There are three different national education systems in Belgium. The education systems are managed by their respective regional governments. The French, Flemish and German regions each have their own government-run education system which corresponds with the regional language.
Education in Belgium is mandatory for children between five and 18 years old. The school year typically runs from September to June.
If only staying in Belgium for a short-term assignment, most expats send their children to a local public school or an international school offering English as a language of instruction.
- The regional Ministries of Education have separate websites for the Flanders, French and German communities.
Public schools in Belgium
Public schools in Belgium provide expat families an excellent chance to learn the regional language and culture through immersion. Belgian public schools are free for residents, and extra costs associated with school supplies and excursions are kept to a minimum in public schools.
Expats will be delighted to find that schools in Belgium do not work according to catchment zones, meaning they are free to enrol their children in an institution of their choosing. Children are required to enrol in a school within 60 days of registering at their local municipality.
The Belgian secondary education system is highly regarded. In their second year, students select particular course options, which can be general, technical, artistic or professional in nature.
Private schools in Belgium
Another option for expats is sending their children to private schools in Belgium. Fees at private schools vary widely, but are typically higher than at public schools. The teaching philosophies vary within and between all these institutions. Many private schools are religious institutions, and most offer a curriculum that differs from the regional government curriculum, such as the Montessori and Waldorf curricula.
International schools in Belgium
The main allure of international schools in Belgium is that an expat family will most likely find others who speak their home language. This commonality makes the transition to a new country much easier for the whole family. It also allows students to continue with a familiar curriculum, assuming there is an international school that teaches it.
These schools can also administer non-Belgian exams such as the SATs and International Baccalaureate. Students are also likely to find a broader range of extra-curricular activities than what is offered in traditional Belgian public schools. However, international schools tend to have higher tuition fees compared to public and private schools. These schools often have limited spaces, and parents should apply well in advance to secure spots for their children.
Homeschooling in Belgium
Homeschooling in Belgium is another option for expats. That said, before making this commitment the expat family needs to be aware that the Belgian government has put strict guidelines and inspections in place. Families may need to submit periodic progress reports or participate in standardised testing, depending on the region and local regulations. Parents who do not comply with these standards can be sanctioned. Proper procedures must be taken to ensure compliance with local laws.
Special-needs education in Belgium
Special-needs education in Belgium focuses on inclusion and equality. The Belgian government is dedicated to ensuring that every child has access to education. In each language community, a specific department within the Ministry of Education is responsible for overseeing special-needs education.
The ministry will first attempt to immerse a child into a mainstream school. If this is not possible or suitable, children would be enrolled in a specialist school. There are various categories of specialist schools in Belgium. Some schools are focused on physical disabilities, and others will focus on learning or behavioural difficulties.
Tutors in Belgium
Whether parents want to improve their child's language skills, boost their grades in a problem subject or get assistance in preparing for a big exam, expat families can use the many high-quality tutors around Belgium. There are numerous large and small companies, as well as independent tutors, who can be hired to help.
In addition to in-person tutoring, many tutors and tutoring companies also offer online sessions, making it convenient for expat families to access educational support regardless of their location. It can be particularly helpful to ask fellow expats and the child's school for recommendations.