French schools

I've written about our experiences with schools in France several times - and can repeat that our experiences are mostly favourable. It is sometimes suggested that personal development is stifled in French schools, and the teaching is too rigid and old-fashioned, but this hasn't been our personal experience.

Expat children will often have different school experiences than French children in the same school for various reasons, including language and integration problems, and problems with the higher levels of discipline imposed. These issues will be greater for older (say, 10 years old or more) children arriving in a French school. Different nationalities also have different expectations of what a school should try to achieve.

Of the English families that we know here in south-west France, most have had favourable experiences, with children going on to lycées, universities, even grandes écoles (possibly the highest level of university education in France, depending on your viewpoint). Others have had less success, and moved back to the UK as a result of their problems.

Quite a few people have left responses on previous 'school' type posts, but these comments tend to go unnoticed because they are often on older blog posts - and it is interesting to see that different people have such different experiences of schools in France. So I thought I'd bring a few of them together here to try and summarise opinion:

Jacqui:"I recognise that the structured teaching methods (some call them old fashioned) that are standard here, would not suit every child. However I am thankful because our two girls are thriving here - they love school, work hard because they do not see it as ‘work’ and are comfortable switching between 2 or 3 languages without thinking! It wasn’t such a bad move…!"

JB: "I have lived in France for 2 years with primary aged children. I have found the French system. Strict, unimaginative, boring and totally focussed on the teachers needs and wants and not the childrens. Without exeption my children’s teachers have been uncaring, lazy, civil servants of the worst kind.
My posting in France is coming to end and we have had a wonderful time here and will miss many aspects of the country and its people. It’s education system however we will be pleased to see the back of

Yann: "Wait another year, and you’ll find out that French lycées offer one bit of extra hardship anglophone schools don’t require : excellence."

Melanie: "After nearly 4 years we are heading back to the UK as I see no future for my children if they continue their education in France."

Perhaps the only thing we can conclude about having children in French schools is that it is very difficult to foresee how things will turn out, since they seem to vary from one extreme to another. Our own daughter starts at lycée today in a nearby town much larger than the school where she has been at college, so it will be interesting to see how that works out. I'll keep you posted!

Note: read the extensive comments posted below by readers for much more information about French school issues and problems...



  1. Jean September 1, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I’ll be interested to see how your daughter gets on. Our son also starts at the Lycee tomorrow. Good luck to her.

  2. Jon in France September 4, 2008 at 8:28 am

    This is a subject about which I have written a number of articles. The issue is complex because all children are different, but I think that where things fall to pieces it is often as not because parents have an unrealistic expectation of a child’s ability to pick up the langauge.

    It is no good turning up in France with a child of seven, eight, nine, ten or whatever and expecting them to absorb the langauge in the same way that a three year old might. They will need considerably more support. Which, I hasten to add, is not the the same thing as saying it can not or should not be done.

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  4. Kate October 9, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    I would be interested to hear any other British parents’ experience of putting their young children into the French school system.

    We arrived in France two years ago with our shy, sensitive four year old son, who we put in the local international school (at the time we thought we would be here short-term). In two years he flourished academically, was very happy socially and gained enormously in confidence. In short he was the perfect student and jumped eagerly into his class every morning. The sole problem is that he didn’t learn French, and so couldn’t integrate with local children……. and then my husband’s contract here became permanent.

    This September, with months of lessons and French activities to prepare him, we put him into CP in our local, large, state school. He has a very sympathetic teacher, and appears to be coping academically. However, it’s clear to everyone he’s becoming withdrawn, and we suspect it’s due to social isolation.

    As yet it’s relatively early days, but how far do you persevere and push integration? For me, learning French is important, but not at the cost of my child’s emotional well-being.

    Any advice gratefully received!

  5. Boris October 11, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Hi Kate,
    It’s not at all easy, I know. Presumably if your husband’s job is permanent and you all intend to stay in France effectively permanently, then there is little option but to all learn French.
    We had difficulties for several months with our younger daughter when we arrived (she was 5) but all worked out in the end.
    Watching French TV (ie no English TV) helps language and means a child can join in TV related conversations at school; trying to speak French as a family at home; inviting other ‘quiet’ French children from the same class over at the weekend, all can help. Also extra-curricular activities such as drama group, a music group, pottery classes, etc can allow the child to integrate in a smaller, more personal group than is found in a playground, which can be easier for them.
    Unfortunately it is also necessary to be quite tough with the child – we have often seen that parents who are over-protective of their children or tell their children ‘we’ll just see how it goes for a few weeks’ ultimately have the most difficulties, while those who present the change as a fait accompli and tell their children they have to accept it do tend to be those who succeed in the long term. Not easy to do though.
    Good luck with the next few months!

