Getting Permission to Change Schools – Part 1

This is the first in a two-part series of articles on getting permission to change from one public school to another. Here I will give you an overview of this process, reasons that are valid to request a change and reasons that are likely to be rejected, and some specific information about the procedure in maternelle and primaire. 

Students in France are assigned to public schools by means of a geographic zoning map, known as the carte scolaire. However, families have the right to request another school via a system of dérogations. In addition to requesting a dérogation, some parents resort to more radical means to get their children into their school of choice, including falsifying their address, buying a maid’s room in the coveted neighborhood, or pulling strings (note that we in no way condone these methods!). 

Reasons for Requesting a Dérogation

For a dérogation request to be accepted, it must be made for a compelling reason. Requests citing reasons of personal convenience (the school is on your way to the nearest métro, for example) are usually refused. 

At the maternelle and primary level, here are a few valid reasons for requesting a dérogation:  

  • The child’s caregiver living near the school 
  • The school’s location is close to the parent’s place of work 
  • Both parents work and the school must have a cafeteria (cantine) or a before/after-school program (garderie/ étude

Certain files have priority: 

  • those of children with medical problems or handicaps
  • students receiving financial assistance (élèves boursiers
  • those with a sibling already in the school 
  • those whose home address is near the desired school 
  • those wishing to study a foreign language or be part of a special option that is not offered in their assigned school

Certain schools, such as those offering international and European sections, or special music and sports classes, are subject to specific recruitment procedures. These often involve application files, tests or auditions, and interviews. If you are interested in such a school you are encouraged to contact the school at the beginning of the transitional years (GS, CM2, or Troisième) to inquire about requirements and deadlines. 

If your request for a dérogation is denied, it can be renewed as often as you wish. 

Procedure for Requesting a Dérogation

Maternelle or Primaire

The carte scolaires for maternelle and primaire are determined by municipal councils. Your town hall (mairie) website should provide this information. 

Your child must be enrolled in a public school before a dérogation is requested, even if you are new to the district or the child is beginning school. Once your child has been enrolled at the mairie of the town/arrondissement in which you live, you should inquire at the mairie of the school in which you wish to enroll your child to find out the proper procedure, as each town/arrondissement manages its own registrations.  

Often requests for dérogations can only be made at specific times during the year, usually in February or March. Wherever you live, inquire well in advance, and respect all deadlines for the best chance of success. You will most often be asked to download a feuille de dérogation, which you will complete and join to a letter of motivation outlining your family’s particular circumstances and significant reasons for changing schools (your motif). Be sure to include corroborating documentation if you have it, such as your assistante maternelle’s work contract with the address indicated.

The procedure for submission of the paperwork varies from town to town. Some simply require that you submit your completed request to the town hall. Others stipulate that you take the form to your assigned school, where the school principal will sign the sheet then forward it to the directeur of the school you wish to attend. The file will then be sent to the Inspecteur de l’Education Nationale.

At the end of May/beginning of June, a commission de dérogation, made up of the mayor’s representatives, representatives from the Direction des services départementaux de l’éducation nationale (DSDEN), directors of the district’s public schools, and representatives of parents’ associations meet to review all dérogation requests. If you are a member of one of the parent associations, you might wish to contact your local representatives and explain your case, so that they may advocate on your behalf during the session. Requests are either granted or denied depending on local circumstances, and they are contingent on space availability. 

A word to the wise – always be diplomatic when completing these formalities. You don’t want to burn any bridges should your request be denied. Also, be aware that while requesting a dérogation is possible, it is not encouraged. Some towns, such as St. Germain-en-Laye, make absolutely no mention of it on their website. The 18e arrondissement in Paris states that if your request is denied, your child no longer has priority in their assigned school, and will be assigned to a third school if the école de secteur is full. Know as well that if you are requesting a school in another town, the town where you live will have to pay a sum of money to the town where your child will attend school, which may motivate a denial. School officials may also deny requests if the drop in student numbers could provoke a class closure.

Are you looking for information about changing schools in Collège and Lycée, and some special aspects to consider if you live in Paris? Look for the second half of this article to be posted the first part of November.

Margaret Jenkins

Margaret Jenkins is the Assistant Director of the American Section of the Lycée International in Saint Germain-en-Laye. She has been at the school for past seventeen years and has worked in nearly every aspect of school administration, notably piloting the growth of the school’s advancement program, integrating communications, community relations, development, and alumni relations. She also works closely with secondary students, including leading a long-standing community service and culture exchange trip to India. In her spare time, she serves on COGNIA accreditation teams for schools worldwide, and is involved with local non-profits, such as AAWE, USAGSO, and the Wellesley Club of Paris. 

What is inclusive education?

“Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighbourhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.”(1)

What does this really mean? It’s simple.

All children can learn, but all children learn differently. Every child should attend mainstream school in a common learning environment with their same-age peers regardless of perceived ability or level of disability. All children benefit from inclusive education because all children belong.

One of the most important features of inclusive schools is that all students of different abilities are taught in a common learning environment for the majority of regular instruction hours. In other words, simply housing children with disabilities in the same school building as their peers but keeping them segregated for the majority of the day does not count as inclusive education. Curriculum development that assumes competence and sets high standards for all students while developing learning goals that are in accordance with each child’s abilities is a key feature of inclusion. The cookie-cutter approach to teaching and learning is obsolete. Children do not all need to have the same educational goals to learn and grow together in a regular classroom.

We must shift the perspective from how to best educate children with disabilities to how to best educate all students in the same environment in ways that are meaningful to all. Inclusion is about considering the whole child, from academics to emotional intelligence, social skills, and more, and finding ways to include every student in the classroom. All aspects of the school environment must be considered, from the physical school building, to teacher training and support staff, curriculum design and implementation.

