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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Teaching and learning in primary education

Belgium - French Community

5.Primary education

5.2Teaching and learning in primary education

Last update: 10 January 2023

Curriculum, subjects and number of hours

Subjects required by law

The decree on the missions (24th July 1997) of the school does not define subjects, but domains within which competencies are to be developed. Thus, priority must be given to the teaching of reading centred on the mastery of meaning, to the production of written and oral communication, as well as to the mastery of the basic mathematical tools within the framework of problem solving.

The other educational activities are structured in the following domains, which are part of the compulsory common core: structure of time and space, psychomotricity and physical education, discovery and then initiation to history and geography, artistic education, education through technology, scientific initiation, discovery of the environment, education to the media, learning about social behaviours and citizenship, as well as communication skills in a language other than French.

Within this framework, the Core Skills (decree on 26th April 1999) distinguish eight domains: French, mathematics, discovery – initiation to science, modern languages, physical education, education through technology, artistic education, discovery – initiation to history and geography including introduction to social and economic life. Philosophy courses are additional to these.

The curricula are the responsibility of the pouvoirs organisateurs, but must make it possible to achieve the Core Skills.

A decree dated of 12th January 2007 sets out a requirement for interdisciplinary activities to be organised relating to responsible and active citizenship, at least once per cycle.

Time to be devoted to each subject

In primary education, the weekly timetable must include two (50-minute) periods of physical education (including swimming), two periods of religion/ethics courses, zero to five periods of modern language courses (depending on the grade and the geographical area, see below), as well as the courses and activities relating to other subjects, for which the amount of time is not specified.

Courses in modern languages other than French

By virtue of linguistic laws of 30th July and 2nd August 1963, the teaching of a first foreign language is compulsory starting in the 3rd year of primary school in both the Brussels-Capital Region and in those municipalities with ‘special status’. The first foreign language is taught for 3 hours per week in the 3rd and 4th year of primary studies and 5 hours per week in the 5th and 6th years. This instruction can include review exercises for other subjects in the curriculum. In the Brussels-Capital Region, the first foreign language is Dutch. In the Walloon municipalities classified as 'on the language border' (Comines-Warneton, Mouscron, Flobecq and Enghien), the first foreign language is also Dutch. In the municipalities of Malmédy, Waimes, Baelen, Plombières and Welkenraedt, the first foreign language may be Dutch or German. A special scheme is provided for the municipalities surrounding Brussels.

Since 1998 (decree of 13th July 1998), throughout the French Community, at least two periods per week must be assigned to teaching communication in a modern language other than French (German, English, or Dutch) in the fifth and sixth primary school years. The pouvoirs organisateurs may provide either one language or a choice between two languages. In the absence of an exemption, the language chosen by a pupil may not be modified between the 5th and 6th years.

Schools and pouvoirs organisateurs which so desire may organise optional learning of a foreign language starting in the 1st year of primary school at the rate of two periods per week, or add one period per week in the 5th and 6th years of primary school in those Walloon municipalities which do not have special linguistic status.

These additional lessons must be included in the school plan if they are incorporated into the compulsory weekly timetable (28 periods). All the pupils concerned must take part, and the languages taught must be consistent with current legal requirements in the municipality in which the school is located. If the increase in the number of first foreign language periods is greater than this, the weekly timetable may be increased to 29, 30 or 31 periods.

Linguistic and sign language immersion

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 or site may, under certain conditions, provide certain courses either in a modern language other than French or in sign language, by organising immersion instruction.

The decree of 11th May 2007 regulates immersion education. A school providing pre-secondary education which organises immersion learning offers the possibility of learning in this way either during the final year of pre-primary education and the six years of primary education, or during the last four years of primary education. In a primary school which does not provide pre-primary education, immersion learning may start in the first year.

Between 8 and 21 periods are taught in the target language from the 3rd year of pre-primary education to the 2nd year of primary education. From the 3rd to the 6th year of primary education, the timetable depends on the year in which immersion began :

  • Pupils who started immersion in the 3rd year of pre-primary or 1st year of primary education : If part of the weekly timetable is dedicated to immersion learning, that part consists of a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 18 periods ;
  • Pupils who started immersion in the 3rd year of primary education : If part of the weekly timetable is dedicated to immersion learning, that part consists of a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 18 periods.

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.

Language Awareness

Within the context of the Pact for Excellence in Teaching, in order to define the learning pathway of the new common core, knowledge and skills deemed as essential have been identified. Among these, great attention was paid to language learning, both for its contribution in terms of openness to the world and its potential for socio-professional integration. This is why the common core curriculum provides for the strengthening of modern language learning by starting the teaching of a first modern language from 3rd primary and a second modern language in 2nd secondary, throughout the French Community. This is why, from the start of the 2020 schoolyear, from the first pre-primary to the second primary schoolyear, the permanent teacher is expected to teach his or her pupils Language Awareness for one period per week. (This period may be split up).

Language Awareness aims to open up to a diversity of languages. In this sense, it is not limited to the languages traditionally taught in schools in the French Community. Thus, in parallel with its linguistic dimension, the Language Awareness makes it possible to gradually open up to other cultures, contributing to the aim of a more tolerant and open society.

