The organisation of the school system

Upper Secondary School: le Lycée [anglais]

After successful completion of lower secondary school, pupils advance to upper secondary school where they complete three years: seconde, première, and terminale. A general education is provided to all students during the seconde level, after which they choose more specific routes in première which will lead to their baccalaureate exam at the end of terminale. Students have the choice between three potential schooling routes: general, technological, and vocational.

A new baccalaureate exam will be introduced at the 2021 session.

Seconde (first year of secondary school

In the first year of upper secondary school (seconde), all students are taught general classes (23,5 hours a week): French, History and Geography, two modern languages (the second modern language is compulsory for all pupils), Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, Earth and Life Sciences, Physical education and sports, and Moral and civic education. These classes work to prepare the student for their final two years of upper secondary school, as well as ensuring the transmission of the values and skills of the Common Core of Knowledge, Skills, and Culture.

It also teaches all pupils general culture (1,5 hour a week) which allows them to discover literature, artistic, scientific or technological subjects which they can choose to study further. Upper secondary school pupils choose two compulsory exploratory disciplines, one of which is in the field of economics. The second exploratory subject is to be chosen from a list which includes:

  • scientific and technological courses (scientific methods and practices, engineering science, science and laboratories, technological creation and innovation, basic principles of the economy and management and design culture);
  • literary courses (literature and society, languages and cultures of Antiquity, that is Latin or Greek, Modern Language 3);
  • artistic courses (artistic creation and activities).
Furthermore, complementary lessons could be proposed to voluntary students.

These choices do not predetermine a student's route for the last two years of upper secondary.

The Next Step: General or Technological Routes

After their first year (seconde) of upper secondary school is complete, students can choose to follow one of two paths for the baccalaureate: general or technological. They enter the "cycle terminal", or final cycle of schooling, for their last two years - première (lower sixth) and terminale (upper sixth). Students who choose to take the general baccalaureate work towards extended study after upper secondary school, likely in university. Students who selected the technological route favours the continuation of higher technological study, mainly in technical careers (over two years) and, beyond, towards vocational bachelors and masters or engineering studies.

Première and terminale: the last two years of upper secondary school

Students choose their specialisations gradually in a general or technological route for the final two years of upper secondary school. At the end of their last year, pupils sit for the baccalauréat exam. If they pass, they receive their first higher education diploma, which entitles the holder to enter the first year of university study. The baccalaureat is composed of several sections, some of which are taken in the previous year, such as written papers or oral defence projects in French.


With the general baccalaureate route, students take classes centered around three series: literature - French and literature, modern languages, and philosophy; economics and social sciences - economics, history and geography, mathematics; and science - mathematics and experimental science. The goal is to prepare pupils for higher education after completing secondary school.

In Première, the classes on these three series often include teachings common to each as well as general knowledge essential to the understanding of the modern world (French, modern language 1 and 2, moral and civic education, physical education and sport). They also include specific classes for each series which enable a specialization to be initiated, which will be more strongly marked in the final year in the perspective of higher education and the pupil's future academics. Students commence supervised personalised projects on a theme chosen by the student which will be eventually evaluated as part of their baccalaureate exam in the form of an oral defense. Some courses are also subject to an advanced examination in the baccalaureate: French, the supervised personal project, sciences (only in the literature and economic/social series).

In Terminale, teachings common to the three series of literature, economic and social sciences, and science are also taught. They include both modern languages, physical education and sports, and moral and civic education. Specialty courses account for most of the students' time in school. They are focused specifically around the chosen series of the student to specialize in - examples include: law and major issues of the contemporary world (literature series), computer science and digital sciences (science series), or social and political sciences (economic and social science series).


The goal of the technological route of upper secondary school is to prepare students for advanced technological studies in the science and technology fields. Courses students take while in upper secondary school can be further extended through a bachelor's or professional degree at the university level, or lead directly into integration in the professional field. Similar to the general bac route, there are several series within the technological route that students can choose to follow such as:

  •     Science and Technology in Industry and Sustainable Development (STI2D)
  •     Laboratory Science and Technology (STL)
  •     Management sciences and technologies (STMG)
  •     Health and social sciences and technologies (ST2S)
  •     Science and technology of design and applied arts
  •     Hospitality and Catering sciences and technologies (STHR)
  •     Music and Dance (TMD)
  •     Agronomy and living sciences and technologies (STAV). This training is taught in secondary schools under the Ministry of Agriculture

Students are also given the choice of two optional courses of art or physical education and sports, to be taken alongside their technological classes if they so choose. Also similar to the general route, some courses are subjected to an advanced test at the baccalauréat: French and history and geography (series STI2D, STL, STD2A).

