©Danny Gys / Reporters
©Danny Gys / Reporters

Belgium: limiting the impact of the francophone political crisis on the start of the school year

published 4 September 2017 updated 6 September 2017

While close to 900,000 students and 100,000 teachers of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation are preparing to start a new school year, the Belgian teacher trade unionists have reaffirmed the importance of applying the Pact of excellence aimed at achieving quality education.

The start of the school year, which is gradually starting from 1 September in Belgium, will be taking place in an unprecedented political context following the explosion of the PS-cdH majority in June.

Despite the breakdown, the two political parties have been able to ensure that students will have a “normal” start to the school year, in particular with the entry into force of the first concrete measures of the Pact of excellence.

Although the immediate situation is taken care of, education stakeholders who have worked hard for nearly three years to design the school of tomorrow as a more efficient and less inegalitarian institution, have expressed their concern. The last two years of the legislature which lost its majority were deemed crucial for translating the reforms into draft decrees and ensure that they were voted in by Parliament.

Although the Walloon Region has had a new MR-cdH majority since July, the matter of which majority will complete the current legislature in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation has not yet been settled, and whether it will have the same desire as its predecessor to implement all the reforms from the Pact is as yet unknown.

The CSC-Enseignement is apprehensive

Apprehension seems to be widespread among teachers' unions.

“I see a Pact which was stopped in mid-stride,” explained Eugène Ernst from the CSC-Enseignement. “We are standing here, unsure of the path to be taken. Will we retrace our steps? Will we take another direction? We do not know…,” he said.

He also stressed that the outgoing majority had decided to make the Pact a budgetary priority for the coming years, in particular undertaking to find additional resources to finance the reforms and to await the effects, meaning savings, at a later time.

MR President Olivier Chastel having stated that budgetary efforts should be fairly distributed among the various entities, Ernst also wondered whether this meant that the existence of the budget line for the Pact was being put into question.

He also stated that he was “very, very, very worried” by the current political void in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, which he believes could put wind in the sails of the supporters of the regionalisation of education.

Trade union statement

In a joint statement dated 20 June, CSC-Enseignement, CGSP-Enseignement, SLFP-Enseignement , SEL-SETCa and CGSLB-Appel had firmly recalled that “schools cannot be made to suffer the consequences of the political crisis” and that “for months and years, the union and education stakeholders have been working on major issues of crucial important to our school system”.

They called for a rapid resolution to the following matters: the sectoral memorandum of understanding; the philosophy and citizenship course in secondary education and transitional measures for secondary and primary education teachers; initial training for teachers; additional support and guidance in nursery schools; assistance for school management; and adjustments to the ‘Titles and function’ decree.

They emphasised that it is crucial for teachers, students, their parents and the schools that these matters be resolved by the start of the school year so that it may be organised as best possible as “they cannot be made to suffer the consequences of the political void”.

The joint trade union front expressed “its deepest concern and wishes to state that it is ready to respond forcefully against any sidelining of these issues which would inevitably have repercussions on teachers' working conditions”.

Despite all of these uncertainties, the ‘Consultative Committee’, the Pact's steering body in which the various stakeholders have a seat, will hold a meeting on 31 August as planned. The aim of the meeting will involve measuring the progress of the gradual implementation of the common core curriculum, as well as developing new standards, in particular for kindergarten education.