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Schools in Brussels

(51 Posts)
charltonchick Mon 02-Aug-10 23:01:13

Hi there, we're moving to Brussels in September and need to find a school for our DD who is 4 1/2. We're looking for something small, mornings only if possible and preferably billingual. The fees will be paid and the location isn't so important as long as it's not too far out as we can choose our accomodation to suit the school. We also have a 2 1/2 yr old DD so if she could go to the same place or somewhere near for a couple of mornings a week that would be great.
Any ideas? Thanks for your help!

Portofino Tue 03-Aug-10 08:59:57

A lot of families I know send children here:St Paul's British Primary

Or to the British School of Brussels

There is a full list here

The BCT is always worth joining. They also have a schools network.

Most of the international schools offer a nursery department. Alternatively, your dd2 could attend a local school for free. As the Kindergarten system here starts at 2.5, there don't tend to be "playgroups" in the same sense as in the UK - but there are Halte Garderies dotted about the place.

Portofino Tue 03-Aug-10 09:02:52

Oh and welcome to another Belgian MNetter! If you are interested, you can email me on to get added on the list...

natation Tue 03-Aug-10 09:05:39

Bilingual options in Brussels proper



Montessori House

Outside Brussels

International Montessori in 5 locations

European Montessori

Le Verseau (not bilingual but some English)

But if you think your daughter will pick up French quickly in a bilingual school, you may find she picks it up very slowly, if at all.

The local schools are virtually free from age 2 1/2 and it´s a popular option with non Belgian families, even ones who could have fees paid for at private bilingual schools.

Sorry I don´t have time to paste the websites of the schools I have mentioned, but you should find their websites quite easily.

Portofino Tue 03-Aug-10 09:15:04

Meant to add that Tervuren/Vossem/Overijse where my first 2 schools are located are a very popular expat area. Lovely countryside and not to far from Brussels. There are Rainbow/Brownie packs at St Pauls and BSB if you are interested...

As natation said - the local school system is very good. My dd attends a local (french speaking) school. I guess it very much depends on how long you are planning to stay here....

charltonchick Tue 03-Aug-10 21:38:33

Thanks for your messages.

I think the little one will be OK in a local French speaking school and those fees aren't paid so that would help us. The older one will definitely have problems though - she's very shy and will just be overwhelmed. We'll be there for 2 years so not that long but I'd really like the kids to get a headstart with the French.

Natation - I found it interesting that you mention that DD1 might not pick up much French in a bilingual school - I had a quick look at the international montessori school and its website boasts that all the kids become bilingual!

natation Wed 04-Aug-10 21:46:00

Where exactly are you or partner working? It might make a difference in choosing school.

Would you prefer a more suburban area, small village or would you prefer being in the city?

Would you prefer a French or Dutch speaking area?

Would you want to be in a heavily English speaking dominated xpat area or do you want to be in an area with a large variety of international population, or very fez internationals?

If you are worried about your child being overwhelmed, BSB or ISB or St John´s school would not be a good choice, the schools are very big compared to the other English schools.

However, please don´t let shyness put you off considering local school; they can be just as welcoming as an international school. Even 2 years of French would be better than nothing and there are many advantages over international school for very young children.

As for bilingual schools, you may find with an English speaking child, they will align themselves with their English speaking classmates and refuse to speak French. I know a fair few children who have gone to the bilingual schools and their children have learned from zero French to French not as fluent as children immersed into French. Do a bit of research on immersion V bilingual where the languages are mixed. Also many people expect to stqy only 2 or 3 years and end up staying longer, wishing they had put their children in local school to immerse their children in French or Dutch and many years down the line, they stay longer than first expected and their children remain monolingual.

MrsSchadenfreude Fri 06-Aug-10 21:19:20

My two were at the infant part of BSB - a large school, yes, but the infant part is completely separate, and therefore not overwhelming at all (this was one of my worries too). A friend of mine's daughter went to the Montessori in Tervuren until she was nine and learned sweet FA (she had to have extra coaching when she went back to UK to get her up to speed). She also learned NO FRENCH AT ALL, as her group was about 85% anglophone, so they all spoke English. She also managed to escape twice without them noticing and went home! Others may have better experiences.

