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The French education sytem

The French education system is based on the principles of liberty of teaching, free access to education, religious and political neutrality, and compulsory education. The organization of a compulsory, free and neutral public education service at all levels is one of the State's duties.

In France, the Recteur d'Académie is chosen by the Council of Ministers and appointed by decree of the President of the Republic. A Recteur is in charge of an Académie, which is the local administrative entity specific to the French national public education service.

The Recteur, who is also Chancellor of the Universities, rules the education policy in the Académie he/she is in charge of, under the authority of the Minister of Education. A Recteur is both a manager and a leader.

The Recteur has full control over the three school levels : primary, secondary and higher education, which gives him/her authority over the whole teaching or administrative personnel he/she is responsible for.

The local administration offices are based in the city where the Recteur is appointed. Decentralized services are at the disposal of the Recteurs: they are called Inspections Académiques. At the smaller administrative scale of a département, these services are supervised by an Inspecteur d'Académie - Directeur des Services Départementaux de l'Éducation Nationale (IA-DSDEN).

The local administration of the Académie, called the Rectorat, includes all the administrative services that manage the different categories of personnel.

Range of action and authority of a Recteur

Recteurs are granted wide powers of organization concerning administration, teaching, and vocational and curriculum counselling. They have full authority over the whole teaching or administrative personnel they are responsible for.

Recteurs are responsible for appointing the necessary personnel in the Lycées (High Schools) and Collèges (Junior High Schools) over which they have educational control. They determine the general pedagogical structure of all schools. Along with the local authorities, they organize the provisional investment programs. They distribute the amount of money each school receives for its pedagogical initiatives, and appoint the necessary personnel.

They manage the careers of numerous secondary-level teachers, and they have authority to inspect all the personnel appointed in their Académies. They organize most final exams, choose their contents, appoint the juries and countersign the national diplomas.

The school system from nursery school (kindergarten) to Higher Education

In France, education is compulsory from the age of six. Prior to that age, families can decide to enrol their children in nursery schools at pre-elementary level, and most French children under the age of six attend nursery school.

Pupils begin compulsory education in the first year of primary school (called Cours Préparatoire or CP). There are different key stages for four other years until they reach the last year of primary school (Cours Moyen 2ème année or CM2).
French pupils start learning one or several foreign languages (mostly English but also German) as young as 7 or 8 years old.

Between the ages of 10 and 12, French pupils start their secondary education in a Collège where they will attend 4 years from what is called Sixième to Troisième, ending with their taking a national exam called Diplôme National du Brevet. In general, these French pupils study two foreign languages. It is then time for them to make a choice: either join a Lycée (a school providing secondary education for the three years after Collège), go to a vocational school or learn a trade as an apprentice. In 3 years, French pupils attending a Lycée prepare to sit for their Baccalauréat final exam which can be academic, technological or vocational. They may in some cases learn a third foreign language. The Baccalauréat is the first university diploma which opens the doors to higher education.

Once they have passed, they can enrol at any university. They can also choose to stay at school for two more years and either join a preparatory class to enter one of the Grandes Écoles or prepare a higher vocational diploma (Brevet de Technicien Supérieur: BTS).

M.A.J. Le 24 décembre 2009

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