The Belgian school system

A beginner's guide

The Belgian school system

In the Belgian system, a lot is shaped by the region and community the school is located in, as these two play a big role in developing the curriculum and assessments. The three independent communities of Belgium (the Flemish, the French and the German speaking) each have their own education system and language of instruction for public schools. 

Schools in Belgium

Expat parents need to remember to enroll their kids in a school. This has to be done within 60 days of registering their children in the country. Even if you have not fully completed the residency paperwork, you still have the right to register your children in a school.

There are 2 main types of schools in Belgium:

Private schools: despite being privately run, most of these schools are subsidized by the state. In this broad category, you can find religious schools, alternative education schools like Montessori,  international schools, British and European schools, among others.

Because of their language offer and the option of following an international curriculum, international and bilingual schools are preferred by many expat parents.

Publicly run schools: these are subsidized and have to be neutral in terms of religious beliefs. The language of instruction is the predominant language in the region (German/French/Dutch). In primary school, children usually study a different community language for two years. Around Brussels it is common to start learning the second community language earlier. To learn more about primary education in the different regions, check the information available on official government sites .

Registering and choosing a school

When choosing a school, expat parents should think long term for their kids. Local schools will make it easier for children to feel integrated and learn the local language, while international schools will help them move and adapt to different countries, as well as return to their homeland. Generally speaking, non-subsidized schools also offer a wider range of extra-curricular activities.

Schools in Belgium don’t have a strict zoning system, which means parents can freely choose a school for their kids regardless of where they live. While this means more options, it also means a school may not be able to accept all kids from a specific neighborhood. Registration is usually on a first-come first-serve basis, and waitlists are common.

Enrolment and registration dates vary among regions, so, when choosing a local school, it is always recomendable to get in touch with education institutions. You can ask general questions about education and enrolment in Flanders here.  If lessons are not conducted in the children’s mother tongue, asking about language support programs is a good idea. Local community centers may also offer supplementary courses in the local language. Many schools assess language skills before deciding the right level or course for the student.

School levels

In Belgium, education is mandatory between the ages 6 and 18 years.

When it comes to education standards, students in Belgium generally get above average  results according to the Programme for International Student Assessment.


Preschool starts when children are two-and-a-half years old. Even though it is not compulsory, many Belgian parents opt for some kind of preschool or childcare (it is also publicly funded). Preschooling is perceived as the natural way to introduce kids to the school system. Though they don’t need to follow a standardized curriculum, most of them are linked to primary schools and focus on preparation for primary education. Pre-primary school can also be a great chance to expose your children to a first language immersion. You can find a list of some preschooling options in Belgium here ,  

Primary school

In Belgium, primary school starts at the age of 6 and is divided into three cycles of two years. Primary school in Belgium has a strong focus on reading skills and maths, but it also includes a range of subjects such as history, biology or music.

Secondary school

In the Belgian system, secondary school starts at the age of 12. It is also divided into 3 cycles of 2 years. These cycles receive the names of “observation, orientation, and determination”.

Secondary education starts with a two year common curriculum as a foundation. After that, students choose one of four specializations: general, technical, artistic or professional. The professional path is the only one that is not oriented toward higher education, and this one requires an additional year of schooling.

In secondary school, students are assessed each year to determine if they are ready to pass to the following grade. In Belgium, repeating a year is not uncommon and is not considered a “failure”.

For higher education in Belgium, check our article on Universities and how to get a degree in Belgium.

Further reading

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