Partnership in Education in the French Speaking Community of Belgium

1.1 Background

The state of Belgium was founded in 1830. The constitution provided the structures of a unitary centralised State, with a constitutional monarch at its head.

In 1999 Belgium had a population of around 10 million in an area of just of 30,000 square kilometres.

The main areas of employment are industry (27.5%) and the services (70%), with only 2.5% now employed in agriculture. There is a 13.5% unemployment rate.

Since 1970, after four consecutive phases of reform of the constitution, Belgium has evolved to a federal state, composed of three communities (Flemish, French and German-speaking) and three regions (Flemish, Walloon and Brussels). Each of the Communities and regions has legislative and executive autonomy with respect to its own attributions. The councils of the communities and regions, as legislative authorities, pass regulations in the form of "decrees", which have force of law within their territory.

The communities are responsible for cultural matters, education, person-related matters (welfare, health care) and language. The regions are responsible for economy, energy, public works and transport, town and country planning and the environment. The federal state retains the main responsibility for foreign affairs, defence, justice, finance and social legislation.

Below the regions there are 10 provinces and 589 communes responsible for provincial and local matters (including education).

The Belgian Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. There is therefore no official religion. The catholic church is the most widespread.

1.2 Basic Principles : Education

Article 17 of the Belgian Constitution, established in 1831, guarantees freedom of education. This principle was meant to eliminate any monopoly on education. It also implies freedom of choice for parents, who may enrol their children in any school which subscribes to their philosophical or religious convictions.

Only education administered by the communities is neutral, respecting all philosophical and religious beliefs. All schools organised by public authorities must offer a choice between instruction in a recognised religion or secular moral instruction.

The constitution also establishes the right to education. The corollary of this principle is that access to education is free of charge throughout the period of compulsory education.

1.3 Distribution of Responsibilities

The constitutional reforms of 1980 and 1989 transferred responsibility for education from the state to the communities. Since 1 January 1989, and as stipulated in Article 59 of the constitution, only three very specific areas have remained under the control of the Federal State,

All other educational matters have been transferred to the three communities. They are responsible for education within their linguistic area and, as concerns the French and Flemish communities, with regard to French or Dutch speaking establishments in bilingual areas (such as exist in Brussels). The educational responsibilities of each community are vested in the community council (legislative power) and the Community Government and Education Minister (executive power).

The Federal State continues to administer the tax system for the whole of Belgium and allocates funds to the Communities in accordance with detailed criteria set out in an Act of 16 January 1989. In education, the annual amount is calculated on the basis of the reference year 1987 and adjusted partially each year in relation to population trends. In 1989, the Flemish Community received 56.2% of the funds, the French and German speaking communities 43.8%. A special act sets out the amount of funding the German speaking community receives.

The communities are also responsible for apprenticeships and initial training for the independent professions and for the managers of SME’s, through specialised bodies.

1.4 Compulsory Education

According to the act of 29 June 1983 compulsory education lasts for 12 years, from 6 to 18 years of age. Children are required to attend school full-time up to the age of 15, completing primary education and at least the first two years of secondary education.

Pupils who have not completed the first two years of secondary education are required to attend full-time education until the age of 16. Those who do not wish to continue full-time until 18 may then follow compulsory part-time education up to age of 18.

Part-time compulsory education is defined as studies in a recognised establishment, in the form of either part-time study or a recognised training course.

1.5 Structure





































































2.1 Parents in School Decision Making

2.1.1 Situation until July 24 1997

As a result of the parent’s freedom of choice four different school networks of state financed institutions and totally private schools are existing in the French speaking part of Belgium (the situation in the Dutch and German speaking parts is not so different).

Until the recent decree on parental participation (see below) the position of parents in school decision making depended on the nature of the school network, viz.,

Other school networks, some totally private and non-subsidised, also exist mainly at primary level.

2.1.2 Parent’s Participation in School Life

Since the beginning of the 1950’s two parent’s associations have been recognised by the Ministry of Education

2.2 The Decree of July 24 1997

This decree has had a significant impact on parental participation in school decision making and the decree of July 1997 is an educational revolution so far as parent’s participation is concerned.

Article 69 of the Decree refers to the "Council of Participation"

In every primary and secondary school a ‘Council of Participation’ (CP) must be set up. The CP is comprised of representatives of the ‘Organising Power’ (OP),which will be state, local authorities. There are also elected members from the other school bodies, ie. teachers, students parents, administrative staff.

Full right members

3 to 6

Nominated by the OP
Elected members

3 to 6

Teacher’s representatives

3 to 6

Student’s representatives

3 to 6

Parent’s representatives


Nominated by the OP

3 to 6

Representatives from the social, cultural and/or economic world

The OP chooses the number of teacher, student and parental representatives. In the state organised schools full members will include the School Director (Principal) and delegates from the Ministry of Education.

Elections for the different bodies are organised by schools (in a secret ballot). The teachers’ representatives are elected for two years but they can be re-elected for one or more terms of office.

The key functions of the council are,

I. To discuss or modify the school project proposed by the OP;

II. To assess the implementation of the school project;

III. To give advice and comment on the annual school report.

In the actual organisation parental participation is only a part of a general process regulated by law. In practice the system is very bureaucratic. Parents, students and teachers are more or less convinced that they have to participate but consider that the real decisions cannot be taken in the participation councils. The danger of that feeling is evident and unfortunately, means that politicians will keep the decision making process in their own hands.

Regrettably, after only one year of existence, many participation council meetings have become redundant because of the non-participation of parents and/or students.

3.1 Special Issues

Most of the French speaking schools of Belgium are now in a more or less difficult situation from a legal point of view. The old system of parental participation in school life is being replaced by the new and bureaucratic one decided from the top. Parents have suddenly, without any training, to take part in educational debates. Student representatives also hesitate to participate with the other members of the participation council mainly because they have not been prepared to be active and see school principals, teachers and even parents as the different symbols of educational authority. A further problem is that the aims and objectives of the decree are not so clear. Due to the economic situation different debates have to become an actuality in the next months.

It would appear that the will of the ministry is to associate or to use parents in difficult decision making processes, including,

Looking at the experience of countries in the field of parental participation in school decision making it appears that while participation has been widely advocated there are still tensions between the school and the family. Parents who are members of school councils favour participation while teachers still express some doubt about the positive aspects (Salomon et Corneau, 1998).

It is clear that we, in the French speaking part of Belgium, have still ways of creating favourable conditions for greater and more effective parental participation in school decision making.

Philippe Renard


Salomon & J Comeau - La participation des parents a l’é cole primaire - trente ans aprè s : un objectif encore à atteindre, Revue internationale de Pé dagogie, vol 44 (2 - 3), Paris, 1998, pages 251 - 267

Le conseil de participation in Trialogue, no. 11, FAPEO, Bruxelles, 1998, p 4 - 8

Association de parents - mode emploie, FAPEO, Bruxelles, 1997

Decret du 24 Juillet 1997, Ministè re de l’Education de la Communauté Franç aise de Belgique, Bruxelles, 1997