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Context

In terms of learning environments, student truancy in Belgium was among the lowest in the OECD: only 7.1% of 15-year-olds reported skipping at least one day of school in the two weeks before the PISA 2015 test, compared to the OECD average of 19.7%. At the same time, schools in Belgium have less favourable disciplinary climates in science lessons compared to other OECD countries, according to students’ reports in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, with an index of disciplinary climate of -0.16 (the OECD average index value was 0.00. Students in Belgium were also less likely to report that their science teachers adapt their instruction more frequently than the OECD average, with an index of adaptive instruction of -0.38 (the average index value was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]).

The PISA 2015 index of professional development leadership in Belgium (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to staff professional development) was 0.12, compared to an OECD average of -0.01. However, the index of instructional educational leadership (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to instruction) was lower than the OECD average at -0.31 (the OECD average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]). In 2016, the proportion of lower secondary teachers aged 50 or over was 28.2%, which was below the OECD average of 35.4% (OECD, 2018[2]). However, recent information from the Flemish and the French Communities of Belgium points to a growing teacher shortage from 2018 onwards that will have to address ways of mitigating the replacement of retiring teachers and attracting new teachers to the profession (National data reported to the OECD). According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 78.8% of teachers in Belgium said that if they could choose again, they would still become a teacher; this was higher than the OECD average of 75.6%. (OECD, 2019[3]).

According to school leaders’ reports in PISA 2015, school leaders in Belgium are less likely than average to conduct self-evaluations of their schools (84.7% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 93.2%), but more likely than average to undergo external evaluations of their school (85.7% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 74.6%). According to school principals’ self-reports in PISA 2015, schools’ levels of autonomy over curriculum in Belgium are close to the OECD average: 75.4% of principals reported that the school had primary autonomy over curriculum, compared to the average of 73.4% (OECD, 2016[1]).

Belgium has three autonomous education systems (for the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German-speaking Community). The role of the federal government is limited, while the distribution of decision making also differs within each Community. In 2017, school autonomy levels over resource management (allocation and use of resources for teaching staff and principals) were higher within the Flemish Community of Belgium than the OECD average: 50% of decisions were taken at the school level, compared to the OECD average of 29%. In contrast, within the French Community, 25% of decisions were taken at the school level and 25% across multiple levels (OECD, 2018[2]).

Annual expenditure per student at primary level in Belgium in 2015 was USD 10 211, which was above the OECD average of USD 8 631. At secondary level, Belgium spent USD 13 070 per student, compared to the OECD average of USD 10 010, while at tertiary level (including spending on research and development), Belgium spent USD 17 320 per student, compared to the OECD average of USD 15 656. In 2015, expenditure on primary to tertiary education in Belgium as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) was 5.7%, which was above the OECD average of 5%. The proportion coming from private sources (including household expenditure, expenditure from other private entities and international sources) was lower than the OECD average (6.8% compared to an average of 16.1%). However, the relative proportion of public expenditure on education from primary to tertiary was 93.2%, compared to the OECD average of 82.7%. Between 2010 and 2015, the relative proportion of public expenditure on primary to tertiary education decreased by 0.8 percentage points, compared to an average decrease across the OECD of 1.3 percentage points (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

Belgium’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.3).

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Table 8.3. Evolution of key education policy priorities, Belgium (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work, 2008-191

Evolution of responses collected by the Education Policy Outlook, 2013-192

School improvement

For the Flemish Community, the OECD identified a need for greater efficiency in the provision of school places, improvement in the quantity and quality of school facilities, and increased transparency at the school level. The OECD identified the need to ensure that well-qualified candidates enter the teaching profession at an adequate rate due to current demographic trends, to improve the functioning of the teacher labour market, and support and enhance teacher preparation and professionalism. [2015]

The Flemish Community reported an unequal distribution of experienced teachers across schools. [2016]

Challenges persist, according to self-reports, in attracting and retaining new teachers and enhancing school principal preparation and professional development. [2016]

More recently, particularly urban schools are increasingly facing difficulties in recruiting qualified and experienced teachers. Expanding pathways to access the teaching profession has been an important topic of policy effort as well. [2013; 2016-17; 2018]

The French Community set the priority to improve the professionalisation of school leaders and to address the varying levels of quality in initial teacher training. Furthermore, new priorities include creating additional spots in schools to respond to recent demographic changes, addressing teacher shortages and improving overall teaching competencies. [2013; 2016-19]

The German-speaking Community reported the ongoing challenge of teacher shortages, the lack of teacher career progression opportunities, and the relatively large number of teaching staff without permanent appointments, as well as cuts in positions or hours. [2013]

Evaluation and assessment

For the Flemish Community, the OECD found that for school evaluation to effectively improve quality across the whole education system, all schools must have a clear understanding of the performance level that can be achieved by the most successful schools, and can accurately evaluate how their performance compares. This entails the need to better integrate self-evaluation and inspection, and strengthen the links between school self-evaluation and teaching quality. In addition, there is a need to increase the use of information for both internal and external school evaluation and strengthen teacher appraisal. OECD evidence also underlined the need to make the results of assessment available and understandable for the wider public, including parents. [2011]

In both the 2013 and 2016-17 surveys, the Flemish Community reported the ongoing priority of modernising higher education quality assurance. The lack of information on student learning outcomes had previously been identified as making impact evaluations of school funding more difficult. More recently, it was found that the issue is not a lack of information, but rather a lack of empirical evidence of resource outputs in a system where resources are based on school and student characteristics. [2013; 2016-17]

More recently, improving the inspectorate has been a priority as well. [2018]

A previously reported challenge by the French Community is to have evaluations in place that are diversified in terms of objectives and methods while being performed at different system levels. Another ongoing reported priority is to create coherence and linkages between evaluations as well as to ensure that external evaluations systematically cover all disciplines included in the repositories of skills. [2013]

Governance

The OECD identified the need for policy co-ordination across the Belgian regions. [2015]

In 2019, the OECD recommended that the Flemish Community strengthen the governance of adult learning through establishing a clearer vision for the sector, promoting greater coherence between levels of government and promoting the role of local actors.

