We outline the different types of international schools in France, the various curricula on offer, and the enrollment process for parents.
If you’re moving to France with children in tow, you’ll find many quality local French schools – as well as private and international schools – that cater to the needs of expat children.
French state schools offer a high level of instruction, and many children integrate well into the classic French education system. But, there are also many reasons to opt for international education, including schooling your child in a country-specific curriculum to help them integrate readily when your family returns home. Alternatively, you may simply fancy the idea of a multi-cultural learning environment.
Luckily, this guide will help you to choose the international school that is best suited to your child by exploring the following topics:
- The French education system
- International schools in France
- Types of international schools in France
- Should you send your child to an international school in France?
- How to choose an international school in France
- Useful resources
The French education system
As of 2019, school education in France is compulsory from the age of three. State schools are free, co-ed, and secular, with a generally high standard of education. The state also funds most private schools, of which a minority of children in France (around 20%) attend. Private schools also follow the same curriculum and charge relatively reasonable fees.
Additionally, there are a few fully independent (hors contrat) schools that tend to dispense a religious education and sometimes host international students. You can read more about this in our guide to the French education system.
International schools in France
There are different types of international schools and educational programs to choose from in France. This includes schools with English as the instruction language, those that offer a fully bilingual program in various languages, and French schools with a section internationale. The latter offers a few hours of lessons per week in any one of 17 foreign languages.
Schools that offer an international option tend to be high-achieving and are often in demand. Currently, there are 126 primary schools (primaire) and 199 middle schools (collège) in France that include this international option.
At the end of secondary school (lycée), international students in some schools can select to sit a bilingual exam, such as the Franco-German baccalaureate or the Baccalauréat français international, which is available in 14 languages. The Franco-American baccalaureate, on the other hand, is currently only available at schools in the US.
Unlike the globally-taught International Baccalaureate (IB), the Baccalauréat français international (BFI) is part of the French examination system. You will also find international schools in France that teach a UK curriculum that leads to GCSEs and A-Levels or an American curriculum that leads to a High School Diploma, SAT, and PSAT.
There are several international institutions that give accreditation to schools in France. These include:
- The British Council
- Council of British International Schools (CoBIS)
- Council of International Schools (CoIS)
- Middle States Association (MSA)
- European Council of International Schools (ECIS)
Types of international schools in France
International schools in France cater to different age ranges and offer several other curricula and educational options. They sometimes have various programs to choose from in the last years of school, too.
The International Primary Curriculum (IPC)
The International Primary Curriculum (IPC) was first introduced in 2000 by Fieldwork Education; an organization that provides international curriculum and professional learning to schools and teachers around the world. This accreditation is awarded to more than 1,000 schools and focuses on developing international-mindedness in three to 10-year-olds.
The curriculum aims to prepare students to become globally competent citizens by developing their interest in world cultures and diverse perspectives. The teaching focuses on the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual development of a child. Moreover, it encourages investigation, creativity, and active learning.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) in France
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an internationally recognized educational curriculum that is taught in 3,000 schools in more than 143 countries. There are 23 IB schools in France that offer either a bilingual or solely English-language education for children aged between three and 19. From the age of 16, students can choose a Diploma Program or a Career-related Program.
The IB Diploma requires students to study six subjects over two years, and there are different courses within each subject group. Subjects include languages and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. Students must also take an additional course in philosophy, contribute to creative activity or service, and write an extended 4,000-word essay.
Universities around the world recognize the IB as a university admission level qualification. This makes it an appealing option among expat parents who wish to give their children the opportunity to study abroad later in life. You can read more about this on the official IB website.
The Baccalauréat français international (BFI)
Some international schools in France prepare students for the Baccalauréat français international (BFI) – formerly the Option Internationale du Baccalauréat (OIB). This is offered in 14 languages.
However, the BFI is not to be confused with the International Baccalaureate (IB). It is specifically for bilingual students or international students who are fluent in French and plan to apply to a French university.
The BFI is one of the French general baccalauréats. Essentially, students can choose from three study streams, as follows:
- L (French, Languages or Arts, Philosophy)
- ES (Economics, Mathematics)
- S (Mathematics, Physics/Chemistry, Earth and Life Sciences)
Additionally, they can choose an international option such as literature, history, and geography. This is taught in their home language and set and marked by the education authorities of France and their home country. The BFI gives automatic admission to higher education in France and meets the university admissions qualification elsewhere in the world.
American international schools and Advanced Placement (AP)
Some schools, such as the American School of Paris, offer a US-based program that leads to a High School Diploma. This prepares students for the College Board SAT exams that facilitate access to American universities. A selection of Advanced Placement (AP) classes is available, allowing students to earn credits for university. They can also select a combination of courses from the AP and IB curricula that cover a broad range of subjects such as arts, sciences, and humanities.
British international schools
The Council of British International Schools (COBIS) accredits two schools in France: the British School of Paris and Mougins School on the Côte d’Azur. These schools host a broad community of international students while representing a British independent school style of education. These schools prepare students for the English GCSE and A-Level exams.
The International GCSE (IGCSE)
The IGCSE (International General Certificate of Education) is administered by different exam boards such as Edexcel, Oxford AQA, and Cambridge. It is equivalent to the GCSE which students in the English school system study for in Years 10 and 11.
The IGCSE requires students to study a range of subjects, including maths, English, sciences, and humanities. After they complete the IGCSE, they can go on to study A-Levels which, depending on their grades, grant them entry to university. Many international schools offer these qualifications as part of their secondary-school curriculum.
