Brussels schools - 6 month secondment

(35 Posts)
gingerbreadjuan Tue 16-Apr-13 20:27:09

Hi all, there is a possibility of me taking up a 5/6 month secondment to Brussels. We have 1 DD who is 7 years old and on DS who is 3.
The job would be based in the EU district but there would be no financial support for international schools. I would want the family to go over and therefore the main issue would be schooling for the 7 year old DD.

My DD is bi-lingual (spanish/english) and so my thinking is a french speaking school would be the best option. Has anyone had experience of a family move to Brussels for such a short period and any adaptability issues for school age kids.

I see the secondment as an interesting work related opportunity as well as an opportunity for the family to experience life abroad but want to make sure any adaptability issues are minimized.
Thanks for any help.

superfluouscurves Wed 17-Apr-13 16:21:50

Hi Gingerbreadjuan

You will have a great time in Brussels!

I'm reluctant to offer advice but didn't want your post to go unanswered. (I live in Bxls but dd has been educated here since birth so slightly different scenario.) Also answers will very much depend on whether your secondment might be extended or not, and if not, where your dc will be returning to afterwards. I know countless people who came here for one or two years and ending up staying for 20!!

When is your planned secondment btw? Don't want to sound negative but most (good) school places already filled for this Sept as system is over-subscribed.

Others will hopefully come along with more expert knowledge than me. You need Natation Portofino Longtime and others. (See this thread for info

Btw, it's not obligatory but all dc can attend school from 2.5 yrs here, so you may want your youngest to go to a maternelle attached to your dd's primaire.

Good luck!

superfluouscurves Wed 17-Apr-13 16:24:22

Sorry - I worded that incorrectly - keep being incorrected.

Meant to say that I'm reluctant to offer advice because don't have much knowledge of what would be best for that short period of time ifyswim! And have little knowledge of international schools that are more geared up for that sort of thing.

superfluouscurves Wed 17-Apr-13 16:27:07

eh? incorrected!! Interrupted!!

Oh dear ...

gingerbreadjuan Wed 17-Apr-13 19:34:30

Thanks for the response superfluouscurves, There is not much chance of the secondment being extended. However, other opportunities that would lead to an extended stay or a return at a later stage might appear, which I would be open to.

At the moment October would be the starting date with us returning to Edinburgh at the end. I was thinking that we would look to go over before then so that the DD could begin at the beginning of term.

I guess the issue i am now thinking of is do you have to have a home address in Brussels confirmed before you can try to enroll in a school as is the case in Scotland? If that is the case it could be problematic getting her enrolled in time.

I would also like the 3 year old also to go to a maternelle, it would be great if that was next to big sister.

superfluouscurves Thu 18-Apr-13 09:18:58

Hi Gingerbreadjuan,

I'm not sure about needing a fixed address here for enrolment (dd was born here) but tbh I think more of an issue will be finding places available - as most good schools are generally over-subscribed/already full for this September

I'm hoping others will come along to advise ...

Bumping for you!!

Portofino Thu 18-Apr-13 09:40:32

Yes you need the registration documents from the commune/social security card etc before you can enroll in a school. Natation is the expert but I think you might struggle to get a school place in Brussels so late. You might have more luck if you live further out into Wallonia and commute. Also, sorry to be negative but I think 6 months is too short a time to put a child into a school where they dont speak the language. Your dd would probably just be getting to grips with it when it is time to leave.

Portofino Thu 18-Apr-13 09:45:55

Plus, after the late start to primary school (calendar year you turn 6), my experience is that school is quite "full on". Quite a bit of homework, learning spellings, passages of text by heart etc. If you were staying long term, it would be worth the pain your dd will go through, but i would not do it for 6 months. I would bite the bullet and pay for one of the montessori schools.

frenchgrey Thu 18-Apr-13 13:47:21

We didn't require any local documents to register, just turned up on a reccee trip in January (for a Sept start date in local school) with passport, and registered for a school in the WSP commune. Had to fill out straightforward school registration form and I think they took copy of passport. We weren't even living in Belgium at the time. We later turned down that particular place, but it means you don't always need to be living here to register for school places. We were slightly amazed you could register so easily! We had contacted via email beforehand and arranged an appointment to come and register/see.