Since 2013, the Flemish Community has identified rationalising the higher education landscape as a priority. More recently, there has been a focus on modernising secondary education through restructuring programme offers and educational content [2019].

The French Community previously identified the need to reform governance at the higher education level, including better co-ordination of activities and representation of the system as a single structure. There is also the need to create additional spots in schools to meet demographic challenges. The structure of the General Administration of Education faced several ongoing challenges. [2013]

More recently, improving governance mechanisms to promote school improvement has been a key priority. [2019]

The German-speaking Community reported ongoing challenges in ensuring that social background and income levels are not barriers to accessing education due to high levels of incidental expenses in the system. Another ongoing need is to update many legacy policies within the education system in order to modernise approaches. [2013]

Funding

OECD evidence underlines the need to increase spending efficiency and coherence of sub-federal governments in higher education. [2011]

According to OECD evidence, the school funding system in the Flemish Community is complex and not fully transparent or readily understood, and there is an imbalance of spending between elementary and secondary education. There are large social differences in educational achievement despite a high level of public investment. Fiscal constraints make it difficult to maintain a school system, which offers both small schools, as well as varied and complex course options. [2015]

In 2019, the OECD recommended exploring options for financially incentivising flexible modes of adult training and grouping all existing incentives to reduce complexity. For both the Flemish Community and the French Community, the OECD raised concerns regarding the long-term sustainability of the higher education funding model. [2017]

The Flemish Community reported the ongoing policy priority of enhancing schools’ infrastructure capacity to respond to demographic evolution. More recently, the Flemish Community identified a need to improve master planning and sustainability of school infrastructure maintenance and construction [2013; 2016-17; 2019].

New challenges have emerged regarding the imbalance in the distribution of funding across levels of education and the lack of a Community-wide reporting system bringing together financial indicators and student outcome indicators. [2019]

The French Community reported a recent challenge concerning the relatively high level of education funding, while it is no longer possible to observe a correlation between the amounts invested and the results achieved across the system. Other challenges include the creation of additional places in schools due to demographic change, as well as the attribution of resources to communities according to a fiscal key and not based on their needs. More recent priorities include clarifying the funding mechanisms of the hautes écoles, improving the overall coherence for higher education and rebalancing spending between fundamental and secondary education. [2013; 2016-17; 2019]

Notes:

1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

2. See Reader’s Guide (years and methods of collection).

Institutions

Selected education policy responses

School improvement

Flemish Community

  • The government of the Flemish Community has introduced several changes to initial teacher education (ITE) in recent years. In 2018, the Flemish Parliament adopted a decree broadening the path to becoming a teacher, reinforcing the profile of prospective teachers, streamlining training and increasing the quality of ITE (National information reported to the OECD). ITE programmes are now exclusively offered by universities, as well as some university colleges, and feature improved content on didactics, classroom management, multilingualism and diversity. From the 2019/20 academic year, prospective teachers can enter one of six ITE programmes: a short-cycle course for teaching in secondary education, three Bachelor’s courses for pre-primary, primary and secondary education and two Master’s courses in art subjects and secondary education. As such, prospective teachers can now enrol in an ITE programme at any stage of tertiary education, including, for the first time, directly after upper secondary completion. The reform has also eased students’ transfer to ITE from other tertiary courses, as well as facilitated mature student pathways into ITE and the transition into teaching for those with three or more years’ experience in an alternative profession (Flemish Parliament, 2018[64]). In the 2018/19 academic year, the government introduced a compulsory non-binding, institution-neutral admission test for ITE. This assesses a prospective teacher’s preparedness for studies and identifies any possible need for remedial support. Ultimately, this aims to increase completion rates and improve the quality of ITE graduates (National information reported to the OECD).

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Progress or impact: A 2013 evaluation of initial teacher education in Flanders first inspired these reforms. Following the evaluation, the Flemish government adopted a concept note, in 2016, containing a set of proposed measures to enhance teacher education and improve the profile of new entrants to the profession. While awaiting legislative approval, the government piloted some measures and established several working groups. For example, it first piloted the test to evaluate the competencies of prospective student teachers in 2015/16, and then expanded the pilot in 2016/17 (OECD, 2017[65]). However, with a recent decline in ITE graduates and an older demographic profile of teachers, the Flemish Community faces growing recruitment needs in pre-primary and particularly secondary education. The Department of Education and Training predicts that, in general, teacher recruitment needs for the academic year 2023/24 will be 10% higher than 2014/15 (Department of Education and Training, 2015[66]).

