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Moving to Belgium - Need help re: appropriate school year for dd

(25 Posts)
snickerdoodle Tue 27-Nov-12 14:25:24


We're moving in less than a month and still can't decide on a school. School A is telling us that she should go into year 1 where the children are learning to read/write and school B thinks she should go into year 2 with the children who are her same age.

She is in year 3 here in the UK, born Feb. 2005.

Both schools are Dutch speaking. I can see school A's point because she would really be learning to read/write all over again, but will this hold her back?

Does anyone have any experience? Opinions?

One is a church school, the other is dutch community. Do you know if there is a bias towards or against either of these schools amongst the Dutch speaking Belgians?

Sorry for so many questions! Feeling stressed and want my dd to be happy (of course!).

natation Tue 27-Nov-12 15:12:01

tweede leerjaar is for children born 2005 and I would not accept a place in erste leerjaar unless my children speaks no Dutch.

Whereabouts are you moving to?

Yes there is a general bias for Catholic over stedelijke or vlaamsegemeenschap schools, but don't let that sway you either way, choose the school you prefer and don't go across a town passing a dozen other schools on the way without very good reason.

snickerdoodle Tue 27-Nov-12 17:19:03

Oh, thanks so much for writing. None of us speak dutch! blush

Do you think she should go into the first year then? I am really unsure. It feels like such a step backwards though. Like going from year 3 to reception or year 1 in the UK...

We are moving to Brugge/Bruges. Both schools are five minutes away from our house and both are lovely. Is there a way to rate schools in Belgium like Ofsted? Would be interested in seeing what they have to say.

Someone we met said not to send dd to the dutch community (is that vlaamsegemeenschap?) school because everyone went to the catholic school. The enrolment numbers seem to prove this, but I can't seem to find a reason why.

There seems to be more immigrants in the vlaamsegemeenschap (I'll have to start learning these terms!) school.

natation Tue 27-Nov-12 18:05:09

Did your daughter get assessed at the end of Yr 2 against SATS levels and did she come up above average? Is she normally quite sociable? If that is the case and given she is born in February, I'd still go for tweede leerjaar with children the same age.

There are town controlled = stedelijke / gemeentelijke schools
There are Flemish (not called Dutch) Community controlled = Vlaamse Gemeenschap schools
There are Catholice (free) - Vrije schools

Yes it wouldn't surprise me there are more immigrants in the vlaamse gemeenschap schools, the bias towards Catholic schools is probably greater in that area.

There is no way to rate schools. If the school is in a "nice" area, then chances are the school will be full of middle-class children who are expected to perform academically.

Which school have you chosen then? I have a friend whose children went to school in England for a few years but who are now back in Brugge. They go to a school to the west of the main train station in Brugge.

natation Tue 27-Nov-12 18:11:06

I think my friend's children are at Sint Lodewijks in Sint Andries area but not sure which branch.

snickerdoodle Tue 27-Nov-12 21:13:20

I really appreciate your help! Thanks for the info on the different types of schools.

We will be in the centre of Brugge and the two schools are Go! Centrum Spiegelrei and Basisschool Hemelsdaele on St.-Maartensplein. We've only looked at the two because they are so close to our house.

We really want to get to know and be part of the community so are leaning towards Hemelsdaele because they have a very high percentage of native Belgians. They are the ones suggesting dd goes into the first year, however. We asked if there would be a chance for her to move up depending on how quickly she picks up the language. Do you think this would be confusing for her?

She is quite shy in new situations but very social crazy when she feels comfortable. She's an odd combination so I'm not sure how she'll be. She does really want to move and learn a new language so that helps, I suppose. Academically she was above the national average for literacy / reading but average for maths.

confused confused confused

natation Tue 27-Nov-12 21:29:59

I would have put money on the Catholic school wanting to put your daughter down a year.

I'd return to the school and tell them as your daughter can already read and write, probably more advanced in English than those in tweede leerjaar, she is in fact going to have an advantage over her potential classmates. For maths, well I'd possibly get a Maths dictionary so you can fast learn the terms in Dutch, it should be homework she can manage quicker than the Dutch.

