C'est La Rentrée - Back to School in France


It's La Rentrée or back to school in France.  Schools start tomorrow but where our boys go, it is only the first years who go in on the first day so my two don't start until Friday.  Nothing like a gentle start to the school year!  So what is school like in France?  Here are 8 observations I have made that mark French school as being different from my experience of the English school system.

Back to school in France - La Rentrée

The French School System

Starting School 

Children do not legally have to start school until they are 6 in France but most go to pre-school called maternelle from as young as 2½.  They then leave primary at 11 to go to secondary, known as collège and leave there at 15 to spend their last 3 years of school at lycée.

School week and days

In primary the boys had school from 8.45am to 4.10pm but secondary is longer.  Lessons start at 7.50am and do not finish until 4.35pm ... however they do get a fair number of free periods known as "permanences" through the week and finish at midday on Wednesdays.  Saturday morning school was phased out the year after we moved over here ... thank goodness.



There is no school uniform in France so I am spared the dreaded task of sewing on name tags. Phew!



Pack lunches are not an option in France and children must either stay and eat in the school canteen or go home.  The boys stay and thoroughly enjoy their 3 course lunches plus cheese/yoghurt! 



The school curriculum is very academically focused which is not always advantageous for more practical children although once they are 15 they can choose to go to a more vocational lycée.  Children have A LOT of tests and should a child not thought to be doing well enough they will often retake the year (redoubler).  Likewise, in primary, a very bright child can jump up a year.  Although sport is included in the curriculum it is only a couple of hours and most children join local sports clubs if they want more, with training in the evenings, on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays.


Secular schools

Almost all schools are totally secular there will be no school nativity play and children are not allowed to show any outward signs of their religion i.e. wear crosses, head scarves etc.  There are however, a few private fee-paying Catholic schools but generally the annual fees are much less than in the UK at only around €500 per pupil per year.

School supplies

Parents have to supply all the notebooks and many supplies for their children and pupils will be sent home with a long and very specific list of items to get for the following year.  It will include books of various sizes (who knew there was both A4 and a size just a bit bigger than that?  Not me!) and lists of loose paper ... and both will all have to be with specific squares sizes (French books/paper all have squares, not lines).  Then there are all sorts of other items from folders to set squares, padlocks for lockers to art books and paint .... you name it, it will be on the list and you will see hassled parents scouring the shelves of the school supplies in every supermarket across France in the weeks preceding la rentrée ... including me as I still need the books for maths as there were NONE available both times I went to buy them.

School supplies in a French supermarket

School Bags

All these supplies have to be got to and from school as children are not permitted to leave things in their lockers overnight so sometimes their bags weight an excessive amount - maybe it is just as well there is not a pack lunch in there as well!  In primary pupils generally used wheeled school bags but at collège it is all rucksacks and concerns have been raised about the risks these heavy bags pose to the back health of children.  

Have you got or had children in the French school system?  Are there any other notable difference to the UK (or elsewhere in the world) that you have noticed? 

La Rentrée - back to school in France with Eco-Gites of Lenault

 I am linking this post with the All About France linky run my the lovely Phoebe who lives down in Provence.  Click on the image below to see what other posts people have linked up.

Lou Messugo