French Community

  • In Belgium’s French Community, the Pact for Excellence in Teaching (Pacte pour un enseignement d’excellence, 2015-30) built on a participatory consultative process (2015 to mid-2016), including key stakeholders (teachers, educators, parents and students). It was also developed in consultation with the economic, social and cultural sectors. The five main goals are: 1) teach the knowledge and skills required for 21st-century society; 2) mobilise education stakeholders within a framework of school autonomy and accountability; 3) make the vocational pathway a stream of excellence; 4) promote inclusive education, and strengthen the fight against school failure, dropout and repetition; and 5) ensure the well-being of each child in a quality school, favouring a democratic school (OECD, 2017[65]).

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Progress or impact: In 2018, the government approved two decrees to support the implementation of the Pact for Excellence in Teaching (Ministère de la communauté française, 2018[67]; Ministère de la communauté française, 2018[68]). The Steering of Schools Decree aims to improve the system’s governance from the school level, and a second decree regulates that each school enters into a contract with the Central Authority to assess the development of the implementation of the Steering Decree (délégués au contrat d’objectifs) (see Governance). Support was provided as well for the implementation of the pact through the allocation of 1 100 staff reinforcements in pre-primary education during 2017-19, granting of administrative or educational assistance for the school leaders of pre-primary and primary education, or additional support for specialised education.

The French Community has also undertaken different measures to strengthen the role of the school principal. A 2019 decree was also adopted to reinforce school principals’ pedagogical leadership, aiming to strengthen their role in human resource management.

To strengthen the collaborative work of educational teams, the decree on the organisation of teachers’ work (Decree on Teacher’s Working Time, 2019, to be implemented in 2020) incorporates into each teacher’s timetable a number of periods of compulsory collaborative work and defines all teachers’ tasks (National information reported to the OECD and (Ministère de la communauté française, 2019[69]). The decree reform will also increase the number of days of in-service training, and career diversity.

In 2017, increasing the course length for initial teacher education from the current level of three years was discussed (OECD, 2017[70]). Budget constraints may, however, hinder the implementation of a five-year Master’s programme for all teachers (European Commission, 2016[71]). A new decree (Décret du 7 février 2019) to enter into force in 2020 redefines initial teacher education that includes, among others, longer study periods and aims to strengthen the skills and knowledge across all disciplines as well as ensure a better command of the French language. New long-term curricula for initial teacher education will be co-organised by full-time higher education institutions (hautes écoles [university colleges], art colleges) as part of a co-diploma programme (Ministère de la communauté française, 2019[72]). The extension of initial teacher education will be matched by an increase of funding to universities and university colleges (hautes écoles) with an overall estimated budget of EUR 36-40 million until 2024.

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

School improvement

Flemish Community

  • In 2018, the Flemish government concluded three collective labour agreements (CAOs) with the social partners (teachers’ unions) in compulsory education, basic adult education and higher education. The CAOs aim to make teaching a more stable career and increase job security, particularly for starting teachers. As part of these efforts, the CAOs approved the introduction of a compulsory induction period, a simplified transition process from temporary to permanent appointments (which can now occur after 400 instead of 600 days’ work), and improved salary conditions (Eurydice, 2019[73]). Schools now receive additional resources to develop induction processes for new teachers. To increase job security, from 2019, teachers can progress to a temporary appointment of continuous duration (as opposed to definite duration) after a minimum of two years’ teaching and after having completed a minimum of 690 days of teaching. This replaces the previous minimum requirements of three years and 720 days, respectively. Progressing to this contract type means that the contract will be automatically renewed if the school continues to be funded for the associated teaching hours (Nusche et al., 2015[74]). To support this, the Flemish Community piloted a teacher platform project during 2018/19 in almost all primary schools and some secondary schools. The project commits to providing a full year of job security to nearly 3 000 starting and temporary teachers. This may take the form of regular replacements, or the long-term replacement of a permanent teacher who chooses to pursue an assignment via the teacher platform, or other meaningful pedagogical tasks across the school year (Ministry of Education and Training, 2018[75]). An initial analysis of the platforms shows that over 3 300 teachers have signed up. However, less than 10% of them have permanent contracts, restricting the chances for new teachers to enter a single one-year teaching assignment (Eurydice, 2019[73]). Additionally, the government has freed up 6 000 extra positions for permanent appointment in posts where the holder is absent due to certain leave schemes (National information reported to the OECD).

French Community

  • A 2016 reform of titles and functions for teaching seeks to better match the teaching job functions with the required teaching titles or qualifications needed for lesson teaching and employment opportunities in schools. As part of this reform, each teaching function has a list of qualifying titles. Depending on the function, titles can be classified as “required” (titre requis, considered a priority), “sufficient” (titre suffisant) or “in shortage” (titre en penurie). Available teachers can register through a portal (PRIMOWEB), which schools must consult when a position is available.

  • A new mandatory welcome and support programme for teachers came into effect as of the 2016/17 school year. It includes an interview with the head of the school, introduction to other staff members, explanations of the school’s pedagogical approach as well as working regulations and conditions.

  • Previously, the DPPR system (Les disponibilités pour convenances personnelles précédant la pension de retraite) allowed teachers to retire at the age of 55. The new system, implemented in 2011, no longer allows for teachers born after 1956 to retire at age 55, which led to an increase of teachers still active at the age of 55 and 56 years in all levels of education in 2014. This measure extended to teachers aged 57 years in 2016. The reform of the system has allowed DPPR to save EUR 19.7 million in 2012; EUR 20.9 million in 2013; EUR 9.2 million in 2014; and EUR 8.6 million in 2015 (Ministère de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2016[76]). DPPR had reached a peak of 6 940 full-time equivalent teachers in 2012 and then continued to decline. In 2019, there are only 1 973 full-time equivalent teachers in DPPR. The annual cost of the DPPR, which amounted to roughly EUR 100 million in 2011, is now down to EUR 40 million in 2018 (National information reported to the OECD, 2019).

