One more moving to Brussels :)(461 Posts)
Hi everyone! Found this site a few days ago and I see that some of you live in Belgium :-)
My husband has been transferred to Brussels for 3 years, which is great and we are looking to move early next year. We have 2 little girls 5 & 6 .
We have been in Brussels for 8 days now school & house hunting. I tell you it has not been easy. We just can't decide were to live. After looking at quite a few houses we have come down to two.
The first house we are deciding on is in Ixelles near all the shops, it has no garden (not even a little patch) and no parking which is a bit of a pain driving round and round trying to find one after a long day of work. On the plus side the house is near Tenbosch Park and another big play ground that I can easily walk the girls to, also all the restaurants and shops.
House number 2 is in Watermal-Boitsfort, it is bigger and newly renovated, plenty of parking but the nearest shop (which is 2 supermarkets) is 1.5km away. Not crazy far, but far enough not to make the area very exciting or have anything fun to walk to.
One of the things that appeal to me coming to Europe is the fact that you don't have to get into your car just to get milk. I really enjoy walking and was looking forward to be able to walk to the corner store to get milk or whatever. Also living in a quaint, pretty european style street is very appealing.
DH understandably wants it to be an easy commute to work (Auderghem) and back and to the girl's school (we are deciding between BEPS and ISB) and the Watermal house would certainly provide that. It also has a garden for the girls. The downside is that this house is just surrounded by big offices and buildings and some embassies.
So, after all that rambling ... having lived in Brussels for a while, would you go for the more lively location and walkable locations, but smaller house and no garden, or the bigger house with a garden but not very exciting surroundings but closer to work and schools?
I probably won't have car for the first 6 moths or so but will probably get one later. DH will have car and will be traveling quite a bit with his job. I'll be a stay-at-home mom.
Thanks for any input!!
Signed, indecisive Crazy Rambler ;-)
Aleo, I can speak French relatively well but there are some teachers I'd still not want talk to who are thankfully in the minority at our local school. But some of the teachers I am good friends with, they come over for breakfast usually once a week and I spoil them with cakes to eat for lunch, very naughty of me but as they are paid peanuts, I always like to spoil them. I wouldn't have dreamed inviting any teachers at our old UK school. Belgians are very reserved and seemingly unfriendly (ok great generalisation but too often true), it takes quite while to get to know them and they make very loyal friends.
We moved to Brussels last year February from Denham Green in the UK.
It has been an quite a move> We moved to Hoeilaart which is a Flemish area but only 15 kilometers from Brussels and a 15 minute car ride to Delta metro station which in turn is 15 mins from Brussles centre. We looked at the international schools but they were too expensive and even the French private schools at 500 Euros a month did not impress us - very cramped not well kept and other alarming signs. We decided to look at the local Flemish schools in Hoeilaart. The one was very strict catholic and the other a normal christian based school but accepting all faiths and languages. After investigation, we found that the catholic school was not flexible in many aspects and decided on the Flemish school for our three year old where the teacher could help as she knew english very well.
Some quick pros and cons.
Cheaper rent and more value for your money a little out of brussels> we have a five bedroom house compared to a two bedroom flat in UK at more or less the same rent - careful though although the council tax is much lower they off set it with expensive rubbish bags - mandatory, and the heating cost for the house was not expected to be so large!! We are close to the forest and enjoyed many beautiful rides and walks this past summer> We have a lovely public swimming pool and a loical sports club focusing on Tennis and Hockey. The town centre has everything we have ever needed but we have a massive Carrefour near Hermann de broex which is fifteen mins drive. Driving into Brussles at 9am is not advisable but I drop my husband at Delta and the traffic is heavy but not alarming as it is a short journey. The biggest plus is that the schools take care of the kids from the age of two and a half at a very low cost 20 euro per term> The Flemish educational system is number three in the world and far surpasses the French system in the same burrows. I am told this is because of the amount of resources that the different communities put into these systems.
So far most shops are closed on a Sunday unless you head into Brussels.
There is a parculiar driving rule that allows for cars to drive onto a road from a stopstreet and the car with right of way - in the UK system will have to give way IE stop!!! Noone tells you about this little rule and it only applies to roads that dont show a yellow diamond sign. I may not have this correct but please check this out before being scared half to death when the cars start turning in front of you!!
All in all, we love Brussels and the people are full of culture and very accomodating even the French!! well some of them ;)
PISA study December 2009 places Belgians' 11 year olds at 11th in this world survey, 3rd in Europe.
