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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Educational support and guidance

Belgium - French Community

12.Educational support and guidance

Last update: 27 November 2023

At all ages of life

Independently of the school system, two important bodies offer different forms of support for disabled people of all ages: the Walloon Agency for a Quality Life (AViQ: Agence pour une Vie de Qualité), and the Brussels Fund for the Social and Professional Integration of Disabled People, also known as PHARE (Personne Handicapée Autonomie Recherchée – Disabled Person Autonomy Sought) for the Brussels-Capital Region.

Finally, there are numerous non-profit organisations (ASBLs), created by disabled people, parents, professionals and others, which make a significant contribution to the welfare of disabled people of all ages.

For non-school institutions taking in young children (under the age of three)

For non-school institutions taking in young children (under the age of three), the Childcare Quality Code stipulates that the childcare facility should help ensure the harmonious integration of children with specific needs.

Pre-secondary and secondary education

In line with the course plotted out by the Decree on the Missions of Schools in 1997, a variety of measures have been adopted to combat all forms of discrimination. The Schools Contract of 31 May 2005 makes provision for optimal education for all pupils. The decree of 12 December 2008 creates a coordinated framework that prohibits any form of discrimination in social institutions, and in particular in schools. Among the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited are :

  • Nationality, ‘race’, skin colour, family background or national or ethnic origin ;
  • Age, sexual orientation, religious or philosophical convictions, disability ;
  • Sex and associated characteristics such as pregnancy, childbirth and maternity, or the changing of sex ;
  • Civil status, birth, wealth, political convictions, language, current or future state of health, physical or genetic characteristics or social origin.

Special needs pupils

Very early on (in the law of 6 July 1970), Belgium created a dedicated, well-structured organisation for the education of children who are "apt to be educated but cannot attend an ordinary school". Consequently, in addition to ordinary full-time education, the French Community organises or subsidises, at the nursery, primary, and secondary levels, specialised education for people between the ages of three and twenty-one (with possible age limit dispensations) with a disability. Such education has been adapted on several occasions (in the decrees of 3 March 2004 and 5 February 2009).

For several years now, special measures have been taken with a view to encouraging the integration of these pupils in ordinary education whenever possible. Integration is an adapted, sustained response to the specific needs of certain pupils in order to prepare for their inclusion in social and working life from school onwards. The child is at the centre of a process that must be constructed so as to take account of individual identity and diversity.

The Decree on the Missions of School encourages the integration of pupils in specialised education into ordinary education. It requires the school plan drawn up by ordinary educational institutions to set out educational choices and priority actions with this goal in mind. The institutions’ activity report must record the initiatives that have been taken to promote integration. The decree of 3 March 2004 (amended and elaborated on by the decree of 5 February 2009) describes in particular the arrangements for integration into ordinary education, the support that pupils can receive, and the arrangements for financing schools and staff.

Within the Decree program, further steps with regard to guidance and support of integration for students in specialised education were adopted by Parliament July 14, 2015 to meet particular the observation that our ordinary education is not inclusive enough and sometimes too easily relegates to specialised education :

  • Redefining orientation conditions to specialised education :

New rules are planned for decisions on orientation of a student to specialised education. A lack of teaching language proficiency or coming from a poor social environment will not be - alone - a valid reason for orientation to specialised education any more. In case of orientation to specialised education, for students who fall under type 1 of specialised education (for students with mild mental retardation), under type 3 (for students with moderate or severe mental retardation), or under type 8 (for students with learning disabilities), the enrollment report will now describe support and reasonable accommodation in place in ordinary education and demonstrate that they have proved inadequate to ensure learning appropriate to the specific needs of the student. This will avoid too systematic orientation to specialised education and strengthen the inclusive aspect of ordinary school.