Longtime Fri 19-Apr-13 12:29:00

I've posted this on our facebook page so that natation will see it. For what it's worth, I would second Portofino's opinion that six months isn't worth the pain.

charltonchick Fri 19-Apr-13 23:20:40

I'm UK-based and have been working in the EU district for almost 3 years and have infant aged daughters. They go to an international school so they were able to communicate in English from day 1. But even then it took about a year for them to settle. I would echo others who say it isn't worth it. If you want the job and think it might lead to something in the future have you thought about commuting? I have colleagues who come over on a Monday morning and bunk off early on a Friday to go home and it isn't horrific - Eurostar and aeroports aren't that far away.

gingerbreadjuan Sat 20-Apr-13 17:34:01

Thanks for all the responses. Unfortunately international schools or commuting from Scotland is not an option. My DD had a spanish girl in her school who whose parents had come to edinburgh for 6 months and put her in school without any previous english. At the end of the six months she was loving it and did not want to go back to spain. I guess i am more inclined to see it is a interesting opportunity for her, even if there may be a few tears on the way.
In terms of enrollment I'll need to make some concrete inquiries once things are confirmed. I am assuming it must be compulsory to send your kid to school from a certain age, so there must be ways to ensure that she has a place somewhere.

Portofino Sat 20-Apr-13 19:59:36

Belgian schools are not like English schools. There is no TA. They tend to sit facing the front, or in a circle facing the teacher. There is homework. There is a lot of memorising stuff. Oversubscribed schools will be full already, meaning you have to put your dd in a less good school. There are no catchment areas for Primary schools here. I know people who have camped outside for 3 days to get a maternelle place in their chosen school. If you want to go that route you could be allocated a school with spaces which could be anywhere.

I cannot impress enough that it will not be an "interesting opportunity" for a 7 yo. It will be very, very hard. As i said before, if you are staying long term, it might be worth the pain, as Belgium is a very kid friendly country. But I would never put my child through year 2 of Primary here if they did not speak the language and I did not have to. It is the worse time for friendship groups as it is. I know you see exciting foreign travel as a good thing. Been there, done that. Don't.

gingerbreadjuan Sun 21-Apr-13 18:28:12

Thanks for your comments portofino. The secondment is one which would not start until October so we have time to get some of the language basics. My DD will start french lessons in her school this week and we have a few months of the summer holidays to continue that through the french institute. Her mums is a native spanish speaker and as such she is already reading in English and Spanish. With the similarities between French and Spanish I don't see the language issue as being as big an issue as it would be for a monolingual child.
I do see foreign travel as a good thing and while you might have had a negative experience I have spoken to many others whose family have thought it was great. I guess it is always a case of balancing all views when taking such a decision.

Portofino Sun 21-Apr-13 20:22:02

I don't have a negative experience. I am bringing up a bilingual child in Belgium. My experience of the education system here is mostly positive, though I have friends who don't agree. My point is that putting a 7 yo in Belgian school for 6 months, when you will only get a place at the most undesirable schools at this point, where she does not speak the language, is maybe a bit unfair vs being an adventure for her. The nice school near your house will NOT be obliged to offer a place. This is the reality. Plus most rental houses offer a 9 year lease. It is a struggle to find short term accommodation, let alone combine that with a decent school place.

I am trying to give you honest and practical advice as I live the reality so to speak. I don't really appreciate the patronizing come back that your dd will learn a bit of french over the summer and the authorities are obliged to educate her. You might well find that the only school with places is miles away, and not that great. You might be lucky and find a year 2 place at a decent school near you. I live here. I know what it is like. You don't. You have made your mind up however.

Saltedcaramellavacake Mon 22-Apr-13 07:09:46

People are giving you excellent advice on here! I don't know anything about Brussels but I can't imagine what it would feel like to be thrown in at 7 to a (maybe ) school where I don't know the language fluently, am expected to pass tests, memorise text etc etc and make friends with others at an age where the friendships require communication (cf your 3 year old, who, to a large extent, can run madly about a playground or play with cars with any child, common language or not). We moved to Asia two years ago with 5 and 2 year old DDs and even at that age it has been hard to settle my (very adaptable, friendly) 5 year old. We had some acting act, tears and anxiety as she navigated new social groups, a new school, a family in a bit of chaos as we were in temporary accommodation (which is nowhere near as nice as a home, however hard you try). If the travel opportunities are so great then fly your family over for long weekends, but this, IMHO, is just too tough on a 7 year old for such a short period of time (I would do it with a three year old in a heartbeat). Why isn't an international school an option - at least then she'd have English and a school community that is used to integrating new arrivals/short termers.