I think an English language school is fine if you are only going to be there for a few years, but I did find it really odd, the number of families who were there indefinitely who send their children to BSB or St John's - they seemed to exist in a "British Bubble" and didn't mix with the local community at all. If we had been there longer, I would definitely have put mine in a local school - Jolie Bois is supposed to be good, and they have experience with settling foreign children - ditto the school at Moorsel if you're in a Dutch speaking area.

Both of mine picked up a huge amount of Dutch (largely from TV blush) but almost no French. Bizarrely the French teachers at BSB then were all English...

charltonchick Fri 06-Aug-10 23:23:12

ooh MrsSchadenfreude you've kind of confirmed what natation said about the kids possibly not picking up any French in a billingual school. Would be such a shame as we're really keen on the girls learning it when they're so young. Not really that keen on living in a heavily English speaking area as we're only there for 2 years before we return to the UK and want to feel like we're living somewhere different than home. Might have to come up with a Plan B.....

natation Sat 07-Aug-10 11:39:22

If you want to avoid the "living in an anglophone bubble" community, avoid :

Tervuren, including centre area, area around BSB and International Montessori and also Vossem where St Paul´s British Primary is situated, also the streets techinically in Wezembeek-Oppem attached to Tervuren not far from BSB, also Overijse. This area is 20 minutes east of Brussels.

Waterloo, Rhode St Genese, although it is possible to integrate into local French language Belgian life over there. This area is 30 minutes south of Brussels.

If you are interested in the alternative of local schooling where both your children oculd be together in the same school and you could walk to school and your children could integrate into the many local activities for children in French or Dutch, I would choose an area according to proximity to work and also whethere you are looking for suburban or city living.

In the east and south areas of Brussels, plus in the communes of Kraainem and Wezembeek-Oppem just outside Brussels, there are quite high populations of international families, but not dominated by any particular community (except Wezembeek-Oppem which has pockets of anglophones and Germans). In the schools in our commune for example, schools typlically have children of 20 to 30 nationalities and the younger the children are, the easier it is to integrate. The choice in local schooling is more varied than in the international system.

If you DO go down the bilingual route , DO ask the school exactly how many English and French speakers are in the school and in the 4 year old´s class, if the proportion of English speakers is quite high, expect French to come very very slowly.

Out of the bilingual schools I listed in Brussels proper, perhaps Montessori House Brussels and Acacia might be the ones with the highest amount of French speakers, although these schools are very different in philosophy. BICS is a very very Catholic school, heard good things about the maternelle part ( 2 1/2 to 6) but very old-fashioned Catholic in primaire.

natation Sat 07-Aug-10 12:16:58

PS there are 4 English speaking Rainbows groups in the Brussels area

Braine l Alleud (All Saints Episcopal church)
Vossem (St Paul´s British Primary)
Tervuren (BSB, might be 2 packs here)
Kraainem (St Anthony´s RC church)

Your daughter could attend either of these packs at the age of 5, no need to be at the
schools or churches.

There are also dance classes in English ballet - Susan Heron
disco - Jean Emmett
tap - Jeannette Marino
irish - Christel Janssens

Google these names and you should find locations of classes.

Also plenty of other. things in English, football, rugby, cricket, tennis etc

Our children are at local school but they all do an activity per week in English too. They have made several friends in these activities who like them speak English at home but go to school in French or Dutch.

natation Sat 07-Aug-10 15:31:45

Another PS

I forgot to list another bilingual school in Brussels, it´s the Lycée Francais, the French government subsidised school which follows the French national curriculum rather than the Belgian one. Your 4 year old would be in "moyenne section" of maternelle, equivalent of "2e maternelle" in Belgian school. The Lycée Francais has an excellent reputation, but your daughter may not be offered a place there if she cannot speak French, the school is oversubscribed so priority is for French speakers, French nationals first. It is also a really big school like BSB, ISB and St John´s, although the maternelle section is separated from the test of the school like at BSB, the campus is shared. If you are really interested in this school, bet to live in Uccle, Rhode St Genese, Ixelles, somewhere on the south side of Brussels, not the east as the journey is long due to the Foret de Soignes being between these areas.

