Necessary papers for Registering in French Schools
Before you leave your country, make sure you get copies of all the papers/forms that you may need to register for schools, sports, activities etc. Medical records would be useful especially if your child has any additional needs.
Stock up on photocopies of Passports, Identification cards, vaccination/immunisation forms, birth certificates, letters or school reports from the child’s main teacher (optional but could be helpful). Anything that looks official could potentially be useful. Some of these documents may need to be translated by an official translator but to save money, have them translated when you arrive as different departments sometimes have different requirements. Check with your local Mairie (Town/City Hall) as they will have a list of registered translators who they may insist you use. Some official documents must bear an official dated stamp from the issuing country and it is only valid for 3 months like for birth certificates.
The French School System
Back to school – La Rentrée
La Rentrée (which means ‘going back to school’) is a term used by everyone in France whether they have kids or not. A new school year starts with cultural activities, sport activities and special events whereas July and August are set aside for holidays and many things shut down entirely.
The French school system tries to make sure that there is a vacation roughly every 5/6 weeks.
The ‘Rentrée’ is usually at the very beginning of September.
There’s a 2nd week mid-term fall break at the end of October (called La Toussaint).
There’s a 2nd week Christmas vacation usually starting around the 3rd week of December.
Back to school is the first Monday of the year (January).
A 2 week mid-winter break around mid-February/March
And another 2 week mid-spring break around Easter time but not necessarily at Easter itself!
May has many holidays and school days off!
All vacations are the same nationally except the mid-term winter and spring breaks that are divided into 3 geographic zones …
French School Vacation
Zone A – Caen, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Rennes & Toulouse
Zone B – Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Besançon, Dijon, Lille, Limoges, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Poitiers, Reims, Rouen & Strasbourg
Zone C – Bordeaux, Créteil, Paris & Versailles
Here’s the school vacation calendar for 2016-2017.
|Zone A||Zone B||Zone C|
|First Day : Thursday 1st September 2016|
|End of classes: Wednesday 19th October 2016
Back to Class: Thursday 3rd November 2016
|Christmas Vacation: Saturday 17th December 2016
Back to Class: Tuesday 3rd January 2017
|End of classes:
Saturday 18th February 2017
Back to class:
Monday 6th March 2017
|End of classes:
Saturday 11th February 2017
Back to class:
Monday 27th February 2017
|End of classes:
Saturday 4th February
Back to class:
Monday 20th February 2017
|End of classes:
Saturday 15th April 2017
Back to class:
Tuesday 2nd May 2017
|End of classes:
Saturday 8th April 2017
Back to class:
Monday 24th April 2017
|End of classes:
Saturday 1st April 2017
Back to class:
Tuesday 18th April 2017
|End of classes: Wednesday 24th May 2017
Back to class: Monday 29th May 2017
|School Ends: Saturday 8th July 2017|
The winter and spring vacations are staggered for several reasons. One of them is to generously share our national alpine treasures with all – our snowy peaks are not called “l’Or Blanc”(white gold) for nothing. From an economical point of view, the relatively short season of snow coverage is therefore spread out over several weeks to alleviate congestion in stations, airports and on the roads. This is good news as it means that ‘our’ Savoie/Haute Savoie ski resorts won’t be jam packed at the same time. Even with one vacation zone on holiday, the mountain roads are still a total mess so imagine if everyone were off together it would cause a total melt down, literally! At the best of times, those Saturday change over days are pretty crazy on the roads. Throw a bit of snow into the picture and don’t be surprised if you end up spending the night in a not-so-cosy school gym if you can’t reach your destination. Once we left from our home close to Aix-les-Bains for a week in Tignes that is normally a 2 ½ hour drive. We packed up the kids and set off at noon on Saturday. We didn’t arrive at our rented apartment before midnight. Yes, even us Savoyards were stuck without snow chains and with hungry, howling kids in one of the worse traffic jams of the year. It was fabulous! NOT.
Driving during School Vacation
Do plan ahead Drive on Fridays or Sundays. Most rental deals are from Saturday to Saturday but you could try to negotiate or even forego a night’s rental rather than get stuck. We give some information about this in Driving in France check it out. A great friend of mine says never travel on our roads on Saturdays even in the summer! During the winter months tune into 107.7 “Autoroute” for regular traffic reports in English.
Since Saturday is a changeover day, ski passes are often less expensive and the resorts are almost empty so there’s another reason to arrive on Friday!
