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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general lower secondary education

Belgium - French Community

6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general lower secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

With regard to the French Community, it should be emphasised that this section relates to the first stage (ISCED 2, two years), and not the whole of lower secondary education (three years).  The 3rd year of (lower) secondary education will therefore be described in 6.4 and 6.7.

However, the third specific differentiation and orientation year (3 S-DO) will be mentioned below in this section.

Types of institutions

In the French Community, each school depends on an Organizing Authority. The Organizing Authority is the public authority or the legal entity which assumes responsibility for the organisation of a school and which is linked to one of the three educational networks mentioned in the School Pact (law of 29 May 1959) (loi du Pacte scolaire) : the public network, organised and managed by the French Community ; the public network, grant-aided by the French Community and managed by the provincial or municipal authorities ; the “free” network, grant-aided by the French Community and managed by natural persons or legal entities.

A small number of schools are not recognized by the Government. These are private schools that do not receive funding from the Government of the French Community.

In accordance with the official provisions on equal opportunities for boys and girls, secondary schools are mixed-gendered.

The approximately 500 full-time ordinary secondary schools are likely to be differentiated in terms of their educational provision. Thus, the forms (general, technical, vocational and artistic) and sections (transition and qualification) organized from the third year onwards may vary from one school to another. Moreover, within the same form of education, the options offered may also be different. Finally, although most secondary education institutions organise all 6 years, thus all three stages, some only provide the first stage : they are called DOAs (autonomous observation stages). They were 30 in 2017-2018.

Geographical accessibility

Given the high population density in Belgium (375 inhabitants per sq. km on January 1. 2019), the geographical accessibility of schools during compulsory education poses little problem.

If a school that corresponds to the parents’ choice does not exist within a reasonable distance, one must be created or transport provided.

However, a school transportation department, run by the Walloon and Brussels Regions since 1991, is responsible for picking up pupils once a day going to and from the school of their choice – for all educational networks – that is closest to their home. Fares are calculated based on public transport fares. Families with three or more children benefit from a 50% reduction.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Enrolment in a school must take place no later than the first working day in September. For pupils who are the subject of deliberation in September, enrolment takes place on 15 September at the latest.

The Schools Accord (law of 29 May 1959) imposes obligations on the linguistic Communities in order to guarantee the parents’ free choice as to the type of education they would like their children to receive. Any controlling authority of a grant-aided education institution and any head of an education institution organised by the French Community is required to enrol any pupil who is a minor and whose parents so request in the institution of their choice, provided they agree to subscribe to the educational and pedagogical plans and the pupil satisfies all the conditions for being a regular pupil.

Grant-aided pre-secondary and secondary schools may not refuse to enrol a pupil on the basis of social, sexual or racial discrimination, if the pupil agrees to subscribe to their educational plan. The schools of the French Community are required to enrol any pupil who so requests by 30 September of the school year, provided he or she satisfies all the conditions for being a regular pupil.

If a French Community school has to restrict the number of pupils it takes because its premises are not large enough, the head of school must immediately inform the General Administration Services.

If unable to enrol a pupil who has so requested, the head of school issues him or her with an attestation that an enrolment request was made. This attestation includes the grounds for refusal and an indication from the administration’s services as to where the pupil and his parents can obtain assistance with enrolling the pupil in another institution.

Enrolment in 1st secondary education

A scheme for the regulation of enrolments in the first secondary year has recently been introduced. Its objectives are described under 6.

The scheme in force consists of the following steps :

  • The parents complete a single pre-printed form which is given to them by the primary school attended by the child, where they indicate their situation with respect to the various priorities stipulated by the decree (see below) and they provide information about their other choices of school (up to a total of ten), in order of preference. They hand in this form at their preferred school during the three-week period stipulated by the legislationgenerally after the carnival holidays (February) ;
  • Each school examines the applications received. If their number does not exceed the number of places available, all enrolment applications are accepted. If there are more applications than places available, the school ranks the applications on the basis of objective, weighted criteria, and awards 80% of the places in accordance with the ranking, while ensuring that 20.4% of the places are awarded to pupils from primary schools with a low socio-economic index ;
  • An Inter-Network Enrolment Commission (CIRI) manages the cases of those pupils who could not be enrolled in their first-choice school, on the basis of the places available in the schools where there are still places left, and of the 22% of places reserved in the ‘full’ schools (20% reserved and 2% additional margin).

The priorities are based on :

  • geographical criteria (proximity of home to primary school attended, proximity of home to chosen secondary school, proximity of chosen secondary school to primary school attended, schools available in the municipality of the primary school of origin) ;
  • and educational criteria (continuation of immersion learning started at primary level, educational partnership between the two schools, preferences).

Each child’s situation with regard to each of these criteria in practice is scored with a coefficient. The coefficients are then multiplied together to produce a composite index figure on which the pupil’s ranking is based.