But does it work?

One of the most frequent sentiments expressed when inclusive education is discussed is that of “It sounds great, but does it actually work?” 

The short answer is YES, and there is over 30 years of research to back it up. 

A common fear of opening up classrooms to children with disabilities or behavioural concerns  is that their needs will affect the learning environment and negatively impact the academic achievement of their peers. This has been proved to be false several times over. A 2013 study compared the achievement of 202 low, average, and high achieving students in classrooms in which students with disabilities were present, and an equal number of students in classrooms where they were not. There was no significant difference in the academic achievement progress of any of the students from classrooms with or without inclusion of disabled students.(2)  

Earlier research found similar results. In 2007, researchers from the University of Manchester systematically reviewed a set of studies from 26 studies from the United States, Australia, Canada, and Ireland, and found that 81% of study findings indicated that nondisabled students either experienced no effects (58%) or experienced positive effects (23%) on their academic development as a result of being educated alongside students with disabilities,”(3)

The impact on disabled students when included in mainstream classrooms was overwhelmingly positive from an academic and social standpoint. A study of over 1300 students within 180 school districts in the United States showed a strong relationship between the amount of time spent in general education classes and achievement in math and reading. A different study looking at the outcomes of 11,000 students in the United States showed that regardless of disability, more time spent in a general education classroom correlated with fewer absences, fewer referrals for misbehavior, and more post-secondary and employment options.(4)

What are the benefits of inclusion for all children?

As most school brochures will tell you, school is about more than just academics. It is  a place to learn to be part of a community, to make friends, and to learn the rules of society. Schools offer activities outside the classroom such as sports, artistic activities, field trips, and other social activities that are often off-limits to children in segregated special education classrooms. Likewise, inclusive education practices result in benefits that extend beyond that of academic achievement. For ALL children, the benefits of inclusion include: opportunities for diverse friendships, improved social skills and wider social networks, peer modeling that works both ways, problem solving skills, positive self-image, acceptance and respect for others, increased understanding and acceptance of difference, shared learning opportunities, and better readiness for inclusion outside of the school environment.(5)

If one of the functions of school is to prepare children for life in society as adults, the importance of inclusion for all becomes even more apparent. If disabled individuals are segregated in the mainstream education system as children, what place is there for them in society as adults? Inclusive education prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society, by affirming that disabled individuals are full members of society with their own individual strengths, weaknesses, needs, and gifts to offer the world just like their non-disabled peers. When every individual is supported to achieve their full potential, everyone benefits.


  1. What is Inclusive Education?
  2. 7 New Research Studies to Help you Win the Fight for Inclusion
  3. The impact of placing pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools on the achievement of their peers.
  4. 7 Research Studies to Help you Win the Fight for Inclusion
  5. The Benefits of Inclusion in the Classroom | Community Living Toronto (
Kathleen Sperduti

Kathleen Sperduti is a wife and mother of two boys, Xavier and Etienne. A former high school teacher, she currently works freelance part-time and dedicates the rest of her time to supporting EKIPP and the families it serves.

Erin Reeser

Erin Reeser is a wife and mother of two children, Lucie and Felix. She works full time in study abroad and dedicates the rest of her time to supporting EKIPP and the families it serves.


EKIPP–Extraordinary Kids in Paris…and their Parents too! is now an advocacy and support network for anglophone and multilingual individuals and families of children with complex learning, medical, or physical needs. We celebrate diversity in all its forms. More importantly, it is a lifeline for parents like us, looking for social connections for themselves and their children. The best part? Through EKIPP, we have found our tribe.

For parents, facing concerns about a child’s development or learning can be scary and confusing; doing it in a country known for its bureaucracy and administrative maze of paperwork can be overwhelming. While parents and professionals agree that there is plenty of room to improve supporting and including children with developmental and learning disabilities in public schools, France has made improvements over the past 15 years since the loi de 2005 affirmed that all children have the right to receive an education and that parents have the right to be involved in developing educational plans.  Educational plans, financial support, and dedicated educational supports in schools are available for children diagnosed with a developmental, learning, or other disability. 

Developmental disabilities

Early detection and intervention are important to get necessary support for children with disabilities. Parents can bring up concerns with their child’s pediatrician who can do a brief screening and determine whether a visit to a specialist or specialized hospital for diagnosis is necessary. Parents of young children concerned with their development can go directly to their local PMI (service de protection maternelle et infantile), a useful resource which provides support for pregnant women and children up to age 6 and is the equivalent to Early Intervention services in the United States. These PMI centers provide free medical care including developmental screenings, and are connected to other services that provide support to children with developmental disabilities and their families. For children in a daycare, for example, the PMI can work directly with the crèche to determine that appropriate materials, supports, and adaptations are in place.

Learning disabilities

In primary school, when a child is having difficulty in the classroom, ideally teachers will recognize the need, speak with the parents, and try to provide extra support or modify or adapt the schoolwork. The first step for students struggling in class is to put in place a programme personnalisé de réussite éducative (PPRE). The PPRE allows the teacher to put a plan of action in place, with appropriate accommodations and support, directly in the classroom. The teacher may consult with the school director and the Rased (réseaux d’aides spécialisées aux élèves en difficulté), a team of special educators and school psychologists. It is important to note that not all public schools currently have a Rased team working fulltime in their building. 

