Moving to Brussels

(26 Posts)
Littlefamily Sun 30-Jan-11 21:15:43

Hello
I am after a bit of advice please. This summer i will relocate to Brussels from Geneva with my 3 children who will be aged 12, 9 and 7. My kids have been at a bi-lingual school so already speak French. Consequently I am in the process of applying for local schools. We are looking to base ourselves in the WSP area - Stockel etc and so have been advised to think about Ecole Communal de Stockel, Ecole de Sacre Coeur de Stockel, St hubert, Assumption and Don Bosco for Secondary.
Does anyone have any experience of these schools? Or does anyone have any other recommendations for us please?
Thanks very much

If you look at a thread on this board called 'another moving to Brussels' there's a lot of info about schools on it.
I am on the other side of the country so can't help at all. sorry.

Bonsoir Mon 31-Jan-11 10:49:33

If you look for Romanholiday on the Style & Beauty Wise & Avid threads, she can tell you about French-English bilingual education in Brussels (in case that interests you).

Portofino Mon 31-Jan-11 12:41:01

Other thread here

My neighbours 2 girls are at Secole Communale de Stockel. She is very happy with it.

natation Mon 31-Jan-11 18:41:31

Add to the secondary schools perhaps ..

perhaps ? College Jean 23
Institut des Dames de Marie
Sacré-Coeur de Lindthout
St Michel
Jean Absil
Mater Dei

Well some of those are highly academic schools, some less so, but they are the ones which are the most popular and will without doubt be full after the first round of applications for secondary in the eastern area of Brussels.

Many of these schools have open days / evenings in the next few weeks, if you are in Brussels at any time soon, for example Mater Dei's meeting is tomorrow evening 1st February.

28 out of 32 periods in French secondaries are identical subject-wise in 1st and 2nd secondary years. However the 4 optional periods differ from school to school. There's a real snobbery towards Latin and most of the academic schools timetable 2 hours of Latin as part of these option hours, if you choose a school which does not offer Latin, it is apparently quite difficult to go on to study certain subject later on such as Law or Medicine. I don't know how true this is, but thankfully when we were choosing a secondary, all the ones we really liked had almost identical option hours, all including Latin for ALL children in 1st secondary. Just a small point, but if you are thinking of going through the secondary system, might be worth considering.

Primary schools are very very much a personal preference, we chose on the "feeling" we had for the school. I love our children's school, it is not perfect, but our children are very very happy there. The academic standard is high enough that I don't worry at all. The pass rate this year was 95% in CEB nationally, average pass mark was 77%, our school got 100% and pass mark of 87% so I was happy to know it's a better than average school, that was good enough for me. So just choose a school where you feel your children would be happy. Sounds like pretty spineless advice, sorry.

Littlefamily Mon 31-Jan-11 19:33:41

Thanks for all the advice - not spineless at all! It seems to be a bit of a lottery when it comes to school choices. We've been told that some of our choices will undoubtedly be full and we won't have a hope. Also we probably won't have an address in Brussels until the summer so I'm not sure if that would have had any effect on opening up places or not. As I said previously we are keen on the Stockel, WSP areas but then again i think most people like those areas.
If you don't mind me asking Natation, which school are your kids at? Ideally I would like to have the opportunity to become involved in the school at some level. I started up and ran the library at the school my kids go to here in Geneva. There is also an Events Committee which helps out at school events.
I've only had one weekend in Brussels to look at schools and it wasn't ideal as we had all 3 kids with us! We quite liked College Jean 23 but were then advised against it by a few people.
It is a permanent move to Brussels - my husband has been working there for 2 years now and commutes home each weekend. The Latin issue may well be something we need to address.
Thanks for the info on open days - I will tell my husband about Mater Dei's and see if he can go. However Mater Dei actually refused to give us an appointment when I was over last as they said they were full and there was no hope.
I am feeling increasingly desperate. I just want to find a nice, smallish friendly French school where parents are welcomed and not excluded. Is it too much to ask?

Panic, panic..

Thanks for your help ladies.

Littlefamily, it may be difficult for the 12 year old as he/she will be going into first year secondary here (just to check, was s/he born in 1999?). The enrolment for secondary has become a bit complicated - there is a form to fill in and you are allocated points for closeness to school and other things. You enter up to 8 schools I think. My dd is going into secondary this year so I know we have this ahead of us. Her primary school has priority for Jean Absil so we've already had the pre-enrolment meeting with the head and his secondary. The forms are due to come out in March. I can keep you informed of the process as we go along. However, without an address here I'm not sure you'll be able to apply yet. Could you ask your husband's company for advice?

