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Flanders no closer to decision on new school timetable as the clock ticks

Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts pictured during a visit to a school in Asse, Monday 11 October 2021. (BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE)
06:17 05/05/2022

After the validation of the new school year schedule in French-speaking schools earlier this year, it was expected that the Flemish system would come to a decision to follow this plan soon after. But, as RTBF reports, Flanders is no closer to agreeing to synchronise with the new timetable.

French-speaking students will now start their new school years on the last Monday in August and end on the first Friday in July, meaning that the next one will start on Monday 29 August 2022 and end on Friday 7 July 2023.

In Flanders, opinion remains divided as time ticks on.

Flemish minister of education Ben Weyts, it has been claimed, has not appreciated being put in this position while tackling other problems in the Flemish education system. These include the huge shortage of teachers and the decline in the level of Dutch-speaking students.

Potential discontent from parents with children in both Flemish and francophone schools

But the small revolution that has taken place on the French-speaking side prompts questions of harmonising school holidays across the country and dealing with the discontent of parents who have children in both French-speaking and Dutch-speaking education. 

Initially, Weyts did not oppose a shortening of the summer holidays. In principle he agreed with the experts who have long advocated for the adoption of this system. Reducing the July and August holidays by two weeks would indeed be beneficial to counter the loss of learning during this long period. Extending the autumn and spring half-term holidays in exchange would also allow students to have a longer break.

However, faced with widespread opposition from actors on the ground such as teachers, parents' associations and social partners, Weyts preferred to engage in further discussions rather than take a hasty decision.

Teachers surveyed against reform

He faces an uphill battle if he is to get support from those who oppose the plans. According to a survey of 5,300 teachers in the Flemish system, four out of five of them are not in favour. They fear in particular an increase in the workload, and a lack of time to properly rest.

Many respondents said that they would leave their job if they had two weeks less summer vacation. And this is also the case for school principals who also fear running out of time to complete the academic year, while preparing for the next one. Six out of 10 heads say they are against any change.

Students were also included in the survey. Out of 3,500 questioned, nearly 80% of them did not want to sacrifice their two-month break. They believed that the summer holidays were their only real moment of switching off because the other holidays would be burdened by deadlines, tests or other school-related duties.

Students were less interested in an extra week during the autumn and spring holidays because the the weather conditions were less favourable. They also pointed to the complications that children of divorced parents could face, knowing that family arrangements would be thrown into chaos.

Small majority of parents favour shorter summer vacation

Concerning parents, it was noted that they were the only ones slightly in favour of a reform. Just over half of them said they were in favour of a shorter summer vacation; an understandable position as it's not always easy to keep children occupied for two months.

Is there still hope that the reform of school timetables will be introduced in Flanders? For the moment, Ben Weyts is still waiting for the opinion of the Flemish Council of Education, which should be submitted by the end of the school year.

The Flemish community schools network supports the project, as does the Catholic education network, which nevertheless calls for a survey to be carried out on the benefits of such a system.

In any case, in the face of divergent opinions, the minister in charge has already warned that the reform will only take place if it obtains broad support from actors on the ground, but also from other sectors and families, because they all are concerned. It's therefore unlikely that the decision will be made in the coming days. People upset by this new difference between the north and the south of the country will have to remain patient.

Written by Nick Amies