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Teaching and learning in general secondary education

Belgium - German-Speaking Community

6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.2Teaching and learning in general secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Curriculum, subjects, number of hours

Levels of education

First level (Observation level)

The first level, also called the observation level, includes both of the first years of secondary school and specifically follows the objective of guaranteeing all pupils a comprehensive basic education. In this level, teachers can observe pupils in order to discover and encourage special talents. The observation level should lead to the best-possible pupil orientation in the second level, the orientation level. Since some pupils, however, display specific deficits in certain areas at the beginning, it is necessary to put them into a separate first level so as to be able to support them in a better and more targeted manner. After this, a distinction is made in the first level, firstly between the 1st A year and the 2nd common year and secondly, the separate 1st level with the 1st B year (also called the assimilation class) and the 2nd B year.

The 1st A year and the 2nd common year

The main objective in this level is to help all pupils to effectively achieve the skills required within the two years of this level, which are described in the decree of 16 June 2008, and for all schools in the German-speaking Community to fulfill the obligatory minimum requirements.

An additional educational objective for the first level is - in addition to developing competences - to strive for metadisciplinary skills. article 13 of the foundational decree adds to this, among others: "During education and training, being responsible for one's own education and independent learning and motivational support are important requirements that make life-long learning possible."

Separate level 1: The 1st B year and the 2nd b year

1st B year (also called assimilation class) and 2nd B year pupils normally have the greatest deficit in the general mastery of basic knowledge; they often come from a socially disadvantaged environment and have often had a negative, oppressive experience during their primary school education. The objective is, therefore, to develop a separate first level from both of these classes. Here, another type of pedagogy becomes important, which helps the pupil to reconcile with the school so they can finally experience success again, improve their basic knowledge of reading, writing, speaking and arithmetic, develop team spirit and build up their levels of motivation to deal with interesting tasks which demand effort and hard work.

Through this separate work, the requirements necessary for entry into a technical or vocational course should be met after two years.

Second level (orientation level) + third level (determination level)

After completing the first level (the start of the 3rd year at secondary school) the pupil decides themselves (as long as the level report from the first level and the associated orientation certificate do not exclude specific options) which field of study they want to follow in one of the three streams of education: general education, technical education or occupational education.

All three streams include the second level (orientation level) in the 3rd and 4th school years, and the third level (determination level) in the 5th and 6th years. In vocational education, a 7th year can be added to the third level; here the student can gain certification which allows access to university education.

Differentiating educational programmes

In the lower level of secondary school (1st level or observation level), educational programmes are the same for all pupils (a basic education of 24/25 lessons per week + extra-curricular activities and/or project activities during 8/7 lessons per week) and mainly have a general educational character. Its main function is to prepare students for the upper level of the secondary school. The only exception is the separate 1st level, in which 12-year old (or older) primary school pupils are first enrolled in an orientation class ("1st B-level") without a primary school leaving certificate, so as to help them develop social skills guide them through an educational programme that is better suited to their weaknesses and differentiated methods for better mastering basic knowledge of language, reading, writing and arithmetic, and to better prepare them in a 2nd B class for vocational education courses in the upper level of secondary school.

The pupil is also permitted to select from a combination of elective subjects provided by their secondary school in the upper level in addition to the mandatory subjects (23 to 31 lessons per week including the mandatory subjects of Maths and Natural Sciences where the students are divided into sets based on their ability) that are most relevant to their individual specialisation. The elective programme can vary slightly from school to school. There are different elective combinations and thus, no self-contained departments in general education. Most pupils select Economics - Languages, Natural Sciences - Mathematic, Social Sciences or Modern Languages (German + three foreign languages) as a specialisation.

Skill guides and curricula

The skill guides (Rahmenpläne), drawn up by the Ministry of the German-speaking Community, are the main instruments for planning, realization and evaluation of lessons in all schools, at all levels and for different subjects. The skill guides contain the objectives to be reached by the pupils (competence expectations), the essential skills (core competencies) and the content, broken down on the different levels. They can help as well in the didactic-methodical realization. The skill guides are the basic for the creation of curricula (written by educational networks) and in-school plans (written by teacher teams). The teachers are required to carry out their pedagogic work on the basis of the skill guides.

The skill guides for the first level were adopted on 16 June 2012 for the following subjects:

On 29 April 2013, the skill guides for the second and third level of the general secondary education were adopted for the following subjects.

These guides came into effect on 1st September 2013 (phase of implementation until the school year 2015-2016).The cult carriers must present the curricula for religion and non-denominational moral teaching to the Ministry for approval.


Compulsory subjects in the first three years of general secondary education (until the end of full time compulsory education) are: first language, mathematics, science, social sciences, first foreign language, sports, art, religion / ethics.

With some exceptions (languages ​​and religion/ethics) – that will be discussed in more depth later – the school maintaining body decides on the selection and number of hours of the individual subjects. The school is committed to offer options.

Language learning

The Decree of 19 April 2004 on the transfer and the use of languages ​​in education specifies that German is the language of instruction. In the secondary education up to 50% of the lessons (all subjects with the exception of modern languages) may be delivered in the first foreign language French. Except for the first level of secondary education, where this percentage may increase to 65%. This is only possible if in the concerning schools the lesson is organized so that a student can choose between this form of education and an education with a percentage of maximum 50% of subjects in French.
French is the first foreign language in general secondary education. Depending on the form of school and the level, other languages may be taught (like Dutch, French etc.). The school maintaining body has to determine them as part of the study program. The teaching of German in general secondary education is at least 4 lessons (of 50 minutes) and the same goes for the teaching of French that is also at least 4 lessons (of 50 minutes).

Religion / non-denominational moral teaching

In Belgium, all public schools are required to offer the choice between a religious education and a religiously uncommitted moral instruction. The parents or legal guardians decide upon enrolment of their child in a school of the official educational system, whether the child follows a religious education or education in non-denominational moral teaching. This requires a written statement of the parents or guardians.

The weekly timetable includes in secondary education two lessons (each 50 minutes) either for religious instruction or for the non-denominational moral teaching.

Teaching methods and materials

The Basic Decree of 31 August 1998 provides that each school maintaining bodies are free to decide on a proposal from the Pedagogical Council, on the basic didactic and pedagogical methods in their schools.

However, the skill guides of the individual subjects offer recommendations for methodological-didactic arrangement of teaching, known as "recommendations for the quality of instructional arrangement". These are notes and suggestions pertaining to the recognized quality standards of competency-based education.

The skill guides call for the acquisition of information and media competences. In accordance to this, a guideline called IMK, which has no binding on the school maintaining bodies, schools and teachers. The IMK-guide is based on the pedagogical-didactic principles of the skill guides and is designed to assist teachers to guide a progressive system of acquisition of various skills. In addition, the guide offers concrete materials and handouts, which facilitates the teachers to teach the information and media competences.

In addition, the school media center supports the teaching and educational mission of the school and creates the optimal conditions under which students can be taught according to the requirements of the guidelines and curricula. A full-time job as teacher-librarian is organized or subsidized by the Ministry in each secondary school with a media center.

Furthermore, the skill guide "Career Choice Preparation and Career Guidance" supports the teachers to inform and advice the students and their guardians on studies, training and career opportunities. This obligation is formulated in the basic decree of 1998.