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How to enrol a non-French speaking child in school in France

From enrollment to what to expect in terms of school assistance in French-language learning, as well advice from other parents who have been through it, here is everything you can anticipate when putting your non-French speaking child into school in France.

How to enrol a non-French speaking child in school in France
Pupils start the philosophy test as part of the baccalaureat exams, at the Academie de Paris, in Paris (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

For those who take the leap and move to France without much knowledge of the French language, it can be tough in the beginning. Non-French speaking adults face the challenge of having to seek out French friends and language courses, but there is often the assumption that children will ‘just pick up’ the language.

In practice, things can be difficult for kids who are enrolled in French schools without speaking the language. 

Here is what to expect;

Type of school

First there is the decision on what type of school to go for; public/state school, private school or international school.

All of these options have good and bad points – international school will obviously be a lot easier in language terms, but pupils often end up taking longer to learn French and find it harder to integrate with local kids. International schools tend to be concentrated in the bigger cities such as Paris.

Public schools are free and open to all, but the level of language support on offer varies. Private schools might be the reserve of the wealthy in other countries but in France they can be surprisingly affordable and generally offer smaller classes and more individual help. Their availability varies quite widely by area, however, and many private schools are run by religious organisations such as the Catholic church.

International v French schools – how to decide

Enrolling your child in public school

If you decide on public school, the first step is to ask the local mairie for the list of documents required for registration, which can vary by area.

In general, you need:

  • An ID for your child or a copy of their birth certificate
  • A health book or other documentation confirming that your child has had all the mandatory vaccinations
  • A recent proof of home address (eg a recent utility bill or tax notice)

Mind you, this is only the first round of the registration process. After this you will need to proceed with the definitive registration process, which usually requires re-sending most of the documents above alongside a registration certificate issued by the mairie.

You cannot enrol your child from abroad in French public school – they must be present on French territory to do so.

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

At this point, they will need to be given an assessment by the CASNAV, the French scholastic body that handles the integration of non-French speaking children (les allophones) into French schools.

Unlike in some countries, there is no exam or minimum language level in order to go to public school but usually an assessment will be done to look at their knowledge of French and other languages taught (eg English), their writing skills, as well as other academic skills that they acquired in previous schooling.

The important point is that it is up to you to contact the CASNAV, don’t assume the school or marie will contact them on your behalf. You can find the contact information for your académie (school district) here – download the contact list and search your académie. If you do not know your académie, you can search your postcode on the ministry of education website HERE.

The results of the assessment will be sent on to education authorities in your area to help to be able to judge how well your child will be able to integrate into class.

For elementary school, once you have your registration certificate which includes the name and address of your child’s new school, you can go to see the school’s principal who will be the one to admit your child.

For children starting in collège (middle school, or the first years of secondary school) or lycée (high school), then depending on where you live you may be able to directly enrol your child in the local collège, lycée or lycée professionel.

Learning French: What will the school offer?

The ultimate goal for French public schools is to integrate your child into the general track with other students in their own age group, and the amount of individualised French language support your child will receive can differ greatly between different areas and different schools, particularly based on resources and the presence of other non-French speaking children.

If your child is maternelle age (3 to 6 years old), they will simply be placed in a regular course with other children in their age group. 

For elementary school children (ages 6 to 11), based on the results of the assessment by CASNAV, your child may be placed in a group for other newcomer pupils without French-language knowledge – this is called UPE2A (unité pédagogique pour élèves allophones arrivants).

These tend to be only available in areas that have a significant number of non-French speaking children arriving in schools. 

In most cases, the child will only be able to take UPE2A courses for a maximum of one year, and may spend less time there depending on their language progress.

In this course, they will learn French on a daily basis for a specified amount of time depending on their needs, they will also be taught two subjects aside from French (usually including mathematics). If the UPE2A is available, then your child will still receive an individualised timetable, which will be similar to other students at their level, and they will still be placed in the grade level corresponding to their age.

