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Change to France’s school holiday zone system under review

The long-used ‘three-zone’ system could change soon, but critics question the possible economic impact

Kids with school backpacks running into school

France has long had a three-zone system in place when it comes to school holidays Pic: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

The ‘three-zone’ system for French school holidays could soon end, as a government commission debates how to balance educational needs with the demands of the economy and tourism industry.

The three-zone system

School holidays in France have long been divided into a three-zone system. This is intended to help stagger holidays across the country, reduce congestion on the roads, and improve overcrowding at popular holiday destinations.

The zones are as follows:

  • Zone A - Much of the middle of the country, plus the far south-west: Besancon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers

  • Zone B - Much of the north of the country, plus the south-east: Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg

  • Zone C - Paris and most of the south: Paris, Créteil, Versailles, Montpellier, Toulouse

  • Corsica - A zone on its own

Read more: MAP: French school holidays 2023-24 by region

The zone calendar years typically have similar start dates (the first Monday of September, usually), and the summer, Christmas, and Toussaint dates are normally the same. 

However, the winter half-term (around February-March) generally differs, as does the spring break (around April-May).

Three zones to two?

A new commission is debating whether to change from three zones to two, which proponents say would help the current ‘unbalanced’ system and suggest it could  improve traffic further.

Advocates include the tourism industry and authorities in popular holiday destinations. 

‘Economic benefits’

For example, l’Association nationale des maires des stations de montagne (the national association of mayors of mountain resorts) has said that children would not only benefit from a system of ‘seven weeks of school, followed by two weeks of holidays’, but that also believe it also would bring extra economic benefit to businesses, and ease overcrowding.

But critics - including the Association nationale des élus des territoires touristiques - say that they believe the current system already "works". The Association des maires de France (AMF) has said that rather than changing the system to two zones, “rebalancing” the current three-zone system might work better. 

Director general of the AMF, Géraldine Leduc, said that two zones that overlap over three weeks could result in “more people on the roads and fewer tourism benefits…[and] blended families will no longer see each other” if they each had holidays at different times.

What about the summer holidays?

Some in the tourist industry have said they fear that a shake-up in school holidays could have an effect on the all-important summer months, particularly as President Emmanuel Macron has previously spoken of an “excess of holidays” and suggested that the summer break is too long.

Read more: Macron wants (some) pupils back at school a week earlier in France 

Supporters of shorter summer holidays say that such a long break has a detrimental effect on children’s learning, can cause issues for working parents, and leads to greater deprivation for less-well off children.

But Minister for Education Gabriel Attal, has sought to reassure people and play down the possibility of a radical change to the summer break. 

Speaking to the employee federation Medef (Mouvement des Entreprises de France), he recently said that the country could provide extra help for pupils in difficulty, including “success courses during the holidays” instead.

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