  6. Jacqui U October 19, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    Kate, I can understand your concerns especially with a quiet withdrawn child at the moment.

    If you are going to be here permanently though, it is even more imperative that your son learns French however difficult this seems for him at the moment. He will be even mmore isolated if he cannot talk the language with other local children.

    Also he has changed schools which is bound to have an effect on him for a while. It is always more difficult to make new friends when friendships have already been forged amongst the other children at maternelle. Maybe concentrate, if possible, on encouraging friendships with children who live closest to you so that time together outside of school will be more possible. Find out if they go to any local clubs and join these as well?

    We also found that WE needed to make the effort and make friends with the parents, which in turn meant the children met up as well. Adults here tend to be more reserved and loath to ‘push’ themselves onto you – but once they know you WANT to become a part of the community (rather than be stand-offish like many incomers) they are very friendly.

    We can each only recount our own experiences but ours have been very positive.

    We arrived in France with a quiet 12 year old lacking self confidence and a bubbly outgoing and (very!) chatty 6 year old. Both have settled in and thrived amazingly.

    We believe the strict/old-fashioned school regime and the open friendliness of the local children in our area helped particularly – our eldest came out of her shell, was no longer picked upon for being bright but rather lauded by her classmates because she could speak English so well (doh!) and she is now totally comfortable talking in either language to anyone of any age.

    Our youngest has gained hugely by the higher level of discipline in class and the requirement to listen and learn – whilst not losing her friendliness nor exuberance in any way in the playground!
    Having spent two years in school in England where she found learning to read very difficult under the modern approach adopted there, she thrived under the more formal (some say old-fashioned) structured way that reading/language is taught here.

    I agree with Boris particularly about parents having to be quite tough though at times.

    We have always listened very seriously to all our girls’ concerns, especially at the beginning, whilst at the same time ensuring they were kept very much in perspective – it is too easy for expat parents to blame any ‘problems’ the children recant on ‘not speaking the language’.
    We all hear our children arriving home from school from time to time bewailing the fact that ‘they have no friends’ but we know from experience that this varies from day to day!

    Our eldest is in her last year at lycée and we would say – do not underestimate the amount of work they have to do, especially in the last two years! Days are long and the need to keep on top of homework cannot be stressed enough! You have to act the stern parent to keep their noses to the grindstone – and it is the same for their French classmates. We are told by those who have been through it however that university life seems a doddle after lycée for the students!

    Moving to college from primaire came as a shock for our youngest, who has always needed things to be gone through a few times before they sink in properly. We had to talk with her several times about the need to get on top of things in the 6ieme year – and explained that if she did not do so that year, she would have trouble catching up later. Again, something parents need to think of maybe under the French system.

    Things that we believed helped – no English TV for the first 3 years in our house, only French TV. We asked the children if there was anything they had ALWAYS dreamed of doing (they both chose horse riding) and we booked them in for weekly lessons right from the beginning.

    We took them to every party/invitation even if they said they did not particularly want to go, and invited other children around to our house regularly – however poor you might think their (or your) French is!

    The girls went to/from school on the bus so that they got to know the local children even though they were in other classes. Friendships here tend not to be so age/class dependant. Our girls ended up good friends with both older and younger children in our Commune.

    There were virtually no other English children in our area, so there was no temptation to encourage only these friendships. It would have been something we would have avoided however at all costs.

    In the beginning, we went through their homework with them every evening, whatever it was. Even when they said ‘we’ve done it, I promise!’
    Not only did it give us a chance to explain any bits they were unsure of, it also meant we could explain the language issues as we went along. We do not think it is right to expect the school to take all the responsibility for this with a foreign child.

    This was not meant to end up as an essay – so feel free to cut-down/edit-out anything you wish!


  7. Boris October 21, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Great contribution, thanks Jacqui (sorry it wasn’t approved sooner, it went automatically to ‘spam’, I don’t know why, so I didn’t see it)
    Our eldest is finding the transition from college to lycee to be a bit of a challenge work wise (but not social life wise) – I’m discussing terms with her for posting an occasional ‘life in lycée’ blog but she’s a tough negotiator!