German-speaking Community

  • In co-operation with the Directorate for Education, Culture and Sport (Direktion für Erziehung, Kultur und Sport) of the canton of Fribourg, Switzerland, the German-speaking Community published a brochure on homework practice (2015) (Das Bildungsportal, 2019[77]). The brochure aims to provide a common policy for homework practice, improve the quality of homework and establish homework support in schools to ensure the same conditions for all students. Teachers can request access to the brochure (Das Bildungsportal, 2019[77]). According to national information reported to the OECD, the brochure is regularly promoted by offering a school intern training day, part of the “continuing training catalogue” (Weiterbildungskatalog), and is issued on an annual basis by the Autonome Hochschule (AHS), the only higher education institution in the German-speaking Community.

  • A 2010 decree harmonises the various forms of teaching qualifications. It aims to ensure the quality of education and to offer a unified form of teaching ability.

  • In the German-speaking Community, the 2008 decree on the reassessment of the teaching profession stipulated that the Baremen reform (2009) come into effect. Following the reform, starting salaries were increased by 10% (3% in 2009, 3% in 2010 and 4% in 2011). This only applies for members of staff in application departments, not for members of staff in the selection and advancement departments.

Evaluation and assessment

Flemish Community

  • The Inspectorate 2.0 framework (2018) establishes a new evaluation framework that aims to improve school inspectorate services. The framework was piloted in a few schools during 2016/17, and then approved and first implemented during 2018/19 (Vlaamse Regering, 2017[78]). Previously, the Inspectorate had performed external quality monitoring in each school at least once every ten years via a three-week structured inspection process with criteria focused on four elements: context, input, process and output (CIPO framework). The new inspection framework focuses on enhancing educational quality with a greater emphasis on internal quality assurance, among other changes (Vlaamse Regering, 2017[78]). The new framework is therefore intended to act as a reference against which schools can develop their own policies to ensure and enhance quality (Eurydice, 2019[73]). School inspection visits are now scheduled to take place at least once every six years. They will focus more on fostering improvement-focused dialogue with schools, as well as simplifying procedures, increasing transparency, and reducing the planning burden on schools. As well as monitoring individual teaching and learning practices, school inspections will also now endeavour to consider quality more globally in terms of a school’s policies and systems. The framework was developed in consultation with stakeholders and drew on a scientific literature review (National information reported to the OECD).

French Community

  • The Declaration on Community Policy (Déclaration de politique communautaire, DPC, 2014-19) in the French Community aims to strengthen the guidance and assessment tools to reduce failure in higher education and increase the number of graduates. More specifically, measures include strengthening higher education teachers’ didactic training, developing action plans to guarantee students’ success throughout higher education, and enhancing the links between secondary and higher education (Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2014[79]).

  • In 2016, the government of the French Community adopted the draft decree on external evaluations. This decree amended the 2006 Decree on External Evaluation of Student Learnings in Compulsory Education and on the basic education certificate at the end of primary education. The new decree specifies the confidentiality obligations of the staff and the general framework of external evaluations, from design to the administering of the examinations.

  • In the French Community, formative assessment in all schools is legally mandated. Evidence suggests that several schools have established “needs-based groups” working on the basis of formative assessment results. Since 2013, the French Community also certifies knowledge, professional competencies and skills by units (Certification par unités, CPU) for students in Grades 5 and 6 of vocational education, and more recently, starting from Grade 4 as well. Evaluation outside validations of learning achievement units (Unités d’Acquis d’Apprentissage, UAA) (for qualifying training) is formative and can lead to remediation, consolidation or overcoming. This longer span of formative assessment and options aims to increase students’ opportunities for success in their training and to avoid repetition. Rendering the students as agents of their learning is among the CPU objectives. An apprenticeship file is completed throughout the training by the class council in consultation with the student. A skills report takes stock of what is acquired, what remains to be acquired and offers suggestions for further training. Project weeks and internships in companies are also carried out to prepare the students for their future jobs. Internal monitoring has shown that a majority of students and teachers adhere to this scheme. The CPU is in the experimental phase until 2020 (National information reported to the OECD).

Systems

Selected education policy responses

Governance

Flemish Community

  • In 2015, the Flemish government introduced a significant change to the quality assurance system for higher education. A new decree gave universities and universities of applied science and arts more control over their own quality assurance in order to both simplify and strengthen the system. Institutions were granted the choice between undertaking either an institutional review, as well as programme assessments and accreditation, or an extensive institutional review (eigen regie), including an assessment of the ability of institutions to safeguard programme quality for the future (VLUHR QA, 2019[80]). This means that while the government assesses the implementation, follow up and adjustments of education policy in higher education quality assurance, institutions themselves are expected to be able to guarantee the ongoing quality of their programmes. As such, previously accredited training courses no longer require periodical inspections from an external evaluation body; these accreditations are extended automatically, as long as the institution obtains a final positive assessment in the institutional review (National information reported to the OECD).

