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EDUCATION

Fees to class sizes – what you need to know about private schools in France

In many countries, private schools are the preserve of the wealthy elite, but France has a wide network of private schools that are well within the financial reach of ordinary families - James Harrington explains more.

Fees to class sizes - what you need to know about private schools in France
(Photo by OLIVIER MORIN / AFP)

The education system in France has its problems – at the start of the new school year some 4,000 teaching posts were unfilled and the government has launched an ‘emergency plan’ for English language lessons – but there’s no doubting there are wonderful schools and wonderful teachers making every effort to ensure children from aged three to 18 get the education they deserve.

However the country also has a sizeable network of private schools and around 15 percent of French children go to a private school. While some are undoubtedly expensive and elite, others are surprisingly affordable and provide an extra option for parents when deciding on  a school for their children.

Here’s what you need to know; 

Different types

There are two types of private school – sous contrat and hors contrat.

Sous contrat schools, of which there are about 7,500 in France, are part-funded by the state – teachers are paid by the Department of Education, for example – but also charge fees. France’s numerous Catholic schools, or regional language schools are usually sous contrat.

Hors contrat schools – which number about 2,500 – must still meet general education requirements but can choose their teaching methods and have no state funding. Private international schools found in most big cities, such as the American School of Paris, are hors contrat, but still follow mainstream teaching methods.

For comparison, there are around 60,000 state schools in France.

Prices

Yes, there are expensive private schools in France. Sending your child to the exclusive Ecole des Roches Private Boarding School, for example, will set you back more than €12,000 a term – not quite Eton or Winchester-level fees, but still well out of the reach of a large portion of the population. But, like Eton and Winchester, they’re not the norm. 

On average, fees for a day pupil – one who goes home at the end of the school day, rather than one who boards at the school – are in the region of around €2,250 a year. Meals are not included, and are generally charged at a slightly higher daily price than at state schools.

Financial aid, including scholarships, may be available for less well-off families.

READ ALSO French school canteens to cut cheese course as inflation bites

Boarding and hours

A large number of state and private schools offer Monday-Thursday boarding. It is not uncommon for pupils who excel at certain subjects or sports to attend collèges or lycées some distance from home, and board during the week.

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Daily school hours, meanwhile, are broadly similar, with children generally starting their school day at around 8am and finishing soon after 4pm on school days. Collège and lycée pupils also go into school on Wednesday mornings, and some may have classes on a Saturday, too.

Popularity

Smaller class sizes and a reputation for “better” results means that private schools are increasingly popular. The number of French private schools has increased steadily over the last decade, and now 15-20 percent of pupils go to a private establishment of some form. 

On the whole, private schools tend to do better in results league tables – perhaps in part because of the additional investment from parents, but also because class sizes tend to be smaller, which allows for more one-to-one education. Smaller class sizes and more individual attention mean they may also be a better option for children who struggle in big schools.

READ ALSO What kind of school in France is best for my kids?

Qualifications

State schools and sous contrat schools teach to the national curriculum, which leads, in turn, to brevet and baccalaureate qualifications.

In contrast, some hors contrat private schools offer different qualifications, including American High School Diplomas and SATs, British GCSEs and A-Levels, or the international baccalaureate.

Religion

Although many sous contrat schools are Catholic, most readily accept non-Catholic children and are not allowed to indoctrinate the Catholic faith. Hors contrat schools, on the other hand, may include a religious element to their teaching.

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ENERGY

What households in France can expect in the event of power cuts

The French government continues to insist that power cuts are very unlikely this winter. Nevertheless, there is an emergency plan in place, so here's what it says about power cuts, from length and frequency to warning times.

What households in France can expect in the event of power cuts

Power outages in France during the winter of 2022-2023 are still unlikely, and President Emmanuel Macron has urged people “not to panic.” However, they are still a “real possibility” and if you would like to be prepared for potential power cuts, here is what you should know:

When and how will I know if there’s going to be a power outage?

You can continue scanning the situation using the website and application Ecowatt.

READ MORE: ‘Ecowatt’: How to use France’s new energy forecasting website and app

You will be able to see an ‘energy forecast’ for the following three days – which will put your local area into the category of Green (no strains in the grid), Orange (the grid is strained, consider decreasing energy consumption), or Red (the grid is very strained, power cuts will be inevitable without a decrease in consumption).

If EcoWatt goes red, the first step will be asking businesses to make voluntary decreases, so for example factories could go onto a three-day week.