Understanding the French School System
The Savoie and Haute Savoie offer a number of really good public, private and International schools. For obvious reasons it would be easier for you to register your child or children in a smaller town and school than in a big city. Being American, my experiences of the French school system are of course seen from my own personal standpoint. My children were born in France and have always lived here and I can say that the French school system up until University level is academically excellent. However, like anywhere, nothing is perfect and like anywhere not every child will necessarily be a classic ‘text book’ academic. Children who do have ‘learning difficulties’ could find the lessons tougher than what they are used to.
Kids with Difficulties and Differences
Apparently ‘selection-by-elimination’ is at the heart of the French education system a method that dates back to the reign of Napoleon in the early 19th century. The classroom is quite competitive and as from secondary school, children in French schools are used to being strictly graded out of 20.They are expected to fit the mold. For children who have learning difficulties, the teachers don’t have the time (as classes tend to be large) and are not trained to deal with such issues and therefore are not able to adapt accordingly. Naturally this is a stark contrast if we compare it to the American and English models of education that pride themselves on nurturing students’ creativity with positive encouragement.
The French education system is rather elitist to say the least. In a nut shell, it strives for a high academic level and is one that produces a small number of extremely bright students . Unfortunately a nationally driven one-size-fits–all approach doesn’t necessarily suit those whose aspirations or talents lie elsewhere. The proof of this can be seen today as in the past so much emphasis was put on studying and obtaining qualifications like the baccalaureate that today there is a massive shortage of skilled trade professions e.g. electricians, plumbers and woodworkers etc.
Other things to know about in the French school system
When chatting about the subject with friends, other comparisons came up. One British friend realised when her kids were in “Primaire”, “Collège” and “Lycée” there is no morning assembly at school. This means there is no real community style bonding of the school and its pupils. There is rarely an occasion where one class will come into contact with another. It is more about the individual than the group. There are no school plays and religious festivals are not celebrated, as schools are secular. Less time is spent doing art and music. Children don’t wear uniforms to school here.
Positive points for French System
On a more positive note, the school lunches are really impressive compared to England and America. Lunch consists of a real 3 course meal in primary school and ‘proper’ food. My friends twins age 9, who have just moved fresh from the UK say that the school lunches are their favorite thing about school here!
They also love being able to use fountain pens and have already learnt the cursive style of writing in French which makes for beautiful handwriting. They also loved going on school outings where they have done cross country skiing and fishing! (Not at the same time!). There seem to be more outings/field trips than back home which appeals to the children.
Here is an interesting site that I have found useful to compare of the different school systems:
Differences between French, English and American school systems:
Here’s another way of looking at it …
Enrolling in French Schools
Enrolling your English speaking child in the French school system could be challenging but it is the quickest way of becoming fluent and being a part of the community. Having French friends will speed up the learning process. It’s challenging because on average there are 30 kids per class, they give regular tests and they have a fondness for dictations and love rote learning poetry! Your child will be expected to keep up with homework and to keep up a minimum average grade of 50%. There isn’t a lot offered in language support but several friends have managed to find friendly retired neighbours who can help with homework. The French education philosophy might not correspond to your child’s needs so you may want to look into it in more depth. State schools in France are free.
Enrolling in International Schools
Enrolling in International schools will be easier for many obvious reasons; the average class size is smaller, quicker friendships formed, there’s a better understanding of each other, it’s easier to reintegrate other international school programs. The flip side is that many kids are there for a short time and move on. Learning French will take longer and you might even have to sign up for classes outside of the international school which may make the long days even longer.
Getting and settling into a new school can be stressful for both parents and children. Visit the Mairie and find out where your local school is. The local state schools fall into different catchment areas so your address will be the deciding factor for registration unless your children attend a private school.
Registering in a French Public/State School
In certain circumstances, you may like your child to go to a public school that isn’t in your neighbourhood catchment area. This may be because you work nearby or as often happens in high school, certain options like music/theatre/sport are only available in a school that is further away. If this is the case, you will need to apply for a ‘derogation’. This document can be obtained from your Mairie (town/city hall). You must then have it signed initially by the Director/Directrice of the school your child is officially supposed to attend and then by the signature of the Director/Directrice of the school you would like your child to attend. The heads of the establishments can give a ‘favourable’ or ‘non-favourable’ decision to your request. This is because when a child is placed in a different school they have to decide where the money allocated for that child goes – should it stay with the original school or move with the child to the requested school. This document, the derogation, is then returned to the Mairie and they will advise you whether the decision is favourable or not. The comments made by each head on the form may not guarantee the final outcome of the decision. It will ultimately boil down to a headcount and the allocation of money that counts for the decision. It can be a very stressful time while you are waiting for the decision. However, if you have siblings following the first child you won’t have the same stress. You will still have to go through the same procedure and complete the paperwork at the beginning of Maternelle, Primaire and collège, but as there is a sibling already at the school they won’t separate them. You can’t be in two places at the same time dropping off kids at school at 8.30!
