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What American Schools Could Learn From the French School System

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Sarah is a mother and high school teacher located in Nebraska.

Sample French school schedule

Sample French school schedule

The French School System vs. the American School System

This article examines several elements of the French and American school systems, including schedules, campus setup, focus on academics, and student choice. Read on to find out more about the benefits of the French school system.

French Students Have Flexible Schedules

Shown above is an example of a typical school schedule of a high school French student. Notice the following:

  • School does not start until 8:45. That is a full hour after school starts where I work. What kid wouldn't want some extra time to sleep in?
  • School gets out at 4:25. That is very late for us. However, it is much closer to an adult's work schedule, possibly making before/after school care easier and reducing the amount of "fun" activities children can get involved in when there is less adult supervision.

However, the biggest thing I think is interesting is the day-to-day schedule. Even if you can't read what classes they are taking, you can tell from above that the student does not have the same schedule every day.

This is similar to a typical university schedule in America, and I remember enjoying that aspect of my college experience. Admittedly, this would require high school students to be more prepared and more aware than they currently are, but clearly, it is possible since the French youth are doing it.

Another interesting thing about the weekly schedule in France is that most students have Wednesdays off or Wednesday afternoons off but have classes Saturday mornings. I know we are quite attached to our Saturdays, but I think the idea could catch on. It might be nice to have a little (or a large) break in the middle of the week.

This would be ideal for students to do things like have doctor/dentist appointments or do a weekly activity like dance or music. It might also be nice for students to have some extra time in the week to get school work done or to work at an after-school job. It would be hard to give up sleeping in, though!

French Students Enjoy Open Campuses

You will notice from the schedule at the top that students are given an hour and ten minutes for lunch, compared to half an hour at the high school where I teach. With all this time, students in France typically leave campus—whether it is to go home or go to a nearby restaurant to sit and chat with friends. I believe the benefits of an open campus policy as a regular policy across the United States could be:

  • Students would enjoy a break from campus and could accomplish tasks outside of school in addition to eating lunch, such as running errands. They would also have the time to work on school work if needed.
  • With a longer amount of time, students could rest and enjoy the company of friends, possibly helping them feel rejuvenated and ready to get back to work after lunch.
  • Students could take the time to eat slowly which would encourage healthier eating habits.
  • With fewer students in the cafeteria, there would be fewer students to feed, which might mean higher quality food and less time needed for lunch (my high school has four lunch periods which are scheduled from 10:47–1:08).
  • Schools might also save money because there would be fewer products used to serve food, less to clean up, and fewer people needed to do both.

I understand that allowing students to leave opens up huge liability issues for schools. Many students nowadays do not live within walking distance of their schools so they would either stay nearby or travel together by car.

Also, many might wonder if students would actually return to school. Some might not. Some leave anyway despite the fact that the rules do not allow them to. Again, it really comes down to a cultural expectation—it works in France, so why couldn't it work here?

French Schools Focus on Academics Only

Many of my students probably won't like what I'm about to say, but I think it might be a good idea to remove extracurricular activities from the school day.

One somewhat annoying problem at my school is the number of school students miss for a variety of activities, mostly athletics. Today alone, the softball team and volleyball team were both leaving school an hour early. Next week is Homecoming, and the entire school day will be cut short by an hour on Friday so the students can attend a Pep Rally.

In France, extracurriculars such as athletics, cheer, and clubs are not school-affiliated. Therefore, students who wish to participate in these activities would do so outside of school.

Many might disagree with my stance, saying that for some students, athletics might be the only thing keeping them on track to graduate. Several student-athletes in our district are running the border of our high GPA standards for participation and probably would not seek out academic assistance if they didn't need the grades for sports.

I know this is something that would be quite a drastic change for us, and I do appreciate how these activities can unite us as a community. However, the question that begs to be asked is: Could we put a priority on academics without hindering students' opportunities to participate in "social" events?

French students still participate in clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities but much less so since you'll notice from the school schedule above that most students are in school until around 4 pm. And who knows, less time for extracurriculars may be a good thing, forcing students to prioritize what they do.

What parent of a teenager does not know the pain of taking their kid from soccer practice to volleyball to piano lessons, sometimes all in one day? Perhaps, our children could benefit from focusing on fewer tasks and doing them well rather than the many they currently do.

French Schools Allow for Student Choice

  1. Students choose their classes. In France, students have a lot more choice when it comes to what they are going to study, and they naturally pick things they are more interested in and are more relevant to what they plan on doing in the future.
  2. In high school, students can choose to focus on material that will lead to a post-secondary education or to focus on an education that allows them to study and prepare for a career after school high.