The European Baccalaureate (EB)
The European Schools, which are intended largely for the children of employees of the European Union (EU), offer the European Baccalaureate (EB). Although there are no official European Schools in France, some international schools, including the Ecole Internationale PACA Manosque, offer this curriculum.
Each year, more than 1,500 students sit the European Baccalaureate (EB), which is internationally recognized for its high standard. It consists of five written exams, including French, English, and mathematics. Students also sit two elective subject exams and complete three oral exams. You can find more information about the EB on the European Schools website.
Other ‘national’ international schools
There are also international schools in France that offer a country-specific curriculum that is set by the education authority of the home country. Therefore, schools teach these curricula in their national language, with additional classes in French. Some are only primary schools, while others have classes for three to 18-year-olds.
Some of these schools include:
- International Deutsche Schule Paris
- École Japonaise du Nord-Pas de Calais
- Swedish School in Paris
- Alye Parussa bilingual Russian school
You can browse our directory of international schools in France to find some in your area.
Religious schools in France are all private, and most offer a French-language curriculum. However, while some provide excellent general education along with religious teaching, others can be insular and score poorly on exam results. Therefore, it’s worth researching their ranking before considering them for your child.
International Jewish families in Paris can enroll their children in the Ecole Juive Moderne, which offers trilingual primary and middle-school education in English, French, and Hebrew.
Catholic families, on the other hand, might want to consider one of the English-language Catholic schools. These include Marymount International School of Paris (ages two to 14) and Chavagnes International College, a boy’s Catholic boarding school which prepares students for the English exam system (GCSEs and A-Levels). There are also private Islamic schools in France, many of which focus on teaching the Arabic language.
The French education authorities recognize Montessori and Steiner-Waldorf schools in France. These schools have the freedom to teach a curriculum that is based on their unique educational philosophies.
While many of these schools are for younger children (pre-school and primary level), some also accept older children and may offer conventional qualifications, such as the French Baccalauréat, which is the gateway to higher education in France.
You can contact the Association Montessori de France and La Fédération des écoles Steiner-Waldorf en France for more information.
Should you send your child to an international school in France?
There is a wide range of international school options in France. However, how do you choose between a local and an international school? Below is a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages of international schools in France.
- Offer more extracurricular activities and better facilities
- Provide internationally recognized qualifications
- Have a global community of teachers and students
- Place a strong emphasis on muliculturism and languages
- Have smaller class sizes and a high teacher-student ratio
- A country-specific curriculum or IB education offers consistency for future moves
- Parents can communicate in their own language
- International school fees are expensive but you can access scholarships, busaries, and payment plans; some employers subsidize education fees
- Children may integrate less into the local culture and language
- Admissions may assess a child’s academic abilities through an entrance test; therefore, this may place additional pressure on your child
- The majority of schools are located in Paris and bigger cities, so you might not find one in your area
Whatever you choose, education standards in France are generally high, so your child will receive a quality education.
How to choose an international school in France
If an international education is a good fit for your child, the next challenge is picking a school. Below is a list of factors to consider when searching for the best international school for your child in France.
- Location: in and around Paris, your choices are broad, but elsewhere your options are limited; however, some schools offer boarding facilities.
- Education system: which curriculum or teaching style best suits your child?
- Nationalities present: Are the teachers mostly French or native speakers of the school’s main language? Are the majority of students from one country or a mix of local and international?
- Main languages spoken: some schools offer bilingual education, while others offer additional languages as subjects.
- Qualifications available: students could study for different certificates in the same school, particularly in preparation for higher education in a specific country.
- Reputation: this can be tricky if you don’t yet have a network, but The Good Schools Guide can help.
- Academic results: for secondary education, it’s worth checking the percentage of students who continue to higher education.
- Fees: these can range from around €2,000 to over €20,000 a year, however some employers subsidize education fees.
- Admission and enrolment procedures: some schools require academic, language, and personality-focused assessments before registration.
- Extracurricular activities and facilities: schools may offer various clubs, activities, trips, summer camps, or language courses.
Financial aid and scholarships for international schools in France
State subsidies are available for low-income families, from primary school age (6 years) and up. These can help with the costs of school materials, school meals, and travel to school. The Allocation de Rentrée Scolaire (ARS) is also available for all children with disabilities; this starts at around €370 per year in primary school.
If your child is boarding in a private secondary school, then you may benefit from the Prime à l’Internat. However, this only applies if your child has a scholarship or bourse (a need-based financial aid program) that is based on parental income. Additional merit grants can be awarded but only to high-achieving boursier students.
Individual schools may offer their own academic or talent-based scholarships. For instance, Kingsworth International School in Paris offers scholarships that enable reductions in school fees of 10% to 50%. Therefore, it’s worth approaching your local schools to find out if such grants exist.
How to apply for financial aid
National applications for bourse scholarships differ depending on whether you are applying to a public or private school, and a collège or lycée. If your child is attending a public school, you can complete all administrative procedures through the Scolarité Services portal.
Conversely, for private schools, you should reach out directly to the school secretariat to complete the necessary forms. Parents or students must submit their scholarship requests at the start of the school year. You can check whether your family can benefit from this on the Aide Sociale website.
- Council of International Schools (CoIS) – the membership community of international education
- ELSA – the English Language Schools Association
- Middle States Association (MSA) – the accreditaton body for American curriculum schools
- European Council of International Schools (ECIS) – the educational collaborative for international schools
- British Council International Education Services – the UK’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities
- French Ministry of Education – the French government website for education
- International Baccalaureate (IB) – the official website of the internationally recognized qualification
- Rankings of French lycée – the French secondary school rankings
- The Good Schools Guide – search and compare schools in France