  8. Jacqui U October 21, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Someone trying to tell you I am a dodgy blogger? I’m not, honest!

    Our eldest loved the extra priviledges she got once in lycée (as against the collegiens) – freedom to come and go through the gate without having to queue to have her carnet checked, their own seperate ‘playground’ and their own area in the canteen!

    Younger sister now VERY jealous!!!

    I will look forward to your daughter’s posts!!!

  9. Kate October 31, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Hello, thank you for the very useful posts. We’ve had a chat with my son’s lovely teacher; she had a discussion with the whole class about loneliness and making friends in general, how all children should be thoughtful of others’ feelings in the playground etc (without mentioning my son specifically). She also gave me the names of some quieter children who have all come here for playdates over the Tousaints holidays, with not inconsiderable linguistic/social success.

    It is certainly true that it an entire family project; I don’t think you can underestimate the difference the attitude and commitment of the parents can make.

    Perhaps you could have blogs for parents/children at different stages of the school system? French vs English school is an endlessly recurring topic of conversation in expat circles here.

    Although interestingly, all experiences are different. I’d been told the French system is much more academically rigorous than the British system, but suddenly my son found himself doing work he was doing two years previously. Maybe it will catch up; maybe the international school here was so stuffed with academic children that they were much further ahead than an average British school. Probably both!

  10. Jacqui U November 3, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Congratulations on a successful Toussaint! Playdates are a great idea! I am sure your son loved them!

    I would say the French system is academically more rigorous/advanced – but ‘overall’ rather than at EVERY specific point/subject during a child’s education.

    To start with – at CP (age 6) our girls would have been ahead of their French classmates because they started primary school in the UK just after their 4th birthdays (and prior to that were in Nursery since birth) so had already had two years of formal schooling. French children do not start at primaire until they are age 6 and very few in our area actually start school at age 6 being able to read. Often, if a child starts in CP already able to read – they are moved up a year immediately (this certainly happens in our local schools).
    However, further on (at lycee for example), the French system goes on beyond the UK.

    When our eldest started in 6ieme (straight from the UK) she was way ahead in Maths but behind in languages for example. However, the level of Maths had caught up within about 18 months. And she had to work hard with us at home to catch up with the grammar and structure of languages – something she had never been taught in the UK but which our local primaire taught from day one in CP.

    So I suppose what I am trying to explain is that sweeping comparisons between the French and UK systems are difficult because the ‘differences’ are different for each subject at different times during a child’s time in education!

    One hint I would give, that both our girls always mention – teach your children their timestables! It is one thing that made our girls stand out in their classes here – and our local primaire even asked us to bring back timestable posters from the UK to use in their classes!

    If you ever want to ‘chat’ via e-mail do feel free to contact me. It does help sometimes just to talk through your worries.
    I have a blog – but it is not detailed enough about education as you are looking for!


  11. Sharon November 7, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Hi ,we’ve been coming to France for 5 years now and recently (in August ) moved permenantly from London with our 12 year old son and nearly 2 year old daughter . Our son is now refusig to go to school . He has made some friends – mainly those children from our village . He’s beginning to pick up French and communicates well with the other children . He is severely dyslexic and it seems that the ed.system here doesn’t suit his needs . I am teaching him at home at the moment – as a qualified teacher with a specialism in dyslexia . My concern is th social aspect of his life . Maybe there is an international school – we live 30 mins from Carcassonne .

  12. SS November 8, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Hi I have read all your responses with great interest. We are hoping to move to France, in the Pau area next summer. We have three children Boy ten and two girls eight and five. We are moving from Dublin to France for a variety of reasons but number one is because we want to spend more quality family time and enjoy more out door fun. Our major concern is our children and how they will settle in. We have all started french lessons and I have got french dvd’s for home as well. We don’t know what type of school to send our kids – local french school so that they will pick up the langauge and also have local friends, Maybe it should be private french school or maybe it should be international??? Not really keen on sending them international because I want french to be spoken by them all the time so that they can integrate into the community !! Any advice please help W

  13. Boris November 8, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    SS, I think there’s not much doubt – keep doing what you can before you come, and then put them in a normal, local school. In any case private schools in France are very likely different to private schools in Dublin – most private schools in France are pretty cheap, but don’t necessarily attract better teachers or offer a better standard of education. I don’t know about average class size. Anyway the whole private school system in France is very different from the ‘elitist’ type system in the UK (not sure how Ireland works).
    They’ll learn French in no time I’m sure, don’t worry!
    Sharon, yours is a tricky one, isn’t it. Have you spoken to the school head, to see what they think should be done? I would have thought they have provision for extra tuition / special lessons for children with dyslexia. Certainly I would have guessed that the local school, with suitable separate tuition as needed, would be the best solution. Do you think international schools would have better facilities to deal with dyslexia? Perhaps they would, I don’t know.
    To find out about international schools you could try your local mairie, other expats, or perhaps the town-hall at the prefecture of your region.
    I should say, two months is not really very long and many children struggle for longer than that, but I appreciate that your situation is different to most. Very best of luck!