I could understand the school wanting to keep down your daughter if she were born in December, but not in February. Moving upwards is far harder than being put down. Your daughter won't learn the language any faster in erste leerjaar than tweede leerjaar, so why should she be kept down? Erste leerjaar is about learning to read and write, your daughter has already done that, albeit in English, but transferring that skill to another language is not so hard.

An alternative would be Sint-Leo, primary only, not far from the schools you've looked at. Try and see if they would accept your daughter into tweede leerjaar.

snickerdoodle Tue 27-Nov-12 22:48:45

Thanks for all the advice natation! You are so kind to spend all this time helping me.

I feel much better armed with your opinion! I will email the school again tomorrow and see what they have to say... Will also have a look at Sint Leo's website.

Am I understanding you correctly - each leerjaar takes children from their birth year (ie January - December 2005) rather than the UK system (Sept 2004 - Aug 2005)???

I am curious - how did you know it was the Catholic school who wanted to put her down a year? smile

Thanks again!

natation Wed 28-Nov-12 06:55:07

yes it is calendar year, everything is here, so if your daughter is at all sporty, she has the natural advantage of always being one of the oldest competing against children 10 months younger than her.

Differentiation within a class is not the norm, I only know the stats for francophone Belgium but I don't expect the Flemish system will differ much, by the end of secondary, half students will have repeated a school year, so if your daughter succeeds in getting placed into tweede leerjaar, she will probably have 1 or 2 children born in 2004 in her class too.

Catholic schools are in general more picky with their students, attract motivated parents, like to keep their standards high etc etc. It's a generalization and does depend on the area.

snickerdoodle Wed 28-Nov-12 10:38:46

Thanks again natation. My husband phoned the catholic school this morning and told the director our concerns based on your helpful advice. The director said he had already planned a meeting later today with the two teachers (1st and 2nd years) to decide what to do with dd. He said they have an extra teacher who could possibly take dd out for an hour or so a day to work on the language and that way she could go into tweede leerjaar. He will email later to let us know.

I feel good that we challenged him. Hopefully it will all work out.

You must have a lot of experience with Belgian schools! Thanks for sharing your knowledge smile

natation Wed 28-Nov-12 16:40:09

Ok so a bit of a result then? Our 6 year old who was December born in 2nd primary had 3 hours a week of individual French and I paid for a further 2 hours a week after school in the black with her Nederlands teacher (who spoke French, Dutch and English). This black market tutoring is quite common here, don't be afraid to ask the school if any of the teachers are interested in giving extra tuition, don't ask though until the school hours tuition starts. You might want to ask about after-school homework period, don't know the Dutch word for it, in French it is "étude" translated is "study". I think all schools do this period. You'd just have the check the teacher supervising this homework period is sympathetic to using a bit of English or working around a child who has just arrived without Dutch.

It took a year for our 6 then 7 year old to be able to speak and read and write in French and be on a par with her class mates.

One last thing, Belgians are far less friendly I find than Brits, extremely family-oriented, you might have to be very proactive in arranging play dates. You might just strike lucky and a Belgian mum might be a bit more friendly than most and take you on and guide you through the Belgian school system and also the after-school activities. After-school activities are varied and usually quite cheap, with the exception of a few things like tennis lessons. Once your daughter has enough Dutch, she can do super cheap holiday courses with the Flemish sports association, either day courses or residential courses, there is even a sports centre doing these in Brugge. Here is the link which will be updated for these courses - 2012 courses finished but will soon be updated for 2013. This is just one organisation offering holiday courses, it's about as cheap as you'll get.

Longtime Thu 29-Nov-12 12:04:22

Snicker, natation is our resident expert on everything to do with schools and then some!

I can understand the school wanting to put your dd into first year because that would give her a year to pick up Dutch while not feeling stressed about school. School here in Belgium is much more structured than back in the UK - two to a desk facing the front, regular homework, exams once if not twice a year from first year primary. There is much more emphasis on academic subjects and very little in the way of music, art etc.

Pros of putting her in the first year are that she will have a year to pick up the language without you having to put her through extra tuition etc. It will be more relaxed for her certainly, especially as the whole moving thing may be stressful for her. This is the way I would go if I had a child who was finding school in the UK even slightly challenging or had a child who was not likely to cope with the stress of changing countries/languages/friends and then the work load. Cons of putting her in the first year : she is a February child so would be coming up for two years older than some of the others in her class and this might make making friends more difficult.

