Secondary education in France

From Academic Kids

In France, secondary education is divided into two schools:

  • the collège (IPA: ) (somewhat comparable to U.S. junior high school) for the first four years directly following primary school;
  • the lycée (IPA: ) (comparable to a U.S. high school) for the next three years.

The completion of secondary studies leads to the baccalauréat (IPA: ) (baccalaureate, also coloquially known as bac). The baccalauréat can lead to higher education studies or directly to professional life.


Organization & Progress

French students usually spend seven years in French secondary schools, from age 11 to age 18. Both schools are usually in different buildings.

A French school year starts in early-September and ends in mid-June. Holidays are scheduled by the Ministry of Education. The hexagon is divided into three zones (A through C) to prevent holidayers from crowding in major tourist spots such as the Mediterranean coastline and ski resorts. For example, Paris and Bordeaux are in zone C while Lyon is in zone A and Marseille in zone B.

Contrary to Anglo-Saxon systems that use increasing numerical grade names, the French secondary school system uses decreasing numerical grade names which can lead to confusion. Therefore, grades go from sixième (the first year of collège) to terminale (the final year of lycée). Another difference is the way students are called.

In the French language the word for student (étudiant) is usually reserved for university-level persons. In collège and lycée therefore students are referred to as élèves, or in an English translation pupils.

The curricula in collège and lycée (referred to as le programme officiel) are standardized in all French public institutions. Changes to the programme are made year after year by the French Ministry of Education and are published in the Ministry's Bulletin Officiel de l'Éducation Nationale (BO), the official reference for educators.


The collège is the first level of secondary education in the French educational system. It is very different and should therefore not be mistaken for or compared with Anglo-Saxon colleges.

The grades in the collège are as following:

  • sixième (in English, sixth);
  • cinquième (fifth);
  • quatrième (fourth);
  • troisième (third).

Entry in sixième occurs directly after the last year of primary school, called CM2. There is no entry exam into collège but the French Ministry of Education established a comprehensive test for students starting sixième. The purpose of the examination is to evaluate the student's level coming out of primary school.


The curricula in all years of collège include the following subjects:

Humanities & Languages

The curricula also include a few hours of physical education every week.


Ultimately, the role of the collège is to prepare students for the advanced subjects of the lycée. At the end of troisième, students sit for le diplôme national du Brevet, an end-of-collège exam. Contrary to popular belief, the brevet is not required to enter the lycée nor does its passing guarantee a pupil will go on to the higher-level school.

Teachers, administrators and student representatives (called délégués) of each grade meet three times a year in what is called a conseil de classe (or class council). In these meetings are discussed the level of each student individually and of the class as a whole as well as matters of logistics and discipline inherent to the group of students.

During the last conseil de classe of the year (occurring normally in June) the teachers and administrators decide whether a student can move on to the following grade. In their decision, they evaluate the student's skills, participation and behaviour. Three outcomes are possible:

  1. the student can move on to the next grade;
  2. he can be required to start the grade over (redoublement);
  3. he can, in very specific cases, be offered to skip one grade and move directly two grades up.

A student asked to repeat a grade can go into an appeal process where the decision may be reviewed. The appeals council's decision is final.


Missing image
Lycée Louis-le-Grand (on the right) in Paris is one of France's most famous and prestigious (although some would say elitist) lycées. It also comprises classes préparatoires in preparation for the grandes écoles.

The lycée is the second and last level of secondary education in the French educational system. Graduating from a lycée leads to the baccalauréat degree.

The lycée can be compared to an Anglo-Saxon high school. One major difference between the two systems is the degree of freedom students have in choosing their courses. While in the U.S. or in Canada, students can virtually select courses à la carte, French students have to follow a certain concentration with little room, if any, for electives.

Lycées are divided between lycée général, which leads towards more than two years of post-baccalaureate studies, the lycée technologique, which leads towards short studies, and lycée professionel, which leads directly towards professional life. General and technological streams are given at 'standard' lycées while professional streams are provided at separate professional lycées.

French students spend three years in lycée:

  • seconde (in English, second)
  • première (first)
  • terminale (terminal year)

Famous lycées in Paris include: Lycée Henri IV and Lycée Louis-le-Grand.

Lycée général & technologique

In France, the lycée général is the usual stepping stone to university degrees. Seconde is a link-year during which students finalize their choice of stream (called a série) for the final two years. During seconde, all students have the same courses even though they have different skills and interests. The year is therefore usually deemed easier than première and terminale.

General Streams

After seconde, most French students chose a general stream. In all streams some subjects have more hours in the student's timetable than others. The baccalauréat exam is different for all three séries and its subjects are weighed according to the student's stream.

The lycée général streams are:

  • scientifique (série S)
As its name implies, the sciences stream focuses on the natural sciences. Students in série S have more hours in scientific subjects than any other. The baccalauréat S is weighed in consequence; Mathematics has the highest weight for all S students. Students with an S baccalaureate usually go to university in the natural sciences, in engineering, in medicine, or start classes préparatoires (preparatory classes) to prepare for the grandes écoles.
  • économique et sociale (série ES)
In série ES the focal point is Economics, Social Sciences and Mathematics. Students in this stream go on to management school or public service careers.
  • littéraire (série L)
Students in the Literature série mostly study French Literature, Philosophy and Foreign Languages. This série can lead to the khâgne, a literary classe préparatoire. Other students can chose to head to university.

According to 2003-2004 official statistics (, 33% of students chose série S, 19% série ES while 11% picked série L.

In all streams, students have Philosophy courses in terminale while French language classes end in première. There is also option for further specialization (spécialisation) in all séries.

Technological Streams

The lycée includes eight other streams, called séries technologiques:

  • sciences et technologies tertiaires (Service Sciences and Technologies, STT)
  • sciences et technologies industrielles (Industrial Science and Technolgies, STI)
  • sciences et technologies de laboratoire (Laboratory Science and Technologies, STL)
  • sciences médico-sociales (Health and Social Sciences, SMS)
  • sciences et technologies du produit agroalimentaire (Food Science and Technologies, STPA)
  • sciences et technologies de l'agronomie et de l'environnement (Agronomy and Environment Science and Technologies, STAE)
  • techniques de la musique et de la danse (Music and Dance Techniques, TMD)
  • hôtellerie

The STPA stream is only available in lycées agricoles, specialty schools for agricultural sciences.

Lycée professionel

French Secondary Education Outside France

Main article: Agence pour l'Enseignement Français à l'Etranger

See also


pl:Szkoły średnie we Francji


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