If it is suspected that the child is not keeping up with the curriculum because of a learning disability, the school will most often suggest that the child have an evaluation by an orthophoniste, the equivalent of a speech therapist. To have the evaluation reimbursed by social security, parents can talk with their child’s pediatrician, who will prescribe the evaluation. However, it is important to keep in mind that any standardized assessments should, whenever possible, be done in the child’s mother tongue. It can be difficult to find anglophone specialists whose services are reimbursed by social security, though there are several in the Paris region. SPRINT, an organization for professionals working with children with special needs, can provide resources for anglophone parents seeking information or referrals to services for their children. 

Once the school receives the assessment, which will be reviewed and approved by a médecin de l’éducation nationale, a plan d’accompagnement personnalisé (PAP) is put into place based on observations by special educators and a school psychologist. This document will define measures decided on by the teacher, director, and Rased team that will allow the child to continue following the national curriculum. A PAP is reviewed every year and has a standardized form. 


A child with a developmental disability or severe learning difficulties that may require specialized services, in-school support, or any material or financial support may be referred to the Maison départementale des personnes handicapés (MDPH). This public agency officially recognizes a person’s disability which then allows the family access to additional services and support, both material and financial. Once an evaluation by the MDPH is requested by the family, a multidisciplinary team will meet along with the family to analyze the needs of the child using a standard form called the GEVA-sco. An enseignant référent will be assigned to the child and work with the family and school during the process and for future re-evaluations. Once the child’s diagnosis is officially recognized by the MDPH, a team will create a projet personnalisé de scolarisation (PPS), similar to an Individualized Education Program (IEP), is a legally binding document. A PPS is for children who meet the definition of a “handicap” according to article 2 of the loi de 2005 and whose dossier has been accepted by the MDPH.  Although the entire process can take over a year to complete, it can be hugely beneficial to children needing a place in an appropriate school structure, an aide in the classroom (known as an AESH), specialized equipment, transportation, or a financial stipend to pay for specialized services and therapies. Unlike in the United States and the United Kingdom where schools have on-site staff providing most therapies directly in the school, in France they are most often external and in private practices. Parents are responsible for arranging these appointments and taking their child to these therapies. 

Private schools hors contrat

If your child is in a private school hors contrat, first discuss with your child’s teacher any concerns about their learning and development. Smaller private schools may not have the resources to have a special educator on staff. However, the school director and teacher will likely refer the child to an orthophoniste. Parents can also ask the school director for references; most know of psychologists, speech therapists, and other professionals with whom they discuss questions and refer children. Finding a specialist who already has a relationship with the school staff can make the process smoother. 

If, after an assessment, the school determines that your child needs additional support during the day, the costs of these services like a classroom aide are usually at the expense of the family who hires the aide, unless they have completed the process with the MDPH. If a child is enrolled in a school that does not feel capable of effectively accommodating their needs, the school may refer the parents to the public system or a larger private school that has a special education department. However, there are organizations in the Paris region working to advocate for smaller anglophone and bilingual schools to include children with special educational needs. EKIPP advocates for and supports parents of anglophone children with diverse learning, medical, or physical needs. The Learning Collaborative provides a network of support and continuing education on child development and disabilities for teachers, as well as resources for parents and professionals. Message Paris also has many resources, workshops, meet ups, and forums for English speaking parents in and around Paris. Joining an association such as AAWE brings valuable support from fellow parents and helps you build a network of bicultural families.
You can also purchase a copy of the latest edition of the AAWE Guide to Education in France, with its glossary explaining terms and acronyms relating to special needs, schools, and education in general.

While the French system of special education is not yet as accessible and developed in every public school as in many anglophone countries, the system has a variety of supports available from assessment to intervention. No matter the age of your child, as soon as you suspect a possible delay or notice a learning difficulty it is vital to seek support from professionals. The earlier you are able to detect and intervene with appropriate supports, the better the outcomes for your child.

– Jill Clément

Further Resources

General Special Ed France

Quel plan pour qui

Resources from Wendy Atkinson, owner and founder of Cornerstone Therapy Associates, LLC, based in Ashland, Virginia

Detailed resources to help persons and parents struggling to deal with sensory issues or to meet sensory needs.

How to create the perfect sensory room

NHS Sensory Processing Hub

Ways to deal with common sensory issues

Jill Clément

Jill Clément has lived in France since 2011, working in international schools supporting children with special needs and training teachers on inclusive practices. She has a BS in psychology and education and an MA in child development with a focus in clinical developmental psychology. She lives in Paris with her husband and son.

The American Library in Paris’s Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager Celeste Rhoads compiled this curated selection of recommended reading for ages 0-12 with input from expert librarians around the world.

The list includes award-winners, well-loved books that have been around for decades, as well as contemporary classics whose characters and settings have already become part of the cultural lexicon. Parents and educators might be surprised to see several graphic novels included here, but these books should not be dismissed. Graphic novels are full of text that readers must decode and analyze, as well as exciting and complex plots, characters, and conflicts. They’re also engaging! If you are not yet familiar with Jerry Craft’s Newbery Medal-winning New Kid, it’s a great choice for readers age 8 and up (even for tweens and teens). In his Newbery acceptance speech Craft gives compelling examples of the importance of offering all children mirrors and windows in their reading.

All of the books listed here are available in English (including several well-known translated works). Here, you will find picture books, including Maurice Sendak’s 1963 Where the Wild Things Are, and the contemporary Wild Berries by Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist Julie Flett, as well as illustrated early readers (Such as Mo Willems’ We Are in a Book), and novels for school-aged children to read alone or with an adult. As with all best-of lists, there will likely be titles that surprise some readers— and half the fun of a selection of this sort is debating about what did or didn’t make it on! This list can be used as a tool for discovery, and a starting point for those of you who are unfamiliar with children’s literature, as well as the go-to spot for anyone of who would like to grab a sure hit to take home or a gift to give to the young reader in your life, but most of all, please use this list to engage with that young reader, and find out what type of book they are looking for.

