10 Things You Didn’t Know About French Schools

A little girl sitting at a table

It’s almost time for back to school! (Yay?)

Here in the U.S., students are flocking to Staples for school supplies and finishing (hopefully not starting) their summer reading assignments. Soon, they’ll be back in their classrooms—and so will the students in France. But, their school experiences will be quite different. In honor of the coming return to academia, which the French call la rentrée, here are 10 things you didn’t know about French schools.

1. School lunches in France last 2 hours

…And feature multiple-course meals, including fresh bread, gourmet cheeses, meat, and seasonal fruits. Vending machines with junk food are banned, and the only available beverage is water. There is no “kids’ food,” and students are strongly discouraged from bringing a packed lunch, and most do not.

2. French students don’t have school on Wednesday afternoons.

Up until collège—the French equivalent of middle school, that ends in 9th grade, not 8th—students usually only have class until 12pm or 1pm on Wednesdays.

3. France doesn’t have a Pledge of Allegiance

In fact, almost no countries other than the USA (and probably North Korea) have national pledges in schools.

4. French school days last from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

And what a difference that time makes.

5. French schools offer very few extracurriculars.

Clubs are things your parents’ parents’ parents are born into. And organized leisure is a somewhat American concept.

6. Religious symbols of any kind are banned in French schools

Since 1905, the French government has been officially secular. The wearing of religious markers such as jewelry or headscarves is therefore illegal in schools- and is the subject of constant controversy.

7. Classrooms in France – like Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard – are bare

Unlike American classrooms, which are usually plastered with motivational posters, students’ work, and study aids, classrooms in France are liberated from the shackles of childish ornamentation.

8. Everything in France is scored out of 20

Meanwhile, grades in the US are scored out of 100% with 65% typically being the lowest passing grade. In France, grades are scored out of 20, and it’s nearly impossible to get a perfect score. 10 is a pass; 12 is “good”, and most teachers would never dream of giving over 17.

9. And grades are posted publicly 

On bulletins in hallways, for the entire school to see. Not only that, but your mention is listed right next to your grade; usually: très bien avec félicitation, très bien, bien, assez bien, insuffisant, très insuffisant—or worse, no mention at all.

10. French universities are affordable

Unlike American universities, which enslave students in a life-time debt cycle with tuition costing up to $70,000 a year, French universities typically cost several hundred euros per year. However, French students must pass the notoriously difficult BAC in order to be admitted. And whether you pass or not, there are no long graduation ceremonies with caps, gowns, or academic sashes.

A close up of a sign


Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Read more

Frenchly newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Frenchly Newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly stuff.