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One more moving to Brussels :)

(463 Posts)
ShutterNutter Mon 13-Dec-10 21:51:14

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 ;-)

dessen Thu 13-Jan-11 23:27:36

Be prepared though for buildings in bad repair, outside loos with no taps working or loo paper, things happening that would be banned by health & safety regulations in other places, no school library... One interesting aspect is that the locals don't send their kids to private schools as these are 'international' so in all this mess you have the very wealthy alongside the poorest so good for social mixing.

natation Fri 14-Jan-11 07:12:40

No outside loos at our school, all taps working, in fact our school's toilets for the children are fine, whereas I don't like the teacher's toilet at all. Our school has a library, all the schools around here do too and nicer than ours, the building is not too bad except for one floor which is going to be completely refurbished. It's true that some schools are in an appalling state of repair, Jean 23 Parmentier is the worst I've seen around our parts but I would send our children there without any hesitation, it's a lovely small school which excels in other ways, it's full because parents know there is more to a school than buildings. NDdG and Chant d'Oiseau have good accommodation so I don't think Rachel needs to worry. She might get a shock at hygiene standards though, Belgian parents are just as bothered as us international parents, it's a standing joke at our parents' association meeting that we always talk about the cleanliness of the school.

Social mixing depends on where you live. Where we live, there is a minority of social housing but most children from the estate go to the other local school, our school is essentially a middle class school because the area is middle class. A bit more social mixing occurs at secondary level, but looking on our child's secondary class list and where the children live, it's pretty middle class in intake.

There are indeed private schools in Belgium which cater for Belgians. There's maybe a handful like this, but they do exist.
www.godinne.be/

In Brussels you have BICS and Acacia which have some international families attending but are essentially Belgian private schools.

Hi rushingrachel, I've been going to Paradis des Enfants for 19 years now with one child or another so if you want any information about it then please feel free either to ask me or to send me a message into my inbox. They have had to change their teaching methods somewhat in recent years because of the compulsory CEB though change is coming rather slowly. We were going to change our dd to Chant d'Oiseau (the non-Catholic one)2 years ago but didn't in the end because of the changes promised. I won't go in to more details now. Just ask if you would like them.

Funny that you thought Paradis was MASSIVE. I also visited St Julien and found that ENORMOUS compared to Paradis. I didn't like the fact that it went up to 18 either as there were all sorts hanging around outside smoking etc. It doesn't have a particularly good reputation though I soon learnt that my idea of a good school is not what the Belgians' idea of a good school is.

Porto, the good schools might like "nice" parents but in theory if you get in early enough with your application they can't pick and choose - in the commune school in any case. I think they can more in the Catholic schools.

There's also l'ARA in Auderghem (on the edge of Woluwe park) though that goes from maternelle to 18 so is pretty big.

Mine all started at the age of 3 and only went mornings for the first year of maternelle (they took them for a nap in the afternoon and as mine had long given up theirs I had no desire for them to start having one again and then not sleeping at night!). The only reason I sent them that early was to start hearing French on a regular basis.

Oooh, if you want a different sort of approach to the rather old-fashioned way of learning on offer here, there are the Decroly schools and in Auderghem, l'Autre Ecole. More info can be found on the internet.

rushingrachel Sun 16-Jan-11 11:35:30

You girls are very very helpful.

I rang Chant d'Oiseau too and they said they doubted there would be a place there for September. Not sure if something would free up for 2eme Maternelle if 1st Maternelle is full?? Very vexing. Natation as you say likely the only way to find out is to go visit places and have left it a bit late. Also am rather pregnant at the moment which makes all these types of visits quite hard work!

As to costs, I know there are some. DH and I are both lawyers so we don't need a grant to cover costs like that. Costs of international schools are freaky though. As I say we're expecting second DS in February and whilst we could afford one lot of 20k a year for school fees, if you look at paying for 2 of them them you are looking at finding 40k pa net, 80k gross? Hmmmmmmm. I find those sorts of charges iniquitous. And having been state educated myself and a believer in good rigorous education I have no problem with the Belgian system being quite rigid and like the idea that the Belgians are all able to access the best education regardless of cost.

I looked at BICS too but they seemed to celebrate pre Vatican 2 rights. Arrrrrgh. Religious conservatism makes me want to run for the hills!