  1. Actual Size: Written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins
  2. Ada Twist, Scientist: Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Written by Lewis Carroll
  4. All the World: Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee
  5. Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things: Written by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  6. And Tango Makes Three: Written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
  7. The Arrival: Written and illustrated by Shaun Tan
  8. Bark, George: Written and illustrated by Jules Feiffer
  9. Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon: Written by Steve Sheinkin
  10. A Bear Called Paddington: Written by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Forthum
  11. The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners: Written and illustrated by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  12. The Big Orange Splot: Written and illustrated by Daniel Pinkwater
  13. The Borrowers: Written by Mary Norton
  14. A Chair for My Mother: Written and illustrated by Vera Williams
  15. Charlotte’s Web: Written by E.B. White
  16. The Crossover: Written by Kwame Alexander
  17. The Day the Crayons Quit: Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  18. Brown Girl Dreaming: Written by Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Bunnicula: Written by Deborah and James Howe
  20. Cinderella, and Other Tales from Perrault: Written by Charles Perrault
  21. Coraline: Written by Neil Gaiman
  22. Corduroy: Written and illustrated by Don Freeman
  23. Each Kindness: Written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
  24. Eat Your Peas: Written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
  25. El Deafo: Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
  26. Elmer: Written and illustrated by David McKee
  27. Eloise: Written by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight
  28. Esperanza Rising: Written by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  29. Extra Yarn: Written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  30. Feathers: Written by Jacqueline Woodson
  31. Flora and Ulysses: Written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell
  32. Georgie: Written and illustrated by Robert Bright
  33. Ghost: Written by Jason Reynolds
  34. The Girl and the Wolf: Written by Katherena Vermette, illustrated by Julie Flett
  35. The Giver: Written by Lois Lowry
  36. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials): Written by Phillip Pullman
  37. Grand Canyon: Written and illustrated by Jason Chin
  38. Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Written by the Brothers Grimm
  39. The Gruffalo: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  40. Guess How Much I Love You: Written by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram
  41. Harold and the Purple Crayon: Written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson
  42. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Written by J.K. Rowling
  43. Hatchet: Written by Gary Paulsen
  44. I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato: Written and illustrated by Lauren Child
  45. Inside Out and Back Again: Written by Thanhha Lai
  46. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat: Written and illustrated by Simms Taback
  47. Just a Minute!: Written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
  48. Knuffle Bunny: Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  49. Last Stop on Market Street: Written by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
  50. The Little Engine That Could:  Told by Watty Piper
  51. The Little Prince: Written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  52. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Written by C.S. Lewis
  53. The Lorax: Written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
  54. Lost and Found: Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
  55. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers: Written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein
  56. March: Book One: Written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, Illustrated by Nate Powell
  57. Merci Suarez Changes Gears: Written by Meg Medina
  58. My Happy Life: Written by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
  59. The Name Jar: Written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi
  60. Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock: Written by Carolyn Keene
  61. Neighborhood Sharks: Written and illustrated by Katherine Roy
  62. Nelson Mandela: Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  63. New Kid: Written and illustrated by Jerry Craft
  64. The One and Only Ivan: Written by K. A. Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao
  65. One Crazy Summer: Written by Rita Williams-Garcia
  66. The Paper Bag Princess: Written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
  67. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: Written by Rick Riordan
  68. Peter Pan: Written by J.M. Barrie
  69. Peter Rabbit: Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter
  70. Pippi Longstocking: Written by Astrid Lindgren
  71. Please, Baby, Please: Written by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
  72. Press Here: Written and illustrated by Hervé Tullet
  73. The Princess and the Pony: Written and illustrated by Kate Beaton
  74. The Princess in Black: Written by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
  75. Room on the Broom: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  76. Rosie Revere, Engineer: Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
  77. A Sick Day for Amos McGee: Written by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
  78. Stella by Starlight: Written by Sharon M. Draper
  79. Stellaluna: Written and illustrated by Janell Cannon
  80. A Tale Dark and Grimm: Written by Adam Gidwitz
  81. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes: Written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
  82. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: Written by Judy Blume
  83. This is Not My Hat: Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen
  84. The Runaway Bunny: Written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
  85. The Snail and the Whale: Written by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
  86. The Snowy Day: Written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  87. This Bridge Will Not be Gray: Written by Dave Eggers, Illustrated by Tucker Nichols
  88. Toilet: How it Works: Written and illustrated by David Macaulay
  89. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs: Written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
  90. The Velveteen Rabbit: Written by Margery Williams
  91. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Written and illustrated by Eric Carle
  92. The Watsons Go to Birmingham: Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
  93. Weapon: Written by Steve Sheinkin
  94. We Are in a Book: Written and illustrated by Mo Willems
  95. Where the Sidewalk Ends: Written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein
  96. Where the Wild Things Are: Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  97. Winnie the Pooh: Written by A.A. Milne
  98. The Witches: Written by Roald Dahl
  99. Wonder: Written by R. J. Palacio
  100. A Wrinkle in Time: Written by Madeleine L’Engle

Celeste Rhoads

Celeste Rhoads is originally from John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, California, where she read on the beach, in trees, on road trips, and everywhere in between. She moved to Paris in 2005, and immediately found a home at the American Library in Paris, volunteering in the Children’s and Teens’ Services Department.

Celeste was hired as the Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager in 2010 to oversee the Library’s collections, policies, and programs for ages 0–18.

Celeste has a master’s degree in Library Science from Rutgers University, where she focused on digital libraries, and children’s literature. She enjoys connecting people of all ages with great reads—especially contemporary titles. She has served on numerous book selection committees, including the Young Adult Library Services Best Fiction for Young Adults Commitee, and Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults Committee, and she has written for the BnF’s “La Revue des Livres Pour Enfants” about American children’s literature post-Sendak.

