Whether you are starting your first child who is a native French speaker in pre-school in France, or have just moved here with several school-aged children who have never learned French, everyone goes through the process of finding the right schools for their family. And luckily, there are many schools in the Paris region which cater to all kinds of kids.
The choice of school is a personal one, and the following article will suggest criteria to consider and resources to help make your choice.
Questions to Ask Yourself and Others When Choosing a School in France
Start with Language
What language do you want your child(ren) to be taught in?
Do you want your child to learn (and learn in) French?
Would you like your child to be truly bilingual?
Depending on your family situation and your child’s personality, these are vital considerations.Some non-French-speaking children adapt very quickly to French school and have no problem picking up the language, while others have difficulty understanding French and may be best supported with English as their learning language.
If you are staying a short time in France:
Families who are in France for only a short period of time should seriously consider whether to expose their children to the French language and culture, or opt for education in their native language. Are you worried about putting your English-speaking child in a French public school? Ask about the Classe d’initiation pour non-francophones or “CLIN”. This initiative helps integrate non French-speaking 7 to 12 year-olds into French public schools.
Generally speaking, very young children (under 5 years old) adapt very easily to French as the primary language at school, although a mature and motivated older child can also benefit from even just one year in a French school.
If you are here permanently:
For English-speaking families planning on staying in France for the long-term, bilingual schools, or public schools with an international section can provide an ideal solution for learning French while at the same time becoming literate in another language.
Questions to Narrow Down Your Choices
As mentioned above, what language requirements does your child/children have? This will help steer you in finding a school that offers what they need. (It is also possible to supplement French public school with English/other language clubs, if they are available in your area.)
Does your child need to complete specific courses or have special needs or interests?
Would you prefer a school affiliated with a particular faith?
What sports, language or technical facilities would you hope to find?
Does your child need a lot of structure, or small classes?
Do you want your family to be part of your neighbourhood community by participating in the local public school?
How far are preferred schools from your home and/or work? Some specialized schools such as private schools have maximum commuting times, so consider choosing housing nearer to the school. If you have young children who need to be taken to school, imagine your life being a triangle between home-work-school, and picture your daily routine to see if it is doable.
What transportation would be necessary to reach them, is it feasible for your family? (Kids in France who attend public schools walk/bike or take public buses or are driven. Some private schools offer private buses.)
Another important consideration is cost. The French education system provides compulsory schooling, free of charge, for children 3 to 16 years old. Private tuition fees range greatly from school to school, and can depend on school level as well. Once you understand your goals for your child(ren)'s schooling plan, you can more easily decide if and when the investment is warranted. There are great schools at every price point (including public schools which are free!), and there is not a correlation between quality and price.
Whatever you decide, it is possible to find multilingual activities and playmates for your child in and around Paris through Message and other groups for internationals. Even if the school environment is in one particular language, you can create a social environment that fosters a rich and inclusive language experience for your child(ren) and family.
Wondering which is best for your family, or if there are specific schools that come recommended? There are two invaluable books available on the subject in English, published by the Association of American Women in Europe (AAWE) “Guide to Education in France” for primary and secondary schooling, and for information about university, “Beyond the Bac—Higher Education in France & Abroad”.
Word of mouth is always an excellent way to begin your research into choosing a school. Ask your colleagues, friends, neighbours, for details of where they send (or sent) their children. Take a walk around your neighborhood, and visit your local town hall (mairie) to find out which public school is in your catchment area. Consider consulting members of Message on our forum for recommendations.
Once you have drawn up a shortlist of schools, if they are private, contact them directly and request general information about the school. Things to consider include teaching staff and management, tuition fees, services provided (particularly for expat kids), the curriculum, extracurricular activities and sports, as well as academic expectations. Try to visit your preferred school on an open day before making a final decision. This is your chance to interview the schools and find the best fit for you and your child.
In doing your research you might come across the different categories of schools in France. They are : public (state-run), private sous contrat (i.e. complies with the French national curriculum), and private hors contrat (outside the French curriculum).
Paris Public Schools
Residents of Paris can consult an interactive map of Paris public school catchment zones. You can also find school enrollment (l’inscription scolaire) forms and information on the website: Paris public school enrollment.
Feel Confident with a Back Up Plan
Unless you have ruled out your local public school as being completely unacceptable, it is a good idea to register your child there as a fall-back solution so he or she will have a place to go in September at the start of the school term (la rentrée).
Planning for the Future
If your family's future plans include an eventual international move, you will want to ensure that your child can re-enter school at the next location without losing credit or having to repeat a year. Discuss your child’s situation with school officials both at home and in France. Most international schools in Paris strive to keep their students abreast of requirements at home.
No Matter What You Choose
There are many excellent schools in and around Paris, so even if you start at one school and need to change, that can absolutely be an option. The most important thing is focusing your decision on what is right for your child(ren) and your family. You are not alone in making this decision and many of our members have been through it and are happy to answer your questions.
Are you learning French? Check out our list of French school vocabulary to see what words you might come across.
This article was originally published in 'The ABC's of Parenting in Paris' -curated by our members, and filled with insiders' tips and practical information. As part of our drive towards greater sustainable practices, the book is no longer available in print form. This article was updated for 2023 by Annie Kamp and Stephanie Rink.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message. Message cannot be held responsible for any information contained in or omitted from this article.