If you break down the Belgian stats, it's true that OVERALL the Flemish and German speaking Belgians scored higher than their French speaking counterparts, BUT the PISA results also yet again highlighted that in Belgium, particularly in Flemish Belgium, that the PISA marks reflected far too well the socio-economic status of the 15 year olds eg those 15 year olds from well-off families scored very well, those 15 year olds from poor backgrounds scored badly. The socio-economic gap in Belgium is more profound than in other developed countries... and particulary in Flemish Belgium.. and here you have the explanation as to why the French students in Belgium fare ON AVERAGE worse than their Flemish counterparts, because ON AVERAGE the French students are from poorer backgrounds than Flemish ones. So don't believe the hype about Flemish schools being better.....yes they get better resourced, but the biggest factor in predicting performance is SOCIAL STATUS of their children. So if you compare a French, German or French school in Belgium with the same type of children eg rich or poor, you will find little if any difference in performance according to language. In Belgium, ALWAYS judge a school on individual performance. Rejecting a whole school network on grounds of language, French, German or Dutch, is very very unwise.
But it's not only due to that natation. The Dutch-speakers have always (well as long as I've known) had a queueing system for their secondary schools. The better schools have longer queues but this usually means getting up really early on the day. The French-speakers had a system where you just pitched up to school with your report from primary and they decided whether or not they'd give you a place or not. (I think this was more the case in the Catholic schools but as there are many of them...) When they decided this was leading (or rather had led) to there being a few "good" (read highly academic) schools and the rest less well looked upon, they decided to introduce a queueing scheme too. However, the damage was already done and this led to people queueing for days (and nights!) to get into their preferred school. This was abandoned after two years and now there a rather more complicated form-filling/points allocated system.
If I could go back 19 years to when my eldest ds started in the Belgian system I would choose the Dutch-speaking system in a heartbeat. Better languages for a start.
Hi again! Happy New Year to you all and thanks again for all the replies!
We still haven't found a house yet. Dh will be going back to Brussels on Wednesday to look at some more houses. There are a few in Ixelles that we found with garden and parking (one got rented already though).
He will also look in Auderghem again. What area there has shops close by, like a little plaza or bakery, etc? All the houses we saw in December were in quite neighborhoods quite a walking distance from any shop. I will have him look near Petillon Station as some of you suggested.
We haven't decided on the girls schooling yet ... I didn't think it would be this hard :-). We should be there in just 6 weeks, Yikes!
ALeo what is the center of WSP? Any landmark or restaurant name you can give me so I can google it's location?
WSP is made up of several neighbourhoods.
Most convenient for Auderghem is "Chant d'oiseau" which is other side of Petillon and Boileau metro stations. It has it's own shops, supermarket, 2 2 1/2 to 12 schools, biggest landmark is the church there.
There's "Centre" which has the town hall as the biggest landmark, more built-up, has the 39/44 tram and just a bit north has eastern Brussels' bigget shipping centre Woluwe Shopping and also the metro line, borders WSL there.
Then there is "Parmentier/Kelle", surrounded by parks, not sure what you'd call most obvisous landmark there.
Then there is "Ste Alix or Stockel au Bois", the Ste Alix chruch and sqaure is biggest landmark, it's the location of the husge Sportcity sports complex and 50m pool, very very popular with families, not convenient if you reallys still want ISB as a school, but local schools are excellent, can walk to 44 tram line or 39 tram line which will link with tram line going through Auderghem.
Finally there is "Stockel" and arguably most popular area, Place Dumon is biggest landmark, metro stop and 39 tram which will link to Auderghem, excellent local schools again. ISB bus goes up Ave Orban, my friends' children take it. But BJAB and BISB also easy to reach from there, so is BSB.
Auderghem stretches along the autoroute from the ring to VUB/ULB universities, there's a huge Carrefour , metro lign, tram line intersecting 90% with the metro line. Big sports centre, the forest. Everything you would need is there. Think you need a map showing communes.
We're in Auderghem and although we have lots of little shops and the big Carrefour here, there's no centre or "place" to this bit which is a bit of a shame and I think something you'd like. I like the area around Chant d'Oiseau. However Boitsfort does have a nice village sort of feel to it.
Let us know when he's coming. Maybe we can help?
I've never looked on this website before but am so pleased to have done so! We are moving to Brussels next month from London (we're being relocated due to my husband's work) We have a 3yr old and 10month old so reading through all your posts has been really useful.
We're arriving this week to look at houses and schools, hoping this will not be too stressful - May well be back on here with lots of questions once I've actually visited.