Might a bilingual education be the best preparation for a bicultural child, whose playing field covers more than one country? Perhaps, if you are in the position to take advantage of it. The reality is that some of us aren’t.

When in Rome Do as the Romans Do

As much as we may want to, we can’t pick up and move back to our home country. What to do?

The key is trusting an educational system. Sometimes it is hard to do this, I know. In France, my kids have suffered from long school days, inconsistent quality of teaching, and teacher absenteeism, despite carefully choosing our schools. I remind myself, however, that France, as a nation, scores high. Micro-managing takes power away from those responsible for delivering a result. Trust the French educational system and let its qualified people deliver.

And Find Common Ground

When parents from two different countries hold a different view of education, perhaps the best they can hope for is to find some common ground. I remember being horrified by the inhumanity of my son’s 0/20 on a dictée (my French husband didn’t bat an eye), yet delighted that each vacation his French teacher assigned an enjoyable short novel to read. We both agreed that valorizing reading was a good thing.

Jane Mobille and her son, photo courtesy of the author.

Accept that the French education system may be different from what you experienced, yet try to see the pluses. Then, figure out how you can support your child to compensate for the system’s minuses – for example, by: providing tutoring, ensuring an environment at home conducive to studying, being available to listen to your child when they need to talk, finding other ways to build your child’s self-esteem, meeting teachers to advocate for your child, or offering your child plenty of patience and encouragement.

Do note that the worst thing that we can do for our children is to undermine them by forcing our worldview on them. A non-French worldview is of limited use when studying in a Francophone system! It is confusing and can even give our children an excuse not to engage when things get challenging, prohibiting them from reaping one of the benefits of the French educational system: learning how to survive when the going gets tough. We must support our kids as needed without bashing their school system, because it is theirs, and their identity is tied to it.

Even you can learn to work with the French school system

Our then-12-year-old boy’s French math teacher got into the habit of calling him “et demi” or “1/2” when he did his daily headcount. I asked for a meeting and began it by telling the teacher that I appreciated his dedication – he was rigorous, even collecting his students’ notebooks to give them feedback on their note taking. Then I asked him to stop calling my son “et demi” because it was destroying his confidence and making him lose face in front of his classmates. The teacher was surprised and said he liked my son and was just teasing. I said I knew that he was the kind of teacher that could build a student’s confidence, and that I hoped that he would do that for my son. And guess what? He did!

When advocating for your child, avoid generalizing. Better to offer the teacher feedback on a specific event, and if appropriate, propose a solution. 

When the French school system is failing your child

Sometimes, trust, support, and advocacy may not be enough. If your child is still struggling in a French school, should you put your child in a non-French system? After all, in France, in addition to international schools, there are German, Spanish, British, American, Montessori, and Euro schools. The decision is – of course – full of nuances. Yet you must weigh the potential benefits to your child’s well-being against the impact of taking them out of the French system, in particular if they have a French parent. Full mastery of French, your child’s future network, and the lack of a French Bac diploma are all issues to consider.

Know that within the French education system, there is choice. There are public and private schools, Catholic and other religious schools. There are international schools and bilingual schools. There are bilingual and European programs within public, semi-private, and private schools. There are after-school language schools, schools for dyslexics, boarding schools, and international exchange programs. There are general, technological, trade, sports, art, and performing arts high schools.

Might most kids, in fact, be OK in any school system?

If you raise your children in France, and you learned that your child was offered a spot to attend Lycée Louis-le-Grand or Henri IV, you would probably jump for joy at the news – regardless of your nationality. Indeed, students at these prestigious French schools are on track to secure their spot among France’s elite. What if your child benefited from a bilingual education up until that point, could they make the transition into an elite French school?

Well, many transition in just fine. I know a Franco-Brit who thrived in his public high school’s bilingual program and decided to forego his place in a British university in order to enter a Henri IV prépa – and he is thriving.

A dyslexic Franco-American student attended French Catholic primary school and benefited from years of reimbursed French language therapy. He entered a bilingual public middle school program and eventually ended up in a US college with a scholarship. A Franco-British student attended a bilingual Montessori nursery school, and then spent the next 12 years in the French Catholic and public school system. Once graduated, she headed to England for a Foundation year and more, and is flourishing.

While this evidence may be anecdotal, it begs the question: from our children’s point of view, if they receive the appropriate support, does it really matter to which system they belong? Does it really matter how you skin the cat?

How parents can make the educational system work

Children in any educational system fare according to both their natural advantages and the emotional, academic, and logistical support they receive, which can mitigate the weaknesses of the particular system. Dear parent, please be honest. How are you engaging with your child’s education? If you have a child who finds school difficult, how are you accompanying them?
Are you in denial…about any number of things? Are you focused on your career and struggling to find time to deal with your child’s challenges; or, are you unwilling or unable to deal with them? Are you resistant to reorganizing weekends and vacations in order to provide your child with the structure, rest, and extra time they may need? Are you projecting your own “a priori” upon your child? Are you unwilling to go to conflict?

A “yes” answer to any of these questions may be what is failing your child, even more than the educational system. Dear parents, our job might be the hardest one out there. And we have just 18 years to get it right. Bon courage.

Jane Mobille, PCC

Jane Mobille is a Professional Certified Coach who counts young people and families among her clientele. She and her husband have raised three bicultural children in France. They have attended semi-private bilingual school, public nursery school, Catholic primary school, and public secondary school with international sections. Two of them struggled for many years before encountering success. 