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Progress or impact: Prior to these changes, a dual system had been in operation since 2012. This dual system introduced compulsory institutional reviews to complement the programme accreditation framework that historically took place in eight-year cycles. However, higher education institutions (HEIs) found this dual approach too demanding (VLUHR QA, 2019[80]). Following the 2015 reform, all universities and universities of applied sciences and arts in Flanders opted for an extensive institutional review. The independent bi-national Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO, 2003) carried out a pilot round involving all the institutions in 2016-17. This pilot focused, for the first time, on the global efficiency and effectiveness of policy in the area of tertiary education as opposed to the efficiency of individual programmes. An evaluation of the pilot pointed to favourable views from stakeholders on proceeding with this new model of quality assurance (Eurydice, 2019[81]).

The outcomes of the pilot informed a new decree, passed in 2018 and due to come into force in 2019. This new system puts the institutional review at the centre of the quality assurance process across six-year cycles. HEIs are legally obliged to conduct quality assurance and continuous monitoring of their educational activities, involving internal and external stakeholders and independent experts in the process (Flemish Parliament, 2018[82]). Any new programme or joint programme covered by European funding is excluded from these cycles but remains subject to programme assessment undertaken by the institution and the NVAO. The first cycle of the new quality assurance system will run from 2019-2025. From 2015 onwards, the role of the Flemish Council of Universities and University Colleges Quality Assurance Unit (VLUHR QA, 2013), an independent organisation for external quality assurance, has been significantly reduced and its staff size diminished. However, in recognition of the expertise of its former staff members, many have been recruited by HEIs to support the strengthening of institutional review processes (VLUHR QA, 2019[80]).

  • NVAO has operated as the formal accreditation body for higher education programmes in the Netherlands and the Flemish Community of Belgium since its establishment in 2005. It previously passed three European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) reviews (2007, 2012 and 2017) and has been registered in the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) since November 2008 (NVAO, 2019[83]). In 2016, NVAO processed a total of 496 applications from existing and new programmes in Dutch and Flemish higher education institutions, compared to 652 in 2015. In both 2012 and 2017, the ENQA panel found NVAO to comply with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. Both years, the panel recommended that NVAO’s full membership of ENQA be confirmed for five more years (NVAO, 2019[83]).

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Progress or impact: In the 2017 NVAO Agency Review, the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education recommended that the organisation make more efforts to remain aware of implementation issues as experienced by stakeholders, as well as adopt a clearer terminology to differentiate between substantively different approaches to the follow-up of decisions (NVAO, 2017[84]). Concerning its accreditation system, it was recommended that the grading system should be more comprehensive and straightforward for yes/no/conditional accreditation. To improve the quality of information that Flemish universities need to have about their future accreditation processes, the report recommended that the NVAO issue coherent development plans following consultations with relevant stakeholders regarding their expectations about quality assurance in higher education. ENQA also recommended developing a complaint procedure by, for example, opening a section such as “Complaints and appeals” on the NVAO website with appropriate formats for complaints and appeals (NVAO, 2017[84]).

French Community

  • In 2018, a new decree was implemented that had been passed in 2017 on the steering of schools plans (plans de pilotage). The new decree was implemented to help implement the first decisions taken under the Pact for Excellence in Teaching (2015-30). It also included specific support for the school heads in pre-primary and primary, ordinary and specialised education, and a supplementary framework for instructional and administrative staff in specialised secondary education. The decree aims to reaffirm school and system governance by setting objectives at the system level and by geographical area. This decree redefined the levers around which the school steering plans should be designed, extending them from 11 to 15: 1) teaching and learning that supports all students; 2) tackling school dropout; 3) targeted intervention schemes; 4) measures for inclusion; 5) career guidance; 6) citizenship, health, media literacy, the environment and sustainable development education; 7) anti-bullying measures and pastoral support; 8) embedding digital approaches; 9) teacher induction; 10) parental engagement; 11) cultural education and opportunities; 12) physical education and opportunities; 13) partnerships with local business and industry; 14) school infrastructure; and 15) school fees (Ministère de la communauté française, 2018[85]).

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Progress or impact: As part of the Pact for Excellence in Teaching, each head of school is required to draw up a steering plan, while heads of school from under-performing schools are tasked with also tackling low achievement (European Commission, 2016[71]; OECD, 2017[70]). The aim is to make on-the-job teacher education more relevant to the school and ensure that teachers are better equipped for social, cultural and pedagogical diversity (European Commission, 2016[71]; OECD, 2017[70]). At least one-third of the schools have already been involved since 2017, and it is expected that all schools will be covered by the end of 2019 (Ministère de la communauté française, 2018[85]).

The first steering plans were planned to be developed by the education teams as of 2018, in schools that had been selected on a voluntary basis in 2017 (Ministère de la communauté française, 2018[68]). Once approved, the plans include the institutional school objectives for a six-year period. The submission of the draft steering plans by schools is organised in three sections with 900 schools submitting their plans by April 2019, the following group of schools in 2020 and the last group of schools by 2021 (National information reported to the OECD).

To assess the developments, each school enters into a contract with the Central Authority that was established in a 2018 decree (Service des directeurs de zone et délégués au contrat d’objectifs). Schools self-assess their progress annually with the Central Authority assessing the developments every three years. An appropriate monitoring process may be put in place if an institution refuses to contribute to the process or if its indicators reveal large deviations from the average (National information reported to the OECD). The decree is also based on the autonomy and increased responsibility of school leaders and teachers (see School improvement).