Since the start of the 2020 schoolyear, the brochure "Éveil aux langues - Balises de progression et ressources pédagogiques de M1 à P2" (Language Awareness - progress markers and teaching resources from M1 to P2 (first pre-primary to the second primary schoolyear) offers each teacher help in implementing language learning by providing a learning path, teaching methods and teaching resources to be practised with pupils, as well as numerous internet links to activities adapted to the age and interests of these pupils.

This brochure is intended to complement the Initial skills references guide, the disciplinary references guide for the common core and the references guide for modern languages.

Ethics and religion courses

Every child of compulsory school age has the right to be taught religion or ethics at the Community’s expense. In every site, a course is organised as soon as a pupil enrols, in accordance with the Schools Accord (law of 29th May 1959). Each pupil’s weekly timetable includes two periods of religion or ethics. The ethics teacher is a staff member, who is responsible for ethics courses. The religion teacher is either a minister or a representative of a minister of one of the recognised denominations.

Since 2015, a Decree has established a dispensation mechanism for religion and moral studies in the framework of the Alternative Pedagogical Framework.

Religious instruction is understood as the teaching of the religion (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, or Orthodox) and the moral values inspired by that religion. Schools run by public authorities offer, up to the end of compulsory education, the choice between courses in one of the five recognised religions, in non-denominational ethics, or in the Alternative Pedagogical Framework. The choice must be stated in a declaration signed by the parents, guardian or person to whom the child’s care is entrusted.

Since 1 September 2016 for those primary schools offering a choice between religion and moral studies, at least one of the two lessons per week allocated to these subjects should be devoted to 'philosophy and citizenship'. Instruction on this subject is part of the compulsory curriculum. In the other schools, the content and objectives of philosophy and citizenship must be acquired through all subjects.

Physical development

The time allocated to physical education is the result of a desire to ensure a balance between the different school activities and an optimal use of physical education and sports within a global education. Schools should offer a range of activities allowing everyone to exercise a choice. The right of each child to have different physical abilities should be recognised. Physical education courses cover at least two periods per week. In some écoles fondamentales, the time allocated to physical education has been doubled.

Media studies

Television and the media are a source of enrichment, knowledge, openness to others and to the world; and they are an integral part of young people’s lives. Therefore, they should be used to advantage and as a positive factor in education. Beyond the use of audiovisual equipment as teaching aids, two important objectives can be identified: on the one hand, learning to be an active spectator, an autonomous explorer, and a media communication player; on the other hand, using the audiovisual image as a technology at the service of intelligence-building.

Primary schools have had the possibility of receiving a cyber-media centre, and of connecting to the Internet at preferential rates, but no course is specifically oriented to the utilisation of these facilities.

Teaching methods and materials

General guidelines

The official texts impose or recommend certain practices for all educational institutions.

Every school must enable each pupil to progress according to his or her own pace of learning, by implementing differentiated teaching methods and formative assessment.

The use of information and communication technology as a tool for development and access to autonomy is recommended.

A number of ministerial circular letters recommend group activities; learning situations that encourage behavioural patterns suited for decision-making on the sequence of tasks, negotiation on the nature of the work to be done, and interaction among pupils; a general, functional, participative, and differentiated teaching method; maintaining stability of the teaching staff, collaboration among teachers, and dialogue with parents.

A decree dated of 12th January 2007 imposes the organisation of interdisciplinary activities for a responsible and active citizenship at least once during each cycle as well as the set up of participative structures for pupils (the election of class representatives by their peers and councils of pupil representatives consisting of the class representatives of a cycle or a stage) from the 5th year of primary education.

The curricula and the options of the Pouvoirs organisateurs

Under the Schools Accord (law of 29th May 1959), each controlling authority is free as regards pedagogical methods. The pedagogical plan defines the pedagogical aims and methodological choices which enable a controlling authority to implement its educational plan. The school plan translates the controlling authority’s pedagogical plan into concrete terms in the light of its specific context.

Curricula are the province of the pouvoirs organisateurs. These curricula must be adapted to the general objectives of education and consistent with the requirements of the Decree on the missions of the school. Freedom in pedagogical methods entitles every controlling authority to submit its own curriculum for approval by the Minister. A Curriculum Commission verifies whether the curricula, both for the French Community and for the grant-aided networks, make it possible to attain the Core Skills.

The curricula propose learning situations and suggest course contents, which may be either compulsory or optional. They provide methodological orientations. Such learning situations, course contents and methodological orientations must make it possible to achieve the Core Skills.

The Government of the French Community (for the schools that it organises), the Council of Municipalities and Provinces (for the public grant-aided pouvoirs organisateurs that so desire) and certain municipalities (e.g. Brussels and Verviers) use (complete or partial) curricula reflecting the Core Skills and approved by the Government.

Certain schools practise or are inspired by particular teaching methods (Freinet, Decroly, etc.).

