Intellectual disability and school inclusion: Belgium again condemned by the European Committee of Social Rights

12 February 2021
Area of action: Education
Grounds of discrimination: Disability

Three years after Belgium was condemned for failing to guarantee the right to inclusive education in the Flemish Community for children with intellectual disabilities, the European Committee of Social Rights has made public its decision concerning education in the French Community of Belgium: Belgium is once again condemned.

Following Unia’s recommendations and ruling  in favour of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Inclusion Europe, the Committee  condemns the French Community of Belgium for the lack of efforts made for the educational inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities. The Committee unambiguously acknowledges the existence of a violation of the (revised) European Social Charter. 

By recognising that the effective right to an inclusive education is not being guaranteed for students with intellectual disabilities in the French Community of Belgium, the Committee highlights the violation of other international human rights conventions. In particular, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) for which Unia has a mandate to monitor compliance.

At a joint press conference on February 3, 2021, Unia, the General Delegate for the Rights of the Child and the Minister of Education in the French Community of Belgium discussed this condemnation and endeavoured to outline future efforts together, despite sometimes differing priorities, in the best interests of the children. 

Requests from Unia in association with Inclusion, FIDH and the General Delegate for the Rights of the Child: 

  1. The consultation of representative associations of people with intellectual disabilities in the development, implementation and evaluation of laws that affect them. When a reform is considered to make the school system more inclusive, they should be closely involved, along with other associations representing people with disabilities. The CRPD demands: "Nothing about us without us." Children and young people with disabilities must also be heard, in accordance with the CRC.
  2. The adoption of a transition plan towards an inclusive education system. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities already recommended this in 2014, as did the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2019. 
  3. To take into account children with intellectual disabilities in all texts aimed at making school more inclusive (territorial centres, reasonable accommodation).
  4. Provide for different standards of support for mainstream schools serving this population.
  5. Allow the extra cost of a child in a specialised school to be shifted to the mainstream school that accommodates the child
  6. Integrate the support systems organised at regional level (Phare and Aviq) to support and improve the care of children by ordinary educational teams.
  7. Strengthen initial and in-service teacher training.

Political commitment

At the press conference, the Minister of Education, Caroline Désir, emphasised that the French Community of Belgium already offers students with intellectual disabilities:

  • quality specialised education;
  • full permanent integration for pupils who have actually attended special education, throughout their schooling if necessary;
  • 17 inclusive classes (primary and secondary levels).

However, she is fully aware that more needs to be done.

The Minister underscores the importance of allowing the various stakeholders to compare notes and to change the way in which they view disability. However, building a more inclusive school is not just about decrees, roadmaps or studies. It is also a choice we make as a society.

With that in mind, the Minister would like to organise a roundtable meeting on the care of students with intellectual disabilities. This round table will bring together the various ministers responsible for the disability sector at all levels of government, representatives of parents' associations, representatives of associations that support these pupils in the field, representatives of stakeholders in the field such as members of staff in special and mainstream education, the directors of schools that have these pupils in their classes, representatives of institutional stakeholders, the General Delegate for the Rights of the Child and Unia.

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