Hi - ALeo here after name change to something that seemed to describe me a bit better!
As natation said, the centre is the bit around the Maison de la Commune. Another major landmark is Rob's Gourmet Supermarket. I wouldn't bother shopping there - too expensive and the stock doesn't turn over terribly quickly, but it's visible from Boulevard de Woluwe.
Just to add to natation's comments; there are a lot of expats living in the Saint Alix area. At least it seems that way to me - I know quite a few. Place Dumon is probably the most expensive. The shops around Place Dumon are quite nice but not worth the extra expense iMO.
Have fun this week. If you're in need of a coffee, look out for Pain Quotidien or Exki. Both quite reliable and pleasant. Of course, so are some independent places, but can be a bit more hit and miss.
Hope all goes well with your DHs visit Shutter. I sense you'd probably like Ixelles just stick to getting something with parking and a garden.
I am really worried about schooling options for my DS and whilst I hear lots of information about it I still don't know what to do.
First issue is school age. DS is now 2.5 and I think that's too young for school. I didn't like going at 5! Belgians think 2.5 is "school age" and I was pretty much told by the local school I tried to enlist him for that if he doesn't show up by September when he's 3 the classes will be full.
Then there is the language issue. I've been reading a lot around bilingualism and whilst I'm convinced it's a "good thing" I'm not convinced about educating my DS in a language DH and I can speak fluently but not precisely. You can find research to prove that it makes no difference, and you can find research to prove that it induces dyslexia and slows the brain. What research do you believe?! And I am not sure, living in an anglophone home, whether they would develop the linguistic skills they would need to function at the highest level educationally. Maybe I am being over aspirational as it's way too early to tell whether DS would be a drop out or be able to function at the highest level anyway (!) but I did and my DH did so if he were able I'd like him to have the chance.
Then there's the "system". I just don't know the system, curriculum, or anything else here. All the chat about points and queueing and reports. Arggggh.
Then there's my involvement. This might sound self indulgent but I worry I would not be able to help my child with his work at more than a functional level. I had a huge amount of support from my mum to keep me on track and I would like to be able to offer that to my children. Particularly as they got older I think they would lose me.
All that said the international schools are hugely and horribly expensive and of mixed quality and I feel a little aggrieved to contemplate paying for education of a similar quality (ie mixed) that I received free in the UK (my comprehensive was pretty good if you tried hard).
It's a very very vexing subject I think. How do you make a decision?
Sorry that's completely off track Shutter from your move but since this is an active Brussels thread I thought some people might have considered the same issues and have some light to shed on them!
Now I am a big fan of the local school system. My dd started at 2.5 - I was/am working full time. She had been at a nursery in the UK before that. I was really worried that she wouldn't be able to communicate - hungry / need the loo etc but she was happy from the outset and we never had any problems. She didn't say much for the first 6 months, then suddenly it all kicked in.
They cover such a lot of ground in Maternelle - not formal learning, but by studying themes and working in arts and crafts, books and pictures and trips. They did things like "bread" - so they went to a farm, they went to a mill, bakers etc Then they baked things themselves. They did all sorts of topics like this. At the same time they get used to the social aspect of school. Getting on with the other children, lunchtime, toiletting etc. As they got bigger, everyone had a little job to do - putting up today's weather, feeding the fish etc
The 3rd Maternelle gets a bit more formal - they learn how to write their name, exercises for pen control, simple maths. Apparently 99% of Belgian parents put their kids through the system. It is great preparation for REAL school. Dd is 7 in March and in 1st Primary. The amount of ground they covered in the first term is amazing. She does maths work sheets for fun, and has gone from practically zilch in reading, to being able to read Horrid Henry.
My reading about bilingualism is that it actually has a positive effect on learning ability - and I also read that it is countries where children are taught to read earlier - eg UK - that have the highest rates of Dyslexia. A lot of brains just aren't ready at 4. I am not a fluent French speaker, but can manage sufficiently to help with homework/understand parent's evening. I don't know how things will pan out in the long term.
The vocabulary issue is something that I have thought about - the big downside of living in a solely Anglophone household. We try to encourage dd to watch French speaking TV and videos and read to her in French as well as English. Of course as she has got older, she is spending all day with her peers, so the vocab just comes.... At Xmas she was 2nd in her class (small Mummy gloat) so obviously the fact that she is English mother tongue is NOT holding her back at the moment. In fact she has taken to calling DH "Papa" recently - after 6 years of Daddy. It is very sweet. Unfortunately, I remain "MUUUUUMMMMMM"
PS - I couldn't afford an International school so that decision was effectively made for me. I do have some regrets that I didn't enter dd into the Dutch speaking system though. At the time, she went to the nearest local school, and we could speak French and no Dutch, so it seemed simple.