Moreover, after the period of 3 weeks put aside for enrolments and their management by the schools and CIRI, enrolments may be resumed on a first come, first served basis (after enrolments have been processed in accordance with the procedure described).

The common first stage and differentiated first stage (le premier degré commun et le premier degré différencié)

The pupil who is admitted to secondary education is enrolled in either the common first stage or the differentiated first stage.The admissions board of secondary education institutions is made up of all the administrative and teaching staff members who, for each year in question, are tasked by the head of school with evaluating the possibility of admitting pupils into a form of education, a stream or course. This board is assisted by the Centre for Psychological, Medical and Social Services (CPMS).

The common first stage is organised for pupils holding the certificate of primary education (CEB). A differentiated first stage, the main purpose of which is to enable pupils not holding the CEB to obtain it, 

is only accessible to pupils who do not hold the certificate of primary education and who have taken the sixth year of primary education, or who are at least 12 years old by 31 December of the following school year without having attended the sixth year of primary education.

3rd S-DO

For pupils who, after having attended the first stage of secondary education for three years and have not reached the expected level of mastery, it is planned to organise a specific year of differentiation and orientation (3S-DO) within the second stage.  It is mentioned here because it belongs neither to general education nor to qualification education, and therefore cannot be described in the pages distinguishing the education streams in the second part of the description of secondary education.

This year should help the student to acquire mastery of the skills referred to at the end of the third stage of the educational continuum (end of 1st stage of secondary education) and to develop, in collaboration with the psycho-medico-social centre concerned, a personal project enabling him/her to continue his/her schooling.

The 3S-DO timetable is adapted so that the pupil discovers the world of work, jobs, training and diplomas in a concrete manner and develops a life project linked to an orientation in both transition and qualification education.

In conclusion, this project aims to lead students, especially those with difficulties, to master the skills at the end of the 3rd stage of the educational continuum (Certificate of first stage studies : CE1D).

It defines a precise and flexible framework that enables educational teams to initiate original methods or projects designed to place each pupil in an emancipatory and successful school learning process.

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

Classes in secondary education are theoretically organized by age groups and subjects. However, since pupils may be required to repeat a year, classes often include pupils of different ages, particularly in differentiated and vocational education.  Pupils that are attending the common first stage and have not repeated a year are aged between 12 and 14 years old.

Pupils who attend the differentiated first stage are generally older than their common first stage -classmates, because they have repeated a year more often during their primary education.

Classes are usually organized in 50-minute periods and taught by different teachers. Students may therefore change teacher and room several times during the same day. In addition, students in the same class may be divided into different groups to follow the options they chose.

The number of pupils in a class therefore varies according to the grouping of pupils and the options they are offered, but certain maximums have been set by the decree of 3 May 2012 on class sizes (décret "Taille des classes") :

  • classes in the common first stage may not contain more than 24 pupils ;
  • the size of classes in the differentiated first stage is reduced to 15 in the first year and 18 in the second year.

Organisation of the school year

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 during the school year: 1st May, Ascension Thursday, Whit Monday, French Community Day (27th September), and 11th November.

In a 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 and 184.

Classes may be suspended in order to organise summary assessment tests, deliberations of the class councils and meetings with parents for up to 18 days in the year. On these days, pupils (both those of legal age and those who are still minors) whose parents so wish may attend the institution and receive educational supervision there.

Classes may also be suspended for up to six half-days to enable staff members to attend training. 

Organisation of the school day and week

The time at which the school begins and ends is determined by the Organizing Authority.

Likewise, any controlling authority may authorise its schools to adapt the weekly timetable, in line with their plan, in order to implement activities that enable them to attain their general objectives.  (The school project defines all of the pedagogical choices and concrete actions that the educational team intends to implement in order to carry out the educational and pedagogical projects of the organizing authority.)

Generally, the mornings consist of four or five 50-minute periods, and the afternoons of three (except for Wednesday afternoon, when there are no classes.). Each full day includes a morning break and a lunch break of between morning classes and afternoon classes.

The time at which classes start varies, but is usually between 8 and 8.30 am; classes finish at around 4 pm. Before and after classes, most schools organise out-of-hours ‘study’ sessions during which pupils can complete their homework.

Daily timetable


Opening of the school to students (study)

Start of classes (4 to 5 periods of 50 minutes each in the morning)

Lunch Break

End of classes

Closure of the school to students (study)



Around 8.00 am

Min 50 min

Around 4.00 pm




Around 8.00 am

Min 50 min

Around 4.00 pm




Around 8.00 am


Around 12.00 pm




Around 8.00 am

Min 50 min

Around 4.00 pm




Around 8.00 am

Min 50 min

Around 4.00 pm


In the first stage of secondary education, pupils attend school for 32 periods of 50 minutes per week (a total of 1600 minutes per week). At all levels and in all streams, 2 periods per week of remediation, at the most, can be added to the authorised maximums.