As a high school teacher, the above statements are basically my dream. Every day I have students in my classroom who would rather not be there, either they would rather not be in my particular class or in school at all.

How much better would it be if students were taking more classes they enjoyed rather than trying to meet graduation requirements or studying towards a career? It seems recently we have been pushing all students toward college when the reality is that some students don't want to go to college—it is a struggle just to get some to graduate high school.

How great would it be to find something they are interested in and "track" them in that direction? I'm sure many of them would end up making more than I do with my master's degree.


Although the French school system has some things going for it, it alone is by no means ideal or perfect.

In the United States, it seems that as time goes by, we are slowly taking choices away from our youth in the effort of providing equality to all. We are encouraging them to be different and unique and independent while narrowing down what they are able to do. The freedoms that the French system offers are, in my opinion, its greatest strength and something I would like to see more of here in the United States.


Alice on August 07, 2020:

Hi! French girl here.

A couple things to correct your apology of the French school system.

1. The timetable shown is one for Primary school. Most Highschools starts at 8a.m. and finish at 5p.m. some starts at 9a.m. but finishes more around 6p.m

2. At lunch you either go home or eat in the cafeteria the warm meal cooked here. You cannot bring your own food.

3. Wednesday afternoon are usually off but for the couple Highschools that are on 8a.m.-4p.m. schedule. And there is no Saturday involved.

4. We never get to choose our classes. In 6th grade we choose a first foreign language but most schools only offer English. Then in 7th grade (since a couple years) you choose a second foreign language (usually between German and Spanish sometimes other depending on the region and city you're studying). Then, in our first highschool you have to chose if you want to go to vocational school or traditional. In second year, you us d to have to chose between a path that would lead you to college or a path that would lead you more towards a vocational tertiary education system. Since a couple years you do get to choose your classes but it's quite not as open as in the US. There is still so much not choices you get to take classes that more or less are the one you would have been forced to choose in the previous system. It only gives students the illusion of choice...

As for no extracurricular activities in school, it creates disparities and inequalities between the students whose parents will take the time and have the money to bring them to extracurriculars and those who don't. So as much as it can disturb the academic classes, it's better, in my opinion, since it also brings non academics skills and can bring confidence to those who do not do good in traditional subjects. I'm aspiring to become a teacher and this is my perspective on those things.

Katy Medium from Denver, CO on February 28, 2019:

Interesting read! I agree there are a lot of elements of the French school system we should adopt.

SomeoneFrench on November 03, 2018:

Hey! French student here (yeah my username is lame, I just created this account to respond to this post), I just graduated from high school last year. I am writing this comment to correct some things and add some info. First (not that important but it does change some things) thing: the schedule you put at the beginning of your article is actually a private school schedule! I know this because the "culture chrétienne" course on monday afternoon means "Christian culture", and it is not a subject you get in public school. However, apart from that the schedule does not seem to change that much from a public school's. Generally there can be some changes from school to school, like the times or the optional subjects available; for example in my middle school classes started at 8:30 and ended at 5 pm (8am-6pm for high school)!

For the school on saturday mornings thing, I've heard that it exists in some schools but I've personnaly never experienced it; all I had was wednesday afternoons off.

For the lunch time thing, usually only students who live close to the school leave it and everybody else eats in the cafeteria. Furthermore in middle school it's much harder to leave school during the day: you have to have your parents or someone of trust to come at school and sign a paper for you to get out.

For the thing about students being able to choose their classes, you made it sound like we can choose whatever we want but that's not the case. There is a set of subjects (named "tronc commun") that you are required to take, such as math, French, foreign langages etc. And then you have optional subjects which depend on the school you go to. It can be artistic subjects (in middle school they are required but not in high school), other foreign langages, latin, ancient greek... (For example, in high school I took cinema and english literature classes).

I think that's about all I wanted to say!

Kim Ian Tumblod from Philippines on January 31, 2017:

Wow, so this is what it take to get your work featured.

Sarah (author) from Nebraska on April 14, 2016:

I think I addressed this in my caveat. No school system is ideal/perfect. We have some good things going for us in the United States but I believe there are some things we could change to improve our system.

amanda on June 12, 2015:

im currently living in a french country-- frances lit scale is 20% lower than the average of america__ they also are educated less and don't have a choice as to what they can become, they have to master ONE when i know from my children ages -1,4,6,10, and 15 and myself, we got to choose our classes in america---- its not the same here! they learned alooooot more in america than in france. And the learning skills are better too!!! teachers don't have to be proficient, so that's very odd to me. this french system is not well organized unless your a parent who doesn't want to push your child to the level.sorry if i offend you, but im telling you--- the current french schooling system is not as good as it looks on the ineternet