Shorter summer holidays in Flanders? Only when all other problems have been solved

No more long summer holidays of eight to nine weeks in French-speaking Belgium. From now on the school year starts on the last Monday in August. While the Flemish education system uses a school year that runs from 1 September to 30 June, the French-speaking education system will not close its doors until the first Friday in July. According to Minister of Education Ben Weyts, there are more urgent issues in Flemish schools at the moment than a shortened summer holiday.

The French-speaking children go back to school today. It is the first time that the school year does not start on 1 September. The summer holidays also only start on the first Friday in July. In exchange, children in French-speaking Belgium do get an extra week of holidays in the autumn and the spring. In this way, the school year is rearranged into blocks of seven weeks each, alternated with two weeks of holidays.


The rearrangement of the school year is part of a broader reform. The 'Pacte pour un Enseignement d'excellence' must improve the quality of education in French-speaking Belgium in the coming period.

"That pact puts maximum effort into eliminating the inequalities in our system," Walloon Education Minister Caroline Désir (PS) told VRTNWS. "It has already been proven that the long summer holidays have a negative impact on equality in educational opportunities. A shorter summer holiday period should ensure that fewer pupils drop out during the summer holidays."

According to education expert Dirk Van Damme, it is a good thing that French-speaking Belgium is getting rid of the two-month summer holidays, a period during which some pupils lose too much knowledge and skills.

"There are children who get through it reasonably well. But there are vulnerable children who don't have the support at home and who suffer a serious setback in their cognitive development because of those very long summer holidays," Van Damme says.

In Flanders, the shortening of the summer seems far from an issue. A recent survey among 5,300 members of the Christelijke Onderwijscentrale (COC), the largest education trade union, shows that 78 percent of those questioned are not in favour of shorter summer holidays. This applies to primary and secondary education as well as to the Centres for Pupil Guidance (CLBs), part-time art education, adult education and higher education. In the scenario presented, the two lost weeks in summer were compensated elsewhere in the year, as is now the case in French-speaking Belgium.

Little support

The survey came after Flemish minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA) had asked umbrella organisations, unions and parents' associations to come up with a position by the end of the school year. The fact that there is little support for a change in the school system was also demonstrated by the advice that the minister received from the Social and Economic Council of Flanders (SERV) and the Flemish Education Council (VLOR).

The education umbrella organisations are, however, in favour of shortening the summer holidays and redistributing the holiday periods. Community Education GO! believes that the model from French-speaking Belgium is good for better curriculum planning. Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen (Catholic Education Flanders) is also in principle in favour, provided a number of specific conditions are met. The added value for the learning process must be demonstrated by research carried out in Flanders, it says.

According to Minister Weyts, there are other problems in Flemish education that first require a solution, such as the shortage of teachers and the quality of education.



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