Going to see NdG and BJAB next week for a comparison and will let you know how I get on.

Thanks again for so much help. Very much appreciated.

The British School's fee schedule is here. It is quite a bit cheaper for younger children. Still very expensive but not as much as you had quoted. Thought you might be interested.

Re Chant d'Oiseau, they may well have a place in 2nd year. You could always put your name down and see. If they do offer you something and you've decided against it there will for sure be someone else waiting for the place next on the list.

natation Sun 16-Jan-11 12:53:50

Rachel, if your daughter is 2 1/2, she is born in 2008. That's classe d'acceuil this school year 2010-11 and 1ere maternelle in September 2011-2012. Your child would not be 2e maternelle until September 2012-13. Are you sure Chant d'Oiseau checked the right school year? This school has historically run just one classe d'acceuil which goes up to 2 * 1ere/2e/3e maternelle classes, but I do know lately they have added a 2nd classe d'acceuil during the year and also opened 3r classes for the other maternelle years. NDdG has one classe d'acceuil and 3 classes for the other maternelle years. So maybe you should phone again and at least ask for a tour. I know 2 mums with kids in maternelle here.

I know a mum with a child who has done nursery class and Reception class at BJAB. I saw the school before it has its early years extension built, looked lovely. I liked BISB too. Nursery at BJAB for 3 year olds is just over 13k per year, similar for BISB.

Have you though about Ecole Acacia? It is in an old school which closed and only opened up about 5 years ago. It's bilingual either French/English or French/Dutch, one classe of each at maternelle level, except acceuil who are all in together. In the Fr/Eng section lots of nationalities, in Fr/Dutch I imagine nearly all Belgian. Costs are less than 5k per year. I've heard lots of positive things about this school. Teaching time is split 50/50 French or /English, not mixed languages.

BSB has half days or full days for its nursery class for 3 year olds, either just under 7k for half days or just under 14k for full days, pretty much comparable to BJAB and BISB in cost.

Or there is also Montessori House at Mongomery roundabout? They have a varying fee structure, but on a 5 mornings/4 afternoons comparison with BJAB, BISB and BSB, it costs 8.6k per year. French and English are mixed in the same classroom, 2 teachers speaking French or English.

dessen Sun 16-Jan-11 13:08:20

It's a lot of money to go an international school! lol (nicely so) at your use of 'cheaper' longtime!" Also imagine paying so much for the school bus!!

I have heard of a bilingual fr/en school outside of the city called Le Verseau (it's not rc I think or opus dei) in Bierge which isn't as expensive as the bsb and has the advantage of doing the belgian school qualifications. imho the belgian system teaches more. Le Verseau starts in 3rd maternelle.

There might well be a place in the year for your little one to go to the school. One thing is that there are lots of expats at the schools in wsp so some will move on & the locals there will get transfered abroad by their companies. wsp is the sort of area to have affluent employees who will be travelling for their jobs.

dessen Sun 16-Jan-11 13:18:15

Just read through what I wrote & meant a place in the wsp school you want!

dessen, rushingrachel said they could afford one lot of 20K school fees but not two so thought I'd put the fee schedule in anyway!

Le Verseau is very popular and hence I would be surprised if it had a place. Still a phone call wouldn't harm if you're interested: 010 23 17 17. It is also pretty full of the sort of people you describe in wsp dessen! (I know loads of people who have put their children there just in case you think I'm being nasty!)

rushingrachel, the school mentioned by natation, Ecole Acacia, is Opus Dei. Thought you might like to know as from your last post I think I already see you running for the hills!

natation Sun 16-Jan-11 18:30:09

Le Verseau is not exactly a bilingual school, it's a "free" and "non religious" and within the French Community system, but with a bit more freedom to modify the standard French curriculum. For example, in all years, there are English lessons, either mother tongue or second language, the nubmer of hours differs according to age. Instead of Dutch starting in 3e primaire like a regular French school, it does not start until 5e primaire, I am presuming it's because of the number of hours are instead dedicated to English lessons. According to their website and mums with children there, it covers 9 standard Belgian years, in maternelle from 1ere to 3e, then 1ere to 6e primaire. I have been told fees are around 5k per year, covering teacher's salaries which are only part French community funded. According to the school website, 40% of school population is anglophone mother tongue and from parents I know with children there, they tell me it is about that too. It has all the regular things you expect with a Belgian school eg garderie, extra-curricular activities in the lunch hour and after school. The biggest downside I can see to the school is it's a long way (for me) from home, a minimum 30 minute drive. I do know it's really popular too, because it's unique in Belgium in having a French school with English lessons, yes there are immersion English schools in the French and Dutch sector, but theoretically the places in these schools are for native speakers of French or Dutch. Only le Verseau does English lessons within the curriculum for native speakers as well as second language for (theoretically) French speakers.

