Schools in Flanders are evenly spread across the territory. The Constitution does not only guarantee parents the freedom of school choice but also the freedom to choose between a neutral official school and a free school. In case there is no official or free mainstream primary school within a radius of 4 km of the pupil's home, the government can contribute to the pupil's transport costs. In case the parents of at least 16 pupils require this, the government can finance or subsidise a new school. In addition, for mainstream primary education, pupils from sparsely populated areas (less than 100 inhabitants/km2) are weighted at 1.05 when calculating the teaching times according to the scales (teaching staff framework).
Due to recent demographical developments capacity problems had arisen in a number of cities and municipalities (a.o. around Brussels). Therefore, from September 2010, the conditions for the establishment of new schools for mainstream primary education were relaxed and new schools established (municipalities with a population density of more than 1,500 inhabitants per km²). In addition, extra teaching periods have been allocated to schools in a number of municipalities with capacity problems.
Admission requirements and choice of school
Transition to primary education
The costumery age to start primary education is six years. A school career in pre-primary education usually ends in June of the year in which the child turns six. The following September the child then starts in primary education. Compulsory education however starts at the age of 5 years, in pre-primary education.
A pupil may be admitted to regular primary education at the age of five on the condition of a positive decision by the class committee. The class committee takes this decision autonomously. Parents on the other hand may decide to keep their child in pre-primary education for one year longer. This decision cannot be taken unless parents have first sought the advice from the class council of the pre-primary school their child is attending and of the Pupil Guidance Centre.
Six year olds who were enrolled in a recognised Dutch-speaking school for pre-primary education and have been present for at least 220 half days in the final year of pre-primary education are entitled to admission to mainstream primary education in school year 2017-2018. From school year 2017-2018 onwards this number has been raised to minimal 250 half days of attendance to be entitled to enter primary education in the subsequent school year (i.e. 2018-2019). The parents of children who have been sufficiently present decide themselves whether the pupil enters mainstream primary education at the age of six, or whether the child continues in pre-primary education for an additional year.
In case a six year olds has not been present for 250 half days in a recognised Dutch-speaking school for pre-primary education the class committee of primary education decides on his/her admission to primary education. Since school year 2014-2015 it is in all cases the class committee that decides on the admission of a pupil of five years old. The school determines autonomously the way in which the class committee takes this decision (e.g. by contacting the pre-primary school, on advice of the pupil guidance centre, after an orientating conversation with the pupil/parents, on the basis of tests, …).
Duration of primary education and transition to secondary education
In general a pupil transfers from primary to secondary education after the sixth grade of primary education. A pupil who has been awarded the certificate of nursery and primary education can no longer follow nursery and primary education unless admitted by the class teachers’ meeting. The minimum number of years any child must spend in primary education is not laid down in legislation but the Primary Education Certificate can only be granted to pupils who have turned eight before 1 January of the school year in question. Neither the maximum number of years in primary education is laid down in legislation. A pupil turning 14 before 1 January of the school year in question however can only spend one more school year in primary education, and this on the condition of a positive advice by both the Class Committee and the Pupil Guidance Centre.
Choice of school
The choice of school is taken by the parents.
The registration right, procedures and priority system are subscribed in chapter 2 (Fundamental principles and national policies).
Upon a first enrollment of a pupil in primary education the school board informs both the parents and the pupil of the school’s pedagogical project, the pupil guidance centre, and the school regulations, including the declaration of commitment. Information about the composition of the school board and the composition of the comprehensive school (if it belongs to a comprehensive school) must also be provided. Parents must sign the pedagogical project and school regulations to confirm their acceptance.
Age levels and grouping of pupils
Primary education comprises six grades. The school board can autonomously decide how the groups are divided and set the number of pupils per class. The year group system is not compulsory but is in practice used in most schools.
In general one teacher teaches all the different subjects but at times specialised teachers are appointed for subjects such as physical education and philosophy-of-life education (religion or non-confessional ethics), or a teacher can specialise in a particular area of study or subject.
Organisation of the school year
School boards can autonomously organise school days, school weeks and the school year. In most schools however classes are evenly spread over five days, from Monday until Friday, and Wednesday afternoon is school-free.
The school year starts on 1 September and ends on 31 August. The following holiday periods are laid down in legislation:
- The summer holidays start on 1 July and end on 31 August
- The autumn mid-term break takes one week and starts on the Monday of the week containing 1 November.
- The Christmas holidays take two weeks around Christmas and New Year.
- The spring mid-term break takes one week and starts the seventh Monday before Easter.
- The Easter holidays take two weeks around Easter.
Organisation of the school day and week
The school board has full autonomy to determine its timetables. With the exception of hospital schools the following principles apply:
- per school week 28 or 29 teaching periods of 50 minutes are organised
- these are equally spread over 5 days, from Monday until Friday
- Wednesday afternoon is school-free
- the school day starts at 8.00h at the earliest and ends at 15.00h at the earliest and at 17.00h at the latest
- there is a lunch break of at least one hour
- in general classes are interrupted for playing time in the morning and/or the afternoon
- directly before and/or after lunch break there is sometimes also time to play
Length of the school day in primary education
possibility for out-of-school care outside teaching periods
classes start at 8 a.m. at the earliest
lunch break of at least 1 hour
Afternoon free - possibility for out-of-school care
classes end at 3 p.m. at the earliest and at 5 p.m. at the latest
possibility for out-of-school care outside teaching periods
Note: childcare is not organized in all schools by the school itself. In a number of municipalities, this is undertaken by the local authorities or a different organization.