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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Belgium - German-Speaking Community

2.Organisation and governance

2.3Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Last update: 14 February 2024

The education system

The standard full-time education

The full-time education system consists of four levels of education:

Pre-primary education

Children aged 2,5 to 5 (or age 6 if necessary) attend Kindergarten which is not compulsory.

Primary education

Pupils typically attend Primary school from ages 6 to 11.
Both of these levels – pre- and primary school – make up children’s basic education. The basic education is certificated after the last year of Primary education if the pupil accomplishes successfully the examinations.

Secondary education

Young people attend Secondary school from ages 12 to 18 (and later).
Secondary education is divided in three levels, each two years long:

  • the observation level,
  • the orientation level
  • and the determination level.

Three pathways can be chosen as of the second level:

  • general education,
  • technical education,
  • and vocational pathway.

A third year may be included in the third level of the vocational pathway.

Each pathway has different fields of study:

  • Fields of study that primarily intend to prepare students for Higher Education studies are formally taken as part of a transitional class; which includes all the fields of study from the general education stream and few fields of study from the technical stream.
  • Fields of study that primarily intend to prepare students for entering the professional world are formally taken as part of the qualification level, which includes most fields of study from the technical stream and all fields of study from the vocational stream.

After the sixth year of secondary school or the qualifying examination, youths of at least 18 years in the supplementary vocational stream can receive a three-year post-secondary education in nursing.

Higher education

Since 2005 there only one Higher Education Institution in the German-speaking Community: the Autonome Hochschule which centralizes three types of study:

  •     Pedagogical studies: in order to become Pre-Primary or Primary school
  •     Nursing studies
  •     Bookkeeping/Accountancy

Other kinds of education

Aside from the standard full-time education, there are also other different kinds of education:

  • Part-time education for 15-/16-year-old youths;
  • An apprenticeship contract – a professional apprenticeship in a company and at a mid-tier training centre;
  • Special education for students with a disability (between the ages of 3 and 21 or older), which provides pre-, primary and secondary school education;
  • and further education for young people and adults who left the education system and want to acquire new skills or update the skills they currently have.
    This education is usually administered at a secondary school level, but a specialisation of nursing at the post-secondary level is also now offered.

Decisive moments in the educational track

Primary school pupils receive a diploma upon successfully completing their basic education. Pupils who did not receive this diploma, but did attend the sixth year of primary school, can either attend the B-level first year of secondary school (also known as the assimilation class), or enrol in the A-level first year of secondary school by virtue of an assessment from the Psycho-Medical Centre and the consent of his or her parents.

If students did not attend the sixth year of primary school, but are 12 years of age, they can enrol for the B-level first year of secondary school. Multiple orientation options are available in the realm of education once the first level of secondary education is over: programmes in general education, technical education, or vocational stream.

However, young people can also choose a professional dual education in the form of an apprenticeship. Choosing this option at the end of the first two-year cycle (observation level) is very important for later studies and the student's professional life.

Young people can choose between:

  • the transitional class, which is both a means of entering post-secondary education as well as the professional world, is available in the following streams: general education or technical transitional education;
  • the qualification level, which is designated for students who want to practice a profession at the end of secondary school, but also leaves the option open for them to continue studying at a post-secondary institution. This level is available in two streams: a technical qualification education or a vocational stream.

Part-time studies are available for 15-/16-year-old students who are required to attend school, but who no longer want to attend full time. Under certain circumstances, students have the option to revise the adopted field of study during and at the end of the second cycle of secondary education (3rd and 4th year). At the end of the third cycle, students can either take on a profession or choose a post-secondary programme.

If necessary, pupils can begin in special education as early as preschool.

Compulsory education

Compulsory education is regulated by law:

Minors are obligated to attend school beginning at age six and ending on their eighteenth birthday.

Students must attend full-time studies until they are 15/16 years old, namely a maximum of 7 years primary school and at least the first two years of full-time secondary education.

Students 15 years of age must only continue attending full-time secondary education until they are 16 if they have not completed the first two years of secondary school.

A 15-year-old student that has completed the second year of their full-time secondary education (even if they did not pass) is no longer obligated to attend school full-time.

Under no circumstances are students older than 16 years of age obligated to attend school full time.

However, youths are obligated to attend school part-time until they are 18 years old.

Compulsory part-time education is complete once the youth attends a secondary school full-time, or a vocational studies part-time at a secondary school, or participates in a dual education (e.g. an apprenticeship for a trade in conjunction with general and vocational courses at a training centre) that fulfils the legal requirement for compulsory education.

General and vocational courses must annually comprise at least 360 hours if the minor attends them before the end of the school year in which he or she turns 16 years old; courses must comprise at least 240 hours annually if the minor attends them from 1 July to the end of the school year in which he or she turns 18 years old.

The courses must provide a general education as well as vocationally prepare students to practice a profession. In the German-speaking Community, the School Inspection and Consultation Council is responsible for monitoring school attendance.

In cases of severe misdemeanours, the institute goes to the Crown prosecutor, who finds a way to deal with the situation together with the appropriate juvenile court.

Home education

Home education is legal and is governed by the decree of 31 August 1998 regarding the responsibilities entrusted to school providers and staff members and with general provisions of an educational nature for pre-primary, primary and secondary mainstream and special needs education.

Home-schooled students must be registered with the Ministry of Education at the latest three days before the start of the school year. Home education of compulsory school-aged children has to be organised and financed by the legal guardians. Parents must guarantee that their children will receive proper instruction and submit to the oversight of the school inspectorate. It is fixed by law that home- schooled children must at set points pass exams in front of the school external Examination Board of the German-speaking Community (Prüfungsausschuss der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft): The exam for obtaining the Primary School Leaving Certificate (ISCED 1) must be passed at the latest in the school year in which they reach the age of 11 before the 1st January; the exam for obtaining the Certificate of Completion of Lower Secondary Education (ISCED 2) must be passed at the latest in the school year in which they reach the age of 14 before the 1st January; the exam for obtaining the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (ISCED 3) must be passed at the latest in the school year in which they reach the age of 17 before the 1st January.