French School Levels/Classes
PS Petit Section 2 1/2, 3 years old
MS Moyen Section 4
GS Grand Section 5
CP Cours Préparatoire 6
CE1 Cours Elémentaire 7
CM1 Cours Moyen 9
6eme 11, 12
5eme 12, 13
4eme 13, 14
3eme 14, 15
Second 15, 16
Première 16, 17
Terminal 17, 18
Explaining the French School system
When you are in la 3eme you must decide which Baccalaureat you would like to take in High School – three years later. There a few different Bac’s, the three majors are Bac L Literature, Bac ES Economics and Bac S Science/Math. The poor kids are put into categories by the age of 14 and it is really hard to change. In High School you must accumulate as much knowledge as possible on the subjects of your Bac. The system is basically to learn everything by heart. They do less hands-on practical work but they do get to learn about philosophy! There’s not time in the class for self-expression and letting your imagination run wild. Each Baccalaureate has classes in French, Math, Science, History-Geography, it’s just the depth of studies that changes. If your child is better at French than Math, he may go on to do the Bac L. Parents are always very proud to announce that there child is taking the Bac S. The level is high and the students are stressed out. Some can’t handle the pressure and the quantity of work. Obtaining your Bac is the key to the next step.
Studying after High School in France
As I haven’t had much first-hand experience of universities and other higher education structures, I won’t go into any detail. I do know is that it can be a confusing maze for those kids who haven’t a chosen career path already mapped out. Standard French Universities (la fac) are free and provide good education but most classes are so packed that in certain majors there aren’t enough seats. Students have to be quite independent and know how to fend for themselves so it doesn’t suit those who need more structure and a more personal touch. To really benefit from the system it’s probably preferable that the student knows exactly what they want to do early on. As this is not always the case, the system can be tough and once again it seems to favour the elite. Obviously this is my personal opinion which as I mentioned I haven’t had too much experience in.
Would love to try and help with your specific problem or dilemma write to me at email@example.com.
Most classes are from 8 :30 to 11 :30 – 1 :30 to 4 :00pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Wednesday’s are tricky. Some classes depending on age are held only in the mornings. This is to give the kids some time to rest and participate in extracurricular activities. Most high school students go all day Wednesday. Sports, art and music is done after school at 4 :30 pm and most students have an hour or two of homework everyday so their days are long. A school day should never exceed 5.30 hours. On an average they do 24 but can go up to 30 hours of classes for higher levels up to University. Lunch is served at schools and the price can depend on your income. Taking a pack lunch is out of the question. Meals are sacred and sandwiches don’t count as a meal here! Many kids do go home for lunch as the 2 hour break gives them the time to do so. Recently the system has changed and most classes finish at 4 :00pm (in primary schools) with a choice of extracurricular activities until the children get picked up at 4 :30 -5 :00.
Sometimes in private schools like Ombrosa in Voglans will look after the kids till 6 :30pm with no charge.
Extracurricular activities are generally not offered in schools although recently primary schools are offering more. Perhaps they are considered too frivolous?! Parents need to find out themselves about the various activities/clubs and sign up themselves. Some villages/Mairie’s (town halls) organise a day where they hold a gathering of all the different sports associations and clubs that you can sign up for (during the first week of September). France does have an interesting and diverse list of potential activities to take up but do remember that you generally sign up for a whole year and not just for one semester as we do in other countries. Beware too that it is difficult to join a group mid-year. Competition for places is tough so to make sure that you get a place, start queuing early on the sign up days for your particular activity!
When talking about extracurricular activities ‘Extra’ is the appropriate word when you see the price! Depending on the activity, sports club, etc. it can get expensive. One friend had to fork out 1000€ the second week of September for her 3 kids. Watch out and ask for prices!
Joining Kids Sport Clubs in France
To join sports clubs the children need to have had a medical examination. This is a fairly routine procedure and doctors find themselves inundated with the month of September when the clubs start back up again. Before visiting the doctor you should go to the club you are interested in as they will often have a specific form which needs to be stamped by the doctor and they might not accept the general certificate supplied by the doctor. The stamp has to be on their own forms which are provided with the inscription paperwork. It’s very frustrating if you have had the foresight in being organised and getting a certificate direct from the doctor!
