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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Primary education

Belgium - French Community

5.Primary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

The structure of primary education

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, primary schools are mixed-gendered.

In the French Community, schooling is compulsory until the age of 18.

The decree of 24 July 1997 of the Government of the French Community (commonly referred to as the "Missions Decree" ("Décret "Missions") defines its priority missions and organizes it.

Although some institutions only provide primary education, most primary schools are grouped with pre-primary schools to form institutions of pre-secondary education. Some primary or pre-primary + primary schools are attached to a secondary education institution.

Pre-primary education and the first eight years of compulsory education, including the six years of primary education, are considered to be a pedagogical continuum structured in three phases: from entry into pre-primary to the end of the second primary year (phase 1); from the third to the sixth primary year (phase 2); and the first and second secondary years (phase 3).

The legislative framework of primary education

Under the Decree on the promotion of success at school in pre-secondary education (14 March1995) and the Decree on the missions of school (24 July 1997), students’ progression must be continuous from their entry in pre-primary education through to the end of the second year of primary education, and from the third to the sixth primary year.

The decree on the promotion of success at school in pre-secondary education, voted in March 1995, outlines a concrete action plan for all participants in pre-secondary education, which is intended to achieve a significant and lasting reduction in the number of school failures. It defines the cycle as a "series of school years within which the pupil carries out his education continuously, at his own pace and without grade repetition" (Art. 1). This decree organises the continuous progression of pupils from entry into pre-primary school up to the end of the 2nd year of primary school, and from the 3rd to the 6th year of primary school.

The Decree on the missions of school, voted in July 1997, defines the objectives of compulsory education. In particular, it specifies the framework within which teaching activities take place, sets the length of the cycles and phases, organises the definition of the core skills, the preparation of pedagogic tools and assessment instruments, as well as the control of study programmes. It imposes the implementation of formative assessment and differentiated pedagogy. It further defines the notion of free education, imposes the definition by the pouvoirs organisateursand the individual schools of texts specifying their options vis-à-vis pupils and their parents, and sets up a conseil de participation  in each school. The decree reaffirms that the pouvoirs organisateurs must ensure equal access to all education for girls and boys.

A framework decree dated of 17 July 1998 modified a number of important aspects of the regulation of primary education: in particular, it redefined the resources to be expended on ordinary and special pre-primary and primary education and the timetables; it also introduced on a widespread basis the teaching of modern languages from the fifth primary year onwards, and under certain conditions authorised immersion education in a modern language other than French or in sign language.

Indeed, on the authorisation of the government in the case of education organised by the French Community, or on the initiative of the controlling authority in the case of grant-aided education, a school, under certain conditions, provide certain courses either in a modern language other than French or in sign language, by organising immersion instruction :

The "Immersion" decree of 11th May 2007 (décret "immersion") regulates immersion education. When it is organized, between 8 to 21 periods, depending on the phase at which immersion instruction began.

Immersion learning seeks to achieve the following :

•    in terms of the lessons and educational activities provided in the immersion language, the attainment of the competencies defined in the Core Skills ;

•    in terms of the immersion language, the attainment of the oral and written communication competencies in that language defined in the Core Skills.

If a school or site organises immersion learning, this is mentioned in the school plan. Enrolment in immersion learning may not be subject to any prior selection.

In 1999, the Core Skills (decree of 26 April 1999) were adopted. New curricula were elaborated on these bases.

The decree of 2 June 2006 made further significant modifications to the system of assessment. Before the decree was implemented, there was no compulsory external assessment leading to the issue of a certificate in all networks. Since the school year 2006-2007, the certificate of primary education (‘certificat d'études de base’ or CEB) has been issued following a common external test organised at the end of primary education.

The objectives of primary education

Primary education addresses all the general objectives established by the Missions Decree (24 July 1997).

Whilst ensuring that children acquire the necessary basic knowledge for their academic future, the primary school should :

  • be open to the life of the group/class and the environment, provide ample opportunity for the widest means of expression, and devote a certain amount of time to spontaneous activities ;
  • develop open-mindedness, curiosity, a taste and desire for learning, the ability to perceive a problem, define its elements, find a solution to it, and structure knowledge ;
  • strive for personal growth of children, which includes self-affirmation, self-expression and action possibilities, and the ability to participate ;
  • create conditions in which all children, whatever their social origin, can feel at ease, be recognised by the teacher and their peers, and pursue their initiation into society.

Primary education is officially expected to pursue the following overall objectives :

  • to prioritise learning how to read, with the emphasis on deciphering, written work and communication ;
  • to gain a mastery of the basic mathematical tools for problem-solving ;
  • to enable children to attain the overall objectives of compulsory education via a range of educational activities.

Primary education’s aim, within the continuum which also includes pre-primary education and the first stage of secondary education, is to ensure the attainment by all students of the objectives set out in the Core Skills, a “set of guidelines presenting in a structured manner the basic skills which are to be practised until the end of the first eight years of compulsory education, and those which must be mastered by the end of each of its stages because they are regarded as necessary for students’ social integration and the further pursuit of their studies.” As guarantees of the democratisation of school, learning guides and safeguards for assessment, the Core Skills map out the difficult path leading not just towards equality of access to school, but also to equality in the results of educational activity and in the requirements set for all children.

This system of reference defining skills to be attained places emphasis on the development of thought and meaningful teaching, as opposed to mechanical exercises and the mere rote-learning of material. It covers various disciplines: French, mathematics, modern languages, physical education, technology, artistic education, and an introduction to history and geography including social and economic affairs. It includes cross-disciplinary skills and disciplinary skills. The structure of the Socles itself underlines the need for coherence in the education system, and in particular the need for continuity of learning between pre-secondary education and the first stage of secondary education. For each competency and in each of the phases, a degree of requirement is indicated: the aim may be to raise awareness of the exercise of the competence, to certify it, or to develop it further.