Saltedcaramellavacake Mon 22-Apr-13 07:12:13

Sorry - should read a "maybe troubled" school and "acting out" not "acting act". Why do I try to do this on the phone??

gingerbreadjuan Mon 22-Apr-13 13:28:49

Thanks salted. The idea behind the secondment is to in turn look for a more permanent or long term opportunity that fits in with career aspirations. Part of the bringing the family over is to see what they think about Brussels through their own experience and whether a more permanent move would be to their liking. If six months down the line I do get something more long term then I will see it as a missed opportunity not to have brought them out in the first place. With regards interntional schools I am afraid they are out my budget hence the public option.

Living Tue 23-Apr-13 05:54:33

I'm curious, how expensive are international schools in Brussels that they're completely not an option? If you're determined to do this (and it sounds like you are) then I would be squeezing the family into tiny accomodation to scrape together the international schools fees, at least until you know that you're going to be there long term and can start the transition into French language school. Alternatively, does your partner work? What about homeschooling?

marchmad Tue 23-Apr-13 07:58:20

Private schools at primary level cost from 7k to 28k per year and add to that the one-off fees and the fact that you might have to pay a bit more than 6 months and it could end up quite expensive. Some people just don't have the funds to pay for them, I personally wouldn't choose the 7k schools at all, they are not even recognized as schools, and I couldn't afford the better ones which start at 15k.

A studio serviced apartment in Brussels costs at least 1k per month, a 2 bed costs at a minimum 1.5k per month, if you're going to have only half that cost covered, then already someone is going to be doing the secondment at a loss, add on the cost of the cheapest international school and you might end struggling without dipping in to savings. Not everyone is so lucky to have a good expat package.

marchmad Tue 23-Apr-13 08:02:49

If you have a child who is going to struggle to settle into a new school environment, private schooling is not going to make it better. There are public schools in Brussels with 30 or 40 nationalities, just like the private schools, they are more than used to children coming and going, many Spanish and English speakers in the public schools, multi-lingual children are often more common in the public schools than the private English ones where you get children who speak only English and get little exposure to other languages.

Living Tue 23-Apr-13 11:25:50

I think the suggestion here was one of the main reasons for one of the school struggles was because the child doesn't currently speak the language (and realistically isn't likely to speak a significant amount by the time she starts) plus most/all of the good state schools will be full. In which case, schooling in a language she does speak would make a significant difference to her ability to settle in.

Believe me, I appreciate that lots of people aren't lucky enough to get a good expat package (I just don't know about the costs of Brussels). Surely then the only realistic option for a short-term secondment is to not bring the family. If work is covering sufficient housing for a family then from what you've said you could downsize and make most of the costs of school fees (even if at a non-preferred school). If they're not covering enough to cover accomodation then you probably can't afford to bring the family in any event, private school or no private school.

I was facing the same on a potential six-month secondment back to the UK recently. Luckily, my local school had space and is an acceptable option (and no language issues!). If it hadn't then DH and family would have stayed where we are now and I would have had to cope.

Longtime Wed 24-Apr-13 22:58:07

My children were born here in brussels and believe me when I say school is no picknick. I second what portofino is saying to you. I am usually the resident downer on belgian schools and porto more positive so her opinion is more than worth listening to.

owever if you do decide to come and only manage to get your dd into a less sought after school, it might not be as academically strict so she might not find it too challenging. There will be other isues instead though.

amyboo Thu 25-Apr-13 08:39:14

I am also bringing up a bilingual En-Fr child in the Brussels area. We actually moved out of Brusseks just before he was due to start maternelle - precisely for the reason that getting a place in a decent Brussels school (even when we were already living there) was very challenging! If you do decide to go for the secondment, I would seriously consider either a) looking at a bilingual school such as Acacia in Etterbeek (Brussels 1040) or maybe one of the smaller international schools like BICS, also in Etterbeek (very near the EU district), or b) moving out into Wallonia, where your chances of getting a decent school place are higher. The EU district is easy to commute to by train from La Hulpe, Genval and Rixensart (15-25 mins), and the area has some very good commune schools.

However, I would also listen to portofino and longtime - Belgiam scool is not at all like British primary school, and your DD may find it auite tough, especially when it's only going to be for such a short time....

marchmad Thu 25-Apr-13 15:48:19

I have to say that home schooling might be a better option than one of the 2 bilingual schools mentioned (ironic as it is classed as a home school anyway). The other bilingual school only does PE and music in French and the rest is in English and the teacher might not even be a native English speaker, so that environment is not ideal for learning French either. The OP has however stated that private education is out of financial means.

