Primary Education

The early years in the French education system...

Mothers' help, crèches, kindergartens and nursery schools fall outside the official school system.

Halte Garderies are open to children under the age of 6. Children may attend a few days or half-days per week, as the parent chooses. Children are under the guardianship of a qualified midwife, paediatric nurse or teacher. There is usually a small fee to pay. Ask at your Mairie for details on local facilities.

Écoles Maternelles

École Maternelle is comparable with nursery school or kindergarten in anglophone countries. While not compulsory it is considered essential in preparing a child for school. Maternelles are for ages two to six and provide optional education for children. Enrolment for the local école maternelle should be done at the Mairie. It is free of charge (aside from extras, including lunch).

Children who are two at the rentrée - the start of the new school year in September - are accepted provided they are sufficiently mature and "socialised". (This is gauged by a doctor who will issue a certificate). If the child turns two before the end of the year, and the school has space the child may be admitted.  If there is no Maternelle in an area, a child may start at the école élémentaire in the section enfantine from the age of 5 years.

The Maternelle is divided into:

  • Petite Section: 2-3 years
  • Moyenne Section: 3-5 years
  • Grande Section: 5-6 years

Apply at the Mairie for a certificat d'inscription by June of the year you want your child to start. Late applications are technically not allowed but will probably be considered.

You will need to show:

  • the "livret de famille". If you don't have one, you will need to provide essential information including the child's birth certificate
  • proof of up-to-date vaccinations supplied by the doctor, or a photocopy of the vaccinations page in the child's health booklet (carnet de santé)
  • proof of address

To register at the school, take:

  • the certificat d'inscription issued by the mairie
  • certificate of health and school readiness issued by the doctor
  • proof of up-to-date vaccinations supplied by the doctor, or a photocopy of the vaccinations page in the child's health booklet (carnet de santé)
  • the livret de famille

If there are fewer places available than applicants, older children will be given preference.

Écoles Élémentaires

École élémentaire is the equivalent of primary, junior or elementary school in anglophone countries. For ages 6 to 11, these deliver the beginning of compulsory education.

A child must be enrolled in the école élémentaire by the June prior to the September start of school. If a child is continuing in the same schooling area, there is no need to re-apply to the Mairie.

People new to an area, or if the child did not attend the maternelle, must apply to the Mairie for a certificat d'inscription to the assigned school in the area. Take:

  • the livret de famille or birth certificate
  • proof of up-to-date vaccinations for the child
  • proof of residence in the commune

It is not compulsory that a child attends the local, assigned école élémentaire, but if a "non-local" school is preferred, specific applications must be made through the Mairie. A dérogation must be requested to apply to a school outside the catchment area. Parents may approach schools directly for enrolment (in addition to the Mairie) and in some primary schools it is the director's discretion that allows entrance for a pupil from another catchment area.

Grades/years of the écoles élémentaires

French grade name Age UK, US, other name
Cours préparatoire (CP) or 11ème 6-7 years year 2/first grade
Cours élémentaire 1 (CE1) or 10ème 7-8 years year 3/second grade
Cours élémentaire 2 (CE2) or 9ème 8-9 years year 4/third grade
Cours moyen 1 (CM1) or 8ème 9-10 years year 5/forth grade
Cours moyen 2 (CM2) or 7ème 10-11 years year 6/fifth grade