Why are private schools so affordable in France compared to the UK?

Multiple types of private schools exist in France

Private schooling can be surprisingly affordable to newcomers in France

Reader Question: I am amazed by how inexpensive it is to send a child to a private school in France. How are the fees kept so low?

People who look to send their children to private school in France are often surprised by how affordable the annual costs are, especially when compared to the UK or US. 

Costs are kept low because most private schools in fact have a contract with the state and in turn receive a large portion of their funding from the government. 

Private schools following this method are sous contrat (under contract) and represent around 98% of all private schools in France. 

Fees for these schools are usually between €500 – €1,500 per year, with primary schools usually costing the least, followed by collège and then lycée. Fees can reach up to €3,000.

All sous contrat schools follow the national curriculum and teach towards the standard French examinations, and their teachers are paid by the state.

Fully private schools are hors contrat (not under contract) and do not receive any state funding. This gives them the flexibility to set their own curriculums.

Tuition for hors contrat schools can be around €10,000 a year, with the most ‘elite’ schools costing even more.

Why do parents choose a private school in France? 

Private schools that are sous contrat still have to follow strict rules regarding their curriculum. 

They must also conform to the idea of laïcité and may not select pupils based on faith or ethnicity. 

Read more: Laïcité: a bedrock of modern France

Most sous contrat private schools are run by the Catholic Church, or are closely linked to a local church or religious organisation, and have slightly more religious freedom than state schools. 

State schools do not have religious education classes as such, though some factual information about religions is included in other subjects. 

Sous contrat private schools are able to hold optional religious instruction classes, while providing students with an alternative lesson, so they can choose between the two. 

Most teachers have similar levels of qualification to those in state schools, however there may be more focus on academic excellence in private schools, with students given more homework and expected to show greater discipline. 

A government tool allows you to search the results of schools near you. 

In addition, some people choose private schools because they are much closer to their child’s home than the state alternative they have been designated.

Hors contrat schools can set their own curriculum – including religious classes or any other subjects – providing they still allow children to learn a set of  core competencies

These schools may also teach the majority of their classes in a different language, allowing international students who do not speak French to attend (although some state and sous contrat schools have international sections). 

Read more: Explainer: French schools’ international and foreign language sections

Teachers do not need the same qualifications as those in state schools as none of their salary is covered by the state.