Education system

School attendance is compulsory for all children who live in Belgium. Fortunately, Brussels offers a wide range of options.

The Belgian education system is of high quality and the vast majority of Belgian children are enrolled. The allocation of places varies according to the language community. If you are interested in a place for your child in the Belgian education system, we recommend that you first check the website of your commune to see what is available in your area, and once you have chosen a school, that you contact it to find out about the practical arrangements for enrolment.

There are also European Schools. These are mainly (but not exclusively) for children whose parents work for one of the European institutions.

Finally, there are a large number of international schools, which are the preferred option for expat families. These schools teach mainly in English, although other languages are also available.

Below you will find information on each of these options.

The belgian schools

In Belgium, there are three distinct linguistic communities:

Although there may be differences in some aspects, compulsory education lasts for thirteen years, from the age of 5 to the age of 18. After basic education, which includes pre-Primary ("maternelle") and Primary education, Secondary education is divided into three levels, each of which lasts two years.

The first level is a basic curriculum at the end of which pupils have a choice of four streams: general, vocational, technical and artistic.

Pupils who have completed at least the first two years of Secondary education, and who do not wish to continue their education on a full-time basis until they reach the age of 18, may attend compulsory part-time education. A certificate of Secondary education is awarded to pupils from the three communities who successfully complete their studies.

Furthermore, these schools can be subdivided following the organizing authority, whether they are private or public and whether they receive subsidies or not.

The tuition fee or other costs for these schools are in most cases limited, but getting your child enrolled in the school of your choice might be a hassle and involve some queuing. That procedure differs from the educational network or even school of your choice. Make sure to inform well, sometimes years, beforehand and prepare well to maximize your freedom of choice.

There are four different networks of schools in Belgium operating according to different principles.

  • Community education: this is organized by the three language communities (Dutch-speaking, French-speaking and German-speaking) and is the equivalent of state education in other countries. The schools respect the religious, philosophical and ideological beliefs of the parents and children in a neutral system.
  • Official subsidized education : the municipal and provincial authorities organize this.
  • Free subsidized education : private people or organizations organize this. It consists mainly of religious schools, the majority being Catholic, though there are also Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox and Islamic schools. This category also includes free non-religious schools and schools based on a particular educational method, such as Rudolf Steiner Schools and Freinet Schools.
  • Private schools : a small number of schools are not recognized by the government and receive no financial support from the state. One could also include European and international schools in this category. In some cases, private schools allow themselves to be inspected by the Belgian authorities, and issue students with certificates that are equivalent to official Belgian diplomas.

The education system is divided into four levels:

2,5 to 6 years> Nursery school
Education in Belgium begins at the age of 2½ (or 3 years) with three years of nursery school education. Although the first two years are not compulsory, your child must, nevertheless, be enrolled from the third year of nursery school (at the age of 5).  The system is designed to prepare young children for primary education rather than to provide a childminding service.

6 to 12 years > Primary school
Primary school is compulsory and free. It involves a six-year cycle from 6 to 12 years. Children are admitted into primary education on 1 September of the calendar year in which they turn six. The main subjects are reading, writing and elementary mathematics. Starting third year, the study of the country’s second official language (either Dutch or French) is obligatory. Wednesday afternoons are often free.

12 to 18 years > secondary school
Secondary school is also compulsory and free. The choice offered at this level is very wide. It is impossible to list all the possibilities, but the four main options are as follows:

  • General secondary education: it is intended for young people planning to continue their education beyond the age of 18, whether at a university or at a non-university higher education institute. It does not prepare directly for a profession.
  • Technical secondary education: the orientation here is more practical and enables students to practice a profession at the end of their cycle. However, they can choose to continue studying with links to the university or non-university higher education, as general subjects are sufficiently developed.
  • Art studies: this is geared towards the plastic arts, theatre and music. It prepares students for higher education in institutions such as the Conservatoire (music academy).
  • Secondary professional education: it is intended for young people who do not wish to continue their education beyond the age of 18 but wishing to take up a particular trade or learn a craft. There is less emphasis on general culture and more focus on practical training in firms.

