Education Minister: "More places for non-Dutch-speakers"

Flemish Education Minister Pascal Smet(socialist) has responded to a complaint that Belgium's Francophone Community has filed with the Constitutional Court. The Francophone Community says that it is being placed at a disadvantage by Flemish legislation governing which children can be admitted to Flemish schools in our capital.

The Flemish Education Minister has labelled the complaint 'regrettable and bizarre". Mr Smet underlines that since equal opportunities legislation was enacted in 2002 Dutch-speaking children have had priority in Flemish schools in Brussels. 45% of places were reserved for such children. Parents could prove that their child is Dutch-speaking by signing a declaration stating that Dutch is spoken at home.

However, because Flemish schools have a better reputation than schools belonging to the Francophone networks places are at a premium and some parents committed fraud signing incorrect declarations.

As a result the Flemish Parliament decided that all children who speak Dutch would be given priority in future and the selection would no longer take place on the basis of a declaration. Knowledge of Dutch can be proved in various ways including passing a test organised by the House of Dutch.

At the same time the number of places in Flemish schools in Brussels set aside for Dutch-speakers was raised from 45% to 55%. This was done because there are far more people who speak Dutch than only those who speak it at home.

The increase should also allow Dutch-speaking parents to register all their children at the same school. Education Minister Smet: "In this way we can prevent a child from being the only Dutch-speaking child in the school."

"At best a third of pupils in Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels speak Dutch at home once in a while. In Francophone schools in the capital seven out of ten pupils speak French. Proportionately the intake of non-Dutch-speakers in Flemish schools in Brussels is double that in Francophone schools. Saying that the Flemish Community is shirking its responsibility, is distorting the facts."

"By expanding capacity we are creating many new places for non-Dutch-speaking children. The number of Dutch-speaking children is not growing. I don't think it's appropriate that we are being portrayed as discriminating non-Dutch-speaking children as a group. The reverse is the case. It's bizarre that the Francophone Community is responding like this."