Although education is the responsibility of the three language communities (Flemish, Francophone and German-speaking), the federal authorities decide the age at which education should become compulsory and until what age youngster are obliged to be in full-time education.
Since the 1980’s the age at which children are obliged to be educated has been 6 years. The main reason for reducing the age from which children must attend school is that it is believed that it would contribute to reducing social inequality.
The vast majority of children in Flanders attend nursery class, often from the age of two and a half. However, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are proportionally overrepresented among those that don’t attend pre-school children. Those in favour of reducing the age at which education becomes compulsory argue that starting education early is crucial for academic success and success in the world of work.
The change in the law has come about thanks to a broad consensus between the language community and support within the Federal Parliament. The changes won’t come into force until next September in order to schools enough time to prepare.
The Flemish Government doesn’t want children under 6 to have to be taught religious or moral education. However, the Belgian constitution decrees that religious or moral education must be taught to children in compulsory education. This means that the constitution will need to be changed if the Flemish Governments wishes are to be met.
Compulsory education is not the same as compulsory schooling. Compulsory education means that a child must either attend school or be educated full-time at home.