Country information for Belgium (Flemish community) - Financing of inclusive education systems

In Flanders, there is a contradiction between mainstream education on the one hand and special education on the other. In recent decades, numerous new initiatives for learners with special educational needs (SEN) have evolved.

The Flemish Government provides funding to schools for staffing (head teacher, teachers, administrative staff and, in special schools, therapeutic and support staff) and for an operating budget. General school funding is based on the number of pupils enrolled in the school on a particular date (input financing).

The central government makes the operating budget and staff funding available to the school board. There are no regional differences. The school board has a lot of freedom in using these resources.

Funding for special educational needs in special schools

Because there are different types of special nursery, primary and secondary education, there is a differentiation in funding special schools based on the type of special education they offer. Each type of special education at the basic education level and at the four training forms in special secondary education have their own coefficient for converting the number of pupils into an amount of capital. The coefficient is most favourable for pupils with a visual or hearing impairment.

Currently, most additional resources for SEN are available in special schools. This is due to the segregated system of special education introduced in 1970 to meet the needs of learners with disabilities who were, at that time, mostly enrolled in mainstream schools. Since then, initiatives have made resources available in mainstream education to improve the situation of pupils with SEN.

Since the 2009/2010 school year, special schools offering basic education provision (and the former type 1) and/or type 3 receive additional resources (teaching hours, guidance and support). The additional resources received depend on the number of pupils who meet the equal educational opportunities indicator ‘mother’s level of education’ (i.e. their mother does not have a secondary education certificate, a certificate of the second grade of the third stage of vocational secondary education or equivalent proof of study).

Within the framework of the equal educational opportunities policy, these supplementary teaching hours are allocated for three consecutive school years. To qualify for supplementary teaching hours within the framework of the equal educational opportunities policy, schools must:

  • have at least 40% external and semi-internal pupils in the basic education provision type (and the former type 1) and/or type 3 who meet the equal educational opportunities indicator ‘mother’s level of education’;
  • generate a minimum of six teaching periods;
  • define their own specific vision of equal educational opportunities;
  • have received a favourable inspection report on their activities over the previous three school years from the second cycle onwards.

The supplementary teaching hours are calculated based on the number of pupils who meet the indicator ‘mother’s level of education’ and (only in combination with the latter) the indicator ‘the language the pupil speaks at home is not Dutch’. The language spoken at home is not considered to be Dutch if the pupil does not speak Dutch to anyone in a family of three (the pupil excluded) or speaks Dutch with a maximum of one family member. Several brothers and sisters are always counted as one family member.

The school defines the objectives it will pursue with these extra resources, how it will achieve them and how it will self-evaluate. Objectives may include:

  • developing a specific linguistic skills education provision to boost pupils’ linguistic skills, such as listening, speaking, writing and comprehension within a functional context;
  • offering education-oriented parenting support to parents;
  • incorporating the (low-threshold) social functions in a network which includes partners from other sectors.

Free transport is provided between home and school for pupils who attend the nearest special school for their type of need. Extra hours and special learning tools, including interpreters for the deaf, are also available.

Funding for special educational needs in mainstream schools

A support model, introduced in September 2017, assisted mainstream basic and secondary schools with pupils with special educational needs. Mainstream schools can make use of support, starting from the extended care phase of the care continuum. This continuum consists of: basic care, increased care, expanded care, and individually adapted curricula.

The support model consists of two tracks:

  • support for mainstream schools with pupils with mental, physical, visual or auditory impairment and pupils with speech and language development problems. Schools choose one or more special schools to co-operate with, together with parents and the pupil guidance centre;
  • support for mainstream schools with pupils with severe learning problems, behavioural or emotional problems and pupils with autism. Mainstream and special schools work together in support networks.

Pupils with an intellectual disability (type 2), physical impairment (type 4), visual impairment (type 6), auditory impairment or speech or language development disorder (type 7), who have a statement (verslag) for an individual adapted curriculum generate the same amount of capital and operating resources in mainstream education as pupils with the same statement in special education. Schools work with pupils with a motivated report (gemotiveerd verslag, types 2, 4, 6 or 7) within the framework of the common curriculum if reasonable accommodations are offered. These pupils generate more limited capital and operating resources, depending on their type.

To support mainstream schools with pupils in basic provision (which replaces the former types 1, mild intellectual disability, and 8, learning disability), with an emotional, behavioural or autism spectrum disorder, mainstream schools and special schools work together in regional support networks. In each support network, mainstream schools must have access to support from special schools for all types listed. Special schools have expertise in these types.

Financing is based on a closed budget. Each network gets capital and operating budget based on the number of pupils in the support network’s mainstream schools (for 70%) and on the average number of pupils with SEN in the support network’s mainstream schools in the last six school years.

The Flemish Government also pays for technical equipment and adapted school materials that learners with disabilities in mainstream schools need (e.g. Braille for pupils with visual impairment). Learners with disabilities who attend mainstream primary, secondary or higher education can receive special learning tools (such as textbooks and syllabuses in Braille or large print, copies of notes from fellow learners, a speech-to-text device, deaf interpreters, etc.).

Learners with disabilities who attend mainstream education can also receive support via a personal assistance budget. This budget is intended to support the learner in daily activities, not in educational activities. It is provided by the Flemish Agency for Persons with Disabilities (VAPH, Ministry of Welfare).

The systems of financing described above are open-ended, except for the support network budget and the financing of the educational priority policy in special education.

The Welfare and Health Department finances semi-residential and residential care and other therapeutic services. It is mainly learners with severe disabilities who benefit from this. In the case of co-operation between a special school and these services, therapeutic staff, paid by the Welfare and Health Department, work with pupils from the school during school time.

Since May 2017, EUR 150 million per year is spent to support schools in their efforts to implement the ‘M-decree’ on the inclusion of learners with SEN in mainstream education. Special education costs around EUR 1 billion per year.


Last updated 13/04/2021

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