LongtimeinBrussels Sat 07-Aug-10 20:58:54

A local maternelle (either in Dutch or French) for your youngest would most probably be the best option. I would however hesitate for your older one. If you know you are definitely going back to the UK (or another English-speaking country) I would advise, if possible, keeping her in an English-speaking school. There are many reasons for this. The Belgian system is totally different to the British system, with exams twice a year in primary, repeating years if they fail. There's lots more learning by rote and very little creativity. Also I doubt that even if she was able to pick up a lot of French in those two years, it would be very difficult to keep it up afterwards if you don't stay in a French-speaking country. Also, you say she is shy and would be overwhelmed. The rigidness of the Belgian school would most probably not suit her. The pastoral care in a school like the BSB (very expensive I know) is so much better than in the Belgian system and there are far more creative subjects.

Le Verseau is popular as a bilingual school but you'll most probably find it difficult to find a place for this September. Acacia is extremely catholic with links to Opus Dei.

It might be best to wait until you know where you will be living (will you know before you come?) before making a decision.

LongtimeinBrussels Sat 07-Aug-10 21:04:38

Have just reread and seen that your eldest dd is 4 1/2. When will she be 5? If it's next year she would only be older enough to go into 2nd year maternelle so the two years you are here would only give her the two years in maternelle which might be fine for her. It's only in primary that it gets tough. In fact, even if she's five towards the end of the year it might be worth asking if she can go into the 2nd year of maternelle instead of the 3rd year because it's definitely NOT an advantage being young in the year (the intake year is the calendar year and I have a DS who was born on 31 December so I can tell you from experience that this is the case). The disadvantage of this is of course that she would then be going back into an English-speaking system (I presume) where they will have already started to read and write, something they don't do until six here so she would be behind her peers.

natation Sat 07-Aug-10 21:18:24

There are however no exams until the age of 6 in the Belgian system. There are obligatory exams in the French system in primaire only 3 times, at the end of 2e, 4e and 6e, otherwise it is up to inidividual schools to decide how children are assessed. I know only 1 local French school where the children take exams twice a year throughout primaire.

There are also French schools with a great pastoral system, ditto for Dutch system.

Maternelle up to the age of 6 is very creative in the Belgian system. After that, you can sign your children up to Creative classes during the lunch hour or after school, costs generally 80 euro per year per class extra, held in the school. The options are even greater outside school.

Yes the Belgian system is very different, children will be expected to behave and at times discipline cqn be seen as quite negative, children are given more freedom at a young age, school residential trips from age 4 for example, loads more trips outside the classroom.

Ok so I am very biased, just giving the OP something to consider. I have met so many parents who have regretted their decision to send their children to international school, few who have regretted the reverse.

The point about keeping up the French if you move back to a non French country i it is a very valid one, but it is possible and there is a network of Children´s groups throughout the UK.

French in 2 years fluently is a realistic proposition, especially if you choose the right school and the child is exposed to French outside school too even better. In fact the average 4 year old should be fluent within about 12 months.