We're currently living outside Brussels in Vlaams Brabant. It might make things trickier when we get to Secondary - we would probably have to move to guarantee a place at a decent school. But I have a few years yet - anything could happen....
I think bilingualism can only be a good thing and it is actually the norm for more people than monolingualism. Even though my daughter has language learning difficulties (dyslexia etc), this is the same in her mother tongue as in her second language. She goes to a very good specialist school in the French Belgian system and is bilingual.
Check out this website: multilingualliving.com. It doesn't directly relate to our situation, more to people who choose to bring up their children bilingual. It does have some good links though and interesting articles.
Are you worried about your children not developing enough of a second language or not enough of their maternal language? At first, we did extra curricular things in French and encouraged them to have playdates with French speaking friends. Now, 4 years on they are fluent in French and we try to find activities in English to reinforce their spoken English, eg. Beavers / Cubs at BSB in Tervuren, guitar lessons etc. My son transferred his reading skills from French to English and basically taught himself to read in English. For a while, I sent them to an English teacher for extra reading / writing lessons and apparently ds is reading at grade level in English. (Writing is a whole different ballgame!)
You always have the option to transfer from a local school to a private English school at a later date. It would be much more difficult to transfer the other way.
Sorry - realise I wasn't very clear with 'choose to bring up their children bilingual'. I find that the website / people posting on it tend to be trying to bring up a child in a minority language and struggling against an overpowering majority language (OPOL etc). That's not really the case for English or French!
I stopped worrying so much when I realised how many people here are bilingual or are bringing up bi / multilingual kids. For example, my neighbours kids speak French with their mother and grandmother, Spanish with their father and go to a flemish speaking school. Being monolingual is a disadvantage! Learning your second language in the same way as your mother tongue, ie. absorbing it through immersion at a young age, is the best way to do it.
Hey there Rushingrachel,
Portofino has described maternelle pretty much how I have experienced it in how the day is, how the curriculum is organised. Your experience of school at 5 years old is going to be way different to what a 2/3 year old experiences at school here. It's not like primary school, it's maternelle where children play and socialise and basically enjoy themselves.
There is no formal work you would need to help your children with at maternelle level, there are no queues to stand in, no points to collect, just usually a fwe easy forms to complete plus proof of address and ID. You normally only get a report at the end of 3e maternelle, it's not "marks" out of 10.
What the school told you is generally but not universally true, that if you don't enrol by 3 years old, it makes it difficult to find a place at the more popular schools at age 4, 5 or 6 when school becomes compulsory.
I simply cannot believe bilingualism induces dyslexia. I can also echo Pfaffinabout's experiences of her child teaching themselves to read in English. Our 9 year old has had no formal English teaching in 3 years, she reads as well as I would expect for at least a 9 year old, if not older. Our 5 year old is currently teaching herself to read in English, whilst being taught early reading in French from school. I am NOT encouraging the English at home for her as I do know it can make it difficult to learn to read in 2 languages at once, but what can I do, tell her off for teaching herself to read English??? Her French school teaches reading using phonics, so at least she is learning the relationship of sounds to letters in French, the same sounds which are in Engish she is learning the different letter combinations in English too.
Have you visited schools with high populations of non Francophones? Maybe that will set your mind at ease. At our children's schools, must be around 40% non francophones on entry, less by primaire, but among the Francophones, there are loads of children who are bilingual too, the monolingual French children in the school are a minority.
Bilingualism is the norm in Belgium.
Dd's school also has a large number of non- mother tongue French speaking children - in her class there are Poles, Czechs, Indians, Mother tongue Dutch speakers etc. I think this is another advantage to using the Maternelle system. By the time these children are 6, they can all speak French more or less fluently.
The schools which I have visited close to my house are Paradis des Enfants, which is MASSIVE and scares me although apparently it has a good reputation, and Notre Dame des Graces de Chant d'Oiseau, which I quite liked, although that was the one where they said enrol by 3 or bye bye. I did fill in the forms there when DS was much smaller (about a year) but guess if I actually want to enrol him by 3 (he's 3 in July) I will need to get back onto them soon, which is why I am thinking about this a lot at the moment. It's not that I am against some formalisation from 3, I went to playgroup mornings and liked it, and my niece was in nursery in the UK but again only for mornings. 4.5 days a week for a small one strikes as s a lot. Maybe I'm just struggling with the idea that my baby such a short while ago is apparently school age today!