For primary school students enrolled in a UPE2A programme, they can receive at least 9 hours of French language teaching. Outside of this time, your child will be put in regular courses with French students.

In areas where the programme is not available, specific French lessons should be organised by the school. 

Both individual lessons and EPE2A courses can vary considerably in different areas – there is not a set, centralised curriculum as it is meant to be flexible.

For secondary schools that offer a UPE2A, children can receive up to 12 hours a week of intensive French language instruction, including individual tutoring time. To keep track of your child’s progress, they will be given a ‘livret personnel de compétences‘ – essentially a booklet to note benchmarks.

Your child may also be able to take the DELF test – which provides an official certification of their language level in French. Most of the time this is offered for pupils in secondary school (above the age of 12).

In reality, it seems that the level of support on offer varies widely in different parts of France and between different schools.

READ ALSO Parents reveal what to expect when putting foreign kids into French schools

Of course, children too also vary widely and some will find it much easier to pick up the language than others.

There’s a perception that children will easily ‘pick up’ a language, but in fact it can be difficult in the early days.

While most parents – and children – say it all worked out in the end, be prepared for some stress and tears as children get their heads around a totally new language.

READ ALSO How learning a language as a child opened up the world for me

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Moving to France: Language tests, new immigration law and jobs for non French-speakers

Moving to France - a country famous for its complicated bureaucracy - can be a daunting task. Fortunately, our new newsletter is here to answer your questions - this month we're looking at new immigration plans, acquiring language skills and healthcare.

Moving to France: Language tests, new immigration law and jobs for non French-speakers

Here at The Local we’re an Anglo-American team living in France – which means all of us have been through the simultaneously exciting and terrifying process of moving countries.

Our new newsletter is aimed at people who are in the process of moving, have recently moved and are still grappling with the paperwork or perhaps are just thinking about it – and we’ll share a monthly selection of practical tips. Our team is also available to answer questions from subscribers to The Local.

Let’s start with some news that I know has been worrying people who plan to move to France some day – the new French immigration bill.

The bill is currently making its way through parliament, with a lot of accompanying political drama and some very headline-grabbing amendments from Senators (most of which have now been scrapped).

This seems to be one of those cases where the political drama is in inverse proportion to the actual content of the bill – because it really doesn’t contain a lot that would affect people moving to France. We’ve done a complete breakdown HERE.

It won’t immediately affect new arrivals – but one thing that the bill does contain is a proposal for compulsory language tests in order to gain the long-term residency card (which usually happens after four or five years of residency, depending on your personal situation). We have a guide on exactly what language level would be required and a quiz so you can test yourself against the required standard. 

Language skills

I’m often asked how easy it is to move to France if you don’t speak any French at all. Ideally you would do some studying before arriving, but sometimes circumstances dictate a move while your French is still at a basic level (full disclosure – my French was extremely rudimentary when I first arrived).

Here’s a look at how easy it is to move to France if you don’t speak French – and what jobs you could do while you learn. 

Staying healthy

The other big concern for many people is healthcare – specifically how to access care in France, and whether you need to pay for expensive health insurance in order to move.

In good news, the French system is pretty generous – you can register in the French public health system after three months of residency and the state covers around 70 percent of medical costs, depending on circumstances. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the registration process itself can be lengthy – it’s not unusual to wait a year for your first carte vitale health card.

What you do in the meantime – and what health cover you need in order to get a visa – depends on your country of origin. 

Brits can use their EHIC or GHIC European health card as proof of medical cover, although it’s advised to get a short private health insurance policy too as there are things not covered by the European health card.

If you’re moving from an EU country you would be covered by the reciprocal EU health agreements between member states, but if you’re moving from the USA you will need private cover for your first few months in France (and not all American health insurance covers treatments outside of the US). 


The Local’s Reader Questions section covers questions our members have asked us and is a treasure trove of useful info on all kinds of practical matters. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, head here to leave us your questions.

Bon courage !