The French education system

The school system through the baccalaureate

Not sure exactly how the French education system works? In France, the Central Government is responsible for education as a public service. Schooling is compulsory starting at age 6, but children usually start preschool (maternelle) at age 3. Then they enter elementary school for 5 years (primary cycle). Middle school (known as collège in France) lasts 4 years. Schooling remains compulsory until the age of 16.
After middle school, the students can go to a high school (lycée), a technical school, or opt for a short 2-year cycle leading to a Certificate of Professional Studies (BEP) or Certificate of Professional Ability (CAP). After this 2-year cycle, the students will then take a vocational baccalaureate exam. Middle school and high school are known as the secondary cycle.
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High school lasts 3 years and ends with the baccalaureate, which is considered to be the first university degree.
France recognises academic freedom. That is why there are religious and non-religious private schools where about 20% of primary and secondary students are educated. Most of these schools are recognised by and are "under contract" with the Central Government.

Preschools and primary schools in Nantes Saint-Nazaire

Nantes has 113 public schools. To enrol your child, contact the city hall to find out what school district you are in (Allo Nantes: 02 40 41 90 00). If you wish to enrol your children in a school outside your district, you can request an exemption from the city hall. Nantes also has around twenty private primary schools.

In Saint-Nazaire, more than 5200 children are enrolled at 20 public preschools and primary schools. To facilitate the administrative procedures for families, the enrolment process is done at Espace-Famille, 31 avenue Léon Blum (Telephone: +33 (0)2 44 73 44 35). Saint-Nazaire also has 7 private primary schools.

There are public schools in all the other municipalities in the Nantes Saint-Nazaire metro area, and often private schools as well. Parents should contact their local town hall for information on public schools, or contact the school administration directly.

Middle schools and high schools

After primary school, children move into the secondary cycle. They start middle school (collège) at age 11 or so and stay for four years before going to high school (lycée) for three years.
There are 82 public middle schools and 58 private middle schools in Loire-Atlantique. In general, children are oriented to their neighbourhood school.

There are nearly one hundred public and private high schools in Loire-Atlantique. Most are located in the Nantes and Saint-Nazaire metro areas. Though your home address determines which high school your child will attend for general tracks, students choosing specific sectors or specialties are oriented towards high schools offering the specialties in question.

Learning languages

In primary school
Primary schools are beginning to offer foreign language learning. Teachers are promoting this, for example with the help of international students. Extracurricular activities also offer introductory workshops to foreign languages.
In middle school


In the first year of middle school, students choose a first foreign language (LV1), with 4 hours of classes per week. Until recently they began to learn a second foreign language (LV2) in the third year of middle school. Under the new reform, starting in September 2016, they will begin learning a second foreign language in the second year of middles school.
Some colleges offer enhanced language teaching (bi-national/European sections).

In high school
The teaching of two foreign languages is mandatory in all tracks in high school. Three modern languages can even be studied in some tracks. There are also specific tracks like the so-called bi-national or European sections.
In 2014 the Nelson Mandela international high school opened in Nantes, offering an American international section and binational classes leading to a double baccalaureate (the French-Spanish Bachibac and the French-German Abibac). These exams are also offered by Guist'hau high school and Blanche de Castille high school.