  • In the French Community, the Agency for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (Agence pour l’Évaluation de la Qualité de l’Enseignement Supérieur, AEQES, 2002), both independent and publicly funded, carries out quality assurance. Though AEQES is governed by representatives from each of the four higher education sectors (universities, hautes écoles, arts colleges and social advancement education) as well as student, labour market and trade union organisations, it is operationally independent of the higher education institutions, as well as the Ministry of Education (Eurydice, 2019[86]). Aside from regularly evaluating study programmes and facilitating and reporting on higher education quality, AEQES ensures co-operation between all higher education areas to encourage the implementation of standard practices to improve quality and liaising with relevant national and international bodies on behalf of the French Community’s higher education system. In 2011, AEQES became a full member of ENQA and was listed in the EQAR as of 2012 (Ryan et al., 2017[87]).

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Progress or impact: In addition to its ten-year evaluation timetable (plan décennal), the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education developed a self-evaluation report, including a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, conducted for the 2016-20 Strategic Plan. This self-evaluation identified the implementation of a formative type of evaluation in line with the AEQES’s missions as a strength (AEQES, 2016[88]). Weaknesses identified included the business model, which was considered fragile; the workload of the Executive Unit and the working groups; and the uncertain sustainability of human and financial resources. The possibility for development and experimentation in response to requests from stakeholders as well as new methodologies, including co-operation between operators, was identified as an opportunity. Finally, the risk of “evaluation fatigue” in some institutions, exacerbated by the mobilisation of academic staff in implementing the new Landscape Decree was identified as a threat.

A goal set in this strategic plan was to have carried out all the formative and programme-based first evaluations of all Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes offered by 2018 (AEQES, 2016[88]). In 2017, the ENQA agency conducted an external review of the AEQES to analyse its compliance with the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG). This review identified progress since their previous review, including substantial efforts towards the implementation of previous recommendations that required legislative changes. AEQES was found in compliance with almost all of the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. The agency identified several AEQES achievements: 1) the establishment of new robust standards and criteria that had enabled it to engage in consistent and coherent activities; 2) the reinforcement of mid‐term follow‐up evaluations (mandatory for all programme evaluations between two evaluations); 3) the diversity of experts’ profiles; 4) the quality of its staff members; 5) the meta-analysis; and 6) its international visibility in recent years. At the same time, AEQES was only found “partially” compliant with the standard concerning resources. In order to be fully compliant, agencies should be supplied with adequate and appropriate resources, both human and financial. ENQA determined that, although the AEQES had gained autonomy in staff appointments, the financial resources available to the agency had not changed since 2012, with AEQES being underfunded for the following five years, from 2017 onwards. (Ryan et al., 2017[87]).

Funding

Flemish Community

  • Between 2014 and 2016, the parliament of the Flemish Community authorised significant increases to the annual education budgets, amounting to an overall increase of EUR 72.3 million in 2015 (National information reported to the OECD). Further increases were introduced in 2017 (OECD, 2017[70]). Over the same period, the government introduced a series of measures to increase efficiency in educational expenditure. In large part, these aim to address recommendations provided in a 2015 OECD report, which highlighted inefficiencies within the schooling system. These included the following: a greater funding emphasis on the later stages of education, despite returns to education being highest during the earlier years; inefficiencies in the provision of specific resources, such as targeted funding for disadvantaged students; and a lack of clarity as to how outputs relate to specific resource inputs (Nusche et al., 2015[74]).

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Progress or impact: The Flemish Community has one of the highest total education expenditures per student among OECD countries (OECD, 2018[89]). Since 2015, a higher proportion of education expenditure has been shifted from secondary level to pre-primary and primary education. Significant savings were made through an increase in the staff “put at disposal” (i.e. exempted from teaching duties and replaced by temporary staff). Additionally, the Flemish Community has increased and targeted resources for refugees and other immigrant children more specifically through, for example, greater support for linguistic integration. More recent efficiency efforts are part of the government’s implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. From 2016-18, the Flemish Community invested EUR 52 million in energy efficiency projects in school buildings. In 2019, the government added another EUR 21 million to this fund (National information reported to the OECD). The Department of Education and Training is now working to support schools to develop future-facing learning environments within the constraints of their current infrastructure. This includes the publication of a handbook, Get more out of your school: 21st-century skills, new competences, new physical learning environments, which has been informed by research conducted by the Free University of Brussels (National information reported to the OECD). However, per student spending remains high in the Flemish Community and, as student numbers are set to increase over the next ten years, this may put pressure on the system (OECD, 2018[89]).

  • The School Building Masterplan (2015) is the Flemish Community’s first integrated and comprehensive plan tackling the issue of school infrastructure. It responds to growing pressure placed on the system by demographic changes, wear and tear and the demands of 21st-century learning. The plan has five strategic objectives: 1) renewing existing educational infrastructure; 2) expanding educational capacity; 3) tapping into alternative sources of financing; 4) developing school buildings of the future; and 5) improving long-term planning and management of school infrastructure (Ministry of Education, 2015[90]). A key project in the implementation of the plan has been the launch of a second and completely revised cycle of the Design, Build, Fund, Maintain initiative (DBFM, 2006 and 2016), which sees the development of public-private partnerships for the building of new schools. Through this model, a DBFM corporation takes on the 30-year ownership, maintenance and financing of school infrastructure expansion. Via government subsidies (around 80%) and the school governing body, the corporation receives performance-related availability funding. At the end of the 30 years, ownership transfers to the school governing body (Eurydice, 2019[73]).

