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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Primary education

Belgium - French Community

5.Primary education

Last update: 28 March 2024

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, primary education and the three first years of secondary education are considered to be a pedagogical continuum.

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 of 03/05/2019 with Books 1 and 2 of the Code for Basic Education and Secondary Education, and putting the Common Core in place, students’ progression must be continuous from their entry in pre-primary education through to the end of the third year of secondary education.  The Code has introduced a progressive approach to learning difficulties to fight school failure on a long-term basis and support success.

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. 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 References guides of the Common Core ;
  • in terms of the immersion language, the attainment of the oral and written communication competencies in that language defined in the References guides of the Common Core.

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.

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.

Generally speaking, primary education is an integral part of the Common Core, which extends from the first year of pre-primary education to the third year of secondary education. The aim of this is to ensure that every pupil, whatever their background, acquires all the fundamental knowledge needed to equip them for lifelong learning, as well as the knowledge, skills and competencies required to develop a sense of citizenship open to the world, and to achieve personal, social, cultural and professional fulfillment. During the course of their education, all students, whatever their future course of study, will be expected to master a basic school knowledge. This foundation, made up of a combination of knowledge, skills and competencies, will enable them to continue their education and meet the general aims of the Common Core :

  • exercise an emancipated, critical, creative and supportive citizenship for present and future generations ;
  • acquire the knowledge and tools needed for a plural understanding of the world, with a view to thinking and acting ;
  • develop a sustained and renewed enjoyment of learning ;
  • develop the various facets of their personality ;
  • acquire the tools to build their social identity, both real and virtual ;
  • open up to the plurality of human activities, with a view to making a positive, well-considered choice of study ;
  • continue to learn in a complex, globalized society.

So, primary education’s aim, within the continuum which also includes pre-primary education and the three first years of secondary education, is to ensure the attainment by all students of the objectives set out in the References guides of the Common Core.

The References guides are the cornerstone of the school curriculum. By defining precisely what all students are expected to learn during the Common Core, they ensure the coherence and progressiveness of their learning. In accordance with the Code for Basic Education and Secondary Education, the references guides have an impact on and harmonize the subsequent drafting of curricula by the Organizing Authorities and Federations of Organizing Authorities, and therefore on what will ultimately be taught in the classroom. The references guides are therefore of vital importance in that they constitute a contract between the school and society. Benefiting from decree status and situated at an inter-network level, the references guides define what is to be learned at the various stages of schooling, and specify the expectations in relation to this learning content ("what to learn"). The curricula, for their part, propose methodological guidelines, teaching devices and situations that are likely to install these contents.
The main learning aims of the Common Core are defined within eight areas : French, art and culture ; modern languages ; mathematics, science and technology ; human sciences, philosophy and citizenship education, religion or ethics ; physical education, well-being and health ; creativity, commitment and entrepreneurship ; learning to learn and to make choices ; learning to find one's bearings.
These eight areas are intended to mark out what a common training curriculum should cover today. They constitute and target an "essential", i.e. what all students should know and be able to do at the end of their basic pathway.