La Rentrée française vs Back to school UK style

My Facebook and Twitter timelines are awash with photos of children going back to school today on both sides of the channel. As today is my first “free” day of maternity leave it seemed like a good time to return to my blog and to compare “la rentrée” (the return to school) in France with what back to school means in the UK.

We have just returned to London after 2 weeks on the French Riviera, catching up with old friends and enjoying some down time as a family of 3 before the baby arrives. Whilst we were there literally everyone was talking about “La Rentrée”. In France it’s a really big deal and even has its own name – la rentrée literally means to return or re-enter.

La rentrée tends to strike fear in parents’ hearts as it comes hand in hand with the dreaded list of “fournitures scolaires” to be bought, this is the list of all the stationery and equipment that parents need to provide their children with. French parents don’t need to worry about uniforms as these do not exist at state schools, however they do need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to buy brand new pens, pencils, notebooks, textbooks, sports equipment and so on from a very specific list that is usually only sent out days before la rentrée.

French schools do not provide pupils with any of the basics, so they all need to be bought each year. Unfortunately the specific list tends to change each year, so the fountain pen from last year will no longer be any good this year, and will need to be replaced with a new one, the same goes for the pencil-case, the ruler etc. So the last week of August sees harassed mums rushing round the aisles of hypermarkets like Carrefour, Auchan and Leclerc, clutching their lists and desperately trying to find all these items.

Fortunately we left France before L got to a stage where she needed lots of equipment so I was saved this.

First day of nursery in France, aged 2 and 3/4

First day of nursery in France, aged 2 and 3/4

This is L’s first ever rentrée, aged 2 and 3/4 into the “petite section” of “maternelle”, basically the first year of nursery school.

So how does this differ from “back to school” in the UK?

I personally find that British parents are more relaxed about the return to school (unless their child is starting a new school which is often daunting no matter what country). Maybe this is due to the fact the British children have only been off for 6 weeks as against 2 – 2 and 1/2 months in France. Maybe it is because they just have to check that uniforms still fit and can buy more from a variety of places if they don’t. There is less stress over getting specific equipment which must conform to “la liste”. I certainly feel much more relaxed in my back to school preparations here which helps when you’re 7 months pregnant!

Good luck to L’s French friends who have left nursery school and are starting French primary school today in CP class (“Cours Préparatoire”), this is one year later than in the UK as the Reception class equivalent in France is in the nursery school and “big school” starts in the equivalent of Year 1. As for L she skipped off to Year 1 this morning without so much as a backward glance.

First day of Year 1

First day of Year 1




4 Responses

  1. I just want to mention that a lot of French families qualify for a grant to help out with the cost of school materials,a,2,12.html


  2. Franglaise Mummy says:

    HI Phil,

    Thanks for your comment. That is very true, the only problem, as with most of the financial help in France, is that if you are neither rich nor poor you lose out. The rich are rich so have no issues with money, the poor have numerous benefits and financial help which often makes them better off than those in the middle who pay lots of tax, on an ok salary, and get no financial help.

    I speak from experience – when I first moved to France (I lived there for 12 years) I was on a very low salary and got help left, right and centre (after receiving housing benefit my rent was a mere £20 a month and I paid no income tax as my salary was too low, so a huge percentage of my salary was available for me to spend as I wished). A few years on my husband and I were on much higher salaries but actually had less money to live on than when I was on a very low salary, due to very high tax rates and no benefits.

    I am not complaining, just stating it as it is.

    Hope you like the blog!

  3. MuMuGB says:

    Well, it is this time of the year, isn’t it? I tend to find the moms a lot more involved in teh schools in London. Not always easy!

  4. Franglaise Mummy says:

    I find the whole school set-up so different due to the fact that so many mums work in France in comparison to the UK. At drop off and pick up in France the parents were there early morning or last thing, whilst at normal “schools out” time it was just nannies, childminders or grandparents. Whereas at L’s school here it is mostly parents with a few nannies, au pairs and childminders.

    I’m not saying either is better or worse, just that it’s a different kettle of fish in a different culture.

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