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Choosing schools in Belgium by Ginny Suter

Ginny wrote numerous articles for Plug-In Belgium and Internationals in Belgium in the late 1990s early 2000's and presented a weekly radio programme for a local radio station in the Brussels Waterloo area.

General points and information The choice of schools in Belgium: state; private; local or International, is vast and confusing. There are advantages and disadvantages for any of these and making the decision is always not easy. The biggest educational problem for international employees being transferred around the world is continuity of the curriculum and apart from boarding back home only two schools seem to offer a world-wide continuity, the French Lycée and the Montessori system.

Amongst the International Schools there are a number of possibilities. These are quite costly (almost equivalent to boarding school fees) and if not covered by a company package can seem prohibitive. There is sometimes a possibility, however, to discuss fees paid by the individual.

Fees at the two European Schools are much lower but the schools are predominantly for employees of the European Commission although access is open to the public where places are available.

At Le Verseau, a French private school where English is a large part of the curriculum, fees are also much lower than the other international schools, but here too there is a long waiting list.

The choices of Belgian schools are numerous. There are some private schools but mostly Belgians send their children to state owned schools, which have a high standard and are quite strictly discipline. (See article on considering a Belgian school).

Here are some comments from parent who have or have had children in various schools in Belgium, the reason for their choice.

Local pre-school Amanda Brown chose her local school - P Van Hoegarden a State School/Ecole Communale /Maternelle section(21/2 years to 6 years).

Amanda who is English is likely to be moved any where in the world. They moved here when her kids were very young, 8 months and almost 2 years. She had the choice of putting them into the international schools, which she visited and found, "they had a nice nurseries, good facilities, but little or no emphasis on French or contact with the local community neither for her or her children."

She wanted to take advantage of being in this country and to integrate locally. That was three years ago and since the boys have been there, they have had the opportunity to pick up another language without too much difficulty.

"Jack began understanding the language quite quickly, within the first few months", said Amanda. " I found the school friendly and informal. The teachers were affectionate and warm towards the children yet at the same time were well disciplined in the classroom."

"The kids are very happy, there is a lot of structure to the day with a concentration on social skills. Both Jack and Guy come home with wonderful, almost professional handicrafts." On reflections she adds, "It was quite alarming, just before Christmas, to walk into the classroom and find a 25 strong army of mini-lifelike 'kiddicraft' Saint Nicolas!"

"The out door activities are very good. The children are often taken for walks and outings. In the summer they visit farms, the forests and go on other nature orientated expeditions."

There are about 24 children to a class. Lessons start at 9.00am-3.30pm and flexible about staying all day up until 5 years old. There is a choice of hot lunches, taking sandwiches or going home for lunch.

The Montessori School System

P and her husband are German and moved here with an American international company. They chose this school and system - "Firstly, because it's not easy to find one school to suit the different needs of all your children, especially when you are moving all over the world.

"Secondly, the schools in each country differ, even so called international schools. Because of this we didn't choose a specific school but decided for a certain kind of school. We chose for our children, schools that apply the method and rules of Maria Montessori.

"This method of education centres on the needs of every child and respects their individual rhythm. This means an enormous support during the disturbances of a move. The child finds the same learning materiel, the same daily curriculum, the same learning approach in every Montessori school.

"The teachers support the child according to his/her individual learning progress. As every child is different this takes care of the problem for a family with several children. A good Montessori teacher will give all the time to the children they need. Therefore, classes are small, about 1 teacher for 9 children.

"The first thing the children learn is how to show respect to their classmates and to the environment. Out of this follows all the skills like fairness, self-confidence, caring, and independence.

"Both our children develop and blossom wonderfully in their school. We want to keep them in this system as long as possible."

Le Verseau

Di Soames, who is British and likely to be here for several years, chose Le Verseau because she wanted Freddie, -"take full advantage of the local culture through the school whilst retaining lessons in English.

"The 'Maternelle' is strong on creativity and social skills, children are taken to the theatre, and on exciting nature walks such as mushroom picking or flower observation."

She plans to keep him there until the age of eleven when she will transfer them to a total English Education system either here or at a boarding school in England.

There is a long waiting list at Le Verseau and Di registered Freddie when he was 3 months old.

St John's International School, Waterloo

Sule is Turkish and has an international background studying and living in the USA and Holland before moving to Belgium fifteen years ago. She chose St John's school for their two kids because of its IB programme and because - "It was a Catholic school - not in religion but in discipline. Kids are educated in all religions, it's liberal and well rounded, we even got to know more about Moslems!

"We liked the personal attention to the kids and involvement of parents and consequently the family atmosphere.

"AND academically it has a strong background - if children are strong in an area students can go forward and if they are weak in an area they concentrate in that area they help and teach the individual.

"I told our kids - succeed. And they did. They both did well at North Western, USA." A. went on to Cambridge UK to do his Masters and is now working for the Financial Times.

The British School of Brussels

Wendy Humphreys is British and has lived here for over 20years. "We chose the British School because it is the only school in the area which offers GCSE's and A Levels. It has a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

The school offers not only a good education but also a wealth of extra-curricular activities such as sports and drama.

BSB is well known for providing adults with the opportunity for evening classes in many different activities such as language learning as well as many social outings. We have not, as yet, taken advantage of these since we don't live that near to the school.

My eldest two continued their education (A levels) at a boarding school in England before continuing on to English universities. My youngest has decided to stay on here for 'A' levels as there are very good maths teachers. He's taking Double Maths, Physics and French. Then he's aiming for University in England.