I actually read about the research on dyslexia in a book called "Pour une education bilingue" which was lent to me by a friend who grew up in the Belgian school system in Liege despite neither of her parents being Belgian. It covered the research both ways in a very measured way. My friend who I quizzed at length was not wholly positive or negative, she said there were advantages and disadvantages and some of the disadvantages are the ones that worry me and the bilingualism, which is of course the big advantage, attracts me.
I know that bilingualism is the norm in Belgium, I've lived and worked here for 4 years (before that I was in Paris for 3 years where it certainly isn't the norm)! I guess the key difference between a Belgian and a foreigner is that the Belgian becomes bilingual whilst their education is anchored in their native tongue. So the questions about vocabulary etc do not arise.
I guess the answer is to get back onto the school and see if we could still enroll DS then go and have another look around.
How far from the Chant d'Oiseau area are you? There is Bémel which is maternelle only and has only 4 classes, probably couldn't get much different size wise than Paradis des Enfants.
Chant d'Oiseau is very popular with non Belgians and would normally have space, communal schools were built for extra capacity, but with the rising birth rate, I know they are running out of space there, it used to be 2 classes per year but some now have 3 classes. Heard mainly positive about Chant d'Oiseau.
Notre Dame des Graces is the "sought after" school by Belgian parents, conveniently not far from SC de Lindthout and St Michel secondaires where I imagine the majority of children move on to. It's also a growing school, expanding from 2 to 3 classes per year and has recently completely an extension. But because of popularity with Belgian parents, there is little movement out of the school, once the children start, so the number of non Belgians is going to be mush smaller there. I had a friend who used to have her children there until she moved abroad, she didn't say anything bad about it.
Or Auderghem way, St Julien-Parnasse, know nothing about other than each section is not too big but with secondaire, primaire and maternelle it is a big school, it depends on how the sections are separated physically and on a day-to-day basis. My friend's son goes to a maternelle with primaire and secondaire, I was horrified at first at the thought of little ones in a school of almost 1500 from 2 to 18, but in fact in the maternelle part, it is so enclosed you do not notice the rest of the school.
Then there's an Auderghem communal not too far from St Julien, can't remember the name of it sorry.
I fully understand not wanting to send children to school early, all of my children went only 2 half days per week to a private nursery, only the youngest has been to school at 3 here, the others started at 4 in the UK. I've not really had personal experience of my own children going at 2 1/2, only watched others. IF we were still in the UK, wouldn't dream of putting the children into a school at 2 1/2, but we're here where it's the norm and for non French / Dutch speakers, school has the advantage of acquiring another language without too much effort.
IF you do ever put your child into school at 2 or 3 , Rachel, just be sure it's what you want and are happy for your child to attend *every*** day, whether part time or full time. It's not a drop-in creche, the teachers do not appreciate children who attend infrequently who take extra time to adjust every time they arrive, make it hard to plan for activities etc. If you are comfortable, your child could start tomorrow, if you are not, I'd enrol and wait till September. Missing classe d'acceuil is not a big deal at all, the only downside is that by not having a place already, it reduces chances of getting a 1ere maternelle place, reduced even more if you wait till 2e maternelle.
Maybe you could look into Farandoline type groups before starting school? Nearest you get to a UK mums and tots group but in French.
Natation I really appreciate your views. I'm right on the border between Auderghem and WSP, nearest is definitely Paradis des Enfants. My Belgian nanny had her son there some 15 years ago and took him away because she says its living on past glories and classes were too big and supervision non existent at times.
Had no idea Notre Dame des Graces was sought after, I just saw it near the playground then a client of DH told him she had her kids there (her husband is Belgian) and it was a good school so I went down to fill in the papers so we had the option if we wanted it.
I couldn't send DS until 3 I don't think, as he's not sufficiently good with the potty (another long story)! And even then I'm not sure I'm going to be happy about it exactly. I come from a family of teachers (my sister even taught at BSB for a while before I was here) though so I would not be the type to mess them around taking the child in and out. If I decide it's the thing to do then I'll do it properly.
I would completely ignore the opinion of someone who had a child in a school 15 years ago. Belgians, or in fact anyone, can come up with all sorts of reasons for changing schools, I haven't been here that long, but from short experience of primaire, the biggest REAL reason children move schools is because they have failed a year and do not like the decision and if they can find another school which will accept their child without holding back a year, they move school.
