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Organisation of vocational secondary education

Belgium - German-Speaking Community

6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.7Organisation of vocational secondary education

Last update: 27 March 2023

Types of institutions

The School Pact obliges communities to guarantee parents the free choice of education for their children. The law distinguishes between denominational, non-denominational and pluralistic schools. The latter have not yet been organised. In principle, GUW schools must admit all pupils and OSUW schools all pupils of the community concerned and also those of a neighbouring community if the school is the nearest school for the latter pupils; FSUW schools may only refuse to enrol a pupil if his or her legal guardians are not prepared to agree to the school's educational project.

Geographical accessibility

In preparation

Admission requirements and choice of school

Admission requirements for a field of study in the 2nd level of qualification education

  • Pupils who have successfully completed the 2nd common year (in the 1st level) (soon to be pupils who have received the first level certificate) can attend not only a 3rd year in the 2nd level in one field of study in transitional education (general education and technical transitional education), but also a 3rd year in a field of study of technical or vocational education (which is always included in qualification education).
  • Pupils who have successfully completed the 2nd B year in the separate 1st level progress to the 2nd level, although in a field of study of vocational education.
  • A pupil can also progress if they are already 15 years old and have attended the 2nd year of secondary school (even if they did not successfully complete the year), but under the condition that the Admissions Board have issued a positive report in this regard.

Pupils who successfully complete the 3rd secondary school year in vocational education (the 1st year in the 2nd level) normally progress to the 4th year (2nd year of the 2nd level) but can also switch to another technical field of study in qualification education and start training in the 3rd secondary school year.

Admission requirements for a field of study in the 3rd level of qualification education.

To be accepted into qualification education in the 3rd level of technical education, a pupil must have already successfully completed the 4th year of this same stream (soon to be: have received the same grade in the 2nd level in the same stream). Changing the field of study within qualification education after the 4th year (i.e. after completing the 2nd level) is very rare, but is still possible under certain conditions. The same applies to attending the 3rd level of vocational education.

The 3rd level of vocational education can last three years. It is possible to obtain a fully-valid secondary school leaving facilitating entrance to a university by completing this optional 7th secondary school year. This leaving certificate is not issued in the 6th year in vocational education as in other streams.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

The lower level of all secondary schools (1st level or observation level) builds upon the knowledge and skills learned in the common primary school and provides all pupils with an extended general education. This includes years 7 and 8, i.e. pupils between the ages of 12 and 14. The pupils are taught in year groups by about eight to ten teachers who are responsible for one, two or three subjects depending on their qualification. The teachers also teach the same year group and/or in classes of different years in parallel classes. They often stay with the same classes for a number of years.

The situation is similar in the upper level of the secondary school for pupils between the ages of 14 and 18 years (although there are many students that are older than most of their class mates): despite the level structures and curricula that are formulated depending on the level, teaching is still done in year groups. Assessment is continuous - e.g. two tests per subject per school year - and the decision about progression to the next year is determined by the governing body. Before this, real level pedagogy is not applied very often.

There is no official recommendation or standard regarding class size. The class structure is decided by the head teacher and the Pedagogical Council. It is dependent on the number of lesson (lesson capital) with which the teachers are able to be hired. The lesson capital of a school is dependent on the number of pupils. The school has the right to freely enact lesson capital due to their autonomy. Generally, the number of pupils in mandatory subjects is between 22 and 30. In elective subjects it is normally much lower - especially in the upper level - fewer than 10.

Differentiating educational programmes

Vocational education is the first line in preparing for entrance into the professional world. However, after completing the seventh educational year, it is possible for the student to be admitted to university or university of applied sciences.

The following electives are offered in vocational education, and are arranged into the following vocational fields:

  • Agriculture (agronomy and stock maintenance, forestry)
  • Electromechanics, micro technology, electronics, mechanics, motor mechanics
  • Structural engineering (Structural design and public works, timber industry, wood work, structural engineering),
  • Hotel industry - Nutrition (hotels, delicacies)
  • Clothing industry (industrial clothing industry, tailoring and alterations, sales)
  • Applied art (advertising, graphics, printing, goldsmithing)
  • Services for people (social, family and medical services, hair care, child care)
  • Economics (accounting and business administration, secretary, modern languages and communication, tourism)

Organisation of the school year

Same as in previous sections.

