C’est la Rentrée!

Hands up if the vocabulary and acronyms associated with the French Education System leave you standing outside the classroom door! Your neighbour’s grandson ‘va redoubler’. What a clever girl his sister must be, going to college at just 11 years old. And what on earth is BAC + 3?

Please don’t mark us down on the content of this article. It would fill a very thick exercise book to explain the full system in detail, so we have  put together a very basic guide to French schooling vocab and its approximate British equivalent to give you a very rough idea of how it works.

Did You Know?

The word for teacher, un professeur, is always masculine even when the teacher is a lady. However, you will often hear people talking about ma prof or une prof and nobody minds, even though it is grammatically incorrect.

A Little Bit of History

The education system in France can actually be traced back to the Roman Empire. Much credit also later goes to Napoleon for reorganising and modernizing the structure in order to create a middle-class pot of future leaders.

However, the real founding father of modern French education has to be Jules Ferry.  This French foreign minister of the 1870s is remembered for making education free, secular (laïque) and compulsory  for both boys and girls from 6 to 13, and training nonreligious teachers for the classrooms.

Did You Know

All French tests / exams are marked out of 20. Ten out of 20, called la moyenneand anything above , is a pass, required in each subject.

A Little Bit of Useful Information

Maternelle – Pre-school (non-compulsory)

Usually from 3 to 6 years

3 Petite Section Nursery Class
4 Moyenne Section Reception class
5 Grande Section Year 1

Enseignement primaire – Primary education

Ecole Primaire – Primary school (also known as “écoles élementaires”) covers the ages 6 to 11 years
6 CP – Cours Préparatoires year 2
7 CE1 – Cours Elementaire year 3
8 CE2 – Cours Elementaire 2nd year year 4
9 CM1 – Cours Moyens 1st year year 5
10 CM2 – Cours Moyens 2nd year year 6
Collège – Secondary School / High School
11 Sixième  (6e ) year 7
12   Cinquième (5e) year 8
13 Quatrième (4e) year 9
14 Troisième (3e) year 10
Lycée – a sort of mix between Secondary school and Sixth form
15 Seconde (2nde) Year 11
16 Première (1ère) Year 12 – Lower Sixth
17 Terminale Year 13 – Upper Sixth

French Qualifications in Brief ! (Just the basics)

La rentréeBrevet Blanc – Equivalent of Mock GCSE’s , (or O Levels if you’re a certain age!) sat by all students in ‘troisième’ just after Christmas.

Brevet (Diplôme National du Brevet (DNB) – Equivalent to GCSE’s sat at the end of the ‘troisième’. It equates roughly to 4 Grade C GCSE’s, but is taken at the age of 14 instead of 16 in the UK.  To pass the Brevet a child needs to have a basic knowledge in a range of core subjects as opposed to the passing or failing of individual subjects, as is the case in the UK.

Baccalauréat or BAC (Introduced by Napoleon in 1808)
Equivalent to A Levels in the UK, there are three main types depending on academic capabilities. A student must gain an average  (la moyenne) of at least 10 out of 20 across a range of core disciplines as opposed to passing individual subjects.

BAC Générale – The most academic, usually leading to higher education / university

BAC Professionnel – Vocational based, usually leading directly to apprenticeship or jobs for the lucky ones.

BAC Technologique – Similar idea to the Bac Pro but more geared to direct students into further education.

Rough French / English Equivalents

BAC  A Level
Licence    ( BA  etc) BAC+3
Master 1  (Master ) BAC+4
Master 2 No real equivalent
Doctorat     (PHD) BAC+7


La Rentrée – new school term
les fournitures scolaires – classroom equipment
Redoubler  – to repeat a year if  required standard hasn’t been reached.
Bulletin – school report
Note – mark or grade
Directeur/directrice – headmaster/mistress
Une  dissertation – essay
doué(e) – gifted, talented
réussir/ échouer – to pass/fail (an exam)
Un écolier– school pupil
Un collégien – middle school pupil
Un lycéen secondary school pupil
La moyenne (scolaire) – academic average


Papa: Lucien. Où est ton bulletin scolaire?

Lucien: Ah, ça? Je l’ai prêté à Alex pour qu’il fasse peur a son père !

(preter – to lend pour qu’il fasse peur – so he can frighten)

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