Information for primary school assistants

You have just been appointed as a foreign language assistant in France. You are going to work in one or more schools. In order to facilitate your integration and carrying out of your role, you will find below a summary of the organisation of primary education in France and some useful terminology.

France is divided into 17 academic regions including 30 geographical education authorities, called académies. In general, the académie takes the name of the main city in the area. All schools and assistants are assigned to an académie.

The rectorat is the académie's headquarters and the site of the academic services offices.

Primary school level education is called the premier degré and its administrative and educational management takes place at the direction académique (education department).  Every French département (local government area) corresponds to an education department known as a direction des services départementaux de l’éducation nationale (DSDEN), where the director is called the directeur académique des services de l'éducation nationale (DA-SEN).

Each direction académique is divided into several areas, called circonscriptions. National education inspectors, called Inspecteurs de l'Éducation nationale (IEN) are responsible for teaching in each circonscription. Their offices are found at the inspection de circonscription.  They are assisted by conseillers pédagogiques (educational advisors).  You will probably be in frequent contact with the conseiller pédagogique départementale des langues vivantes (CPDLV), who monitors the educational follow-up of teachers in schools qualified to teach modern languages and oversees the teaching of modern languages.

Primary education includes école maternelle and école élémentaire:

School level Class Normal age of children
Ecole maternelle 2-6
Ecole élémentaire Cours préparatoire CP 6-7
Cours élémentaire 1ère année CE1 7-8
Cours élémentaire 2ème année CE2 8-9
Cours moyen 1ère année CM1 9-10
Cours moyen 2ème année CM2 10-11

Primary teaching consists of 3 cycles :

  • 1st cycle: early learning cycle - maternelle (nursery school): petite section (2-3 years) and moyenne section (3-4 years) and grande section (4-5 years);
  • 2nd cycle: basic skills cycle: CP (6 years), CE1 (7 years) and CE2 (8 years);
  • 3rd cycle: consolidation cycle: CM1 (9 years), CM2 (10 years) and 6ème (in secondary school, 11 years).

Schools have a directeur who carries out both educational and administrative duties.  A qualified teacher, the directeur carries out some or no teaching depending on the size of the school. The maîtres (instituteurs or professeurs) constitute the teaching body in nursery and primary schools.  They are responsible for one class for a whole school year.

Language assistants recruited for a seven month contract will be assigned from 1st October to 30th April (and six months for German language assistants). Their role is to work in the presence of the class teacher or to take small groups separately to work on oral comprehension and expression and to introduce pupils to their culture.