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Paris is home to many of the world’s top-rated schools and educational institutions. Expats placing their children in schools in Paris will find a high-quality and demanding level of education. Public schooling in France is free for expats who can provide proof of residence, and private schools and universities are often subsidised. Non-residents may have to pay tuition fees as the schools are financed through tax.
Schooling in Paris is an official requirement from age six, but many parents send their children to school much earlier. The collèges cater for children 11 to 15 years old, with lycées for the 15 to 18-year-olds. The baccalaureate, or le bac, is the finishing diploma for schooling in Paris, and performance in this exam determines access to higher education.
The schooling culture in Paris emphasises academic excellence and usually allows the teacher to preside over their domain with little input from parents. This may be difficult for expats to adjust to, and parents would do well to discuss these differences with their children before they enter into the schooling system.
Public schools in Paris
Expats legally residing in France are entitled to send their child to a public school in Paris at no cost. However, few expats take advantage of this option, partly because of the language barrier and also because most expats only move to the city for a few years.
For those looking to settle down in Paris for the longer term, it's worth exploring this option. Beyond monetary considerations, the most significant advantage of enrolling an expat child at a public school in Paris is that it allows them to become fluent in French, which in turn helps them integrate into French society faster.
That said, picking up a new language is easier for younger children. Older children who don’t already speak French often find attending public schools in France overwhelming because of the language barrier. While some schools do offer extra language classes to help bring foreign students up to speed, this remains relatively rare.
The standards of public schools vary considerably in Paris. Better schools tend to be located in more affluent areas. Generally, class sizes at public schools are large, and one teacher for 30 students is quite common.
Private schools in Paris
Private schools can be a great middle-ground option for expats, especially as many of these provide classes taught in English as well as in French. There are two types of private schools in France: those that have contracts with the government and those that don't. A private school may ease a child's transition into French culture, especially for those from substantially different backgrounds.
As fees can be subsidised by the government, expats find that private school fees in France are often cheaper than those at an equivalent school in their home country.
International schools in Paris
Paris is also home to several international schools. These are popular among expats who are only in Paris for a short period and have plans to return to their home country. International schools in Paris offer a range of curricula including British, American and International Baccalaureate.
The benefit of sending expat children to international schools is that it allows them to have a degree of continuity in their studies, which can ease their adjustment to life in a new country. It also allows them to mix with other expat students who might face similar challenges.
Standards at international schools in Paris are excellent. These also offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities including sports, music and art. Fees at international schools in Paris tend to be high, so expats should negotiate an allowance to cover these within their employment contract, if possible.
Homeschooling in Paris
Homeschooling, or l'école à la maison, is legal in France. That said, expats wishing to pursue this option must register annually with the school inspectorate. Parents who choose to homeschool their children will also be subject to yearly inspections by the local education authority to ensure that students are receiving an adequate standard of education.
Several support groups and homeschooling organisations assist those who choose to homeschool their expat children in Paris.
Tutoring in Paris
The private tutoring industry in Paris is on the rise. While most tutors offer one-on-one sessions, some services provide small group sessions. The French government has taken steps to regulate the private tutoring industry, but parents should work through a reputable tutoring agency to ensure that the teachers are properly equipped to teach their children.
Finding a tutor suitably qualified to teach French and International Baccalaureate curricula is fairly easy in Paris. However, fewer tutors can assist with other national curricula, such as the British or American.
Parents will find that their children’s school and other expat parents may be a good starting point for sourcing qualified private tutors. Axiom Academic is a global tutoring database which offers access to many tutors throughout Paris.
Special-needs education in Paris
The infrastructure in place to support people with special needs in Paris is fairly well established. Where possible, both public and private schools in France try to cater to the needs of students with special needs through the use of specialist teaching assistants. The Maison Départmenetale des Personnes Handicapeés (MDPH) is the organisation charged with evaluating a child's special needs. They work with the Commission des Droits et de l'autonomie des Personnes Handicapeés (CDAPH) to create a personalised learning plan.
When a special-needs student can’t be accommodated at a mainstream school, there is the option of a specialised school or private tutor. The availability of additional staff and facilities to cater for students with special needs often depends on the school as well as the area in which it's located. It is therefore important for parents of students with special needs to investigate the availability of appropriate facilities when selecting a school in Paris.
Tertiary education in Paris
The French tertiary education system is divided into grandes écoles and universities, with the former being more prestigious.
Unlike many other countries, universities in France are specialised rather than general. This means that students choose to attend universities based on their subject choice. For example, the École Polytechnique is an engineering school, while HEC Paris is a business school. The University of Paris is a world-leading tertiary education institution specialising in the humanities.
Public institutions such as the Polytechnique have set fees and receive subsidies from the government, so costs are kept relatively low. For private universities in Paris, such as HEC Paris, costs can be significantly higher.
► To read more about the French education system, see Education and Schools in France
"There are a great variety of private schools – international, bilingual (in different languages), Montessori and so on. Since my kids are still young, we made a conscious decision to send them to a public school in our area. It turned out to be a good choice."
Learn more about living in Paris in our interview with Russian expat Rita.
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