  14. Jacqui U November 9, 2008 at 1:27 am

    Your situation is different to ours but maybe this idea might help.
    Although a child normally automatically goes to the local school, you can make a case to go to an alternative one. I would recommend going to talk to the head teachers of a few schools in your area to discuss your situation – this would give you an indication if some are better able to deal with dyslexia than others. For example, if they have had other children with dyslexia, and to see what they each say should happen in such a situation.
    When we first arrived our eldest was almost 12, and the local school recommended that she attend the school in the next village for the 3 months before she went to college because the head teacher there spoke very good English and would be able to ‘settle’ our daughter in better at this older age.
    Would also check what more the International school can actually provide before committing.
    Also, since you are very qualified to help at home, could this not run successfully alongside your child going to a local French school? To get the best of both?

    Private schools are different here to those in England (not sure about Ireland). They are not expensive. But in our region the class sizes are not much smaller and the teaching is not of a higher standard.
    In the UK, our girls went to a Catholic school and I had intended to do the same here.
    However, we asked lots of locals and visited all the local public schools as well as the local Catholic/private one. In addition, our neighbour is a teacher at the Catholic/private school.
    They all said the same – do not send your child there. Because a high proportion of ‘difficult’ children end up being sent there and as a result, the classes are more disrupted and problematical.
    So I would strongy recommend visiting the schools and asking lots of different people their views before deciding!


  15. ss November 9, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks a million really appreciate all the advice we are all very excited.

  16. sarah Jones November 16, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I have a problem. We moved to the midi-pyrenees area in Sept 2007.We have two boys (9) and (14). The youngest is coping well at school but the eldest is really struggling.They both go to a private school simply because it was the only school we could research on the internet before we came and were unsure which area we were going to be living in and it offered some stability for the children.My eldest son is having difficulty understanding french and so all his subjects are falling behind and he is beginning to lose interest. I have thought about getting a private tutor to help him with his work but dont relly know were to begin.I have an appointment with the school next week but dont hold out much hope.Can anyone give me advice. There is alot riding on this as both boys need to succeed at school for the future, all of our futures here in France!

  17. Boris November 16, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Sarah, I think you are right about tuition being the key. Does the school have someone come in to help foreign children learn French? A lot of state schools automatically arrange special private lessons but I’m not sure if private schools can do the same.
    Otherwise I’m sure the school will be able to suggest a tutor, or if not some of the parents or the mairie will be able to advise.
    Is the elder boy in 3eme? I suspect he will inevitably redouble the year (retake it) so perhaps a year of ‘settling in’ will make the difference he needs, and you should see this as the ‘learning French’ year, and not worry too much about slipping behind in class.
    I would also do the things already mentioned in this thread eg watch French TV rather than English TV (cartoons like Simpsons are a good place to start!), trying to find a sports club or similar where he could fit in, etc. If the younger boy is learning French more easily, can the two of them be encouraged to speak only French at home (or perhaps all of you could only speak French at home, which you can perhaps justify by explaining that you and your husband need to improve your own French).
    Whether he is motivated or not will make a lot of difference as well, but I appreciate motivating a 14 year old lad is not easy! I’m sure you already are, but I would go to great lengths to avoid him thinking that his success is crucial to the whole venture – rather, present it as a ‘done deal’ that you are all learning to deal with together. Families who arrive proclaiming that they will ‘see how it goes for a year and then decide whether to stay’ always seem to end up leaving…
    Perhaps also obvious, but one last thought – teachers in France are sometimes a bit tricky, make sure in your meeting that you look like you want to hear the advice offered, work with the school in whatever way possible etc and don’t be even the tiniest bit confrontational even if you think they are being completely useless!