monkeybumsmum Sun 08-Aug-10 10:56:35

Hi charltonchick, lovely to hear you're moving over here smile

I haven't read all the posts, just your original one and the last couple and saw what longtime said (waves hello smile) about Le Verseau and wanted to add my tuppenceworth! My ds is starting there in September (in the 2nd maternelle) and I would say it would be worth trying to get a place as we were only given ours in June. It is a Belgian school, but 40% of the intake are english speakers. There are also english lessons each week. We are sending ds there as he's had hearing problems, and is behind in his speech in english and so we wanted him to have more opportunity to speak english outside of the home. He spent last year in a belgian school, so does understand quite a bit of french, but doesn't speak it yet. The huge plus for us with Le Verseau is that although he will get the french input, a lot of the teachers speak/understand english and so it will be less stressful for him as he will hopefully be able to be understood.
Another point is that while ds was in the belgian school dh and I were not ignored as such, but certainly were not included in anything the other parents in the class did. I felt like poor ds didn't get the attention he deserved because he didn't speak french. Perhaps this was just at this school, I don't know, but I have heard of other english parents not being included in things when their children are at belgian school - just thought I'd warn you. I feel aggrieved on ds's behalf - he wasn't invited to anything at all the whole year bless him. We're so looking forward to Le Verseau as we hope that finally he might make some friends!
Also, there is no way we could afford the international schools, and the fees at Le Verseau are tiny compared to those. It is quite a way out of Brussels though, but to get there from Brussels you'd be going in the opposite direction to the nightmarish morning traffic.
Have you found somewhere to live yet? Where were you thinking? Somewhere like Overijse is a great place (out of Brussels though) if you were thinking of Le Verseau.
Oops - just read back and saw you want to immerse yourselves in Belgian life - what about somewhere like Wavre? That's very french speaking! I live in between Wavre and a place out in the countryside called Jodoigne. It's a beautiful area, so quiet all you can hear are birds, and we HAVE to get on and speak french out here.

I would agree with natation on your dd picking up french - I work in an english speaking maternelle and the children we've had there who started with no english usually start to blossom in their second year. I think the first year is just spent trying to understand, and then by the end of the second year they are usually just about fluent. It's amazing really. Wish I could do that blush

If you have any other questions about moving over then give us a shout!

MrsSchadenfreude Sun 08-Aug-10 11:38:27

How long will you be there, and will you be going back to UK afterwards? If your children go to a French/Dutch speaking school and you have no way of keeping up the second language, they will forget it very quickly - I think if they "have" the second language after the age of 10, they tend to "keep" it but before then, it gets lost very quickly.

charltonchick Sun 08-Aug-10 19:47:21

Hi everyone, thanks so much for taking the time to help me out!

I'll be working in the EU area. We'll only be here for 2 years and then we're going back to the UK for my and my husband's work. So really any French the girls learn will just be a bonus - we go to France 2/3 times a year on hols so they'll keep some of it up that way but I'm sure they'll forget most of it. I think we're almost decided on the intl montessori for the older daughter - I've been in contact with a couple of parents who send their kids there and I'm convinced it's the right choice for her. Both parents did say that although their children can understand a lot of French, they don't really speak it. I've got no time to come over before we move and can't get my head around local schools tbh.

We're thinking about living in WSP or near there as it's half way between work and school and a French speaking area.

natation Sun 08-Aug-10 20:27:23

There is an International Montessori just outside Brussels in St Stevens Woluwe, next to European School Woluwe, you can travel there on 29 bus which takes you also to EU district too, 20 to 30 minute journey.

A car is not necessary in Brussels and public transport is cheap, Belgian employers refund a proportion, not recommended to travel into the EU area by car.

You might want to consider living anywhere along line metro line 1 or tram line 39 to live, from even the end of metro line 1, Schuman stop next to Berlaymont building is 20 minutes. Or perhaps even the EU area or just beyond in southern Schaerbeek, this is very popular with expats, or a bit south of the EU area in Etterbeek.

There is also Montessori House Brussels bilingual school right next to Montgomery roundabout, only goes up to age 6 years though, this is 2 stops from Schuman, 5 minutes.

You will find the local schools in Woluwe St Lambert, Woluwe St Pierre, Etterbeek, Brussels EU district full of both anglophones and other nationalities. There are some really lovely schools out there, here´s just one of them as an example, it´s not where our children attend but very similar, very close to the EU district, called Ecole du Bonheur. Your daughter would probably pick up French in a year here, speaking and understanding, whereas at Montessori, she may struggle.

natation Sun 08-Aug-10 22:49:51

One thing to consider when choosing a school here if you are working full-time is the cost of before and after school care. Remember also that in local schools and many international schools too, wednesday is half day. Check exactly if any extra child care costs will be paid by your employer.

If you are working until 5 or 6 pm every day, for example, after school care at International Montessori will cost you 12 euro per day, that´s over 2000 euro over a year, if you are expected to pay this yourself, that´s quite alot. In a local school, after school care till 6 or 7pm will typically cost 3 euro per day, a quarter of the cost.

