Education in Belgium
As with many European countries the Belgians like their bureaucracy, in fact they like it so much that the country’s school system can be a bit of a nightmare for expats trying to make the best choice for their children. As with any other move abroad you have to decide whether to integrate your child into the local Belgian system or alternatively send them to an international school. This is a decision that naturally depends on whether you are there for a short stay or plan to adopt Belgium as your home country. The international option would allow your children to continue in the same education system once they return to their home country.
Expats in Belgium need to be aware that the country is divided by three different departments of Education each with the responsibility for implementing government policy. These are the Department for the Dutch speaking community (Flanders and Brussels), Department for the French speaking community (Wallonia and Brussels) and the department for the German speaking community.
Within each region there are three types of educational institution: community education, education run by public institutions and “free” private (often Catholic) schools.
Community schools come under the authority of the relevant ministry of education and must be neutral, that is respecting the religious, philosophical or ideological convictions of all parents and pupils.
Publicly run schools are subsidised and are organised by provinces and municipalities.
Privately run schools which are also subsidised. These include Catholic schools as well as Jewish, Protestant, Islamic and Orthodox schools. In Flanders they make up the largest group both in number of schools and pupils, however, in the French community they are roughly equal in size to community schools with a larger share of secondary and tertiary education. International schools also fall into this category.
Children start school at the age of six, though they may be accepted at five if they are deemed ready. Before this, nurseries are available for babies and children up to two-and-half years.
Primary school education begins on the 1st of September of the year in which a child reaches the age of six (although some children are admitted at the age of five if they are considered ready) and is free to all. It lasts for six years and a whole range of academic subjects are studied. As Belgium is a tri-lingual nation a lot of emphasis is placed on learning the other languages, for example if your child is in a Dutch school then empathises will be place on the child learning French.
Secondary education is also free and begins at 12 years of age. In the first year of secondary education all pupils follow the same programme. From the second year onwards a range of options can be chosen according to preference and ability. These will lead to education of a general nature or with a more technical, artistic or professional slant. Belgian schools follow a similar style to US ones with pupils having to pass examinations at the end of every school year, if they fail then they will be held back a year.
With its burgeoning international community, Belgium — and Brussels in particular — has a raft of international schools following British, American, French and Dutch education systems, among many others. These schools offer the whole range of education from nursery to school leaving age. As they are all private, they are fee-paying, though many companies offer education costs as part of an overseas benefits package.