  18. Jacqui U November 16, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Dear Sarah
    It is certainly more difficult the older the child when they start here in France, but it does usually work out.
    Our eldest daughter was 12 when we first came here, and we decided on the local public college (as discussed above) after looking at the private and the other public colleges.
    Extra tuition was immediately offered to us (and again each year following) although our daughter decided not to take up this offer.
    Might be worth visiting the other colleges and asking the Headteacher(s) what they could offer.
    It is not unusual for students to change colleges (and often change back later) since at different ages they often get on better with different establishments.
    Also children can go to more distant colleges if they are your prefered choice for valid reasons.
    It is not unusual for siblings to go to different colleges either in our area.
    If your son is advised to redouble, do not think this is a bad thing. It is very common here, and it took us some time to realise that there is no stigma attached to redoubling!
    Ideas, most of which have already been mentioned I am afraid:
    1. If your son is sport minded, join up to as many clubs as possible; if not sport, try music, dance, judo, shooting, archery, a gym, etc;
    2. Travel to/from college on the school bus – helps greatly with their French;
    3. Only have French TV and look at French Nintendo/Playstation/PC games at home if he is interested in such things;
    4. Only watch DVDs in French; go to the cinema and watch recent releases in French; speak French at home eg at the dinner table each evening;
    5. Are you in a village? Has he made friends locally? If so, encourage sleep overs and days out together to the cinema, bowling, McDonalds, etc;
    6. Ask around to see if there is someone to provide tuition at (their) home; it is not uncommon in France for children to have extra private tuition in some subjects for a few months for example;
    7. Do talk regularly with the teachers and be open with them and open minded; Boris is correct in mentioning that it is advisable to be ‘reasonable’ when dealing with them – we have to remember that we are now living in France and have to be realistic in what help to expect for a foreign child. I have to say though that we have been VERY impressed with the help we have always been offered and have received.
    8. There should be a few subjects that he can excel in even with poor French so these should be encouraged and ‘lauded’ eg English (obviously), Art, Maths and sport.
    Our daughter still came very high in Maths in her class even when she did not speak much French and also Art which she had always loved but not sport which she hated! We encouraged and gave her ‘monetary bonuses’ when she got 20/20 or 10/10 – which provided all the push she needed it seemed!
    Our children point out even now (to anyone that asks!) that they knew right from the start that we would be living in France ‘for ever’. We never gave them the idea that if it did not work out for us all, that we might go back to England (even though in our own adult minds, we gave it two years initially to see how we all got on). This again seemed to concentrate their minds to learn French!
    Sorry if none of this is new – I just would like to say – hang in there! It takes time, but is worth it in the end!!


  19. Sophie January 20, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Hi, I’m 16 and my family might be moving to France (Pyrenees)
    I can’t speak fluent French, I’ve been leaning it in school but obviously that doesnt make me particularly good…
    I’m in Year 11 doing my GCSEs. Hopefully we will move after I’ve done them..what is the IB like? I supose I wil have to skip a year?

    Any tips for me…it will be harder for a 16 year old than a primary kid to intergrate so I’m a bit worried.

  20. Boris January 21, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Hi Sophie, thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, there is no doubt it is harder for a 16 year old than a primary kid. Usually we would suggest an international school – is that a possibility I wonder? It might well mean living away from home, but lycée could well also mean staying away from home (our 15 year old daughter has stayed away at lycée on weekdays since last September). International schools teach in English, which would make your life much easier!

    If it is unavoidable that you go to a local French school, there is a good chance you will have to skip a year, starting probably in 1st year lycée.
    Is it possible to arrive early and do a three month intensive French course in France – you will learn French much faster that way.
    Your challenges will depend partly on what your best subjects are, but the first year still includes French, Maths, English, science, another language (often Spanish) and others.
    Normal French lessons will be very hard for you – the French kids have been learning grammar and verbs every day since they were six. Perhaps your school can make an arrangement whereby you have separate French lessons more suited to your level. The other subjects should be easier to pick up, although there are often differences in the way things are done.
    A lot depends on two things.
    The first is how helpful the local school and authorities are – some go to great lengths to find teachers to help with language and integration, others less so.
    The second thing, of course, is you – this is the most important thing of all! You sound like a bright sensible person. If you can integrate quickly that will make an enormous difference. You will need to be the person everyone wants to get to know, not the person sat shy in the corner, too timid to try and speak. Be friendly and sociable, but avoid being aloof, arrogant or over-confident, be enthusiastic about learning and making friends, smile a lot, and people will be much more helpful in return. A class of lycee students can look scary (there’s no school uniform, many will smoke, there will be lots of existing groups and cliques huddled together) but in fact the French kids are almost all pleasant, well behaved, nice people – they can just look a bit scary!