This article was previously published on the INSPIRELLE blog.

Reading with your children in English (or any other language)

A consideration unique to non-French parents living in France is how to teach their children to read in their “other” native language. For Anglophones, there are many bilingual schooling options available, but these may not be practical or affordable. So how do you help develop and maintain reading in both languages at home? 

One of the most important factors in developing bi-literacy is the learner’s desire to read. Observing family members reading and providing appealing material will stimulate this desire. We begin reading to and with our children when they are young. We share this pleasure with them as they mature; reading and discussing with them as literature choices become more complicated.  If you continue reading to your children when they are able to read by themselves you will continue to improve and develop their vocabulary. 

Get Dramatic

If the child is speaking English, French reading skills can usually easily transfer to English. While reading a story with your child, invite her to participate in a reading dialogue with you. For example, ask the child to read a well-known line “The smallest one was…Madeline,” (from Madeline by Bemelmans), “But he was still hungry” (from The Very Hungry Caterpillar by the late great Eric Carle), or a character’s speech like “Who’s been sleeping in MY bed?” or “Grandmother, what big eyes you have!” Ask them to “replay” the text (to reinforce the vocabulary) louder or in a frightened voice. 

Focus on a Few Sight Words

There are about 200 common English words that can be mastered by “sight.” These frequently encountered words are not easily “sounded-out” and therefore need to be recognized on sight; for example, “the”, “one”, “through”, and “said” are common words but are phonetically challenging to a new reader. Introduce and reinforce these words in tiny reading doses, for example, by leaving notes to motivate your children to read them.

Keep a white board for drawing and jotting messages to and from your family

  1. Brush teeth
  2. Put away clothes. Thank you – from Mom
  3. Get dressed
    (NB. The more challenging word – clothes – is in the middle. This gives context to help them figure it out.)

Progress from simple terms such as “pick up/put away” to “straighten up.” Use simple words like “mom” before “mother.” “Your allowance has been raised,” or “You can eat these cookies for your snack,” might get more attention than “Make your bed,” despite the more complex language. Use familiar vocabulary.

Place Post-It Notes all Over the House

Plaster the toilet wall, their bedroom door and your refrigerator with posters, bumper stickers, silly greeting cards or cartoons with simple short captions. Hide notes in incongruous places (“Smile, my pretty girl” on her bathroom mirror; “Good night, my love” under his pillow).

Write Together

Another way to reinforce reading vocabulary is to sit together at a computer. You type as your child dictates a story or a thank you letter to grandma. Reading is an intermediary step between speaking and writing. While they scan the screen reading their own text to make sure you don’t make mistakes, they will learn reading and spelling.

Show them all the interesting things to read around them

Incite your kids to decipher the English around them. Point out all the languages on cereal packages, the instructions to a game, on billboards. Subscribe to magazines about their favorite hobby that can be casually perused. Advertisements and cartoons may provide opportunities to explain embedded contextual cultural clues. While cooking together, ask them to help read the next ingredient in a recipe. Ask the child to supply captions to vacation photos in an album.

Read Together

You might want to try reading a bedtime story up to a significant moment in the plot, then leave the book on the night table. Your child might continue to read ahead after you turn out the light and tell them to go to sleep. Discuss what you are reading during meals.

You can complete your child’s language acquisition by continuing to enjoy reading together as their own skills develop. Reading is an individual affair but can be shared and reinforced within the family at all ages.

Janine Brimbal

Ms. Brimbal found an early connection to linguistics and non-verbal communication. Love of great literature qualified her as a Title I resource teacher. While clowning around the nation’s capital disguised as a bear or the tap-dancing-Empire-State-Building, she taught drama at the Smithsonian Institution and participated in performing arts educational research and training projects. She used Contact Improvisation to develop Wheelchair Dance with adults, and is proud to have participated in the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act and directed a project to assist in the integration of children with disabilities.  

Fortuitously performing at the Alternative Theatre Festival in Nancy, she found herself in France, and the food convinced her to stay. She directed a local lycée theatre group for 17 years and has published articles on drama and disability in a number of international publications. Currently retired and the mother and grandmother of brilliant researchers, Janine is thrilled to contribute to AAWE in any way.

Encouraging English (or any another language) in children 

Raising children in a bilingual environment requires parents to be somewhat cognizant of language development. There are simple and fun ways to encourage bilingualism in our children. Parenting includes giving children values, gestures and cultural communication habits and expressions. We can educate our children to be bilingual by surrounding them, as often as possible, with our linguistic experience. An important principle is “one language one person.” Children will associate a language with the person who speaks it. One individual who consistently and exclusively addresses the child in a language will become linked with that language. This helps the child navigate neurologically amid any number of languages she might hear. In a mixed-language environment, the person speaking the language less often used in day-to-day life needs to provide extra effort. In this note you can read about comprehending (listening) and expressing (speaking).


Listening is the primary and passive way to acquire a language. It is easy and non-threatening because the child remains silent while absorbing language from a constant caregiver. When we talk to our children, we name things, give them directions, sing together, make observations about the world. They listen to our stories and they overhear our conversations. No recorded, written or electronic material can replace the learning relationship established through a regular, continual communication contact with a loved one. 

Because listening is the major means of transmitting language, we should consciously include expanded vocabulary and more complicated sentence structures as the child develops. The messages can mature with the child. As parents, we are their primary interlocutors during the formative language-learning age (approximately up to 5 years old). By making the effort to translate or explain when necessary, by adding “This is how you say it in English,” we provide the child with vocabulary elements, syntax models and tonic phrase patterns: new words, sentence structure, and intonation.  Young children rarely balk at listening as a first step to language learning. Listening encourages participation and interaction for them to respond in conversation. 


