French School System:  Grade Levels

Figure 1.--This is the cours élémentaire 1ère année (CE-1) class in 1956. Despite the name, it was the second year of primary school and the children were about age 7-8 years. The first year of primary school was Cours Préparatoire (CP). The name of the school (Usually the location) is also on the placard, Ecole de Gravigny. Gravigny is a small town in Normandy ( Département de l'Eure ).

The differet grade levels in various countries often make it difficult to compare the different accounts because it is not always clear just how they compare. This is complicated by the different terms used for the schools in various countries. Grammar schools and public schools in America and Britain are very different types of schools. Lycee in France has been used differently, meaning a prinmary school in the 19th century and a secondary school in the 20th century. Here we have detailed the different school levels in France to help clarify how they compare with American schools.

American Grades

The American equivalent grades here are a little difficult to represent in the table. This is because elementary or primary schools in America were traditionally grades 1-6 and secondary schools grades 7-12. Secondary school was usually divided into junior high grades 7-8/9 and senior high grades 9/10-12. There were many variations. Some small rural primary schools went hrough grade 8. Some states replaced junir highs with middle schools beginning with grade 6. In most states, however, primary school is through grde six. Thus generally speaking French children begin secondary school a year earlier than American children.

Children's Ages

The French schools require a child be the indicated age for the school year on the 1st of September or by the 31st of December. Thus some of the children by thge end of the year or a year earlier. And of course some children are head back or advanced based on their academic abilities.

Old School System ( -1968)

The French system developed in the 19th century changed the grade system after 1968. This was part of the educational reforms following the Paris School riots. Under the old system, the French called the classes/grades by the number or the term in descending order. (This was oppsite the American grade system of ascending order.) . This meant 12ème-11éme or CP = child 6 years; 10éme-9éme or CE 1 = child 7 years; 8éme-7éme or CE2 = child 8 years; 6 éme or CM1 = child 9 year; 5 éme = child 10 years; 4 éme = child 11 years; 3 éme = child 12 years; 2 éme = child 13 years; and classe du certifificat d'étude primaire = 14 years. This important diploma don't exist anymore. A French reader tells us, "In my time we referred to the number rather than the letter terms like CP and CE. So I had began school in the 12 ème school program during in October 1949. I was only 5 years old, butbegan school early because I was a prodigy boy. In the old class photographs there is often a slate or card with the grade level indicated. Most children before World War II only went to primary school and never went on to secondary schools. A child would have his Certificat d'étude primaire (" certif ") at 14 years old, some even at 13. The school was made compulsory untill 14 years, but I'm not sure when it was made compulsory. A French reader writes, "To avoid some confusion we used in 1950s quite often the names CP CE CM and so on. Althought ; many old class photo are written with the old number class.

Modern School System (1969- )

The moderm French school system is as follows: Primary school is divided into Cours préparatoire, Cours élémentaire, and Cours Moyen. Secondary education is conducted at Collèges and Lycées. Collèges are generally private schools. Lycées are state schools. Children begin school in CP1 6 years of age. Cours Préparatoire translates as Prparatory course, mean prepartory for formal school studies. This compares to American grade 1 in primary schools which are also called grade, elementary, and grammar schools. Elementary schools are probably the most common term in America while primary school is commonly used in France and other European countries. Pupils begin terminale at 17 years of age. This would be grade 12 in American high schools. The students are called "seniors". Here French students receive their second diploma hich is called a " Baccalaurèat ". To day school is compulsory till 16 years.


We note several abbreviations and terms associated with French schools. Some refere to the new French system implemented in 196?. Before the 1960s, the denomination was different and many old class photos have the notations in the old system.

Classe unique = Specific class in the villages in France. Only one class in the very small villages

CE1 = cours élémentaire 1 ère année ( second year )

CE2 = cours élémentaire 2 ème année ( third year )

CM1 = cour moyen 1ère année ( class 4 )

CM2 = cour moyen 2 ème année ( class 5 ). After this the the child enters secondary school

CP = Cours préparatoire ( child 6 years old , his first year )

GS = Groupe scolaire ( it is the county school with few classes )

SE = Specific class in the villages in France. Section élémentaire ( elementary section for little children )


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Created: April 9, 2002
Last updated: 6:43 AM 6/16/2011