    Good luck with whatever happens, keep us informed we’d love to know how it goes – and let me know if you have other questions about French schools, our own daughters know pretty well what goes on!

  21. Siew Keng May 3, 2009 at 3:28 am

    I would be moving to France in July 2009 from Malaysia with my French husband and 3 children, ages 15, 12 and 10. Main reason for moving is for the education for my children. We have been advised to start the kids in private schools. After reading the blogs I think it might not be such a good idea. My children don’t speak French, however, they speak 3 languages already. I hope that being exposed to so many languages would help them in learning French easily, I understand that French is a difficult language to learn. My level of French is appalling!
    The biggest problem my husband forsee is me integrating with the society. We would be moving to a small village in Midi Peyrenees and I am a small Chinese girl. He says that I would be mistaken for boat people, so cruel of him but then he is being realistic! I think I need help more than my children and I believe I have to work harder to make friends. Any suggestions??

  22. Jacqui U May 17, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    You are not alone! I was by far the one that struggled the most when we came here.
    Our two daughters were dumped straight into local French schools and had no choice but to learn French…..
    My husband spoke French very well…
    And I (although knowing basic/reasonable French) was the least confident.
    It is more difficult for adults to find regular daily situations to speak French.
    We live in a small village, but I found the women very friendly and willing to try and understand my apalling French. Although never a person for ‘going out with the girls’ back in the UK, I joined the local Yoga class here since all our female neighbours went to it and am now likely to be joining up with them to go to the gym.
    I suppose what I am saying is to ‘join in’ with whatever they might be doing, even if it is not really your thing.
    I also found going down to the school bus stop each day very helpful because a lot of chatting takes place there with the other parents, but our girls were young ones then and this was normal. Since your children are older, this will probably not be well received by them!
    How about seeing if your local school welcomes parents who come in to help? This would expose you to speaking French.

    Jacqui U

  23. Sarah June 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Hello.. i moved to a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in the south charente in september 2006 at the age of 14 with my dad and sister who was 11 at the time.

    4 days later my sister and i were dumped into the local college not having a clue what we would be taught. The Head teacher placed me in 4eme (2 years behind, when i would of being going into year 10 in England) and my younger sister in 6eme with other children the same age. Luckily for us, i thought at one point, there was other english in the school and quickly made friends.

    I however knew that if i was going to make it in France I had to learn the language and started going to the loacal beach and youthclub with another new english arrival to make french friends. After about 12 months of going to the cinema every weekend and just meeting up with french friends i eventually got the language. However it was too late as i had already decided to drop out beacause i would face resitting the year again as i dindnt have good marks – i hated the school and the french system coming from being top of the class in England. Personally i thought that there was an ambiance of we to school so the teachers get paid.. but that was my case. In basically all of my classes if people didnt understand what was the teacher was talking about it was their fault and made to notice that it was – whith one exeption of my history geography teacher who was actually spanish and helped me alot with learning french. Apart from that i dindnt get any extra help with french untill after spring when i preached to the headmistress and still those classes were once a week and very unprofessional i sat in a room and spoke to a woman. No extra work. As i say this was one school in which most of the expats that go there have a bad experience.

    The problem with my “quiet” sister just stayed in the comfort zone with her English friend and is still stuggling today with french. I strongly recomend that you stay away from anything English in the first 2 years you get here! However as the classes she took in 6eme and are taking in 5eme so simple compared to what she had already learnt in primary school she was getting top grades with her pocket dictionary!

    I know have sat my IGCSEs in france and are starting my International A levels in october here. It is very hard for teens to settle in France but very awarding when you learn another language. Learning french for mehas made learning spanish and portugeese very easy thus opened more job opportunities in this bad economic state!

    My advice to sophie is to try lycee. Try and learn as much french as you can before but just give it a go and if it doesnt work out there are other options if you want to go onto higher education. Have a look at this site if needs be.. Good luck i hope it works out for you and your family.

