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Applying to schools in Belgium

Schools in Belgium don’t always have strict catchment areas, so parents can potentially choose any school location. However, this may also mean the closest school is full.

School enrolment periods differ between the two language communities in Brussels (i.e., the Flemish Community and the French Community; there is also a German-speaking Community located in the border regions of Liège) and the government revises admission procedures regularly, so parents need to check the admission periods in their desired school in advance to ensure placement. In some places, this may be possible up to a year in advance or more.

Children are assessed at every level, from pre-primary to secondary schooling, to determine if they are ready for the next stage in education. It is not uncommon to repeat a year, and there is no negative stigma associated with this.

If you choose a local school, new students may be required to prove their language proficiency in the school’s set language, or at least have attended a local nursery part-time for a set number of days in the previous school year (nurseries are often attached to schools for easy transition).

Types of schools in Belgium

Belgian state schools

While the state sets the laws regarding education, responsibility for schools lies with the language communities: Dutch (the Flemish Community) in Flanders, French in Wallonia, both Dutch and French in Brussels and some surrounding communes, and German in nine municipalities in the province of Liège (Lüttich in German).

Education is free, though parents may be expected to contribute to the cost of school supplies or field trips, plus textbooks when children reach the secondary level. All schools are coeducational.

As well as state schools, there are privately-run schools that are also subsidized. Religion often plays a part in state education and students can opt for Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or Islamic studies. Others offer a more secular approach.

International schools

These are the top choice for parents who wish their children to remain in a familiar system, with a language they know, and with the option of continuing the curriculum back in their home country, or when they make their next international relocation.

With its burgeoning international community, there is a wealth of international schools in Belgium – and Brussels in particular – following British, American, French, German, and Dutch education systems, among many others.

These establishments offer the whole range of education from nursery to school-leaving age, and some are among the 4,000 schools around the world to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

“The IB is arguably the premier curriculum worldwide. It is designed to nurture highly desirable learner attributes alongside excellent levels of content, knowledge, and understanding. The IB curriculum is highly portable – which is ideal for mobile families – and graduating students gain access to the top universities around the world,” says Elaine.

International schools are typically private and therefore fee-paying, though many employers offer education support as part of a relocation benefits package.

Some of the most eminent international schools in Belgium include the following:

You can also find more international schools in Expatica’s directory.

European schools

The European schools traditionally required at least one parent working for an EU institution, although in recent years certain schools have eased entry requirements. Education is in the mother tongue, with a second language being introduced at primary level.

A third language is then obligatory from the second year of secondary school, with optional additional languages on offer in later years. Courses lead to the European Baccalaureate, which is recognised for university entrance throughout the European Union.

Method schools

A wide range of schools adopts the methodology of an educational philosophy. In these, children often learn through discovery and the liberal arts, with subjects such as grammar, mathematics, and science being taught from direct experience rather than in a formal setting.

The Celstin Freinet system follows this approach, while the Decroly schools separate the academic from the creative skills in a vertically-streamed organization, with younger children benefiting from the experience of older pupils. The Steiner schools place greater emphasis on the arts.

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