If this still doesn’t work, then targeted power cuts may be necessary – but these will be limited in time and area and planned in advance.

The government says that power cuts will last for no longer than two hours and will be done on a commune basis – so there will never be a situation where a whole département will be blacked out, far less the entire country.

So how do I know if my area will be affected?

If Ecowatt is red, keep checking it – at 3pm each day it will be updated with any areas that face power cuts the following day.

At 3pm you will be able to see whether your département will be impacted and at 5pm you will be able to check your individual address to see if you are in a ‘load shedding’ zone (délestage in French) – the technical term for a planned outage.

You can set up alerts by SMS and email on both the application and website.

And of course there will be extensive media coverage (including on The Local) of planned cuts. 

How long would the rolling blackout last?

French government authorities have specified that power outages would not occur for more than two hours at a time.

They would occur either in the morning (between the hours of 8am and 1pm) or in the evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and would not affect crucial buildings such as hospitals. 

If you are impacted by a power outage on one day, you can rest assured you will not be in a “load shedding area” the following day, power bosses will vary the areas for targeted cuts and no area will have two consecutive days of cuts.

What are the things that might be impacted in the event of a power cut?

There are several every-day items that could be shut off during a power outage that you might need to be aware of; 

READ MORE: OPINION: France faces the real possibility of power cuts this winter and it can’t blame Putin

ATMs and Contactless Payment – If you are in an area that will be impacted by power outages, consider taking out cash the day before. During the power outage, you may not be able to access an ATM or use a credit/ debit card to pay, depending on whether the card reader is fully charged. 

Elevators and digicodes – if you live in an apartment block then both your lift and the electronic door codes will not work. Your building might block access to elevators during the rolling blackout. If you know you will be in an area where power is cut, you might want to consider postponing your heavy shopping trip or furniture delivery to the following day.

Digicodes and access badges also will not work without electricity. However, that does not mean you will be locked out or trapped inside, as the electricity is only used to keep the door locked. 

Shops closed – While supermarkets with generators will be able to remain open, you can expect some smaller shops to be closed during power outages.

Public transport – This will depend on where you live in France, though you can expect some services to be interrupted. Local authorities have been tasked with coming up with their own response plans in the event of power cuts. The French government has asked local authorities to err on the side of caution, in order to avoid the possibility of passengers finding themselves stranded in the middle of a track. As for the Paris Metro system, this will not be affected by power outages. Government spokesperson Olivier Véran told BFMTV on Friday that it runs on “its own electricity network.” You can expect more detailed information in the coming weeks.

Schools – While this has not yet been confirmed, the French government is reportedly working alongside the Ministry of Education to develop plans to close schools in the mornings if the area is to be impacted by rolling blackouts. This would be to protect students and teachers from having to be in the building without access to heating, alarm systems or lighting. Schools would be open again in the afternoons, as power cuts are not set to take place between 1pm and 6pm. 

Phone and internet service – During a power cut, there could be interruptions in telecommunications (both for mobile and landline devices). If you have an emergency, you should still dial 112. As this phone number is accessible regardless of the telephone operating company or line, there is still a chance it will be covered by at least one operator in the area. Call centres for the fire department and the police will continue to function. 

Traffic lights – Like other illuminated traffic signs, these are powered by electricity. It is therefore possible that they will be out of service during power cuts, so consider avoiding driving during a power outage.

Charging devices – If you learn that your area will be impacted by a power outage, consider charging any devices you might need during the day the night before. Keep in mind though that the power cut will only last two hours.

Hot water – If your water is heated electrically, it likely will not be available during a power outage. It would therefore be advised to plan around the two hour power cut for your hot water needs.

Refrigerators and freezers – There is no need to panic here – the power would only be off for two hours, so your food ought to remain protected, as refrigerators can keep cold up to four to six hours after the power shuts off. As for freezers, they can keep their temperature for 24 to 48 hours.

And what won’t be affected?

Priority sites such as hospitals, prisons, police stations, fire stations, critical factories and other emergency services will not experience power cuts.

If your power line also services a priority site, then you will be spared from blackouts. For this reason, people living in urban areas are less likely to be impacted by power cuts than people living in rural areas. As for Paris specifically, the city is so dense and is connected to so many priority sites that only about 20 percent of the Parisian territory could be impacted by power cuts. 

Current estimates show that about 60 percent of the French population could be impacted by power cuts – the remaining 40 percent are either connected to a priority line or are part of the 3,800 “high-risk patients” who are dependent on home medical equipment.

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