  24. Boris June 24, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Hi Sarah, thanks for telling us your experiences – very useful for our readers. One question if I may – why did you choose to do IGCSEs and International A levels rather than brevet / BAC? And are you doing those at a regular French lycée or an international school?
    Our own eldest daughter is about to start her second year at lycée. Like you she has a big advantage with languages and has picked up Spanish very well. She is doing a BAC L.
    Thanks again and good luck with the next couple of years

  25. Susie September 6, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Hi everyone. We are thinking of moving to France in 2 years when my eldest daughter has finished her leaving Cert (We are Irish!) She can take a year off then to decide where she wants to go to university. We have 2 other children who will be 12 and 10 when we move and i am doing my best to teach them basic French to prepare them. The question i have is this. I was intending on home schooling both of them for the first year and socialising them as much as possible in other areas, to get them used to the language. My 12 year old girl struggles alot in school and i worry for her. Does anyone know the position for home schooling, the requirements etc and how i get started. Maybe some of you have gone this route and feel its not necessary. I would appreciate any advice, thanks.

  26. Boris September 6, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Hi Susie,
    Our experience is that home-schooling in France by expat parents is much less effective than the children being immersed immediately in the school system – both from an education and from a language point of view, but the examples I can think of were perhaps a bit older than your own children. Of course, if your child has particular challenges to face the situation might be different, but most schools welcome and help new arrivals, and most parents find that ‘throwing their children in at the deep end’, while hard for some children (and their parents) for the first couple of months, is ultimately much more successful than a softly-softly approach. I do think it would be hard to arrange socialising with French children without your own children attending the local school.
    Sorry if that sounds a bit negative, I’m sure with your forward planning and 2 years to make a start on learning the language all will go very well – many children do happily integrate with little trouble at all.
    Keep us up to date with how it goes!

  27. Susie September 18, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Hi Boris,
    Thanks for the advice. I,m sure that you are right and it certainly doesn,t sound negative at all. There are plenty of French Natives living in our city so i plan to employ one of them for a few hours a week to help them before we go. Hopefully that should give them a head start!

  28. Steph October 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Help! We have lived in France for 2 1/2 yrs now and my 4 1/2 yr old daughter still won’t speak French. I say ‘won’t’ rather than ‘can’t as i feel it is a specific decision she has made! As soon as we arrived she started at the local nursery 2 days a week and is now in her 2nd year at the local Ecole Maternelle, where she is very happy and joins in happily with lots of little friends – except that she won’t actually speak with them – she understands no problem at all! She will speak a little French with us and sings songs etc in French. My husband and I are English and we were recommended by language teachers to speak English at home – partly so we didn’t pass on our errors (!) and partly to create a ‘safe haven’ at the end of the day. However we socialise a lot with locals and my daughter hears us speaking French regularly. I just feel that she is missing out and don’t know how to convince her that it is OK to speak French to French people!!

  29. Boris October 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Our youngest daughter didn’t speak French for more or less a year when we came (she was aged 5) although it was obvious to us that she understood what was being said to her and she had a little group of friends. Like you we were worried but left her to take her own time. At home we spoke English (at that time our French was hopeless) but we did and do still have French television to make sure we all hear some French even in the home environment and to make sure the children could join in with conversations at school which will tend to include what is happening in Secret Story etc. You will be amused to hear that we are now seriously having to try and improve her English as French is undeniably her first language both spoken and written. Indeed last year she was first in her class in French!! My advice would definitely be to leave your daughter to take her time. I think when she starts primary school she will have no choice but to participate more but by then she will be more than ready. I would definitely get French telly too if you havent already.
    (Mrs B)
    Also we weren’t the first to know when she was speaking – we mentioned to her teacher one day that we were concerned, and she said ‘but of course she’s speaking French at school’ – seemed she just didn’t like us seeing that she could…

  30. Emma January 6, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Hi, we are moving to Taninges in the Haute Savoie next September, initally for 18 months. Our two boys will at that time be 23 months and 3 years and 2 months. I am keen to get them both into ecole maternelle (when the youngest turns two). I would like to know how French education is funded. My husband works for a multi-national company and is paid (and will continue to be paid) through the UK. I will be returning to the UK periodically to locum as a doctor so neither of us will be paying income tax (or equivalent) in France. Can we send our children to the local ecole maternelle for free or would we be able to pay for them to go to that state school? The nearest private school is an hour away and I really want them to stay within the local community to integrate. Many thanks.