Another consideration is extra curricular activity costs and also the variety of activities. At our children´s little local school, the choice of extra activities is over 20 choices and cost 80 to 100 euro for an extra class per year, expect to pay an awful lot more in an international school for a similar activity.

Anyway, you will find Brussels a superb place I hope to bring up children, the choice of activities for them outside school is so huge it should be difficult to choose. There are playgrounds everywhere. Public transport is free for children up to the qge of 12 and after that is still mega cheap. You should have a great family life here, we certainly do.

LongtimeinBrussels Mon 09-Aug-10 06:33:26

charltonchick, I see you say you've pretty much already made your decision but I'd like to add a few things just in case.

I think you and I will have to agree to disagree natation. I have dcs of 21, 19 and 11 who were all born here so have plenty of experience of the Belgian system (not that I'm saying you don't!). I also moved my DS1 to the BSB at the age of 16 (we had to take a chunk of our pension fund to do so so not a decision we took lightly but he was sufering from depression) and the difference was like night and day. There were others there who had also come from the Belgian system, children with a range of intellectual capabilities. His best friend left the Belgian system for similar reasons and now has a 1st in AI from Leeds uni so not because he couldn't cope with the level expected.

All the primaries I know of set exams twice a year. Although I agree with what everyone here says that they will pick up French, I think what MrsSchadenfreude (whom I believe was here and then returned to a non French-speaking country - please correct me if I'm wrong) says is also true. You are going to return to the UK after two years and they will lose the French they have learnt quite quickly. I have had plenty of friends over the years who have put their children into maternelle in French but then moved on whose children can't speak French any more sad.

It is true that there is a lot of creativity in maternelle but this in itself is a reason for you to weigh up the options carefully charltonchick. As I said, if your dd's birthday is after Christmas, she'll spend the two years in maternelle and then be behind her classmates when she returns to the UK.

I do agree with natation that you can have a good family life here. Despite my misgivings about the school system (maybe your DCs are just a lot cleverer than mine natation wink), I wouldn't want to return to the UK (I've lived here longer than I lived there by a few years!). I don't have a car so can second the excellent public transport (though of course you have to allow yourself much more time to arrive at your destination unless it's on a direct metro route). I live on the metro line 5 which goes out to Auderghem (next commune to down from Woluwe St Pierre but cheaper). A very quick metro journey to the EU area (6 stops, 7 minutes from my house!).

Please keep in touch with Portofino who is great at organising things then hopefully we'll get to see you once you're here . Any other advice you need, just come back on here and ask as we'll all be happy to help!

And last but not least, waves to monkeybumsmum grin.

natation Mon 09-Aug-10 10:49:12

Me again

Some tips if you have children in Belgium, unless you have diplomatic or special (usually european civil servant) status, you wil normally sign up for the Belgian equivalent of the NHS, with an insurance organisation called a Mutualité. Most of thise Mutualités offer the same level of medical insurance, they do differ in the level of "extras". For example, if you join Partenamut (not our insurance company), you can claim up to 95 euro per year per child for sports / arts activities, even adults can claim 40 euro per year for sports club membership.

Another tip if you are a Belgian tax payer, you can reduce your tax bill by off-setting the cost of child care and sports / arts activities, max 11,20euro per day. My friend just got a 3000euro tax refund as a result of off-setting child care for her 3 children, it can make quite a difference.

Oh I also have contact details of 2 parents whose children go to International Montessori in St Stevens Woluwe, one who is about to send her child to Montessori House Brusses, plus a few contacts in the other international and local schools in Brussels.

There are also 2 good websites, and for looking for housing. It´s useful to get to know post codes in Brussels and nearby for searching for properties on these websites, eg WSL is 1200, WSP is 1150, Auderghem is 1160, Bruxelles Central 1000.

MrsSchadenfreude Mon 09-Aug-10 21:54:22

LTIB - yes, we went back to UK after Brussels, although we're now in Paris! When we arrived in Brussels, DD1 was 3, and her first (and pretty much only language at that point) was Romanian. I had visions of us sticking her in a French school and her going to UK aged 8 not speaking anything properly. She (unsurprisingly) doesn't remember any Romanian now, but is going great guns in French at her international school here, where she gets an hour a day.