Extracurricular Musical activities in France
The teaching level of musical instruments is very high in France. “The Conservatoire” is the name for the public music school. The theory of music is compulsory and your child will use the solfege system ‘do re mi’ and not the letter system ABC. This can be a learning curve if your child had already started learning an instrument in your own country. Another obstacle is that there are very few spots available so you must register very early, even try in June for September
School Supplies in France
‘Extra’ (complicated) also comes to mind when you get hold of the much awaited book and stationary list from the teachers in August or beginning of September. Each teacher likes to use a specific binder, notebook, type of paper, type of paper for tests, pencils, pens, and even the width between the lines on the paper is measured. There is a special book where the kids dutifully have to write down the day’s homework in – (le cahier de devoir). This is one of the things that the children love choosing as there is a vast choice. Allocate enough time for this annual pilgrimage as the panic sets in to get everything on the list. Sometimes you must go to 2/3 different stores to find it all. The children seem to live in fear of not having the precise, required object in their bags! Whoever would have thought that there were so many different types of paper on the market!
Extra expensive too!
MY TIP : Take your list to a papeterie like Garin in Chambery, Plein Ciel in Aix-les-Bains and they will do the rest. It is costly but worth the time gained. If you must go to a supermarket like Carrefour. Please shop in July or August. In September it’s a mad house!
Vaccinations for school
Certain vaccinations are required for children entering kindergarten and primary schools. Do check beforehand.
School Insurance in France
Extra – Insurance. Schools require that every student has his/her own personal insurance before starting class. The school or your Mairie can help with names of companies. Once you are covered and have received the documents in the mail make a copy for yourself and take the original to the school. Most schools are very strict about this.
To obtain school insurance in France
Find a local insurance company and ask for assurance scolaire. It is compulsory for each child. It covers two things, résponibilité civile if your child hurts another and assurance accidentale if your child hurts him or herself.
What is needed
Your home address
Name of your school
And €15 per year per child.
Contact Sylvie Girerd at S2G Assurances +33 (0) 4 79 88 06 25 for any information. She likes speaking English.
Loads of information for local town public schools can be found on the town’s bulletin board or by asking directly at the Mairie, many unfortunately don’t have internet sites yet.
Here are some ideas for schools in my area of Savoie :
English International Schools in Savoie
Ombrosa – the International, Bilingual School.
Actually it is located in two places Voglans for the younger kids PS – CM2 and
Bourget du Lac for Le Collège 6eme – 3eme. Then there’s the International High School in Caluire-en-Cuire, Lyon.
Contact Jayne at +33 (0) 4 79 54 48 86, +33 (0) 9 62 60 89 69.
Rue Centrale 73420 Voglans
Le Collège George Sand in La Motte Servolex
offers an International section with 7 hours of English/English Literature loosely based on the British curriculum, with 2 hours of History/Geography in English too.
2351 Ave René Cassin 73290 La Motte Servolex
Contact Alison at + 33 (0)4 79 26 05 66
Lycée Vaugelas in Chambéry
This high school offers the follow on after ‘Georges Sand’ with their English Literature option for the Baccalaureate exam leading to an additional qualification OIB – Option International for the Bac.
10 Rue Jean Pierre Veyrat 73000 Chambery
+33 (0) 4 79 62 19 62
I have heard that there are a couple of public schools with English programs in Barberaz primary school and in St Baldoph.
Schools in Haute Savoie
Ecole Bilingue 74
Created in 2010, Ecole Bilingue de Haute-Savoie is a French and English bilingual kindergarten and primary school focusing on the academics as well as on the children’s personal development.
Contact Hélène Jager at +33 (0)4 50 02 39 53 / +33 (0)6 64 06 27 24
Red Apple Bilingual School
Created in 2015 in Pringy near Annecy
Sainte Crois des Neiges
Chef-Lieu – 74360 Abondance
Haute-Savoie Tél. +33 (0)4 50 73 01 20 Fax +33 (0)4 50 73 08 85
There are also French Montessori schools.
There is a link for all of the International schools in France.
Summer fun for kids, and just during summer …
A lot the following contacts work during every school vacation however you you must contact them directly.
During summer there are a lot of possibilities to keep the kids busy around here. Mostly there are day camps that run for a week at a time.
Patrick Tuloup at the Aix-les-Bains Tennis club offers days filled with fun sports activities ranging from tennis to soccer and basketball. He only speaks French he says but his mother is American so … he probably understands some!