International School of Brussels

Two mothers, one moving from her children from the Interntional School in Washington the other from the Internatioanl school in Geneva had both found the International school excellent. They thought that placing them in the International school in Brussels would give their education a continuity but the system was not the same. The parents were disappointed that their children were taught different methods at a crucial time in their studies. Otherwise they find the school her excellent too.

Antonia Bakker is Dutch. Prior to moving here 20 years ago, she had lived in England where her youngest child started school. When she arrived here she sent him to the Dutch section of the European school. This did not work as he had not studied in his mother tongue previously and felt intimidated at being behind the other students. She then placed her son at ISB which he discovered after joining the ISB scouts. He found that the school had a lot to offer him, came out with great grades, studied at university in Holland and now has a promising career in an international company.

Perfect, no problem you use Tonny`s name, we thought about our reason for putting Marnix at ISB and one main reason was the importance put to sport. We found sports important for marnix development and it was ISB who offered this (american type of school system). regards Tonny.

Lycée Français

Several parents chose the Lycée Français because it gave a continuity in worlswide in many countries: Milan; London; Jo'burg.

Gillian Flochelle, English, is now living in Paris with her French husband.

While living in Belgium they chose the Lycée Français because "It offers a bi-lingual system with English and prepares the Oxford / Cambridge exams, First Certificate and Proficiency."

She adds, "Our children are French born with a French father, who is destined to work the French system to the bitter end. There's no doubt that the French curriculum is very hard, but the children that make it through to the end, although totally lacking in self-confidence (through being told they're useless and are not ever going to make it) can apply for admittance to any foreign university. In order to get into the French "grandes écoles" (business schools and engineering schools of higher education), one needs to prepare the entry contest/exam in special "prépas" (schools of preparation) and one can only get into these with pretty impressive marks in the school report over the latter two years and in the bacc. itself. I suppose the French expect their children to come out of the schooling system, even before higher education, with more than a smattering of culture and so academically the Lycée is of a very high standard.

The last reason which springs to mind is that the French lycées all over the world prepare the same French baccalaureate, and answer to the French Ministry of Education, by whom they are, for the most part, partly funded. This means that people who move can put their children in the different Lycées and know they'll not be disrupted from an academic point of view, rather like the British who prefer to send their children to boarding schools in England for such reasons.

Also, the fees, although higher than the free schooling to be had in France itself, are nowhere near as high as other international schools. Certainly in Brussels where the difference is fantastic.

I would not recommend the lycée to anyone whose children are not academically on top, or who think that education should include sports, team building, leadership and other humane qualities. There are the odd teams which do well, but on the whole the sports facilities are meagre and anyway the accent is put so much on academia that the children have little time for anything else.

ON THE OTHER HAND WE NOW HEAR FROM A HEADMISTRESS ABOUT THE MERITS OF AN ALL GIRLS BOARDING SCHOOL

Queen Ann's School, Caversham, UK All That's Nice - In An All Girls Education System by Mrs Deborah Forces, MA

"Sugar and Spice and all things nice, that's what girls are made of!" If there's one thing that the 'Spice Girls' have done, it's to draw attention to that other, altogether more interesting aspect of the rhyme about little girls, 'Spice'. Whether the originator of the jingle was just after a rhyme for 'nice', I don't know, but what a promising departure from 'sugar'!

St Trinian's, Mallory Towers and a flowering of literature about repressed convent girls evolving into hot nymphets, have perhaps coloured the popular conception of 'girls' only schools', as places where sugar may appear as candy floss, thick, gloopy molasses or bitter black treacle.

Hearty hockey sticks, codes of honour borrowed from their brothers or the unhealthy intensity of females cloistered together in a tumult of hysterical passion , have conspired to promote the apparent advantages of co-education.

What a travesty! As Head of al all girls' boarding school, my working life could hardly resemble the stereotypes less. The six formers who go out into the world each year are fine, confident, purposeful young women, all destined for university, many taking a GAP year occupied by projects which demand an intrepid spirit, not to mention resourcefulness in raising funds to finance the adventure. So what have they gained, these capable girls, from being educated in the company of their own sex? Before I answer that question, let me be clear about one thing : they like boys and young men. They meet them, discuss them, think about them, and talk to them, (at length) on the telephone. They plan and organise social events with them, challenge them in debating and public speaking and so on. These opportunities please them, their parents and us.

What we do want for them is the chance to mature without ever-present distraction. The most vulnerable mid-teen years are crucial in the growth of self-esteem.

Sensitive to each other's feelings, girls build up trust in a classroom atmosphere, knowing that their, mistakes will be gently received, they know that their strivings towards articulate expression and reasoned assertion will be encouraged and applauded. They do not have to compete with boys on equal terms, the terms are their own, they make the rules. Every avenue to leadership is exclusively their own, every reward is theirs. This uncompetitive access to all fields of endeavour does not mean that when confronted with the opposite sex in a working environment, the girls blush and efface themselves, far from it. They are used to being accorded respect and can command it.

Living in a female community means that girls arrive at womanhood by their own routes. They have not shed the traditional female powers of nurturing and sympathy. Those qualities are not mere 'sugar', if the women of today do not have them, the children of tomorrow face a bleak future. We are not educating a race of superwomen, but of women who are empowered to choose their individual paths to fulfilment.

See also Selecting the School

©Ginny Suter - 1998

Original article appearing in "Internationals in Belgium" Dick Suter was an editor of the magazine and contributor and Ginny Suter was a regular contributor in the late 1990's and 2000's - The magazine had a circulation of 10,000 Please note that this article was first published many years ago and telephone and fax numbers are likely to be out of date.

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