Although Paris is lovely, we do miss Brussels still!

scaryteacher Fri 13-Aug-10 22:39:00

I think that BSB is small for infants and primary, and the infant building is lovely (I was invigilating in there last term). It's light and airy, and there is a lovely play area, and fab teachers (especially the Head of Infants).

Tervuren is a lovely place to live; good facilities, a large park, the Arboretum for walks, fab bakers and good shops for food and great cafes. If you are working in an international environment then you will find your friendships reflect that, rather than where you live. Tervuren is good for getting to the EU; dh did it on the tram and metro for 3 years, but also took the car in when he needed to, and there were no problems with that.

Ds is at BSB, and does both French and Dutch (the French teachers in Secondary are French!!) and uses the Flemish more than the French given that we live in a Flemish gemeente.

If you are out with the UK Armed Forces, all your medical care will be dealt with by HM Forces and there is no need to join a Mutualite.

I would be happy to live in Vossem, Moorsel Overijse, Wezembeek etc, but love living in Tervuren.

natation Sat 14-Aug-10 10:50:28

Hi again,

you seem quite decided on a bilingual school, so thought I might just add a little bit more about the 4 bilingual schools in Brussels (ok one is a few metres literally outside). They differ quite a bit in their intake and also in their philosophy.

Ecole Acacia
This is in the heart of Etterbeek, 10 minute walk from the Berlaymont (central point for EU district). It´s a fairly new school opened in 2002. It follows Belgian school years and uses its own teaching methods and in primaire teaches a modified Belgian curriculum. It is fairly Catholic but there will be pelty of non Catholic children, the attraction for the parents is the bilngual education rather than the religion. It has 2 streams for maternelle, an English/French one and a French/Dutch one. The school took over an empty local school and the building has been refurbished. I would expect there to be a majority of French speakers first language here, but apparently expat English speaking children too, a bit like Ecole le Verseau in Bierges, plus some Dutch first language but wouldn´t think there are many. It used IMMERSSION method in that there is ONE TEACHER, ONE LANGUAGE at a time, the timetable is divided into French or English, but not mixed, unlike the Montessori schools.
I have been told by parents who have done the open day tours that the maximum fees is around 5K per year. Age 1 1/2 to 12.

Brussels International Catholic School
Again in the heart of Etterbeek, about 15 minutes walk from Berlaymont, this is also a farily new school, the maternelle was refurbished last year and the primaire/secondaire apparently over the summer. This school is much more Catholic in primaire/secondaire years than Acacia, a friend had no problems with her child in maternelle with the religious side but in primaire it may not be suitable for a family who is not of the same persuasion. It uses IMMERSION like Acacia with the timetable divided acording to language. I´ve been told it is roughly 50/50 between French and English speaking families here. Fees are 5.6K per year. Age 2 1/2 to 18.

Montessori House Brussels
This school only opened in 2006 and has 2 classes, 2-4 and 4-6. The owner has another school in Braine. There must be no more than 50 children in the whole school, although the classes are big´like International Montessori, it´s because there are 2 teachers for each class, one English and one French, I´m sure they must sometimes take advantage by separating the children into 2 groups. The school is jsut off Montgomery roundabout in WSP, great location as it´s only 2 metro stops to Berlaymont. The 2 to 4s can go part time. Children mainly from expat backgrounds, varying languages. Fees from 6K to 10K.

International Montessori Woluwe
This school is metres outside Brussels (WSL) and easily accessible by bus to Berlaymont or bus/metro. It opened in 2008, it is an exceptionally beautiful converted cloisters on the edge of countryside, has gradually grown in size and should have children aged 2 to 12 there with perhaps over 100 children as it is adding over 8s in September. Like the other Montessori, there are 2 teachers per class, so classes are over 20 each. Children mainly from expat backgrounds af varying nationalities with many English speakers, not many French speakers. 2-6s can go part time. Fees from 8K to 14K if paying yourself.

I´ve written the fees in case you wish to consider the younger one staying with her elder sibling.

Hope the additional information helps.

Good luck

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