  31. Boris January 7, 2010 at 7:12 am

    I am 99% sure they will just be able to attend the local school regardless of where you pay taxes etc – (1) because we know several people who send their children to French schools but pay taxes in the UK (2) because when we arived in France our own children went to school straightaway and at the time we had never paid taxes etc in France (3) I think it is a law in Europe that children MUST be educated, wherever they live – although perhaps that only applies to children over the age of 5 or 6, I’m not sure. Whatever, I would be very surprised if it is a problem.
    Good luck with your plans

  32. Emma January 21, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks for the advice. We were out there last week and have arranged to go out in May to investigate further with the mayors office. Hopefully my French will be a bit better by then!

  33. Claire March 24, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Emma, school is free for all children resident in France, taxes have nothing to do with it. But you have to be able to provide proof of residence (eg. rental contract), and bear in mind that not all maternelle schools have provision for two-year-olds (if their third birthday is later than 31 December in the year that they start school). Provision for children who don’t turn three by 31 Dec is in a special class called Tres Petite Section, more frequently provided by schools in towns than in villages.

    On the subject of international schools, my son was expelled from one at the age of four for behavioural issues (we weren’t at all impressed by the way the school handled it) and is doing very nicely in the local French school.

  34. Emma April 5, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Thanks Claire. That’s really useful (and reassuring!). We have one son who turns 3 in July and the other who will 2 in October (so would be looking at Maternelle for him after a year, so if he started in the September at 2 years 11 months he would be 3 the following month. We have appointments with the schools in June to enrol our eldest at the Maternelle and our youngest in the nursery attached to the school. Both have been really positive about taking them and the Maternelle has had an English child before. The main problem we are encountering at the moment is that we haven’t found anywhere to live yet and although we hopefully will on the same trip out in June to move in September, the schools say we can’t officially enrol until we have a permanent address. I’m sure it is just lesson two in French beaurocracy, the first being when we discovered that the hourly rate for the nursery was our combined taxable salaries divided by 12 and times by 0.005% to give the hourly rate! Emma

  35. Marie April 28, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Siew Keng,

    this is a long time since your post but you might still read this blog. I am French, my husband is Malaysian and we have moved from London to France 5 years ago. Your husband is quite right about french people slotting most “asiatiques” as boat people… but it does not meet you will not be accepted, do not let this put you off. People here live in such a cosy, closed little world but if you show them you like their place , they will certainly warm to you! it is also easier for a woman to fit in, especially if you have to pick the kids from school. do not be scared, and most important, SHOW people you are trying to learn the language and are willing to integrate . Why not use the theme of food so dear to both our cultures to break the ice? invite some parents of the kids’friends.
    good luck ,

  36. Shia July 15, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Hello everyone,
    We just found this useful website. We’re planning to take our 6 year old daughter to live in France for a year. We’re hoping to spend a quality family time over there and our daughter can learn French. My husband is teaching English in England and hop he will be able to find a teaching job in France too. We’re thinking about to stay in a small pretty and peaceful town but not being isolated. Can anyone give us any suggestion on which part of France where we may mostly make local French friends and have a relaxing time, please? Many thanks in advance.

  37. Melanie March 3, 2011 at 11:11 am


    I am hoping there are still people out there!!

    We are thinking of moving to France in the new year. My son will be 5, and will have completed his first year at a private school here in the UK. I will also have a 6 month old, but am obviously less worried about him/her as when school starts we will have been in France a long time!!

    I am obviously worried about my son. He is very bright, and already learns some spoken French at school. My real fear is him being in school / nursery (it seems) and not understanding what is happening? How good are schools at helping? We don’t have a set place to move to, just around Carcassonne is the aim, so can locate ourselves to suit him.

    I am also worried as my french is basic conversational, and my husbands is non-existant. How the hell do we assess what is a good school on that basis!!!! I want him in a local school being immersed in the language.

    Also – any ideas on class sizes generally in France. We would be looking at a vllage not a town

    thanks Mel xx

  38. Boris March 3, 2011 at 11:54 am

    There are lots of us still out here Mel!
    Most 6 year olds adjust very quickly although a short period of not speaking is common at first while they absorb the new language. Schools vary a great deal but I think that doesn’t matter too much – schools that insist on only speaking French (or are only able to speak French) are normal and the best way for your child to adjust.
    Assessing a school is harder, and it’s true that some are are more welcoming than others. I think a ‘basic conversational’ level French chat with the teacher will tell you pretty quickly whether they are warm and welcoming or not. personally i would avoid schools which have very many other English children already, because I think that slows down integration substantially as they are able to speak english to each other instead.
    Class sizes are usually up to about 30, but often less in smaller towns and villages.
    Good luck with your move, let us know how it all goes!