The problem with Wallonia is that an ordinary rental on a 6 month contract will be even harder than in Brussels to find and I'm not sure if there are any serviced apartments at all in that area which is likely to be the best fit for accommodation as no furniture, bills included, no fighting with the landlord for deposit back at the end.

gingerbreadjuan Mon 03-Jun-13 20:55:25

Thanks for all your responses. As a lot of you have said we are finding it difficult time to get a place in a Brussels school. I am heading over to Brussels before term ends and will be visiting a few schools. Has anyone any views on the following schools which are close to flats we have seen:

Ecole La Retraite du Sacré-Coeur
ecole bois de la cambre
Ecole prince baudouin

Thanks in advance

marchmad Mon 03-Jun-13 21:13:30

I'd go with number 1. I know 3 sets of English speaking families with children starting there in September. Not as "posh" as Emile Jacqmain, but multi-national and no dominant ethnicity.
I know nothing about no 2 and no 3 is usually last choice in that area.

gingerbreadjuan Tue 03-Sep-13 08:00:33

Well, first day at school over for the 2 kids in Brussels. Everything went great. The oldest daughter in Primaire 2 will be getting taken aside with some of the other non-native French speakers to improve her French. She came home and thought the school, the class and the teachers were great. The youngest in maternelle 1 also had fun. Basically told mum and dad to leave him in peace as he had found a train set and some friends to play with. His comment afterwards was that school was fun although lots of kids were crying cause they missed their mummies. Hopefully more of the same. Thanks for are the comments over the last while.

MasterOfTheYoniverse Tue 03-Sep-13 08:10:04

Schools are such a nightmare everywhere! Glad to hear a positive story.
Hope its all smooth sailing now.

Longtime Sat 07-Sep-13 14:41:04

Glad you got it all sorted out gingerbreadjuan. Where did your dcs end up at school in the end? Would be interesting to add your school experiences to our ever growing list.

gingerbreadjuan Mon 09-Sep-13 07:59:53

Hi Longtime, they ended up going to Retraite du Sacré Coeur. It's a short trip from Evere where we stay, 21 takes us there pretty quick and it is also the bus I get to work so we can all head off in the morning. I guess the teachers and other kids are always the main thing for making transition easy. The oldest one really likes her teachers and they have sat her next to one of the girls who speaks English so she can help out in class. I guess having a buddy at school is the main thing so they don't feel out of place at lunch etc. First week has gone well so hopefully more of the same. I will need to see if there is anywhere for additional French lessons maybe on a Saturday morning or something like that just to give her a helping hand. The youngest is also fine, he has a Spanish speaking friend so again has a pal until he can pick up the language. As he is only 3 we were not too worried about him.

Longtime Mon 09-Sep-13 19:36:22

Hope it all works out well.

gingerbreadjuan Thu 19-Dec-13 20:19:05

My six month secondment has come to an end and my daughter today had her going away party with her class. She came out the class with the biggest grin, a t-shirt with messages written on it from all her new friends and lots of photos of the party they had for her. She does not want to go back to Edinburgh and would love to stay here in Brussels. From the kids to the teachers we have been delighted about her school experience in Brussels.

I felt I should leave this positive post for others as I found the responses from some of the resident expert mums in this thread presented an overly negative view of a short term school placement in Brussels. A move abroad for any parent can be a worrying experience and you are naturally going to pay greatest attention to those who are based in that country. Having been here and seen my oldest have a fantastic time I can only give a big thumbs up to Brussels and the school that looked after the kids. I saw foreign travel for the kids as a good thing. They have been here, done it, we would do it again. smile

Longtime Sun 22-Dec-13 21:23:56

Really glad it all went well gingerbreadjuan. We were just concerned for your dd you know - maybe we are just all too long in the tooth?!

runningmad Mon 23-Dec-13 12:18:04

I think a few things make local schooling here in Belgium work :

parents who embrace or at least tolerate the differences between what they are used to and what is on offer here, rather than fighting them from the start

parents who are not scared to find any means of communication as beneficial instead of fearing lack of language skills as a barrier

parents who see the advantages to local schooling, in terms of language, integration, socialisation

children who are used to being put into new situations and are supported by relaxed parents

finding the right school for the parents and children, it looks like gingerbreajuan found the right school for his children. This can be the most difficult one to crack. And for one family might be right, the next family, it could be the worst choice.

I'm glad you enjoyed the experience.

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