I know 3 families with children in Acacia, none of them are Opus Dei sort of people, 2 not even Catholic I believe, no pressure according to them towards any sort of Catholicism, their children are all in maternelle. As for BICS, well I don't like to say too much negative..... so I will not open my mouth, BICS is anyway not Opus Dei but run by the order of Christ the King.

Le Verseau is a member of a subgroup of Belgian French schools which are a bit alternative to the regular curriculum. Here is their website.
www.felsi.be

finally, 3 year olds are not allowed on BSB's school buses anyway, so Rachel wouldn't have to worry about the extra cost. As you can see, a part-time place at BSB's nursery class is not too bad a price at just under 7k per annum, it's at the top end of BSB's pricing schedule that it gets just a bit expensive!!!

rushingrachel Mon 17-Jan-11 18:56:47

Yes he was born in 2008 (July). So in September he would be 3. So maybe I got the wrong end of the stick ... easily done, but I shall find out what the status is when we visit next week!

I looked at the baby house at BSB some time ago and saw the fees then. After reception it's already in the 20k region and I don't want the sadness of having to remove DS from a school where he is happy at 7 because we can't afford it any more! And no way I'd want to trail out to Tervuren before work. Also my sister taught there and doesn't exactly promote the idea of going there if you are paying your own fees... before it sounds like I am giving bad press to my sister she is very clever, Oxford educated as far as I know a good teacher. She just didn't think the school made everything of itself it could have given the level of the fees. That's why I elected to go to look at BJAB, especially as it is around the corner from chez moi.

I know BICS is not Opus Dei, but I found it to be conservative from a religious perspective (eg, if you attend Mass there, you will find the priest with his back to the congregation ... which is v pre Vatican 2). DH and I are both Catholic but not that sort of Catholic ...! Enough said. People either seem to love it or hate it.

Le Verseau I am aware of - but again too far away. And my boss' children go there - shouldn't put me off but .... it does!

natation Mon 17-Jan-11 21:17:16

Rachel, I'd do the same and not want to keep changing schools, very few pay BSB fees themselves past the nursery class. However, if you are not on a huge income, you can apply for a 30% reduction at BSB on fees which brings the fees down lower than the full fees at BJAB, reduced Reception class fees at BSB are considerably less than full fees at BJAB for reception class, for the other years the BSB's reduced fees are around 1k cheaper than BJAB. I have no idea if BJAB offers a reduction on their full fees, it's a much smaller school so it would be more difficult for them to do this, but if they didn't and BSB did, then BSB becomes cheaper. I think if you are even considering private here at one of the more expensive private schools, definitely worth asking about reductions, as most children are funded by parents' employers and a small minority by parents.

If you're near the 23/4/5 tram line, then BISB is also a very accessible school. Colleagues who used to live right next door to BJAB ended up sending their children to BISB as there were no places at BJAB, it's really not that far tram-time-wise between the 2 schools.

BICS..... from another Catholic..... I always thought Catholic meant "universal", funny how different it is to our local Catholic school.

Rosita Tue 25-Jan-11 18:11:31

I am moving to Belgium too! My husband has been posted to SHAPE (NATO base) near Casteau. We will be provided with housing but in terms of schools, most of the British people send their children to the British section of the SHAPE International School. It's meant to be lovely, small classes and has an Outstanding Ofsted. I'm in two minds though. The SHAPE School also has an International section which follows the Belgian curriculum and is taught in French. I'm not sure where to start about finding out what the school is really like. Are Belgian schools regulated and inspected in a similar way to Ofsted?
HAs anyone got any experience of SHAPE? I guess all the local schools are a possibility too but have NO idea where to start with that!
My husband thinks that the children will naturally go to the Brit school but I am keen for them to be really proficient in another language. He says though that my older son (Year 2) will be completely stumped and at a massive disadvantage academically if we throw him in at the deep end. My little one (will start reception in Sept) would just adapt I guess.
Any advice would be much appreciated!