Teaching materials

The decision of whether or not to use a textbook, and its choice, are left to the teachers’ or the controlling authority’s discretion. The use of textbooks is not very widespread, in particular for scientific and mathematical disciplines. To encourage their use by educational teams, the decree of 19 May 2006 introduced a special budgetary programme for the acquisition by the écoles fondamentales of the French Community of textbooks which have received conformity approval. A textbook or set of textbooks may be submitted once a year to the Steering Committee with a view to gaining conformity approval.

During the period of compulsory education, access to education is free of charge, and no school fees may be charged (including for the purchase of textbooks).

The educational services of the French Community and those of the different Organising Authorities for grant-aided schools produce teaching aids, which are designed to ensure attainment of the Core Skills. Every school organised or grant-aided by the French Community is entitled to use these teaching aids.

Two servers providing pedagogical information have been set up. One is common to the different networks and the other is specific to schools organised by the French Community. A database of courseware with information on the products devised by teachers and inspectors may be consulted on the site.

Each primary school has been equipped with a multimedia centre, and thanks to agreements between the French Community, the Walloon Region, the federal government, and the access provider, each school can have access to the Internet on very favourable terms. Since 2002, schools also have the possibility of benefiting from the ADSL technology, by installing a new modem provided by the French Community and subscribing to a contract with an access provider. Thanks to a new schools equipment plan conducted in both the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region, the rate of equipment in primary schools increased by 2017 to 7 computers per 100 pupils (Agence du Numérique, Baromètre Education & Numérique 2018).

In October 2018, the Digital Strategy for Education was adopted by the Government of the French Community. By presenting an integrated vision of the digital transition for compulsory education in the French Community, the Strategy underlines the need to invest in digital skills from compulsory education onwards, to empower and empower all citizens. The French Community thus joins the initiatives of the federal and regional governments aimed at developing a long-term digital vision for society. Conceived by the General Administration of Education, based on the report of the "digital transition" working group and the guidelines adopted within the framework of the Pact for Excellence in Teaching, the Digital Strategy for Education in the French Community identifies five complementary lines of action : Priority 1 - Defining digital content and resources for learning ; Priority 2 - Supporting and training teachers and school leaders ; Priority 3 - Defining the methods for equipping schools ; Priority 4 - Sharing, communicating and disseminating ; Priority 5 - Developing digital governance. The Strategy makes the digital transition a cross-cutting issue in several areas of the Pact for Excellence in Teaching : the new reinforced core curriculum, the transformation of the teaching profession, the management of the classroom heterogeneity, collaborative work, support and training, the dissemination of pedagogical innovation, the decompartmentalization of schools and classes, and the management of the school system and schools. On 02/04/2019, the educational resource platform was made available to the teachers of the French Community. aims to support teachers in the development of their lesson sequences. The aim of the platform is to provide a central, online location, bringing together quality, reliable and validated resources for their potential pedagogical exploitation. The e-classroom platform joins the global dynamic generated in the French Community to accelerate the digital transition in education. This project, coordinated by the General Service of educational Digitalisation of the General Administration of Education in the French Community and by SONUMA (audiovisual archives) for the technical and audiovisual parts, is the result of an original collaboration with the RTBF (French-speaking Belgian radio and television) teams. The digital strategy foresees that from 2020 onwards, digital skills will occupy a more important place than before in the common curriculum for all pupils. The aim will be to integrate digital skills as a learning object (digital education) but also as a support for other subjects (digital literacy). Digital literacy will require active practice in all subjects, with each subject area having a specific use of digital technology that students will need to be introduced to. Furthermore, reflecting the importance of new technologies in all production processes, digital literacy will play a key role within the learning domain that brings together mathematics, sciences, manual, technical and technological skills, gradually raising awareness of computer sciences, including algorithmic sciences, from the core curriculum. Digital literacy and media literacy will also be approached through the learning domain relating to citizenship and human and social sciences.

Organisation of pupils into groups

The ways in which pupils are organised into groups are not covered by any centralised regulations. Apart from classes which work in mixed-age groups (in particular, classes of 5 to 8 year olds) and which use individualisation techniques, primary education is largely undifferentiated: all pupils in the same class are often faced with the same activities.

In certain classes, other methods are used:

  • group work for tasks involving discovery activities (history, geography, and science) ;
  • differentiated work on assignments: reading or mathematics work is most often handled this way ;
  • certain computer programmes (software) were introduced a few years ago and their use is spreading, thereby enabling a certain degree of differentiation in teaching or correction.


In the face of some abuses, a decree has defined and given a legal status to the limits to be respected as regards homework. Only the reading and presentation of activities carried out during school time to parents and others are authorised during the first two years of primary school. Afterwards, the pouvoirs organisateurs have the option, but not the obligation, to set homework adapted to the level of education. Homework assignments must prolong learning already carried out, take into account the individual characteristics of pupils, and be the object of rapid assessment of exclusively formative character. It must be possible to carry out these assignments without the assistance of an adult, and if reference documents are necessary, it must be ensured that all pupils have access to them. Lastly, pupils should have a reasonable deadline to carry out these assignments, and their length should not exceed 20 to 30 minutes per day, depending on the year of study.