I don't know college 23 but all of the others natation mentions will be difficult to get into. There aren't really any small secondary schools but there are plenty of small primary schools. Chant d'Oiseau is a possibility. It's WSP but near Auderghem/Etterbeek.

I just typed décroly be into google as I thought you might be interested in this type of school and the first thing I clicked on was a message from someone with children of your age moving from Geneva. I think it must be a post from your dh? Posted on xpats? Here. If this is indeed your dh I read the replies and there are some very good posts there. I hadn't even thought about the fact that you might not be able to get your 12 year old into secondary without the CEB.

L'Ecole Décroly is a more liberal system of teaching than the rather traditional Belgian approach. It migth be worth asking their advice for your 9 and 7 year old. I have a friend whose children are here and they are very happy. If you like you can inbox me and I can see if she'll advice you. Inscription Décroly. Ecole Décroly. If you want any other information, you can inbox me. I'm part of the BCT group that gives out information for schools so may be able to find out more information for you. Natation is a wealth of information too so I'm sure she'll be able to answer more questions.

Portofino Mon 31-Jan-11 20:39:00

My dd is at school in Evere. I know nothing compared to Natation and Longtime, but personally I am very happy - though dd is only in 1st Primaire (She has been there 4 years). The school is very close to Nato so gets quite a mixed crowd.

natation Mon 31-Jan-11 21:33:19

Mater Dei's meeting tomorrow night is for secondaire only, it will be packed out for sure. I have no idea when or if Mater Dei's primaire has had its enrolments for September but I suspect it has as the maternelle did theirs on the first Monday in January this month for the new entrants and was full on the first morning. The secondaire is actually quite small, only 5 classes per year, Don Bosco is 8 classes which is (23 * 8 =) 184) per year. I think Jean 23 is 8 classes (numbers drop off in higher years), Dame de Marie is 4 or 5 classes, SC de Lindhout and St Michel at least 8 classes. Décroly however is small, I'm sure I read recently on their website that there are 100 or so in 1st secondaire.

The primaires all do their own enrolments, many of the more popular ones did them last October / November time. You should ideally do what other parents do, enrol for as many schools as possible and check up regularly on waiting lists.

If your husband is in Brussels, just ask him to visit a couple of schools per week over the next few weeks, an ideal time is first thing in the morning. Or if he cannot do this, ask him to pass by the schools when they finish for the day, I admit to doing this to see what sort of children attend, how they behave etc, a very subjective way to choose a school I know.

Small is going to be hard to find in the east of Brussels. Off the top of my head, the smallest primaires in the area are Jean 23 Woluwe and Jean 23 Parmentier (very popular and runs usually to capacity with only 12 classrooms) and Crommelynck. Then in Wezembeek you have St Georges and Notre Dame de la Trinité (have to live in the commune or Kraainem) which have 1 and sometimes 2 classes per year. The rest have between 2 and 4 classes per school year, so if you find a school with 2 or less classes per year, you are looking on the "small side". A school with 2 classes per year which is also to capacity would have 19 classes in the school (1 classe d'acceuil and 2 classes per year for the other 9 school years) * 25 per class = 475 children so that's certainly not at first thought "small" at all. Size is a no win situation. The best schools run at or near capacity, the not so "well regarded" schools do not.

Portofino Mon 31-Jan-11 21:43:37

When we moved to Zaventem, I enquired of the French speaking schools in Kraainem and Wezembeek. Entry was no problem in primaire/3rd maternelle, but unfortunately you have live in one of the communes a facilites to be eligible. Something to bear in mind.

I know 3 families who have children in the Ecole Diablo in Kraainem. It is a nice area.

Portofino Mon 31-Jan-11 21:49:43

natation - I am always amazed at how you know so much! I must live in a box grin

natation Tue 01-Feb-11 06:58:31

It's not me though, I have 2 very good friends who work in French schools and am on good terms with our head teacher, whenever I'm stuck on a question, they give me the answers. Oh and thanks for the pm.

Natation, can I pick your brain about Crommelynck? I bumped into a mum whose dds went to Paradis and one of them swapped from Absil to Crommelynck, much to the surprise of many apparently. However she is much happier there and even safer coming out of school (she sometimes felt slightly nervous around the Absil area).

I think my dd will struggle in Absil after a while. I am going to accept the priority there to start with just to make life easier for us (I don't have a car so Absil is an easy metro option) but am interested in what people have to say about other schools.

Also, can you tell me anything about Dames de Marie?

Sorry to bombard you with questions and thank you!

