1. Going to school is required by French law
French parents have all used this threat against their growing kids in case they start voicing that they would love to just stay at home and skip school. It is of course the same in the USA where school is mandatory in all states.
2. Old methods die hard in French schools
There are changes taking place but the “Éducation Nationale” is a very rigid and slow moving entity. Teachers are still seen giving grades in front of the whole class or having students copy lines for punishment.
3. Math is king in French schools
Selection in high school is based on math and science. In France, the best students are considered to be those who can perform well in math, physics…
4. French schools are secular
It is a mandated law that no one can wear any religious sign when attending a public school. This has created controversy at times, like when France banned Muslim scarves from schools a couple of years back.
5. Teacher centered education
This goes with #2. French schools and classrooms are very centered around the teacher providing education to the children and having to cover a curriculum mandated by the government. By experience I can also say that younger teachers are being taught with more modern methods and are guiding students better.
6. Long school days
Kids usually start at around 8 or 8:30 and end their day around 5:00pm. Most students now go to school on Wednesday mornings (not afternoons).
7. Lots of vacation
The school calendar is nicely interrupted about every six or seven weeks by a two-week break. French students enjoy All Saints vacation, Christmas break, Winter break and Easter break. All of these weeks come in addition to two months off in the summer.
8. Two hour lunch break
Of course, you could have guessed that in France students get 2 hours for lunch! School cafeterias usually offer very decent choices. Students do not bring their lunch to school, but many do go back home for lunch.
9. French schools are free
Public schools are free. Parents have to pay for school supplies, but the poorest can also get help for that. This dates back to the 19th century and thanks to Jules Ferry who created the “éducation laïque gratuite et obligatoire”. (free mandatory secular education)
Kids usually start learning English and another language in 6th grade. However, in private schools English and other language classes are often offered at a younger age. France has a lot of bilingual schools, mostly English but also in Occitan or Catalan which preserves local heritage.