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Progress or impact: Schools of Tomorrow (Scholen Van Morgen, 2009), the collective name for the first round of the Design, Build, Fund, Maintain (DBFM) projects, is a partnership between the Government of Flanders, BNP Paribas Fortis and AG Real Estate. Schools of Tomorrow is scheduled to reach completion in 2022 when it will have delivered up to around 200 new school buildings through an investment programme totalling EUR 1.5 billion. So far, 159 school infrastructure projects have been completed, accommodating over 115 000 students; 6 more are in the construction phase. Following a reduction in the VAT (value-added tax) rate on school construction (2016), 17 new DBFM projects were added to the initial Schools of Tomorrow programme; these are currently in the design phase (Schools of Tomorrow, 2019[91]).

However, according to forecasts from the Federal Planning Bureau, the demographic pressure on the school system is set to increase in the medium and long terms, with significant implications for the secondary sector up to 2025, and again from 2035, and for the primary sector from 2026 onwards (National information reported to the OECD).

Accordingly, there has been a reaffirmation of the need for alternative financing models in school construction and renovation and a subsequent commitment to further DBFM operations, approved by decree in 2016. The government’s second call for DBFM submissions (2016) incorporates learning from the experience of Schools for Tomorrow and as such focuses on creating smaller, simpler and more project-specific operations with greater involvement from the school boards.

To provide additional support and manage applications, a project office was set up with the Agency for School Investment (AGION), SchoolInvest nv, and representatives from the school network. The Flemish Community has also made efforts to streamline and standardise administrative procedures to reduce transaction costs (Ministry of Education, 2015[90]).

The second call for DBFM projects was launched in 2017, and 52 school building projects were approved, with a total investment commitment of EUR 600 million (AGION, 2018[92]). In search of sustainable solutions to reduce pressure on the infrastructure, in 2019, the government also encouraged infrastructure master planning at the school level, which is aligned with local authorities’ visions. To this end, Go!, the principal education provider for the Flemish Community, set up an operational infrastructure database to monitor the quality and quantity of the current infrastructure (National information reported to the OECD).

  • The Parliamentary Act on Students with Specific Educational Needs (M-Decree, 2015) promotes inclusive education in Flanders by reinforcing the right of students with special educational needs (SEN) to enrol in mainstream education. In the Flemish Community, educational spending per student is three times higher in special needs provision than in mainstream provision. The decree’s guarantee scheme stated that any funds that are saved in special education provision when a student is transferred to mainstream education must be diverted to mainstream providers to support students with SEN (Nusche et al., 2015[74]). On introduction of the decree, the Flemish Community also earmarked an annual provision of EUR 545 949 for in-service training resources for professional development of school teams, funding five projects annually to support with the implementation of the M-Decree. In its first year (2015-16) this measure benefited nearly 3 000 teachers (Government of Flanders, 2017[93]).

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Progress or impact: In 2014, before the introduction of the M-Decree, 30 340 students attended primary level special education schools in Flanders; this number decreased to 26 607 students by 2017. This represents a 12% reduction over two school years, and a decrease from 4.34% of the student population in 2014 to 3.67% in 2017. Although smaller, a reduction was also seen at secondary level between 2015 and 2017 (Government of Flanders, 2017[94]). Nevertheless, while commending the M-Decree’s intentions, the OECD identified a number of implementation challenges, largely related to inflexibilities in the distribution of human and financial resources that restrict the capacity of mainstream schools to provide the level of support students with SEN require and are entitled to (Nusche et al., 2015[74]).

To address some of these challenges, an amendment to the Act on Students with Specific Educational Needs was approved in 2017. M-Decree 2.0 (2017) introduced a support network model. Support networks group together mainstream schools, special education needs schools, student guidance centres and pedagogical counsellors into networks that can be cross-sectoral and cross-level. In this way, human and financial resources are shared across networks to support students with SEN according to their intervention needs, as identified via a preliminary individual needs assessment.

Furthermore, the financial resources of the network are grouped and allocated to establishments as follows: 70% of the funding allocation is based on the total number of students per school; the remaining 30% is based on the average number of students with SEN attending that school during the six preceding years (Minister of Education, 2016[95]). In 2017-18, the Flemish Community earmarked EUR 25 million to guarantee the transfer of staff from special education to mainstream provision (Government of Flanders, 2017[94]). In 2018, following a complaint submitted to the Council of Europe by the Mental Disability Advocacy Center (MDAC), and a subsequent investigation into the M-Decree, the European Committee on Social Rights found that the policy violates the right of children with intellectual disabilities to social integration. This contravenes Article 15 (1) of the European Social Charter (ESC) (European Committee on Social Rights, 2018[96]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

Governance

Flemish Community

  • The Flemish Government has begun to progressively implement measures for the new Master Plan for Secondary Education (Masterplan Secundair Onderwijs, 2018). In the medium to long term, the plan aims to improve quality and equity in secondary education by reducing early school leaving; introducing a broader first stage of secondary education to delay tracking and allow students to make choices based on their talents and interests; and establishing a simplified structure for the second and third stage of secondary education (European Commission, 2017[96]). Provisions for changes in the primary sector will also be made, for example, to allow for more differentiated teaching and learning to better adapt to individual student needs and facilitate transitions into secondary education (Nusche et al., 2015[74]). Reforms to the structure of secondary education are strongly aligned with the curricular reform and the rationalisation of education programmes which are also currently in progress. Together, these initiatives support the modernisation of the secondary education system.