Speaking demands more active participation from children. Some children speak with more ease and frequency than others and at different ages. Kids will answer our questions in the simplest language for them to use, and this will probably be the language they use daily or a mixture of the languages they are familiar with. Children will mix languages and make errors with insignificant effects on their future competency. 

All children react individually. As they get older and more self-conscious, some children may hesitate to produce and perform. Forcing them to answer in English may add an artificial or negative emotional challenge. Insisting on a particular language may lead to a power struggle, which could be counterproductive and might create undesirable behavior. Continue addressing the child in English. You can ignore the language they reply with. Their experience needs to remain positive, not coercive. Congratulate your child when they respond in English.

Language acquisition is cumulative but not a regular linear process. Long latent periods may be followed by spurts of high activity and integration. “Errors” are not necessarily representative of failure to learn. Example: When a child says “He goed home” she demonstrates her acquisition of the general rule for past tense conjugation, and her lack of only one irregular verb form “went.” 

Tactics towards bilingualism

At an early age, begin finger plays and singing games encouraging your child to sing along. There are many websites to remind you of your favorite early childhood games. Work into call and response and movements as you play together. 

Younger children will often react to a variety of verbal provocations from toys or dolls used as puppets. An English-speaking plaything or cuddle-animal can engage your child in conversation. (You provide the voice and movement, of course, wiggling the head while it speaks, leaning its ear towards the child when an answer is expected.) If the child answers in French, adapt to English “What did you say?” without comment or hesitation. AAWE members report good results from using a stuffed animal who only understands and speaks English used in this fashion.

Discuss stories and books with your kids: “Who is this story about?” “What do you think will happen next?” Even though the child’s English may not be perfect, continue soliciting their interaction. Do you enjoy telling stories?  Make up stories together. Adapt known stories in a manner the child might appreciate: Astronaut Goldilocks and the 3 Space Aliens or Grizzlylocks and the 3 Teddy Bears. Make up stories using Playmobil or figurines as characters, letting the characters talk to each other in English as you and the child play together. Make up stories about what you see in the street “Who do you think lives in that old house?” “Where do you think the truck is going?”

Some of these tactics will be more or less suitable for you and your child. AAWE friends and children’s activities can help support an English language environment.  Whether or not your child is speaking in English, you will want to read to them in English. We will discuss Reading in the next installment. 

Janine Brimbal

Ms. Brimbal found an early connection to linguistics and non-verbal communication. Love of great literature qualified her as a Title I resource teacher. While clowning around the nation’s capital disguised as a bear or the tap-dancing-Empire-State-Building, she taught drama at the Smithsonian Institution and participated in performing arts educational research and training projects. She used Contact Improvisation to develop Wheelchair Dance with adults, and is proud to have participated in the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act and directed a project to assist in the integration of children with disabilities.  

Fortuitously performing at the Alternative Theatre Festival in Nancy, she found herself in France, and the food convinced her to stay. She directed a local lycée theatre group for 17 years and has published articles on drama and disability in a number of international publications. Currently retired and the mother and grandmother of brilliant researchers, Janine is thrilled to contribute to AAWE in any way.

What would you like to know about the French system of education?

Here’s a brief description for you of its background, its structure, and some of its important characteristics, just as an introduction.

French education, like that in other countries, is struggling greatly to cope with the current pandemic. Its functioning is in enormous upheaval. Its very remaining open is problematic and controversial, and organization of instruction in safe conditions is an ongoing challenge. The information in this article describes the system as it operates under normal circumstances  (which may be a long time in returning) but it should help nevertheless to understand the underlying nature of the system.

You should know that in its organization and administration, the French system of education is very different from that of the U.S. and of some other English-speaking countries. It provides a striking contrast for Americans, who have no centralized Ministry of Education, but rather 16,800 or so basically autonomous school districts run by locally elected school boards, and even differing regulations from state to state. The centralized French approach to education stems, of course, from a long overall tradition of centralized government, and was designed to ensure at least égalité to French citizens by providing free, universal instruction accessible to all.

In France, the centralized public school system is under the supervision of the Ministry of National Education, Youth, and Sports.  It is for all intents and purposes the same everywhere, including overseas, except for minor differences due to local conditions or constraints. There is a national curriculum with national exams. Teachers must obtain national certification, and belong to a national corps of civil servants.

Like other educational systems in the developed world, the French system has of course to cope with a number of concerns, including the very serious problems of violence and substance abuse in some schools, problematic math and reading levels, teacher training and absenteeism, and the competition with the internet, phones, and TV for students’ interest and time.

There is concern about anxiety and depression among students. There are naturally periodic complaints about all these issues, and calls for reform of various kinds which successive Ministers of Education have tried to deal with, with varying success.

Nevertheless, you will see that the French system has an intellectual and educational tradition of quality and high standards, of which the country is generally proud. Its graduates are highly regarded throughout the world.