Patrick hasn’t started working on his summer program but I will publish something as soon as he has.
For more information call him at +33 (0) 6 88 49 79 46.
Unfortunately so far I haven’t found English speaking summer camps but I will keep up the research. So look back for any changes and if you have any suggestions or questions write me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Handball in Chambery
Super organisation in Champagny en Vanoise
Fishing in Savoie
Here is a link to a French site that could help a little. As there are many many options, type Savoie or Haute Savoie for detailed help.
Here is an interesting one for those of you close
Handball in Annecy
Kids Camps in France
It would be good if you could reserve your camp in May or June but many take walk ups. Just go and ask. Of course, the majority of the kids only speak French but when playing a sport you don’t really need to know any vocabulary and it’s a great way of learning more French. When looking on line for camps use Keywords like ‘Club de Sport’, ‘Stage d’été’ or ask for a specific activity in French. I use a great translation app: Harrap’s Shorter.
There will be forms to fill out, information to provide … in French. Most organisations won’t ask to be paid till the first day of camp and cash is the only option unless you have a French bank account in which case you can pay by check.
If you need any assistance please contact me at email@example.com. I am here for you.
The Norm for your kids when interacting with French kids
In order not to appear rude, it should be said that your kids had better get used to kissing everybody on both cheeks! When you drop of your child at somebody’s house for a play date or sleepover, they kiss the host and of course it is the same when they leave. Sometimes the children will also greet each other with ‘les bises’ (the 2 cheek kiss). Air kissing is acceptable!
There are other things which are useful to know about
what is normal and expected for a playdate or sleepover.
If your child is invited to a sleepover take bedding (sleeping bag and pillow), toiletries and a small gift. It isn’t expected but it’s just a nice touch. Remember that the French eat late, rarely before 7.30pm which is why the ‘gouter’ or tea time snack is so important.
At French children’s birthday parties it is an orgy of sweets and cakes so don’t expect any party sandwiches! The kids will come home climbing the walls with the sugar over load!
Cards and French
The French don’t do cards, at least not many do I should say.
I can remember the first thank you card I wrote to my in laws thanking them for the wonderful time I had during my first stay with them. They just laughed and quickly put the card away (for fear of showing their feelings).
Birthday cards are fine but other cards are just too gushy. It does seem strange for a nation known for its art of seduction and frequent kissing rituals that they would find it so alien to spill your heart out on paper or in person. The French sometimes seem uncomfortable or even a bit suspicious of unexpected displays of kindness or anything too touchy feely! My French family and friends finally understood me when they all came to the States for a party I had organised. They saw that most of us are like that!
Thank you cards are mostly sent after weddings, and for gifts that were received without seeing the giver.
Celebrating in France
There’s no need to go overboard for French Birthdays – they seem to be much a more low-key affair. The French don’t really do birthdays that well I find! (Maybe again it’s to do with showing feelings… I dunno!) We tend to go a bit over the top making the person feel super special, decorating the breakfast table, making a fuss of them all day! Here, you’re lucky if your (French) partner wishes you a Happy Birthday before midday! (OK slight exaggeration perhaps!). Christmas here is a similar affair… at home the shops are literally bursting with festive season’s sparkling party attire (not to mention the obligatory tasteless Christmas sweater which is now a ‘must’!) – normally Christmas is a great excuse to dress up to the nines but surprisingly here people hardly ever dress up for anything. Maybe I am missing something or maybe I’m not being invited to the right parties but if I ever got dolled-up the way we would for an English office/Christmas party, people would think we were raving mad here!!
Oh nearly forgot… for the British, you can forget wearing the outrageous hats you guys love wearing to weddings…. They may think you are wearing ‘fancy dress!’
I would like to thank Catriona (Katie) and Lou for their help with ideas, thoughts, thoroughness and their English « voice ».
Disclaimer: The information contained on « Alpsfairy.com » should be regarded as a guideline only. I update information on a regular basis, but it is possible that something has fallen through the cracks. I would love to be the source of all knowledge, but unfortunately I am not! All situations are different and the information contained here may not be applicable to all cases. Please get in touch with me if you would like me to check any information in relation to your correct, particular situation. I am trying hard to remember all of the confusion and unanswered questions that I and my friends have suffered when first relocating in this beautiful, but sometimes difficult country. Ask me the questions you would like answered and I will do my very best to get you current answers. My goal is to help you through this minefield, but I can make no guarantees that I have caught all of the changes, all of the time, in all areas, but I sure am trying! firstname.lastname@example.org