Class sizes are a no win situation in Brussels. The most popular school have the fullest classes and 25 is the norm for a full class in the French system, yes even with little ones, but usually the first class "acceuil" has an assistant. In our school, the smallest class is our daughters at 18, the biggest is 35.... yes 35 .. because the French Community forced the school to reduce 2 classes into 1, yes unacceptable but the French Community are not over-generous with budgets and staffing. The average number in a primaire class at our school is about 23, in maternelle it is 22 but the largest has 26 and smallest has 18 (daughter's class). The average will rise until about May, as acceuil's numbers builds up as children turn 2 1/2. So to avoid such large classes, you have to find a school in your area that is not popular with parents.
As for potty training, not all schools require children to be completely potty trained, some do accept in nappies, with a willingness to co-operate with potty training. For sleep time, a nappy is not going to be a problem at all. So you have to ask the acceuil teacher personally what her policy is on having a child arriving with nappies. I asked our acceuil teacher just before Christmas how many she had still in nappies, out of 20 she had 4!!!! I told her she is mad accepting that many.
Oh and the communal school in Auderghem, it's les Marroniers on chaussee de Wavre. There's also institut Ste Anne probably the same distance from you as St Julien-Parnasse, known as one of the better Etterbeek schools but like NDG, it's oversubscribed.
If you are interested in enrolling for next September or any time in that year, you'll have to get your skates on. Several schools I konw of completed enrolments back in October 2010 for September 2011, one school near me, Mater Dei, had its enrolment for 1ere maternelle just his Monday and for sure all the places will already be gone. Good luck
DD's premiere primaire class has 27. They split up a lot for activities though. The class sizes were similar in Maternelle. I know this only because of the number of party bags I had to supply.
I often wondered how they got anything done at all with 27 3 or 4 yos. Surely they must spend all their time in the toilet! But no, they seem remarkably well organised.
Hi both, you are really kind bothering to answer all this stuff, and you have actually made me feel very much more positive about the local schooling option, particularly when DS is very small. I do see your logic that with these very over subscribed schools it is easier to change away from them than to change into them and given the price of the international schools getting places won't be so much of an issue here.
My nanny is a very forthright person and if she didn't like something for sure she would change. I doubt her son ever failed a year though, he's very clever and has just qualified as an accountant. I would certainly not ask her if that were the case though! When she took him out of PdE she put him into Mater Dei which if I understand correctly is not a safe harbour for drop outs.
I know where les Maronniers is - opposite Delhaize. I've seen some foul behaviour coming out of there ... maybe that's just kids though!
Anyway, I have made some progress as we DID enrol DS in NDG when he was just under 1. Enthused by your help I called them this afternoon to say I hadn't heard "where are things" and they said "have you had a letter from us"? So said "no", they looked DS up and said he was next on the list and although they couldn't confirm he would get a place, they were pretty positive. Anyways they then said would we like to go meet the principal. So I guess that is positive too and have made an appointment to do so. I think they are checking us out actually!
Asked about class sizes .... they said 25. I am not certain but got the impression if they liked us given where we were on the list they would make room. OBviously that's a lot compared to the international schools but compared to my school in the UK it isn't, and my mother who is one of the finest educators I have ever met and taught at primary level for nearly 40 years, often faced class sizes of over 35 without classroom assistants in some tough schools. So by UK standards I think it is probably not bad.
In the end although I will consider sending him to a local school if it seems really nice, and although I would prefer NOT to pay, I will find the money if I can't find anywhere nice that will take him.
I really really would advise you to see around as many schools as possible, including going back to NDdG. It may seem a pointless exercise, but it may reassure you that NDdG is the school where you want your child to go to or it may mean you find another school you are more comfortable with. We saw half a dozen local schools, plus another half a dozn of the international ones, since our children are eligible to have fees paid. In the end, we went back to the very first local school we saw, saw it one more time, knew it was right for us, thankfully out gut feeling proved us right. We actually tried to enrol on first visit but the then directeur told us to go and see the other schools in the area first, I think he knew why, because he knew we'd come back more comfortable with our decision. The best views are always your own, not anyone else's.
Oh one last thing, local French schools are not entirely free - I reckon I will pay close to 1500 euro for the 3 of our kids this year for books, photocopies, lunch time supervision etc. You can't get a grant until secondary to help pay with school supplies, but in your August? child benefit, you get a few hundred euro extra to help out with extra school expenses.
From what I have seen, the good schools like "nice" parents. Sad fact, but being a bit middle class professional DOES make a difference at certain establishments.