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Explainer: French schools’ international and foreign language sections

12 key points about curriculum, entry requirements and fees for subjects taught in a foreign language

Schools in France offering international or European sections are often highly sought-after Pic: Rawpixel.com / shutterstock

Some state schools in France (lycées, collèges and primaries) include sections internationales where pupils are taught certain subjects in a foreign language.

An increasing number of lycées also include sections européennes ou de langues orientales, which aim to help pupils improve a foreign language.

Here are the basic facts about them:

1. Entry requirements

Pupils have to pass rigorous written and oral tests to get into a section internationale. They generally need language skills at native level to pass.

2. Who are they for?

International sections are officially aimed at pupils who are temporarily resident in France, to enable them to adapt to the French system but make it possible to return to schools in their home country. 

Read more: How do bilingual classes differ from others at French school?

3. Range of nationalities

Sections exist in 19 different nationalities – British, American, Australian, German, Arabic, Brazilian, Chinese, Korean, Danish, Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian and Swedish. 

Some schools include more than one international section. All of them also admit pupils (du secteur) who are not enrolled in a section internationale.  

4. Native teachers

International sections do not offer all subjects, but only two or three (often but not always including literature and history/geography). The other subjects are taught in French by French teachers.

The section subjects are taught by native teachers, following their home country’s curriculum. 

These exams are set and marked by the native country. Pupils sit French exams for the other subjects. 

Read more: French schools falling further behind, shows major new study

5. Bac details

Until 2022, pupils took the OIB, but now take the BFI (Baccalauréat Français International) which is a bac général

It is not possible to do a bac pro or a bac tech in an international section. 

For international students, the advantage of the BFI (which is treated as an A-level equivalent) is that students applying to universities in the UK do not have to take any further exams or tests to prove their English level. 

6. How much do they cost?

Some international sections are free. 

The German government subsidises international German sections, for example. Anglophone sections must be paid because the UK does not subsidise them. 

However, since fees are only charged for the section, not the entire school, they are usually around €3,000 per year. 

Fees can usually be paid per term.

7. European section basics

European sections are free and are available in lycées and collèges. 

They are open to pupils studying for a bac pro or bac tech as well as those aiming for a bac général

Pupils can join at the start of 6ième (age 11), 4ième (13) or 2nde (15).

8. French syllabus

European sections offer two hours of extra teaching in the chosen language option. 

These lessons concentrate on oral language skills and studying non-linguistic subjects in the chosen language, although the teachers are French and teach the French syllabus.  

Read more: Education: do French schools deserve their harsh reputation?

9. Languages available

The languages offered in European sections in général and tech lycées are German, English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Russian. 

The Oriental language sections are in Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese. 

In a lycée professionnel, languages offered are German, English, Spanish and Italian.

10. Getting a place

There are no formal tests to get into a European section. However, since demand outstrips supply by 2:1, in practice schools only take pupils with average marks above 14/20 and excellent language skills. 

A motivation letter is often required. Being bilingual and having native-level written and oral language skills is a huge advantage. 

11. Special mention

Pupils who pass the extra language exams get mention européenne added to their certificates. 

12. Sought-after schools

Places at schools with international and/or European sections are highly sought-after as academic standards tend to be high – even for pupils not in a section. 

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