  • Steps are also being taken for integration in specialised education : it is only if integration is not possible in ordinary education that the student is orientated to specialised education. In total permanent integration for each student in primary education and in the first two degrees of ordinary secondary education, 4 periods for supported students will be granted, provided by specialised education staff.
  • Strengthening support for students with learning disabilities in ordinary education :

The new measure aims at standardizing the periods granted under permanent total integration, now providing four periods for supporting students for the integrations organized in ordinary primary and secondary education. In the third stage of secondary education, only students under type 4 of specialised education (for students with physical disabilities), under type 5 (for the students supported in terms of their a health by a hospital or a medical social institution recognized by public authorities), under type 6 (for students with visual impairments and / or functional impairment of vision) and under type 7 (for students with hearing impairments and / or a significant lack of communication), may still benefit from the 16 periods for supporting students.

  • Based on the means made available, 450 additional support periods may be granted on a proposal of the General Council of specialised education, particularly in the specialised education institutions organizing an adapted pedagogy or particular projects.

Every year, guidelines and recommendations on specialised education and the integration of pupils with special needs are collected in a circular which is sent to all institutions (Circular 6194 of 22 May 2017).

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

Several schemes are in place within ordinary education (integrated schemes) for the benefit of certain categories of pupil.

Certain schools take a large number of pupils from other countries who lack either experience of school or any knowledge of the French language, within an education system that they are not familiar with. These pupils, referred to as ‘newly arrived pupils’, are received in a DASPA (Dispositif d'Accueil et de Scolarisation des élèves Primo-Arrivants) for a limited period of time: there, they benefit from specific teacher support that enables them to adapt and integrate into the Belgian socio-cultural and school system. They are then steered into the form of education that is most suitable for them.

On May 18, 2012, the Government of the French Community of Belgium issued a new decree to optimise the reception, integration and schooling of newly arrived pupils that are between two and a half and eighteen years old. The decree succeeds its 2001 predecessor and makes the system more flexible. Main improvements of the new decree include :

  • Extension of the pupil beneficiary target group: access is no longer limited to pupils who have newly arrived to Belgium or pupils who have requested or obtained refugee status. Access is now open to a wider range of pupils who have been in the country for less than a year (legally or not) and who don't have a sufficient knowledge of French ;
  • More flexibility in the administrative and practical organisation of the system for schools ;
  • The term “bridging classes” used in the 2001 decree has disappeared. The process is now called "Dispositif d'accueil et de scolarisation des élèves primo-arrivants – DASPA", meaning "Reception and Schooling of Newly Arrived Pupils". In 2015-2016, there were 32 DASPA schools for basic education levels and 37 DASPA schools for secondary education. Following the crisis in September 2015, new DASPA opened ;
  • The DASPA can now be organised wherever necessary. Previously, they were only organised near the reception centres for asylum seekers ;
  • Evaluation of the system is planned to take place every 3 years ;
  • Development of specific continuing training programmes for teachers working in DASPA is foreseen.

A course of adaptation to the language of instruction, aimed at ensuring the integration of pupils into the school system and their learning of French, may be organised at the rate of three periods per week, in primary schools which take pupils whose mother or usual language is not French and who also meet certain other conditions (decree of 13 July 1998).

Within the framework of partnerships between the Community and partner countries, institutions of pre-secondary education and the first stage of secondary education may offer their pupils language and culture of origin courses aimed at enabling those pupils who so wish to learn the language and culture, or to promote intercultural openness for all pupils in the classes concerned (circular 5414 of 16 September 2016).

Moreover, following on from the policy of positive discrimination engaged in from 1998, a decree adopted on 30 April 2009 introduces differentiated staffing within ordinary, full-time pre-secondary or secondary education institutions organised or grant-aided by the French Community: significantly increased human and financial resources are allocated to schools on the basis of objective and uniform socio-economic criteria, with the aim of promoting additional educational activities in schools taking in disadvantaged pupils.

In higher education and adulthood

In higher education, aids can be obtained by students with disabilities via official bodies (AViQ, PHARE) or private organizations (non-profit organizations). In addition, some higher education institutions set up specific services on their own initiative and ensure that the premises are accessible.

In the case of adults, a range of services for the disabled people can be provided by AViQ and PHARE as well as by private associations.

Formal arrangements have also been put in place to help "at-risk" groups to train, and literacy courses are planned for adult immigrants or people who have not obtained their certificate.