French Community

  • In the French Community of Belgium, the Landscape Decree for Higher Education (Decret du 7 novembre 2013 définissant le paysage de l’enseignement supérieur et l’organisation académique des études, 2013) aimed to provide a more coherent vision of the higher education system by legally defining the higher education system and organisation of instruction (Parlement de la Communauté française, 2013[97]). The decree also created the Academy for Research and Higher Education (Académie de recherche et d’enseignement supérieur, ARES) to serve as a platform for co-ordination and dialogue among institutions in the higher education system. In 2019, changes existing in the system through this decree included: harmonisation of school calendars, harmonisation of enrolment procedures (and conditions for enrolment), changes towards a competency-based focus in studies, a credit-based system of learning, among others (National information reported to the OECD).

  • The Harmonisation of Diplomas (2016) draft decree determines the conditions and procedure for granting equivalence of foreign higher education qualifications. The order includes the Benelux decision of 2015 of an equivalence process. According to this equivalence process, any Bachelor’s or Master’s degree issued in the French Community is automatically recognised in Flanders, the Netherlands or Luxembourg, and vice versa. This simplified procedure will also be faster for a series of European higher education degrees (European Commission, 2018[98]).

German-speaking Community

  • National data indicate that Belgium’s German-speaking Community adopted the Decree on Educational and Administrative Innovations in Public Education (2010) and proposed measures including setting baseline requirements for teacher training; new rules around students moving between schools, including in special education; and updating the conditions for granting of equivalence to foreign diploma and certificates.

Funding

  • The Sixth State reform (2014) of Belgium reconfirmed the principle of allocation of resources based on the number of students to avoid divergence of resources between the three communities. The OECD reports that the resources allocated to education were, starting in 2016, related to inflation, demographic changes (number of people under 18 years) and 91% of economic growth. Communities then receive funding based on the number of 6-17 year-olds enrolled in primary and secondary education (Ministère de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2016[76]).

Flemish Community

  • In 2018, the Flemish Parliament adopted a decree shifting responsibility for higher professional education courses (short-cycle degree programmes) from adult education institutions to higher education institutions only. As such, these will become available as short-cycle associate degree courses within higher education institutions to grant more people the opportunity to access tertiary education (Flemish Parliament, 2018[64]). From 2019 onwards, the Flemish Government will provide an extra EUR 10 million to HEIs to enable them to expand their facilities or address new equipment needs. Additionally, an open-ended mechanism will initially fund the future associate degree courses. In this way, the budget will adapt to student numbers to guarantee an institution’s resources for Bachelor’s and Master’s programmes (National information reported to the OECD).

  • In 2018, the Flemish Parliament adopted a new financing decree for adult education. From 2019 onwards, centres of adult education and basic education will receive funding according to learner profiles. The centre receives supplementary funding when an unemployed person, a job seeker or someone without an upper secondary education qualification (HSE) enrols in a course. This initiative aims to incentivise providers to better target high-need and vulnerable learners. Additionally, an element of funding is linked to course completion or certification incentivising providers to better support learners throughout their learning pathways (National information reported to the OECD). Centres will also receive more financial support to provide courses in Dutch as a second language and programmes focused on high-demand skills and courses leading to the HSE will be better financed (Eurydice, 2018[99]).

  • A new monitoring mechanism for infrastructural capacity in the Flemish Community was introduced in 2015. It produces municipality-level population estimates and publishes updated reports every three years to inform capacity planning at local level. This aims to offer decision makers more accurate and timely information regarding changing student numbers and the impact on funding for the school system. This forms the basis for additional targeted investments that support municipalities in the short and long-term (National information reported to the OECD). Between 2010 and 2018, the government allocated EUR 371.7 million to those municipalities facing capacity pressures (Nusche et al., 2015[74]).

French Community

  • According to the Brussels Regional Informatics Centre (Centre d’Informatique pour la Région Bruxelloise, BRIC), by 2017, almost 380 schools were connected to high-speed Internet (using optic fibre) (CIRB, 2017[100]). Investments have been made since 2011 to equip schools in their community with resources to promote information and communication technology (ICT) skills and innovative teaching practices. These include providing Internet connections for Walloon schools (EUR 35 million) and multimedia equipment for schools in the Brussels Capital Region (EUR 6 million). The OECD reports that a new Fibre to the School initiative will also invest EUR 10 million to roll out high-speed broadband in all 168 secondary schools between 2014 and 2019 (Ministère de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, 2016[76]).

German-speaking Community

  • The primary objective of the German-speaking Community of Belgium’s Decree to Reduce Education Costs in Kindergarten and Primary Education (2014) was to provide financial planning for parents and schools. The Community increased the amount of per-student funding for educational purposes to EUR 100 per student for primary school children and EUR 25 for kindergarten school children, to help alleviate the cost of educational expenses for children’s families. As part of the funding increase, schools are no longer allowed to charge parents fees for sporting activities organised by schools or other school events such as diploma ceremonies. While the cost of extracurricular activities, such as outside excursions may still be charged to parents, schools also have the option to cover these costs themselves using funding distributed by the government for this purpose.

More information is available at http://www.oecd.org/education/policyoutlook.htm.

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