Differences between the French and Spanish education system

Diferencias entre el sistema educativo francés y el español

One of the fundamental actions when you are going to carry out part of your studies abroad is to know how the education system works in that country, since this varies depending on where we are. In this article we will discuss the case of France.


First of all, it should be noted that in France, according to its constitution, education must be published, lay and free at most levels. In addition, according to the Debré Act, education is compulsory at levels between the age of 6 and 16.


Different distinctions can be established between educational levels but we will do it in a more generic way, on two levels: prmer grade and second grade.


First grade

Within the first grade (premier degré) we find both early childhood education and primary education. Let’s look at each one of them.


Early childhood education

Composed of three groups divided according to the ages of the student.

  • Petite section (3-4 years)
  • Moyenne section (4-5 years)
  • Large section (5-6 years)


This distinction by age although with different denomination is the same as that given in children’s education of the Spanish education system. All these sections make up the first teaching cycle


Primary education

The last stage of first grade is primary education. Primary education includes the first-grade elémentaries education curriculum, which offers five courses for students age 6 to 11. Within this stage we find both the second and third teaching cycles.


The second cycle consists of the preparatory year (CP) and the elementary course 1st (CE1). In contrast, the third cycle consists of three courses: Elementary Course 2nd (CE2), Middle Course 1st (CM1) and Middle Course 2nd (CM2).


Some of the subjects that are taken during the third cycle are French, history, technology and mathematics.


Second grade

The second grade is what would correspond in Spain to high school and vocational training. This grade covers two cycles.


The first cycle is the collége where students study from the age of 11 to 15. It is composed of four courses where basic knowledge such as foreign language, economics, geography, technology, physics, etc. are taught.


This cycle is divided into three distinct sub-cycles: observation and adaptation cycle (sixi-me), central cycle (cinqui-me) and orientation cycle (quatri-me and troisi-me). At the end of the orientation cycle, students take an exam to obtain the Brevet des colléges diploma.


From the completion of the collége, decision-making by the students begins. The next stage is the lycée and they can choose between the lycées d’enseignement général ou technologique (general or technological teaching) or professional institutes. The ages that span this stage are from 15 to 18, therefore it lasts for three years.


The three parts that make up the Lycée are seconde, premiére and terminale. During the seconde year, all students study the same thing, they do not begin to specialize in any field. It is at the end of seconde that students decide which branch they want to choose.


The general branch has three modalities:

  • Literary Baccalaureate (L)
  • Economic and Social Baccalaureate (ES)
  • Scientific Baccalaureate (S)


While the technology branch is much more specialized and includes eight different modalities:

  • Tertiary Sciences and Technologies (STT)
  • Industrial Sciences and Technologies (STI)
  • Agro-food product sciences and technologies (STPA)
  • Laboratory Sciences and Technologies (STL)
  • Music and Dance Techniques (TMD)
  • Medical-Social Sciences (SMS)
  • Hotel
  • Sciences and technologies of agronomy and environment (STAC).


Finally, we include a summary table of the French education system to clarify which course each of the ones mentioned in the article corresponds to when compared to the Spanish education system.




Lycée Terminale 2nd high school 17-18 years old
Première 1st high school 16-17 years old
Seconde 4th THAT 15-16 years


3rd THAT 14-15 years
Quatrième 2nd THAT 13-14 years old
Cinquième 1st THAT 12-13 years
Sixiéme 6th primary education 11-12 years old


Middle Course 2 (CM2)/ CYCLE 3 5th primary education 10- 11 years old
Middle Course 1 (CM1)/ CYCLE 3 4th primary education 9-10 years
Elementary Course 2 (CE2)/ CYCLE 3 3rd primary education 8-9 years
Elementary Course 1 (CE1)/ CYCLE 2 2nd primary education 7-8 years
Preparatory course (CP)/ CYCLE 2 1st primary education  

6-7 years



Large section/ CYCLE 1 3rd child 5-6 years
Moyenne section/ CYCLE 1 2nd childish 4- 5 years
Petite section/ CYCLE 1 1st childish 3-4 years



You already have all the necessary information about the French education system, but remember, it is very important to master the language before you go on an adventure. Why don’t you start with a French course abroad? Take a look at the ones Ynsitu offersyou, how about these tips for learning the language faster?