Rosita, I' ve not idea (live on the other side of the country). What I would suggest is you start a whole new thread about it. This one will be lost unless people are nosy like me.

Hi Rosita, I think it depends on how long you're staying. If not very long then I think I'd put them in the English-speaking school so that they are not at any disadvantage when they go back (it will be difficult to keep their French up in a non-Francophone society). Otherwise you could try the Belgian system. Please be aware though that it is very different from the British system so I would advise you research the school thoroughly.

rushingrachel Wed 26-Jan-11 10:06:18

I am back from interview with the principal at Notre Dame des Graces. I was very impressed and many of my fears are allayed.

First thing that has pleased me is that she was very relaxed about DS doing mornings only at first (is normal in 1ere maternelle she said) and that there is no obligation to attend and if you want the child to spend a week with grandparents or something that's fine too. From what she mentioned about the curriculum, and as you too have mentioned, 1ere maternelle is a bit like playgroup from a content perspective ... lots of play and painting.

She was also very encouraging about the linguistic aspect. Interesting thing she said was that in her experience it was key for the child to make a distinction about whom he spoke each language to. If he understood that with mum and dad he speaks English and with nanny, at school and with Belgians he speaks French then he is less likely to have an issues. She said in her experience children that have more than one language at home and then an additional language at school can have more difficulties.

Atmosphere of the school seemed nice. It was very calm. No kids running all over the place shouting. The children were polite and said hello, all of the staff we met were pleasant and helpful. Also the school was extremely clean and tidy.

My only negative comment of any kind would be that the school is big by my standards (600 pupils between maternelle and primaire I think is vast ... my secondary school was that size ... but then again it wasn't in a big city) and that the grounds and premises are quite squashed for that many kids.

Final bit of good news, we have a place for September! So I think we will definitely send DS in September and see how it goes. On the positive side, he might even like it!!

He should be fine! Mine were fine in maternelle apart from the initial issues surrounding separation.

We went for an Open Day at Jean Absil for my dd starting secondary next year. Now that's a big school! Over a thousand pupils with 200 just in the first year. Mind you, I seem to remember they had 11 first year classes of 25 in St Michel. Anyway, I also went for a meeting with the head and his secretary for pre-enrolment (as dd's school has priority for Absil). They were both very friendly and happy to answer any questions I had. Hopefully it'll be a more positive experience than St Michel was.

natation Wed 26-Jan-11 17:58:32

Notre Dame des Graces, with 3+ classes per year, is the biggest single entity fondamentale in WSP commune, but is dwarfed by Paradis des Enfants and SC de Lindhtout nearby (that one is so big it has 2 heads). Small schools with only 1 class per year are rare in Brussels, yes small schools are very much a minority. It was recently in the news that Brussels required something like 70+ new fondamental schools built in the next 20 years to keep up with the birth rate, well it was something like that, it was certainly alot. Lack of space is a common problem in Brussels schools, it's not ideal, our own children's school has risen in numbers from just over 300 to just over 400 in only 2 years and the playground is now too small, the dining hall is too small, really no space left at all.

As for language confusion, last week I made a major error there!! I volunteer at school during lunch hours, a little boy aged 3 who is bilingual French-English was poorly and I looked after him until his parent came to collect him, 5 minutes into speaking English to him, he turns round to me and says "stp je veux te parler en francais, parce que les madames a notre école parlent francais et pas anglais" so there you go, he put me in my place.

I work with children who are nearly all bilingual/trilingual. I don't notice too much of a difference between the bilingual/trilingual ones, but I do notice that the less outgoing children can take a long time to speak English, even though they understand it as well as those who never stop talking, their speech catches up in the end. There are also a few parents whose English is their second language and is not completely fluent but choose to speak English to their children, I think they get confused as they have their parents' "incorrect" English and our English and this seems to cuase problems. I am myself also quite guilty in this respect in not keeping to the OPOL rule - but 3 of the children speak French in preference to English at home and it means I end up speaking French to them which I shouldn't do.

