Government-funded education

Belgium’s education system ranks well against its international counterparts, with students performing above the OECD average in PISA 2015 in science, mathematics and reading.

However, there are performance variations (OECD country profile 2017) among the language communities – education in Belgium is regulated within the three language communities – Dutch-, French- (formally called the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles) and German-speaking communities.

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This section looks at:

Dutch-language education in Brussels – priority for Dutch-speakers

For all Dutch-language education in Brussels, priority is given to students whose parents speak at least B2 level Dutch.

If you need to prove your proficiency in Dutch, and you have not followed full-time secondary education or higher education in Dutch, you can take at test at Het Huis Van het Nederlands or another of the recognised Dutch proficiency tests, such as the ITNA test or the CNaVT test.


Pre-school education

Belgium offers free, government-funded pre-school (‘kleuterschool’ / ‘enseignement maternelle’ / ‘kindergarten’) to all children from the age of 2.5 to 6 years of age (when they must start primary education).

Children can typically start pre-school on the day they turn 2.5, though parents and schools often prefer to wait until the first school day after a holiday.

In schools run by the Dutch-speaking community, children can start on one of the following 7 entry dates between the ages of 2.5 and 3:

  • the 1st school day after every school holiday: after the summer, autumn, Christmas, ‘carnaval’ and Easter holidays
  • the 1st school day of February
  • the 1st school day after Ascension Thursday

or on any school day once they have turned 3.

Most pre-schools are attached to a primary school, so children may stay in the same institution from when they start pre-school at 2.5 until the start secondary school at age 12.

Government-funded pre-school is often an obvious alternative to paid daycare, and the standard of care and infrastructure is typically high, and statistics show that around 95% of children in Belgium already attend pre-school by the age of 3.


Primary school

Primary education is compulsory for children aged 6 to 12 years old – as of September 2019, education will become compulsory as of age 5.

Primary school comprises six years of study and focuses mainly on maths and reading.

At the end of primary school, students in the French-speaking Community take the ‘Certificat d’études de Base’ (CEB, Certificate of basic studies)’; students in the Dutch-speaking Community take the ‘Getuigschrift-basisonderwijs’ (Certificate of basic education) and students in the German-speaking community take the ‘Abschlusszeugnis der Grundschule’.

These certificates are needed to be able to move on to secondary school.


Immersion learning in a foreign language

Some pre-school and primary schools offer a language-immersion programme, whereby some subjects are taught entirely in another language, usually Dutch or English, and usually by a native speaker of that language.

Children typically start learning through immersion:

  • in the third year of pre-school or the first year of primary education; or
  • in the third year of primary school.

You can find a list of schools offering language-immersion learning in the French Community on www.enseignement.be.


Secondary education

Secondary education is compulsory until the age of 18. Secondary school comprises six years of study broken up into three 2-year cycles. The first cycle provides a base of general education, while the second and third cycles allow students to become more specialised in certain subjects.

While most students follow a general secondary education – which is essentially for students who plan to move to either university or another kind of higher education after the age of 18 – it is also possible to opt for:

  • technical secondary education, which prepares students to practice a profession, or to continue studying;
  • art secondary education, which is more geared towards the plastic arts, theatre and music;
  • vocational secondary education, which is for students who want to take up a specific trade or learn a craft, and involves much more hands-on learning.

A student graduating from general, technical and art secondary education can enroll in any Belgian university / institute of higher education of their choosing (unless they wish to study medicine/dentistry, arts, management science or engineering, where specific entrance criteria may apply).

Immersion learning in a foreign language

Some secondary schools offer a language-immersion programme, whereby some subjects are taught entirely in another language, usually Dutch or English, and usually by a native speaker of that language.

Some schools require that a student has followed an immersion programme in primary school, while other schools accept first-year secondary students starting an immersion programme for the first time.

You can find a list of schools offering language-immersion learning in the French Community on www.enseignement.be.


Special needs education

Specialised schooling, based on the needs and abilities of students, is available across Belgian schools.

  • The website of the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles gives a good overview (in French) of the various types special needs education available at primary and secondary level. The website also includes a directory of institutions in the Brussels-Capital Region, Brabant Wallon and Wallonia.
  • The website of the Flemish Community has a good section (in Dutch) about learning with a disability, which has sub-sections on pre-school, primary, secondary and home educatin.

    The Flemish Community Government adopted the ‘M-decree’ in 2013 to strengthen support and provision for special education needs in the mainstream education system, and to protect and activate the rights of children with special educational needs with regard to school choice.

Differences across the language communities

Education in Belgium is regulated within the three language communities – Flemish-, French-(formally called the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles) and German-speaking – and different efforts and initiatives can be seen across the communities.

For example, in 2015-2016, the French-speaking Community ran the Pact for Excellence in Teaching (‘Pacte pour un enseignement d’excellence’), a collaborative multi-stakeholder initiative to strengthen quality in education, which defined key priorities and investment themes for the education system for a 15-year horizon.

On the Flemish side, in 2013, the Flemish community adopted the “M-decree” in 2013, to strengthen support and provision for special education needs in the mainstream education system, and to protect and activate the rights of children with special educational needs with regard to school choice.


Admission to Belgian higher education

A student graduating from general, technical and art secondary education can enroll in any Belgian university / institute of higher education of their choosing (unless they wish to study medicine/dentistry, arts, management science or engineering, where specific entrance criteria may apply).


Frequently asked questions

How and when do we apply for a place in a school?

Primary school

Secondary school

Are schools typically mixed or single sex?

Nearly all schools are mixed.

What is the typical school day?

School typically starts between 8:00 and 8:30, and ends between 15:30 and 16:00. Most children eat lunch at school, though this is not mandatory.

Is there supervision before and after school?

Most schools open from around 7:30 (some as early as 7:00) to welcome children whose parents work.

There is almost always some kind of after-school supervision between the end of school and around 18:00 to 18:30 – in some schools this may be mostly unstructured play, while other schools may offer homework support or other (often paying) activities such as drama, sport etc.

There is usually a small fee for supervision of children who arrive before e.g. 7:30 and stay later than e.g. 16:30.

Do schools typically offer hot lunches?

Most schools provide cooked meals.

What is the typical school year?

For Belgian schools, the school year for pre-school, primary and secondary education:

  • starts on 1 September, or on the first working day after; and
  • ends on 30 June, or the last working day before.

This means that, depending on how the dates fall, school can start on Friday 1 September, and end on Monday 30 June.

What are the main school holidays periods in Belgium?

Halloween holidays – 1 week around the end of October
Christmas holidays – 2 weeks
Carnaval holidays – 1 week typically mid-February
Easter holidays – 2 weeks

Do schools have school uniforms?

School uniforms are uncommon in Belgium, and it is typically only some private schools that have a school uniform.


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