my pupils who are learning and developing, I too learn nouvelles choses each lesson.

So there you have it, a wee insight into my life teaching in France and how the French education system works. I hope you found this blog post instructif and if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them 🙂

Let me know your thoughts on the school system in France!

  • Would you rather have a longer school day but have more breaks like in France or do you prefer having a shorter day with less breaks like in Scotland?
  • How would you feel if school in Scotland started at 8am instead of 9am?
  • Do you wish you didn’t have to wear school uniform?
  • What is your opinion on 2-week holidays throughout the academic year? Is it too long?

Here is a picture of me crashing a random class photo at my school. Pouvez-vous me repérer ?

Thanks for reading,

Emma 🙂

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