To understand the place of VET and its relation to early school leaving (ELS) against the background of the Belgian institutional framework,1 it is important to keep in mind the differences in competences of the Federal State, the (cultural) Communities – the Flemish Community, the French Community and the German-speaking Community – and the (socio-economic) Regions – the Brussels-Capital Region, the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region. Within this Belgian set-up, Communities as well as Regions possess a large degree of autonomy, the former in the domains of Education, Youth and Youth Support, the latter in the domain of Vocational Training and Employment. Hence, our overview of early school leaving in Belgium will unavoidably need to discuss separately developments in the different Communities and Regions. Nevertheless, it is also important to keep in mind that at this time there exist still2 several features situated at the Federal level and, thus, common to all entities and exerting a strong influence on the different educational systems. In the domain of education the most important of these features are:

-the principle of freedom of education, implying the right to establish and conduct a private educational institution, and the freedom of choice of school;
-the extension of compulsory schooling till the age of 18, introduced in 1983, with the possibility to opt for part-time schooling, embedded in a particular type of dual system (alternating work and learning) from the age of 15/16 onwards;
-a system differentiating between educational forms (general, artistic, technical and vocational), forcing parents and children to choose for a particular track at the early stages of secondary education.

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