Secondary Education

When graduating from primary school around the age of 12, students enter secondary education. Here they have to choose a course that they want to follow, depending on their skill level and interests.

Secondary education consists of three cycles (Dutch: graden; French: degrés; German: Grad):
First cycle (year 1 and 2)
Second cycle (year 3 and 4)
Third cycle (year 5 and 6)

The Belgian secondary education grants the pupils more choice as they enter a higher cycle. The first cycle provides a broad general basis, with only a few options to choose from (such as Latin, additional mathematics and technology). This should enable students to orient themselves in the most suitable way towards the many different courses available in the second and third stages. The second and third cycle are much more specific in each of the possible directions. While the youngest pupils may choose at the most two or four hours per week, the oldest pupils have the opportunity to choose between different "menus": like Mathematics and Science, Economics and Languages or Latin and Greek. They are then able to shape the largest part of the time they spend at school. However, some core lessons are compulsory like the first language and sport, etc. This mix between compulsory and optional lessons grouped in menus make it possible to keep class structures even for the oldest students.

Secondary school is divided into four general types. Each type consists of a set of different directions that may vary from school to school. The general types are as follows:

General Secondary Education (Dutch: Algemeen Secundair Onderwijs; ASO; French: Enseignement Secondaire général): A very broad, general education, preparing for higher education. Once students have completed all six years, it is expected that they will continue studying (e.g.: university or college). Possible directions include (combinations of): ancient Greek and Latin, Modern Languages (stressing French and Dutch, English, German, and sometimes optional Spanish), Sciences (chemistry, physics, biology and geography), Mathematics, Economics, and Human Sciences (psychology, sociology, media).

Technical Secondary Education (Dutch: Technisch Secundair Onderwijs; TSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire technique): The TSO is divided into two groups of education again: TTK and STK. The TTK courses focus more on technical aspects, the STK courses focus more on practical matters. Both offer a general education in mathematics, languages, history, science, and geography, but mostly not on the same level as ASO courses. Lessons have a less theoretical, but more technical and practical approach. Once students have completed all six years they are either ready for the job market (STK courses mostly) or continue to study (TTK courses mostly). The continued studies could be a seventh specialization year (mostly STK students take this as an option), or studying for a bachelor's or master's degree. Possible directions include several office management-like directions, practical ICT, tourism, health, teaching, trade, practical engineering or communications.

Vocational Secondary Education (Dutch: Beroepssecundair Onderwijs; BSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire professionnel): Very practical and very job specific education. Afterwards, several directions offer seventh, sometimes eighth, specialisation years. Possible directions include carpentry, car mechanics, jewellery or masonry. BSO is the only type of secondary education that does not qualify students to pursue higher education. If the student chooses to follow the optional 7th (and sometimes 8th) year, he/she will receive a diploma of the same level as a TSO diploma, which does allow him/her to pursue higher education.

Art Secondary Education (Dutch: Kunstsecundair onderwijs; KSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire artistique): These schools link general and broad secondary education development with active art practice, ranging from performance arts to visual arts. Depending on the direction, several subjects might be purely theoretical, preparing for higher education. Directions include dancing (Ballet school), acting, and several graphical and musical arts. Many students graduating from these schools go to music conservatories, higher ballet or acting schools or art colleges to further develop their art.

Students with disabilities can follow Special Secondary Education (Dutch: Buitengewoon Secundair Onderwijs; BuSO; French: Enseignement Secondaire spécial), of different types.