Littlefamily Tue 01-Feb-11 11:40:23

Thank you so much for all your input and all the effort you have put into your responses. It is nice to know there are people out there who have been through the same situation and survived!! DH is off to Stockel this lunchtime to put in the inscription forms for both primary schools there. I really like the sound of Decroly but I gather it is over subscribed as it is. Same old tale of all the good schools with huge waiting lists.
My daughter is the one I am most concerned about as she will be starting first year of secondary. She was born in 1999 but has already 'lost' a year when we moved to Geneva as they start much later. I am reluctant to get her to retake another year. Don Bosco seemed to suggest they could take her and I believe it is a good school? I am getting less obsessed with size. We have been spoilt here. Only 11 kids in my daughter's class and only one class per year. 160 kids in total from age 2 1/2 through to 12! They have been cosseted
I have forwarded details of open evenings etc to dh and hope he can make it. I fully agree about lurking round outside schools to see the kind of kids emerging! Sounds awful but you do have to go by gut instinct to a degree. My middle son is very shy so I worry about him also. So much to worry about!!
Does anyone know for certain if it helps to live near the school? DH says he heard not but I think it must. If so, should we be looking at houses before or at the same time as schools? I have a hideous car journey to school at present and no where to park when we arrive. I really wanted to try and either walk or take the tram when we move so was waiting to know which school we were in before looking for houses.

I think it will be easier to find a place for your 9 and 7 year old given that they are not starting in first year primary or first year secondary as I guess the schools will already have a pretty good idea of whether or not they will be able to accommodate you next year (or where you'll be on the waiting list).

You say your dd born in 1999 has already "lost" a year. If she's going into first year secondary in September and was born in 1999, that is the correct year for her here (so she won't be a year behind) as they go to secondary a year later than in the UK. In fact those born between 1 September and 31 December are ahead of their peers in the UK because of the intake year being the calendar year rather than the academic year. There are only six years of secondary so those born between 1 January and 31 August will be in the same year as their UK peers (and will be 18 when they enter university) and those between 1 September and 31 December will be, as I said, a year ahead, and will only be 17 when they start university. (Actually as university doesn't start on 1 September I guess it will only be those from late September that this will be true of but you see what I mean.). What month was she born?

rushingrachel Tue 01-Feb-11 13:46:10

Littlefamily, just a word of sympathy as you may have seen from the other thread I have made unashamed and extensive use of the knowledge of others here in my recent first brush with the Belgian education system and have actually found it less inpenetrable than I first thought with the generous help of other posters. Fingers crossed a solution will present itself.

The only specific of your messages I can respond to in any way from my limited early dealings is that whilst schools have criteria, I don't think they are totally determinative. I base this answer solely on the fact that we have got our DS into an oversubscribed maternelle in a commune where we don't live and where he has no siblings (as he has none) even though these are the published criteria. We just said we wanted him to go there because we'd heard it was good and that answer seemed to satisfy them.

Natation that's very bizarre that you can't study law here without latin? I have both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from Cambridge in law and never had a word of latin. There is a lot of inherent snobbery in the Belgian education system it seems to me.

Good luck with your space hunting Littlefamily, look forward to hearing how another newcomer to the system gets on.

Oh and sorry I meant to reply to your question about whether or not it was important to live near the school. It never used to matter at all but since they've introduced this new system it does more so. There's an index system depending on how far you live from your child's primary school, how far you live from the secondary school you want to go to and then distance between primary and secondary school. Quite a few places go to "priority" children (brothers and sisters or parent teacher in the school, feeder school, a certain amount of places now have to be kept for disadvantaged children) so if you live a long way away from any of these schools it may well be difficult. A friend of mine wanted to put her ds into Sacré Coeur de Lindhout (Woluwe Saint Lambert) but the head teacher told her that it might not be wise as she would lose priority for Absil and it was very unlikely there would be a place for him. A lot of people think that because of this new system the schools will change over the years because the schools can no longer pick and choose their pupils by looking at their report. Mind you, this is the objective as far as I can see - they want to mix the schools more. I think however you will end up with similar elite schools but they will be the schools in the wealthier areas.

rushingrachel, there is A LOT of snobbery in the schools here, though more in the Catholic schools I think. One of my pupils is in the 4th year of St Michel. She is doing Latin and Ancient Greek. The cleverer children are "encouraged" to do this and apparently the better teachers are put in this stream. However with four hours of Latin and two hours of Greek she has no time in her timetable to do English!!!

rushingrachel, if you don't mind me asking, what school does your ds go to?

