Primary education lasts six years. The same applies to secondary studies, split into three two-year cycles. In Belgium, schools are in principle free-of-charge in what is called ""state- funded"" education split in practice into two networks. The ""official"" state system is agnostic, whereas the free (""libre"") network is confessional (Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, etc). In both cases, most establishments ask parents to pay some costs, such as after-school care, school trips and some extra-curricular activities (usually sports or cultural visits).
Secondary education is divided into several branches, around a core system. Pupils can decide a range of optional subjects according to availability or their preferences. All recognised secondary education diplomas open the doors to higher and university education.
There is also private education in Belgium where the curricula set by the competent authorities do not need to be followed to the letter. These establishments receive no state funding and operate due to the yearly tuition fees paid by each pupil. Private education cannot lead to an official diploma, so the pupils need to sit a final exam to obtain the CEB (Certificat d'études de base) and the CESS (Certificat d'études secondaires supérieures). The schools naturally prepare their pupils for these tests.
To end, one should be aware that as of the age of 15 certain provisions exist to exonerate children from full-time education, and as of 16 children can leave the education system entirely. Most adolescents leaving the traditional school system turn towards a reduced timetable organised as part of ""professional"" secondary education (lower or higher), or take on an apprenticeship to learn a trade (as part of a contract combining theoretical training and one or several periods of in-company training), or even towards ""formation permanente"" training given by the Classes Moyennes (usually commerce) and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). For the latter, the Brussels region offers an impressive choice, which is a paradox if one considers the city's unemployment rate, which is higher than the country's other two regions.