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Selecting Schools in Paris



One of the hardest parts of our move was finding schools in Paris.

We moved to Paris France in August 2008 when our children were ages ten and twelve and neither of them spoke any French. Now that we've lived in Paris for a year I realize that finding schools is one of the biggest challenges faced by all families relocating to Paris, including French families moving home after living overseas.

My strongest advice with regards to schools is to investigate the different options early, apply to a few schools and don't assume you have a place until after you receive your acceptance letter (click here for a list of International Schools in Paris with contact information).

Things to consider when choosing a school include; whether or not your children speak French, their general scholastic aptitude, their personality, the length of your stay in France, where you will be livings and your budget.

French Public Schools

Public schools in France are free and offer a generally high level of French education. Many children integrate perfectly well into the French-only classroom. The younger your children are the easier this is going to be. In France you can send children to school starting at age 3 "Maternelle". The elementary school is called "École élémentaire", middle school is the "collège" and high school is "lycée".

The French education system is successful but old fashioned. Children still learn to write with an ink pen and daily dictations are normal. Some public schools will accept children who do not speak any French but not all of them have programs to help the students.

You can register for the French public school in your neighborhood by going to your local "Marie". Make sure you ask what the school will do to help your child transition. Check to see if the school has a program for non-French speaking children. These program places all non-French speaking children in a separate classroom where they work with a teacher specialized in transitioning children into the French system. Depending on the grade level the goal is to move the children into their regular French classroom by Easter of their first year.

I would definitely check out this option as I have recently met two American families who moved to Paris with children from kindergarten to high school and who have had very good experiences with their local schools.

French Public Schools with Tuition Based Immersion Programs

Fees for these schools range from 3000 to 6000 euro a year with the exception of the Lycee Honore de Balzac which is the only French public school I'm aware of that offers a "free" international program.

The principle of these schools is that students who speak French must be bilingual when they enter whereas international students who speak a foreign tongue will grow, either to become bilingual or multilingual with the teaching of the French language.

Unlike regular French Public Schools these schools also offer lessons in literature, geography and history (from 6 to 8 hours a week according to the grade) in the students mother tongue.

EaB Park Monceau (private school subsidized by the French government) and International Sections of Sevres offer immersion programs that are very successful but not as stringent in their academic demands as St. Germain En Laye or Jeannine Manuel. Severs also offers a very strong French/German program for German speakers moving to Paris.

Two of the top rated public schools in Paris offering immersion programs are Jeannine Manuel in the 15th arrondissement and the Lycee International in St. Germain En Laye (a suburb 20 km west of Paris). Although applications typically exceed available spaces by a wide margin, both schools reserve space for international applicants, including children of families who expect to remain in France for a limited period of time.

WARNING! Getting into the top public schools is like getting into college! The application forms are lengthy, you need report cards, references from teachers and principles, samples of the children's work and test results. If everything looks good on paper you might have to fly to France so the children can be tested and the families interviewed. Jeannine Manuel often requires a special IQ test if they do not recognize the educational system of your home country or previous posting.

The schools are very clear about the level of commitment required and explain that there is a lot of pressure on the children and that if they do not meet the required level they will be asked to leave at the end of the year. These schools maintain their top academic ranking by shedding their weaker students every year and continuing to teach to the top of class.

We know students who have had wonderful experiences at these schools and some who have melted under the pressure. Whether or not this is a good option for your family really depends on your children's personalities and on how much time you can commit to helping them with the transition.

Both of our children were accepted on paper at St. Germain En Laye and we had to fly to France just for them to take the entrance tests. We were told that the tests were just a formality but when neither of them passed this left us scrambeling to find other schools.

I have meet a number of other families since moving here who had similar experiences and this is why it's important to check out more than one school. I would not recommend trying out for both Jeannine Manuel and St. Germain En Laye in the same year as their entrance criteria is very similar and if you do not make it into one it is very unlikely you will make the other.

Private International Schools

Most subjects are taught in English and the curriculum is either American, British or an international standard designed to help the children transition easily when they return back to their countries of origin or move on to their parents next posting. These schools tend to be very expensive but do provide the easiest transition for non-french speaking children.

The downside to choosing an international option is obviously that the children do not learn to speak fluent french. The academic standard is hard to track as most children only spend one or two years at these schools before moving on.

Both of our children currently attend EaB Victor Hugo which is by far the most affordable of all the international schools. At EaB the school is small with only one class for each grade level. The school is well run, there is a very friendly parent teacher association but the academic standard is harder to judge especially when it comes to middle school and high school where teaching standards very from class to class. On the whole I would have to say I'm happy with the school but if we were planning to stay in Paris for longer than two years we would have gone with an immersion program in one of the French public schools.

Other Things to Consider When Selecting Schools in Paris

If possible find an apartment or house close to the school with good metro, bus or tram options. The school day is long in France and there are no school buses unless you are at private school and even then you can expect to pay around 3000 euro a year for the school bus.

Click here for a complete list of the International Schools in Paris with contact information and pricing.

What has been your experience with Paris Schools?

Have your children gone to school in Paris? Share your stories and experiences and help other families moving to Paris choose the most suitable school for their children.

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