Together they educate around 15 per cent of French children. Most private schools are co-educational, non-denominational day schools (‘Catholic’ private schools usually admit non-Catholics and aren’t allowed to promote Catholicism). Most private schools operate a Monday to Friday timetable. There are few private boarding schools (internat) in France, although some schools provide weekly (Monday to Friday) boarding or accommodate children with ‘host’ families.
The cost of private schooling can be surprisingly low, particularly for those used to UK fees: annual fees of €2,250 are common. Not surprisingly, private education is becoming increasingly popular and many schools are oversubscribed. Enrolment is often carried out on a first-come-first-served basis, and prospective pupils (and their parents) may have to arrive very early on enrolment day to be sure of a place – for admission to some schools, overnight camping is recommended!
For a list of French boarding schools in a particular town or region, visit http://www.service-public.fr and search for ‘Ecoles privées’ or contact your local Centre d’Information et d’Orientation (ask at your mairie for details).
The Office de Documentation et d’Information de l’Enseignement Privé (ODIEP, 01 43 29 90 70) provides information about private schools from nursery to university level. UNAPEL(01 53 73 73 90) provides information about parochial schools. The Centre National de Documentation sur l’Enseignement Privé (01 47 05 32 68) publishes a list of all French private schools.
Bilingual, International & Foreign Schools in France
Some schools are classified as bilingual (with section bilingue or classes bilingues) or international (e.g. lycée international or with section internationale). Certain bilingual schools, such as the Ecole Active Bilingue in Paris, have US, British and French sections.
The Ecole Internationale de Paris teaches in both French and English. Note, however, that the curriculum in most bilingual schools is tailored to children whose mother tongue is French. Places in bilingual and international schools are in strong demand and there are usually stiff entrance requirements.
There are international schools in Aix-en-Provence, Bordeaux, Cannes, Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Nice and nearby Sophia Antipolis, Strasbourg and Toulouse, as well as in Luynes in Alpes-Maritimes and in Monaco. The Lycée International at Saint-Germain-en-Laye (near Paris) has nine national sections (American, British, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish). Each section aims to teach children about the language, literature and history of the particular language/country selected. All other lessons are taught in French. Where applicable, students who don’t speak French are usually given intensive French lessons for three to six months.
Most of the few American and British schools are in the Paris area and on the French Riviera. Most English-language private schools offer a comprehensive English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) programme and number students from many countries. There are some schools in France teaching the UK curriculum, including the British School of Paris, Bordeaux International School and Mougins School.
A free list of US and British schools teaching entirely in English, international sections in French lycées, and bilingual and international schools can be obtained from the British Council (01 49 55 73 00 and 08 92 68 44 14).
Most private schools teaching in French provide intensive French tuition for non-French-speakers. Schools specialising in teaching non-French students are listed in our sister-publication, The Best Places to Buy a Home in France. There are also private colleges for students aged 16 or older who need additional help with their baccalauréat studies or who wish to study subjects unavailable at their local lycée.
Private schools in France teach a variety of syllabi, including the British GCSE and A Level examinations, American High School Diploma and college entrance examinations (e.g. ACT, SAT, achievement tests and AP exams) and the OIB and IB. However, many schools offer bilingual children the French baccalauréat only. Among private schools in France are a number that follow special or unorthodox methods of teaching, such as Montessori nursery schools and Rudolf Steiner schools. There are also private schools in some areas for children with special language requirements.
Some private schools offer an international baccalaureate option (option internationale du baccalauréat/OIB) in addition to the French baccalauréat examination. The OIB is intended for bilingual French students or foreign students with fluent French who are planning to enter a French university. The OIB is a French exam and shouldn’t be confused with the international baccalaureate (IB), which is classed as a foreign diploma in France.
The IB, which originated in Switzerland in 1968 and has its headquarters in Geneva, is an internationally recognised university entrance qualification. As an international examination, it’s second to none. It’s taught in over 500 schools in around 65 countries but in only eleven French schools. Around half of these schools provide a bilingual curriculum. These schools include the Ecoles Actives Bilingues Jeannine Manuel in Paris and Lille, and OMBROSA, Lycée Multilingue de Lyon. The largest IB school in France is the International Bilingual School of Provence. This school has both a bilingual curriculum and the traditional French Bac and BREVET curricula.
