The boys seem quite pleased with their 'profs principales' (form teachers) and also with their timetables - but are not so sure about some of the pupils in their classes, Son 2 in particular having a few well-known troublemakers in his class (again). All this is just the same all over the world, I'm sure, so I'll try to tell you a few things that are specific to French education.
School (but not education) starts young, with 2 or 3 year olds going into the Maternelle schools and learning all about how to interact with a group, sit down, put their hand up etc. There is never any problem of children arriving at the education level without having experienced books etc - which seems a good thing compared to my experience in more deprived areas in England.
Formal education, however, starts later than in the UK, at the age of 6-7. Children learn to read within the first term or two, rather indicating that a late start is a good idea..?
At the age of 10-11 (slightly younger than in the UK) pupils go up to Collège - this is where Son 2 is now. At 13, he's in 4° (quatrieme), and will have this year and then one more which he finishes by doing his exams and going up to:
Lycée, which is the school that Son 1 has just started at the age of 15. This stage of education lasts for three years, with the Bac exams at the end. So it's like starting sixth form college a year earlier, really. I think Son 1 is ready for the responsibility, and the sense of trust that seemed to be somewhat lacking in his collège.
Other details - there is no school uniform, although pupils do dress alike! Class sizes are quite good, always staying under 30. The school day is long (8.30 - 5 at collège, and 8 - 5.30 at lycée) but Wednesday afternoons are off. There may well be free periods during the day at both 'secondary' levels - pupils can start school later if they have no lesson at the beginning of the day, or if the teacher is absent. There are no supply teachers any more (thank you, Mr Sarkozy). There is no on-the-job teacher training, but motivated teachers do a lot of individual work to improve their own performance - I know because one of my best adult students is a teacher!
The ethos is one of hard work and seriousness - there seems little room for fun, or even the concept that learning might be fun. I have stopped asking adult French students, 'What was your favourite subject at school?' because it doesn't make sense to them. On the other hand, French students leave school highly capable of putting their heads down and getting on with their work, and my husband notices that this really distinguishes them from UK students with whom he's worked - who still have a: 'What's the point of work, and does it really matter how well I do it?' ethos, even when they're being paid! As always, a perfect system would surely combine the best points of both the French and what they call the 'Anglo-Saxon' (English-speaking) systems... For an interesting and personal view, you could have a look at this article from a few years back. The author's child encountered both the best and the worst of French primary schooling, and both tie in with our own experiences.
EDIT: Cory at 'Tongue in Cheek' has posted on the differences between French and American education today! It's well worth reading (and, of course, has much prettier pictures than this post).