18 years or more >  higher education
This level of education is not compulsory and is open to young people who have successfully completed the full general or technical secondary education course. Belgian colleges and universities offer students a wide range of options. Following the Bologna Declaration Belgium makes a distinction between a Bachelor’s degree (a general education lasting three years and rated 180 ECTS) and Master’s or MA degree (a specialized course lasting one or two years rated between 60 and 120 ECTS). ECTS is the European Credit Transfer system to express.

More info about the education system in Belgium on Expatica and on the EU education database.

European schools

The European Schools of Brussels (four in total) offer education from pre-school to 18 years of age. Together they have more than 7,000 students and teach in all European languages.

These schools are jointly controlled by the Member States of the European Union (EU) and are public institutions.

The European Baccalaureate (EB) is offered in the last two years of secondary education (16-18) and is taught in European schools under the supervision of the European Union. It consists of a multilingual curriculum in which students must study subjects in at least three languages.

The E.B. is recognized by all EU Member States and by European and other universities worldwide.

Civil servants of international institutions and children of diplomatic personnel have priority while enrolling in some of these European schools.

International schools

International schools in this category are private schools offering bilingual education (usually English and French) at pre-school and/or primary and/or secondary level.

Brussels has a large expatriate community, so there are many options when it comes to international schools. Whether you are looking for a country-specific curriculum, internationally recognized qualifications or an alternative style of education. Chances are that you will find an option that suits you. However, some of these schools have quite high tuition fees.

Ask about a school's accreditation system before enrolling your child. International institutions such as the following accredit the schools:

  • Council of International Schools (CoIS);
  • European Council of International Schools (ECIS);
  • Middle States Association (MSA)

There are more than 25 international schools in Brussels. The choice is huge and you may find it difficult to choose, but think about your priorities:

  • Geographical location;
  • Educational system;
  • Entry requirements;
  • Qualifications available;
  • Languages;
  • Tuition Fee;
  • Extracurricular activities.

support for children with special needs

If, on the other hand, you are looking for special support for your child, you should know that the Belgian education system will give priority to integrating the child into the mainstream education system, with specific support from educators for the child. If integration is not possible, you will have the choice of specialized centers.

Here too, competences are divided by language community.

You will find more information about adapted schooling on the website of the Brussels-Capital Region.

Other useful information can be found on:

  • ASELF (Association Scientifique et Ethique des Logopèdes Francophones)
  • UPLF (Union Professionnelle des Logopèdes Francophones)

For educational reinforcement and support classes the following addresses may be useful:

More info about homework and study help on the Brussels-Capital Region website.

For school dropouts: see on Out of the box, an association that supports teenagers who drop out of school.

(extracurricular) activities for children

During the school holidays, various organisations run fun and varied extracurricular activities for children:

  • Bruxelles Temps Libre tells you all about extracurricular activities for children in Brussels. You can download "Le P'tit temps libre" for free.
  • Infor Jeunes Bruxelles shares with you the different options available in Brussels.
  • The youth movement (“scouts”) is also very popular in Belgium and offers a wide range of activities for children of all ages.

And if you're looking for something to do with your kids over the week-end or during the vacations, Brussels offers a wide range of activities:

  •, the regional tourism agency, has put together a series of activities for the whole family.
  • The Brussels-Capital Region website also includes a series of activities to do with your children.
  • The youth service of your municipality can also inform you on the activities in your neighborhood.
  • Brussels has a huge number of parks and green spaces, typically with a children’s play area. Check out the top 5 playgrounds in Brussels and download the playful brochure "Et si on jouait dehors" produced by Bruxelles Environnement.
  • Jong in Brussel is an initiative of the youth service of the Flemish Community Commission (VGC). The website gives an overview (by theme or location) of the Dutch-speaking leisure activities for young people in Brussels.