Private schools have smaller classes and a more relaxed, less rigid regime and curriculum than state schools. They provide a more varied and international approach to sport, culture and art, and a wider choice of academic subjects. Many also provide English-language summer school programmes, combining academic lessons with sports, arts and crafts and other extra-curricular activities. Their aim is the development of the child as an individual and the encouragement of his unique talents, which is made possible by the small classes. The results are self-evident and many private secondary schools have a near 100 per cent university placement rate.
Fees & Enrolment
There are two main types of private school in France: those that have a contract with the French government (sous contrat d’association) and those that don’t (hors contrat or école libre). A private school that has a contract with the government must follow the same educational programme as state schools, for which it receives government subsidies, and is therefore less expensive than an hors contrat school. A private school without a contract with the government is free to set its own curriculum, receives no state subsidies and is consequently more expensive.
Private school fees also vary considerably according to the quality, reputation and location of a school. Not surprisingly, schools located in the Paris area are the most expensive. Fees at a Catholic private school that’s sous contrat may be as low as €300 per year, whereas fees at an independent (hors contrat) international senior day school can be as high as several thousand per year. Fees aren’t all-inclusive, and there are additional obligatory charges, such as registration fees, and optional charges. For example, lunches may be included in school fees or charged separately.
You should make applications to private schools as far in advance as possible. You’re usually requested to send previous school reports, exam results and records. Before enrolling your child in a private school, ensure that you understand the withdrawal conditions in the school contract.
Choosing a Private School in France
The following checklist is designed to help you choose an appropriate private school.
- Does the school have a good reputation? How long has it been established?
- Does the school have a good academic record? For example, what percentage of students obtain good examination passes and go on to top universities? All the best schools provide exam pass-rate statistics.
- What does the curriculum include? What examinations are set? Are examinations recognised both in France and internationally? Do they fit in with your future education plans? Ask to see a typical student timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
- How large are the classes and what is the student/teacher ratio? Does the stated class size tally with the number of desks in the classrooms?
- What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What nationalities are the majority of teachers? Ask for a list of the teaching staff and their qualifications.
- What are the classrooms like? For example their size, space, cleanliness, lighting, furniture and furnishings. Are there signs of creative teaching, e.g. wall charts, maps, posters and students’ work on display?
- What is the teacher turnover? A high teacher turnover is a particularly bad sign and usually suggests badly paid teachers with poor working conditions.
- What extras must you pay? For example, lunches, art supplies, sports equipment, outings, clothing, health and accident insurance, textbooks and stationery. Some schools charge parents for absolutely everything.
- Which countries do most students come from?
- Is religion an important consideration in your choice of school?
- Are intensive English or French lessons provided for children who don’t meet the required standard?
- What is the quality and variety of food provided? What is the dining room like? Does the school have a dietician?
- What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects?
- What is the student turnover?
- What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually longer than state school holidays (e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in the summer) and they often don’t coincide with state school holiday periods.
- If you’re considering a day school, what are the school hours? Is transport provided to and from school?
- What are the withdrawal conditions, should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s notice is usual.
- What sports instruction and facilities are provided? Where are the sports facilities?
- What are the facilities for arts and science subjects, e.g. arts and crafts, music, computer studies, biology, science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography? Ask to see the classrooms, facilities, equipment and some student projects.
- What sort of outings are organised?
- What medical facilities does the school provide, e.g. infirmary, resident doctor or nurse?
- What punishments are applied and for what sorts of offence?
- What reports are provided for parents and how often?
- Last but not least – unless someone else is paying – what are the fees?
Before making a final choice, it’s important to visit the schools on your shortlist during term time and talk to teachers and students (if possible, also speak to former students and their parents). Where possible, check out the answers to the above questions in person and don’t rely on a school’s prospectus or director to provide the information. If you’re unhappy with the answers, look elsewhere. If necessary take someone with you who speaks fluent French.
Finally, having made your choice, keep a check on your child’s progress and listen to his complaints. Compare notes with other parents. If something doesn’t seem right, try to establish whether the complaint is founded or not; if it is, take action to have the problem resolved. Never forget that you’re paying a lot of money for your child’s education and you should ensure that you receive good value.