Here you'll learn everything you need about elementary schools in Belgium, how they work, and the procedures to enroll your child in a school in Leuven.
Belgium's elementary school system (basisonderwijs) comprises preschool and primary school education. Children can enter the elementary school system at preschool starting at the age of 2.5 years. The Flemish Government is responsible for the educational standard and financing of all regional schools, but there are various academic networks and institutions to choose from based on multiple factors.
Structure of elementary school education
The school year in Belgium starts on the 1st of September and ends on the 30th of June. A typical school day in Belgium starts around 8:30 and finishes around 15:30. There is no school on Wednesday afternoon (school typically ends between 11:30 and 12:30), Saturday, and Sunday. A lunch break is usually held from noon to 13:00 every day (except Wednesday), and most pupils stay in the school during this time. Students typically have a choice between bringing their own lunch from home or hot meals the school provides (this will vary from school to school).
Let's begin with what is considered elementary school in Belgium:
- Preschool / Nursery: children can start what is known as kleuteronderwijs any time between the ages of 2.5 and 6. Preschool education is not mandatory for children up to 5 years old, but it is strongly recommended for children to attend this stage of elementary education to develop social and practical skills, as well as preparation for primary school education. Children can start preschool from the moment they are 2.5 years old and can have their first day of school on any of the following dates:
- The first day of school after every school holiday (summer, autumn, Christmas, and Easter holidays)
- The first school day in February
- The first school day after Ascension day
You can calculate your child's first day of school based on their birthday here. Ideally, your child is already potty trained at the start of preschool, but schools may not refuse entry when the child is not. It is, however, strongly recommended and in the child's best interest to ensure teachers focus on their core education task.
- Primary education: known as lager onderwijs, primary school in Flanders goes from year 1 to year 6. Children start the first year of primary school on the 1st of September of the calendar year when they turn 6. Primary school education is compulsory throughout Belgium, and successful completion will grant children a certificate needed for secondary school.
Important note: one of the main requirements to start primary school in Flanders is to have "sufficient preschool attendance," which translates to at least 290 half-days of preschool attendance. However, the school's class council (or klassenraad in Dutch) can exempt children who don't meet this requirement - like those who received schooling in another country - during the standard enrollment procedure.
Students have free choice among all the available schools in and around Leuven, which are primarily two types: Official education (officieel onderwijs) schools are organized by or on behalf of the government and do not ascribe to a specific denomination. In these schools, students can choose from various religious or ethics classes along with compulsory education. Free education (vrij onderwijs) schools are not organized by the government and usually ascribe to a specific religious denomination, with the largest group being the catholic schools. There are also schools in this category without a religious denomination, but they can be linked to a specific study method, for example, Freinet or Steiner. One of the biggest advantages of choosing a local school is immersion. Children will be immersed in the local language (Dutch) and culture. Several schools actively support children learning Dutch and organize introduction classes for newcomers.
Another option for elementary school is private education at some of the existing schools around the country. The only available school in Leuven is the International School Leuven, which currently only offers elementary school education. Review this list for an overview of other international schools in Belgium - primarily in or around Brussels.
Choosing the right school
Schools in Leuven offer plenty of opportunities to learn more about their institution through info evenings and open days. Many schools can even accommodate and offer tours outside their scheduled information days, if it passed before you knew it.
- Open days in 2024 for all elementary schools in Leuven:
- Wednesday, the 31st of January, from 9:00 to 12:00
- Thursday, the 22nd of February, from 14:00 to 17:30
Some Facebook groups related to life in Leuven (including the Expats in Leuven group) can provide excellent school guidance and recommendations. It is important to note you have to put these opinions and advice in the context of your particular situation. You'll find opinions raving about their school being amazing, only to get comments from others completely disagreeing with those statements. What's good for some will be terrible for others.
Here are some questions that will help you narrow down your schools of choice:
- How far is the school from your home and/or your workplace? This is a significant factor as one of the criteria for allocating spots in your school choice will be distance (more on that later).
- What additional activities does the school offer outside of the traditional educational curriculum?
- Do you have any special needs (disabilities, neurodivergence) that require additional care or provisions?
- What are the school's fundamental values and policies around diversity, inclusion, bullying, and religious tolerance?
- What about if the student cannot speak fluent Dutch? How does the school provide support to those students?
It's always advisable to have several preferred schools on your list. This will come in handy for the enrollment procedure we will explain next.
Enrollment procedure for the first year
Elementary schools in Leuven work through an online registration tool. Back in the days before this system, parents had to queue for very long periods to claim one of the coveted spots in their school of choice. The centralized enrollment process ensures everyone has a fair shot at a place in their school of choice and the convenience of it all being managed online. It doesn't matter if you enter your school(s) selection on the first or last registration day.
The key dates for the enrollment procedure in 2024 are:
- Register: From Tuesday, the 27th of February 2024 (9:00) until Tuesday, the 19th of March 2024 (17:00), you can register your child for the school(s) of your choice using the online registration tool. You can register for multiple schools (it's even recommended). The online registration tool will prompt you to enter your schools of choice in the order of preference. Remember, the date and time you register within this period do not influence the spot allocation.
Note: You can check for available places in the schools of your choice from the 26th February 2024 here.
- Enroll: Once registered, the available places will be allocated. You will receive an e-mail and a ticket number on the 19th of April 2024 with the school's contact details where you can enroll your child. Make an appointment with the school between the 22nd of April 2024 (9:00) and the 13th of May 2024 (17:00) to enroll your child.
- No placement for your child yet? If you missed the registration period or did not find a school yet for your child, you can enroll your child directly in the school of your choice if there are places available during the open registration period starting from the 23rd May 2024. You will need to make an appointment with the school to enroll your child.
This enrollment process ensures everyone gets a fair chance to attend their preferred school; however, two groups will have priority when registering for a particular school. Siblings - including step-siblings, half-siblings, or other children in the same household - of students currently enrolled in elementary school are given priority when registering for that particular school. Children of elementary school staff will also have the same priority for that specific school only.
The online registration considers your ranking of preferred schools and will prioritize the top stops. It will also prioritize the distance of those top school choices from the child's legal domicile or parent's workplace to do the allocation.
Enrollment from the second year and within the school year
You can contact the school directly for more information for students enrolling from the second year onward. The same applies to changes within the school year. You can check for available spots in the school of your choice for a specific year on this website, too.
Last update: 08/02/2024