Though they are geographically close, England and France’s underlying philosophies regarding education and, for the focus of this paper, mathematics education, exhibit differences worth considering. The English system, influenced by the humanism school of thought, can be characterised by its desire to treat each student as an individual—and to guide the students in their social, emotional, as well as cognitive developments. In contrast, the French system places less emphasis on affective concerns, but rather focuses on the rational and functional aspects of education for all its citizens—a reflection of the encyclopaedic roots of French education. The results of these distinctive philosophical orientations can be seen in the practice of mathematics education in the two countries. For example, differences exist in their views on “setting”, the availability and use of textbooks, and in the day-to-day school culture. An examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the two European systems suggests potential changes could be made in New Zealand. These changes include: making mathematics an explicit, rather than implicit, gatekeeper; addressing the roles of the teacher; and changing the structure of the school day.