In Première, the Science and Technology of Industry and Sustainable Development (STI2D) and Laboratory Science and Technology (STL) series include an important common core similar to the general series which features French, History and Geography, 2 Modern languages, Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, Physical education and sports; transversal technological lessons that promote versatility; and an education specific to technology which allows each student to deepen study in an area of their choosing.

In Terminale, teachers play a larger role in students' chosen projects. They work with students 9 or 10 hours a week (compared to 5 to 6 hours in the first year) and cross-curricular teaching is reduced to allow for more specific instruction which encourages each student to deepen their studies in the domain of their choosing. Some areas include:

  • Science and Technology in Industry and Sustainable Development (STI2D)
  • Technological innovation and eco-design
  •  Information systems and digital
  • Energy and Environment
  • Architecture and construction
  • Laboratory Science and Technology (STL)
  • Biotechnology
  • Physical and chemical laboratory science
  • The Management and Management Sciences and Technologies (STMG)


There is a third route which allows pupils to gain vocational skills as well as general knowledge specific to a given field. This track was reformed in 2009 to help raise the qualifications of young people, improve their transition from school to a professional environment, and facilitate further study in higher education when relevant.

In the lycée professionnel, pupils attend seconde to prepare for a baccalauréat professionnel over three years or a first year leading to the certificat d'aptitude professionnelle (CAP) over two years.

Part of this course occurs in the work place where students gain hands-on experience and skills, which are defined by the framework of each diploma and assessed through exams. At the end of upper secondary, pupils sit for the vocational baccalaureate exam, similar to general and technological, which gives level IV end of secondary school certification (see French Classification inset).

A level V intermediary qualification (CAP or BEP) is taken at some point during the course of the three year period of study to ensure that each young person gains some qualifications.

Young people can also work towards their vocational diploma through an apprenticeship at a Centre de Formation d'Apprentis (CFA) (Apprentice Training Centres) and day release to an employer. They have the status of young private sector employee and report to a head tutor, or can choose to work in the public sector.


• Certificate of professional aptitude (CAP): level V, 2 years of study, over 200 specialisms;
• Le baccalauréat professionnel (vocational baccalaureat): level IV, 3 years of study, 70 specialisms;
• Le brevet professionnel (BP ): level IV, (only through apprenticeship) 2 years of training after a CAP, 68 specialisms;
• La mention complémentaire (MC: optional qualification): level V or IV, one year after the CAP or baccalauréat professionnel, 57 specialisms;
• Le brevet des métiers d'art (BMA: arts vocational qualification): level IV, 2 years after a CAP in the vocational arts, 26 specialisms.

A vocational degree can also be prepared within the framework of an apprenticeship that alternates classroom work in an apprentice training center (CFA) and experience in a company. The apprentices have then the status of young worker and are under the responsability of a supervisor. They can also be welcomed into public service.

For more information about vocational training and its impact in France, click here.

French classification of the different levels of training

French ClassificationLevel of trainingInternational classification (ISCED*)European qualifications framework (EQF)
Level VI No education beyond the end of compulsory schooling 0 -
Level V bis Short training lasting a maximum of one year (leaving prior to the final year of the second short cycle) 2 -
Level V Education equivalent to BEP or CAP 3c 3
Level IV Qualification equivalent to the baccalauréat or brevet professionnel 3 4
Level III BTS, DUT level or end of first cycle of higher education 5b 5
Level II and I Level of comparable with or above that of 2nd cycle of higher education 6

7 and 8

*ISCED: UNESCO's 'International Standard of Classification of UNESCO,
used for inter-country comparisons (classification according to the diploma obtained)

Tailored Support

Another major reform at upper secondary schools includes two hours of personalised tailored support offered to all pupils if necessary. It is included in their timetable and does not add to their overall workload. In Seconde and Première, tailored support allows pupils to adapt to the demands of work at the level of upper secondary and to learn the methods which will prepare them for higher education and develop their career plans. This tailored option includes:

  • support for pupils experiencing difficulties;
  • building on existing knowledge or a different approach to the disciplines studied;
  • methodological support;
  • careers guidance.
Last updated July 05, 2018
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