Organisation of the school day and week

The school week comprises 5 days. In secondary schools - as in primary schools - lessons take place five mornings a week (from Monday to Friday) and four afternoons a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). Mornings are divided up into five lessons; afternoons are divided into three lessons. That results in a weekly schedule of 37 lessons. In the lower level of secondary school (1st level), the pupils generally attend an average of 33 lessons per week; in the upper level (2nd and 3rd level), the average is 36 lessons in the vocational stream. With the help of the Pedagogical Council and after consulting with the parent association, the head teacher determines when classes begin and end, though it must be between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. In most cases, classes run from 8:15 a.m. to 12:35 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. There is a break for about 10 minutes in the morning between the second and third lesson. The lunch break is about one hour. Most pupils remain at school during the lunch break and can eat a warm lunch in the school cafeteria.

Because some busses that provide school transportation have early arrival times and late departure times, some schools – especially secondary schools – last 8 hours a day for four days of the week. Special supervised homework is not provided after school hours. However, homework can be done in the school during the "gap lessons" (=free hours in the pupil's schedule). As some of the busses arrive very early in the morning, pupils can enter the school as of about 7:30 am. Private after-school tutoring until 6 p.m. has been arranged in some places in the last few years.

Vocational education and training – duale Ausbildung

Vocational education and training (VET) in a dual system, combining both school and work-based learning, provides young people with general, vocational, and technical basic knowledge. For many, VET is the first step into the professional world and the practice-oriented qualifications are highly appreciated by the companies in the German-speaking Community. Various VET qualifications do even grant access to protected professions.

An apprenticeship typically takes three years to complete. In the beginning, an apprenticeship contract is set up between the company, the trainee, and the trainee’s legal guardian (only if the trainee is minor).

All companies that take on trainees must be recognized by the Institute for Vocational Education and Training in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (IAWM). The work-based training in the company is complemented by general and vocational courses at vocational schools, followed by tests and examinations. Courses, tests and examinations are held at a recognized Center for Vocational Education and Training in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (ZAWM).

Besides the classical pathway of an apprenticeship, there is the possibility to take an examination before the Examination Committee of the Federal Ministry of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises in order to gain access to a protected profession.

Access conditions for apprentices

In order to be able to conclude an apprenticeship contract, the trainee must either have completed the compulsory full-time schooling (i.e. the trainee must be at least 15 years old and must have attended two years of secondary school) or must be 16 years old.

In order to be able to conclude an apprenticeship contract, the trainee must generally not be older than 29 years. Since 2019, however, there is the possibility for people older than 29 to start an apprenticeship if they fulfill certain requirements fixed by law regarding unemployment.

Candidates who have not passed the second joint year of secondary education or the third year of secondary vocational education must pass an entrance examination organized by the IAWM at the request of the adolescent or his or her legal guardian. The entrance examination is considered passed if the participant reaches half of the possible points in each of the disciplines. The IAWM determines the contents of the entrance examination on the basis of the competences imparted during the first two joint years of secondary education. In the event of failure, the candidate can retake the entrance examination once every year.

Candidates who are in possession of the qualification certificate of the fifth year of vocational special needs secondary education are exempted from the entrance examination. Candidates who attended a special needs secondary school and who do not hold this qualification must also pass the entrance exam.

In order to be able to conclude an apprenticeship, every trainee must be declared physically fit to perform the chosen profession.

Weekly working hours, minimum compensation, and holidays

The training establishment must ensure that the daily and weekly working hours are respected. Included in the working time is the time which is used by the trainee to

  • attend general and vocational courses,
  • take tests and exams,
  • and take part in inter-company training activities.

The apprentice must be trained at least during 24 hours per week in the company on an annual average basis, whereby the inter-company training is included. Working additional hours is only permitted in exceptional cases.

In addition to the holidays, if necessary, the company can offer a supplementary unpaid leave to allow the apprentice a holiday period of 20 working days (in the case of a five-day week) and 24 working days (in the case of a six-day week).The apprentice receives a monthly minimum compensation from the company