16 Key Characteristics of the French Educational System

  1. Most notably, its extreme centralization with national curricula, exams, and corps of civil servant teachers, plus inspectors.
  2. Longer school days and more vacation days than in most other European countries. The total number of school hours in the year is, however, roughly the same.
  3. The stress on the secular character of public education, a principle held very strongly by government and educational authorities. This has, for example, led to a national problem concerning the wearing of a Muslim head veil to school, which has been basically forbidden by authorities. The argument is that all conspicuous apparel of a religious nature ought not to have any place in the secular schools where everyone should be equal and neutral. There is a refusal of what they call communitarisme, or the juxtaposition and delineated coexistence of identifiable ethnic or religious communities, as in the US.
  4. The importance of education to the French public. The bac is a sacred institution, a matter of public interest. The press covers the topic extensively, and the actual exam questions are announced to the public nationwide after the exams. In late August and early September, the whole country prepares for the Rentrée Scolaire, with considerable press and TV time devoted to the return of the country’s youngsters to school.
  5. An emphasis on abstract thought. The French primary curriculum tends to deal with abstract concepts in math and grammar sooner than in other countries. The four hour-long bac essays in French and philosophy ask abstract questions like, “Can philosophy get along without a reflection on science? Or “Is human freedom limited by the necessity to work?” or “How does one recognize that an event is historic?” (These are actual philosophy bac questions.)
  6. A tradition of the transmission of knowledge, the cerebral duty of teachers to instruct, not educate in the most comprehensive sense. In connection with this, secondary teachers mostly come to school for their 16-18 hours of class, but do not have to be in school otherwise. Monitoring of halls, classes, cafeterias, and recreation areas is done by surveillants hired expressly for that purpose, since it is not considered part of a secondary teacher’s job.
  7. A relatively elitist approach, and accompanying this, a tendency toward individual competition and achievement. One of the areas where teaching practice has evolved most in the last couple of decades is the inclusion of small group work and team projects to teach students how to work together cooperatively.
  8. Early orientation at the end of the ninth year into the type of study a student will follow, as contrasted with the American system, in any case, when this is still the beginning of high school and choices remain open.
  9. A tradition of rigor and clear thought in presentation of ideas. A noted French philosopher Alain, said, “L’homme se forme par la peine”, that is, “man is formed through effort” and this idea has always been present in French educational circles. Learning is not generally expected to be fun.
  10. A certain reliance on rote learning and lectures, despite much change in teaching practice in general. One of the areas where teaching practice has evolved most in the last couple of decades is the inclusion of small group work and team projects to teach students how to work together cooperatively.
  11. A generally large number of subjects studied, at all levels of schooling, and relatively few options as opposed to compulsory subjects, especially for the bac. The role of math is especially important in French education and is the fundamental means of selection of the best students.
  12. Relatively short shrift given to the arts, except when chosen as an optional subject in the lycée. Students may get only an hour a week of music or art in early secondary school, and none later. The existence of the outside network of arts possibilities means that those who have the interest and the means tend to pursue the arts outside of the school setting.
  13. Sports practiced outside of school in community teams rather than school ones. Sports are available to varying degrees to French students, but this is definitely not a sports-oriented educational culture.
  14. A marking scale from 1-20. The passing mark is 10, thus a little lower than in other marking systems.
  15. Absolute marking standards, making it possible to have a whole physics class with marks below the necessary required average and severe marking practices. Giving low grades is sometimes considered to be a way of motivating students to do better. Corrigés, or corrected answer sheets, are often given out after exams, including literature essays, to indicate what should have been the answers or key points treated.
  16. Several parents’ associations with links to major political factions. Sometimes representatives of several associations attend the same class council meetings.

Key figures:

  • 535 overseas schools under the French system, located in 139 countries.
  • 28 regional administrative districts (Academies) headed by Recteurs
  • Schooling is free and compulsory from 3 to 16 years of age.
  • Of France’s 67 million residents, 13 million are children in primary and secondary schools, and over 800,000 are teachers.
  • About 17% of schools are private.
  • Approximately 97% of these private schools are under contract (contrat d’état) with the Education Nationale, which requires that their school programs be identical to those in the public system, in exchange for a substantial subsidy. These schools are largely Catholic.

Nancy Willard-Magaud holds degrees from Wellesley College and Yale University. Formerly Director of the American Section of the Lycée International de St. Germain-en Laye, she helped to create the American Option of the French Baccalauréat (OIB) and served as its Inspectrice Générale Déléguée (head moderator). Her three sons attended French schools and American and French universities. She has been awarded the Palmes Académiques for her service to French education and culture and is currently special consultant to the English-Language Association of France (ELSA-France).

To locate a school, zoom in on your area of this map.

Click on each red marker to see the page number where this school features in the AAWE Guide to Education in France (9th edition, 2021).

If you haven’t yet purchased your copy of the AAWE Guide to Education in France with complete school listings and details, you can order it here for delivery by mail, or for pickup at AAWE in Paris.

Got kids? Need a school? We can help! The AAWE Guide to Education in France was born back in 1985, when a bunch of American moms within AAWE in Paris put their heads together to investigate school choices for their bilingual children. Now in it’s 9th edition, the Guide has grown to include this accompanying blog to tackle questions such as:

• Which school is best for a new arrival in France who speaks only English?
• Which school is best for my bicultural child, a native speaker of French and of English?
• What exactly are those school supplies I’m supposed to buy?
• How do I make sense of the French education system? What are the issues I should consider?
• Which questions should I ask when visiting a school?
• How do I maintain my child’s English level?

Whether you are relocating from overseas or raising a bilingual child right here in France, you’re in good company. For almost 4 decades, parents of bilingual children all over France have relied on the AAWE Guide to Education in France, researched by our group of mostly American women enjoying our bicultural lives in France, all facing the challenge of finding an ideal bilingual and bicultural education for our kids. (Join us – we welcome new faces!)

Over the years, the way parents access information has changed significantly, so we are eager to announce this new blog – AAWE Education Insights – which will allow us to keep providing essential information, update this information frequently, and interact with readers. You can expect a new post every few weeks, coming from experienced parents, education professionals, parent associations, and experts in child development. Our writers are members of AAWE, sister associations, and guest bloggers.

And if you haven’t yet purchased your copy of the AAWE Guide to Education in France with complete school listings and details, you can order it here for delivery by mail, or for pickup at AAWE in Paris.

-Anjali Morard