Rosita Wed 26-Jan-11 18:09:23

Good idea - I'll start a new thread! Thanks!

Natation, you make Paradis sound enormous!! There are 12 maternelle classes over the three years of no more than 25 children per class, four classes of 25 in the first three years of primaire and in the final three years there are three classes of well, in dd's class there are 28. That makes about 850 pupils. Whilst it's significantly more than the 600 at Notre Dame des Graces I wouldn't go as far as to say that NDG is dwarfed by Paradis.

Is your dp/dh mother-tongue French?

rushingrachel Tue 01-Feb-11 13:32:24

I also went to see BJAB. It was very nice and I'd consider it if getting fees paid. But when you're considering what you're getting for your money I don't think I'd be minded to pay the fees unless DS was very unhappy in local school. It was somehow not buzzing ... a lot of kids sitting in front of photocopied sheets looking bored. And only 30% come from anglophone homes ... hmmmm. As I say, very nice, but not nice enough to make me go home and cry to my husband that we had to find the cash come what may.

There is no likelihood of me landing up speaking French at home. I was enthused about my ability to speak decent enough French to communicate with teachers when both the head at NddG and the gynecologist at the antenatal clinic told me I had excellent French ... but I love the English language, it is a thing of beauty: a tool of precision. I shall guard it in the 4 walls of my home for as long as I am within it!!

I feel (almost wink) the same as you do with regard to speaking English at home although I love speaking French. I never wanted my dcs to become French mother tongue (not given that they have two Anglophone parents - it would have no doubt been different if dh was Francophone). I'm not particulary attached to the UK anymore but I do think that English is such an important language world-wide that to give the gift of an English mother tongue to your dcs is priceless.

amIcrazyorwhat Wed 09-Feb-11 11:54:05

hi everyone

great to find this website .. just what I badly need! am planning to move to Brussels next September (2012) so that seems like loads of time away .. bey hey am I glad I've been reading up on schools given what some of you guys are saying about waiting lists!

My two boys are 11 (12 in April) and 10 (only just). The 11 year old is in 1st year secondary and the 2nd dude is in primary 6. So oldest will be going into 3rd year in secondary and youngest into 1st year. I am planning on staying permanently so am now thinking it would be much better to put them in a local school (than an international .. anyway, the fees shock). They are in a private catholic school right now (though I'm not a conservative catholic, not practising in fact, but the school is super and other family went there). They're both bright and I want them to go to good schools (like every other mum of course smile). They are both a year younger than the rest of their class so can afford some extra time to pick up the language. So, big questions are - how easy will they find it at that age? I am guessing the first year will be challenging. Then, I would prefer French to Flemish and am thinking of Ixelles or Uccles to live in, or somewhere central with a garden (to buy).
Any comments would be very much appreciated! smile

natation Wed 09-Feb-11 12:23:09

Hi there amIcrazyorwhat

if you are set on French, then your major difficulty is going to be a secondary school for the eldest. He would be in 2nd secondary (2e humanité / secondaire) in September 2012 and without French, you will have to find a school accepting someone in that situation. 2 schools where he will be accepted, if there are places 1) Brussels International Catholic School (BICS), 50/50 French/English, but once in this school, he is unlikely to make it back into the local system unless his French becomes extremely fluent. 2) Ecole le Verseau, 25km from the centre of Brussels, they WILL accept a child without French into 2e secondaire, it's a local school with English lessons in place of Dutch, fees of around 5k per year. Unfortunately, it's quite a hike from Brussels, also your younger child will NOT be accepted at this school without French, they do not accept non francophones in 5e and 6e primaire. Your younger son would be in 6e primaire, again quite a problematic time to start in a French primaire, only one year to learn French to a high enough standard to get through the primary school leaving certificate (CEB). Our 10 year old managed to become fluent enough in 2 years to pass the CEB, would not have passed after 10 months of French.

BTW Ixelles / Uccle is 90% French speaking, if you do decide to go Dutch language, the north and west of the city has a much higher percentage of Dutch first language speakers, better still the areas outside the city which are majority Dutch speaking.

I have friends selling their 6/7 bed townhouse in Ixelles near Police HQ with a walled garden, but you'd need a cool half million to buy it. Housing in the most desirable areas of Brussels is quite expensive.

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