This country profile is part of a collective effort by the network members to map matching practices across Europe. If you find it useful and want to refer to it in your own work, please refer to it as “Cantillon, Estelle (2011), Matching Practices for Elementary Schools – Belgium (French Speaking Region), MiP Country Profile 1.”
Relevant country background
Education policies in Belgium are organized at the (language) community level. There are three language communities in Belgium: Dutch (Flemish Community), French and German. The Flemish Community and the French-speaking Community share responsibility for the delivery of education in the bilingual Brussels Capital Region and thus the two education systems overlap in Brussels (in addition to the European school system).
School education is compulsory and free from age 6 to age 18. Schools are all publically funded (as long as they respect the curriculum of one of the communities) and are not allowed to charge registration fees. Elementary school covers age 6 to 12. Secondary school covers age from 12 to 18. Preschool for children aged 2.5 and above is also offered and publically funded, but it is not compulsory.
There is however differentiation among schools along religious lines (religious versus non confessional schools), pedagogy, and organizing body (municipalities, provinces, state, confessional or non-confessional not-for-profit organizations). Schools are organized in so–called networks (in French: réseaux; in Dutch: netten) which are supersets of organizing bodies and play an essential role for teachers’ career development.
Since enrolment is part of education policy, school enrolment policy is defined at the level of Communities. Until recently, school enrolment was largely unregulated: parents could ask for admission for their children to whichever school they wanted and school admission policies were left to individual schools. This led some schools to select insidiously their pupils (by discouraging some from enrolling or by starting registrations long in advance and unaware from parents from disadvantaged backgrounds, for example). These concerns partly motivated the introduction of school choice regulation in the Flemish Community starting in 2003 and in the French-speaking Community in 2007.
|Organization of education||Mostly publically funded schools; tiny fringe of private schools catering mainly to expatriates|
|Stated objectives of enrolment policy||No enrolment policy as such, only guidelines to ensure neutrality of decisions|
|Who’s in charge?||Individual schools|
|In place since||n/a|
|Available capacity||Left to decide by the organizing body.|
|Timing of enrolment||Left to decide by each individual school. Large heterogeneity.|
|Information available to parents prior to enrolment period||Decentralized: only the name of the organizing body and the network to which schools belong are available in a centralized manner on the web.|
|Restrictions on preference expression||None|
|Matching procedure||Decentralized applications and admissions at the level of the schools|
|Priorities and quotas||Left to decide by each individual school|
|Tie-breaking||Left to decide by each individual school|
|Further special feature|
Description of current practices
Elementary school choice and admissions are largely unregulated in the French-speaking community of Belgium (a 1997 Decree, the so-called “Décret Missions” provides the legal framework for school admission policies, chapter IX).
Parents are free to ask for registration at any school they like and schools are, in principle, under the obligation to admit every pupil as long as his/her parents agree with the school’s educational project and the pupil meets the conditions for attending elementary school. In practice, every school organizes its admissions freely within these guidelines. This includes: the start date for applications, the number of seats available (decided with organizing body), priorities for certain classes of pupils (e.g. siblings often have priorities through an early admission period) and, more generally, rationing criteria when demand exceeds supply.
A list of the school under the oversight of the French-speaking community (CFB) is available on the website www.enseignement.be. The information contained there is the name and location of the school, together with the name of the organizing body and the network to which the school belongs (confessional, non-confessional with the CFB being the organizing body, non-confession with a public organizing body, non-confessional with a private organizing body). Most schools organize an open-day for prospective parents.
There is no official assessment of the existing “non regulation” of enrolment for elementary schools.
Recent policy change
A common standardized test at the end of elementary school has been introduced in 2007. Prior to this, individual schools evaluated the extent to which student had reached the required level to complete elementary school. Data on CEB success rates are not public but school directors do receive information on the performance of their own students as well as aggregate statistics for schools in their jurisdiction.
Given the demographic growth in the Brussels Capital region, capacity is a growing issue. Janssens (2009) estimates that the average occupation rates for Dutch-speaking elementary schools in Brussels was around 85.8% in 2009 and Cantillon (2009) evaluates the number for French-speaking elementary schools in Brussels around 89% (based on a class size of 24). The population of children in age to attend elementary school in Brussels is supposed to grow by 50% between 2000 and 2020 (Belgian Federal Planning Bureau).
The regulation of enrolment for secondary schools is also likely to impact the demand for elementary schools as several indicators used to compute the tie-breaking for secondary school admission depend on characteristics of the elementary school attended.
The most granular level of data on elementary school populations is at the level of the jurisdiction (20 jurisdictions for the French-speaking Community). The data provided by the statistical department of the French-speaking Community (ETNIC).
The Décret Missions, together with a summary targeted at parents, is available on the Education portal of the French-speaking Community.
Other resources and references
Cantillon, Estelle (2009) Regulating School Choice in Brussels, Brussels Studies, 34, November
Humblet, Perrine (2010), Accès pour tous à l’école maternelle dans la region de Bruxelles Capitale – effet de la croissance démographique sur l’entrée à l’école maternelle, Rapport de l’Observatoire de Bruxelles Capitale, 32.
Humblet, Perrine (2011), Population Growth in Brussels and the Inequality of Access to Kindergarten, Brussels Studies, 51, September.
Janssens, R. (2009), Onderzoek naar de capaciteit van het Nederlandstalig basisonderwijs in het Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest, BRIO research report, 204 p.
 There is a small fringe of private schools (mainly international schools) that do not follow the curriculum of any of the communities and are thus not publically funded. Unless mentioned explicitly, the rest of this text applies to the schools regulated by one of the language communities.