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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of ECEC for children aged 2.5 years and above

Belgium - French Community

4.Early childhood education and care

4.3Organisation of ECEC for children aged 2.5 years and above

Last update: 26 January 2024

Admission requirements and choice of setting

Pre-primary education caters for children aged 2.5 years (on 30 September of the current school year) to 5 years or, in exceptional cases, 6 years.
From the 2020/2021 school year, compulsory schooling applies to all children who are at least 5 years old by 31 December.
Parents have a free choice regarding the school attended by their child.
By enrolling in a school, the child and the child’s parents or guardians accept the educational and pedagogical plans of the school, its study regulations and its internal rules. Prior to enrolment, the school head has to provide documents containing this information to the parents or the guardians.
Parents or guardians may enrol a child in pre-primary education at any time during the school year, provided that the child is at least 2.5 years old.
However, the school head will ensure that the provisions for changing schools are applied: regardless of the year in which the child is enrolled, a child in pre-primary education may not freely change school (or other centre) after 15 September without good reason.
When a pre-primary or primary education school head cannot enrol a child for whom enrolment has been requested, the head provides a certificate of request for enrolment containing the reason for refusal (often lack of space) and the contact details of the relevant enrolment commission (enrolment commissions are specific to each educational network).
The enrolment commission will assist the child’s parents in enrol the child in a school organised or subsidised by the French Community.

Group size and child/staff ratios

The maximum number of children per teacher is 19. The maximum number of children per class is not regulated.
In most cases, pre-primary education is organised on the basis of two or three groups or classes divided according to age (horizontal organisation). The limits for the different age groups vary according to the size of the school. Half of the pre-primary sections of schools comprise only one or two classes.
In rural areas, where small schools do not have a sufficient number of children for three groups, and in other schools for educational reasons, children of different ages are grouped into a single, more ‘familial’ class known as a ‘composite class’ (vertical organisation).
Rather than abiding by a rigid group structure, some schools prefer to arrange classes vertically in some instances and horizontally in others. Within this structure, teachers regularly change their group and classroom.
In pre-primary education, the minimum qualification for teachers is a bachelor’s degree (ISCED level 6). Most teachers have a pre-primary teaching diploma.
Psychomotor activities are carried out by a specialist (maître de psychomotricité).

Annual, weekly and daily organization

The school calendar is fixed for each school year by a Law of the Government of the French Community.

The government of the French Community decides the start and end of the school year, as well as statutory holidays.

In 2021, the Government of the French Community decided on new annual school rhythms, from the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

The philosophy of the reform is to follow the "7+2" model, alternating 7 weeks of classes followed by 2 weeks of holidays.  The consequences are the lengthening of the All Saints' and Carnival holidays (two weeks instead of one for each of these holidays) and the shortening of the summer holidays.
The school year therefore starts on the last Monday of August and ends on the first Friday of July of the next year.

In addition to the 7-week summer holidays, children have two weeks of autumn holidays (early November), 2 weeks of winter holidays (Christmas), two weeks of carnival holidays (February) and 2 weeks of spring holidays (Easter).

In addition, a certain number of days off are granted at regular intervals during the school year: 1st May, Ascension Thursday, Whit Monday, French Community Day (27th September), and 11th November.

In the usual school curriculum, a school year consists of 182 days of classes spread over 37 weeks.  The government may define the number of school days between 180–184 days.

Classes are suspended for a maximum of 6 half-days in pre-primary and primary education to enable teaching staff to attend training days.

In pre-primary schools, children undertake learning activities during 28 periods of 50 minutes per week (approximately 23 hours per week).
Each full day includes a break of 15 minutes in the morning and a break of at least 1 hour between morning and afternoon classes. The schedule must be continuous. Provided these principles are adhered to, any controlling authority may authorise pre-primary schools to adapt the weekly timetable in order to implement activities that enable them to attain their general objectives.

In practice, the 28 weekly class periods are spread over 9 half-days from Monday morning to Friday afternoon. The time when school begins and ends is determined by the responsible education authority. Generally, education takes place from 9.00 to 12.00 and from 13.30 to 15.30, with 8.30 and 16.00 representing the school day’s earliest starting and latest ending times.

Example of a typical weekly timetable

  Out-of-school care : before classes Morning classes  Lunch break Afternoon classes Out-of-school care : after classes
Monday 7.30-9.00 9.00-12.00 12.00-13.30 13.30-15.30 15.30-18.00
Tuesday 7.30-9.00 9.00-12.00 12.00-13.30 13.30-15.30 15.30-18.00
Wednesday 7.30-9.00 9.00-12.00 - - -
Thursday 7.30-9.00 9.00-12.00 12.00-13.30 13.30-15.30 15.30-18.00
Friday 7.30-9.00 9.00-12.00 12.00-13.30 13.30-15.30 15.30-18.00

In pre-primary education, the weekly timetable for children must include the following :

  • Twenty-six periods taught by teachers (including one period reserved for language learning). In schools allowed to provide immersion learning, some of these periods are in a language other than French ;
  • Two periods of physical and health education and psychomotor skills.

The Pact for Excellence in Teaching provides an indicative timetable for pre-primary and primary education. For pre-primary education, the periods in the indicative timetable are distributed as follows :

  • in the field of French, arts and culture :
  1. French language (10 periods, two of which are devoted to identifying difficulties linked to the language of schooling and learning about school culture) ;
  2. cultural and arts education, including French and physical expression, musical expression and arts expression (four periods) ;
  • in the field of modern languages: language awareness (one period) ;
  • in the fields of mathematics, science and technology, and human sciences and education for philosophy and citizenship, religion or ethics: the first tools for experimentation, structuring, categorisation and exploration of the world (11 periods) ;
  • in the area of physical education, well-being and health: physical and health education and psychomotor skills (two periods).

Children spend an average of 5 hours per day on learning activities in school, but some children attend pre-primary school for close to 9 hours. In many schools, out-of-hours provision is available from 7.00 until classes start and from the end of classes until 18.00. Most children remain in school during the lunch break, under the supervision of teaching staff or another person subsidised by the French Community for 1 hour or more of midday break monitoring.
Coordination of childcare during free time (Wednesday afternoons, weekends and school holidays) and support for out-of-school care (before and after school, excluding lunchtime) are in place.
Three general objectives are pursued in terms of annual, weekly and daily organisation: the overall development of children, social cohesion through the mixing of different groups, and the facilitation and consolidation of family life.