I've found the index calculator here

natation Tue 01-Feb-11 20:00:00

Littlefamily, if you want a good chance of getting into a small(er) school at primaire level, choose a house in Wezembeek-Oppem or Kraainem rather than WSP as then you can choose la Fermette, Diabolo, St Georges or Notre Dame de la Trinité, the latter 2 I have been told have around 200 children in them, they are not oversubscribed simply because only those children living in Wezembeek and Kraainem are allowed to attend them. But the only word of warning is that if you move out of these "facility" communes, your children must leave the francophone schools. La Fermette has masses of anglophones in the school, concentrated in the lower years, you might see that as a positive or a negative. Parts of Wezembeek and Kraainem are classed as Stockel, which consists also of the area of WSP around Place Dumon, some housing in these "facility" communes are just minutes from the metro and shops and cinema centered around Place Dumon, it's not the prettiest of Brussels squares but has great facilities. Tram 39 runs through Wezembeek too.

Only hearsay from a few families I know with children at Dames de Marie, heavily oversubscribed, small and friendly, good academic standard but not up quite with St Michel or Mater Dei, also does Dutch immersion. I went to their open meeting last year and this ended up as 3rd choice on our child's list. It helps to be under 4km from the school and at your nearest primaire (of same type) in order to pick up enough points to get in - a boy in our child's class is just over 4km (not so good thing) and was at 2nd nearest Catholic school to his house (a good thing) and yet he did NOT get a place at this his first choice school chosen because his elder brother is at St Michel, he struggles a bit at school and his parents wanted a smaller school in the direction of his brother, this boy finally got a place at another similar sized school at the end of August.

Crommelynck, well I only know one child there, not by choice but because in the 2009 lottery he failed to get a place at Mater Dei or Don Bosco, his 2 nearest secondaries and was only offered Crommelynck or Eddy Mercxx. I'm sure it's not a bad school, but you just need to spend 10 minutes in the morning outside the school to discover a very hig proportion of the children there come from outside the commune - don't even think of taking the 39 tram between 8am and 830am from Stockel and Montgomery metor stations in the direction of the school, UNLESS you like being a squashed sardine. When I asked our head teacher for her views on the school, she rolled her eyes and then said it would be better to look elsewhere as our child needed a bit of stimulation. But I certainly don't get the impression it's a dumping ground sort of school, and compared to the children I've met hanging around AR Woluwe St Lambert, the next nearest AR school, and being completely subjective about their behaviour and backgrounds, AR Crommelynck seems better.

Portofino Tue 01-Feb-11 22:35:45

Lordy, AR WSL seems to be our nearest secondary school! We love living where we do, but I can see a move to an apartment in Southern Brussels coming on in about 4.5 years time....

Portofino Tue 01-Feb-11 22:40:21

Or earlier even, so dd can do the 3rd cycle somewhere within a feeder school....And i know already how much dh will poo-poo my forward thinking....wink

Sorry to pick your brain again natation but do you sources have any views on l'ARA? I have heard conflicting views, ie that it isn't good/wasn't good but has improved. Thanks again!

I go out to Tervuren once a week on the 44 tram and I can confirm that it is very packed first thing in the morning!

Porto, it would be a shame to move from where you are though.

natation Wed 02-Feb-11 06:59:16

Portofino, to get priority at a feeder school to a secondary school, under the current system, a child must have attended 4e,5e and 6e primaire at the school, since it is hard to move "in-cycle" in reality it means transferring for 3e primaire too. Then you run the risk of some time in those 4 years the "priority" system changing, if you've changed school just to get priority, then find it was not worth it, you may wish you hadn't.

Athénée Royal Auderghem? Never met anyone with a child there ever. But I just checked the list of schools which filled their places with first preference applications in May 2011 and AR Auderghem is on it. I have kept a copy of this file and when I looked for it the other day on the enrolments website, I couldn't find it which is a real pity for parents, it's mighty useful to know which schools filled up with first preference children last year, if you don't get priority at any secondary, it's no good choosing 10 schools on the application form which were all oversubscribed, the risk of getting no place at all 10 is going to be greater.

Porto, as natation says, you could be moving for nothing. We were going to move dd to Chant d'Oiseau at the end of 3rd year (her class was supposedly going to be split over the other three classes for fourth year so we didn't worry too much about it being mi-cycle) as there the queueing system was in place so didn't seem any point keeping her in Paradis. However, they then talked about putting the priority back (and there were other issues around our choice too) so we stuck with Paradis. If it had all come to nothing I guess I could have tried to move her into Chant d'Oiseau at the end of 4th year but my guess is she wouldn't have got a place having turned one down once. It was a risk to take as you never know what the powers that be might decide to do with the enrolment process next!!!

Natation, that would be a very interesting piece of paper to have. You are SO organised!! Thanks for the info in any case. I'm just collecting information for later on in case Absil doesn't work out for dd.

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