If she were born later in the year I would definitely suggest first year. However, with your dd, it's difficult to say which would be better. I have a mumsnet friend whose ds moved into the Belgian system in about the same year (maybe a year later). He was a November child so he even jumped a year as the school were happy to put him in the correct year group. I'll link this thread to her and ask her to give some advice.

aamia Thu 29-Nov-12 14:33:37

In terms of her catching up, we had a Finnish child start in Year two last year. It took her nearly two terms to speak in sentences and to write, but her maths caught up much quicker. By the sats she was scoring average, and by the end of this year will be well above average.

natation Thu 29-Nov-12 17:11:06

The amount of homework, number of tests do differ enormously from school to school. Our children's primary has no exams at all for the lower primary years, just a weekly spelling test of about 10 words in P2 for example, homework for our P2 child takes about 15 minutes a night, for our P6 child takes about an hour, with unfortunately more at the weekend. Comparing "journaux de classe" eg home-school book where they keep notes on homeworks to do and things to remember, well our children's school sets less homework, but other schools set less, most more. Our P2 child has desks in pairs facing front, the other P2 teacher has desks in tables. Our P6 child has desks in a semi-circle. Looking into the nearest communal school to us (where our children do free theatre and dance courses) I can see it's pretty much the same there to, teachers arrange the classes how they like.

I'd be asking for the school not to send homework for Dutch at the beginning, as it will be pretty pointless, the Maths, so long as it's not written in words, will be much easier. In fact apart from a Maths dictionary, you'll probably need a Dutch-English dictionary and Dutch-French dictionary and French-English dictionary, if the school starts French in the first 2 years of primary.

snickerdoodle Thu 29-Nov-12 21:10:03

Mumsnet is such a brilliant resource!

Thanks again natation and thanks for your views and advice longtime. I am still feeling torn about this but...

We spoke to the director again this morning and he has agreed to put her in tweede leerjaar with some extra help during the day. Success! I think he was worried that there were a lot more children (24) in that class vs the 1st class. I told him that there are 30 in her class in London so she will think it's small smile

She's up to the challenge and excited to move and make new friends. She's also quite tall and after looking at the photos on the school website she'll fit in a lot better amongst the children in tweede leerjaar.

Really glad to hear about the possibility of black market tutoring (sounds dangerous grin). I will definitely seek it out once we have the in school hours settled.

Thanks for the info on the sports activities. When we were in Brugge during October half term we saw they had taken over the markt and burg squares. It looked like fun!

Thanks again for all your help!

natation Thu 29-Nov-12 22:20:43

Brugge music academy here - not just music, also theatre and dclassical dance. Our local music academy doesn't allow anyone to enrol after the end of September, but good maybe for next year.

Brugge Arts academy.

You'll find plenty to more sporting things to do Scouting is very popular in Belgium - tends to be all day Sundays between September and May, 2 Sundays in 5, a weekend camp during the year, week to 2 week camp in July or August. It starts with children in 1st primary + 2nd primary in equivalent of Beavers / Rainbows. A few groups meet on Saturdays. Well that's how the French Scouting works, it might be a teeny bit different in West Flanders.

natation Thu 29-Nov-12 22:24:52

hee hee just looked at class photo, where on earth did the boys all go? As the school has uniform, it's not so easy to find those navy / white clothes here, so bring M and S supplies with you! you might end up supplying the school parents with uniform at a fraction of what they pay in Belgium.

snickerdoodle Fri 30-Nov-12 22:26:42

Yes! I can't believe how uneven it is and now there will be one more girl! ha ha!

I hadn't even started thinking about the uniform. Good tip about picking up some things over here. My dd's primary school doesn't have a uniform so I'm not clued up on these things...

From all those links natation, it looks like Brugge has quite a bit to offer the children. I'm pleased. That's dd sorted! Thank you.

Now have another question - do they do baby groups in Belgium very much? My ds is nearly 10 months and I take him to a nearby music group every once in a while.

Also, how involved do parents get at their children's schools? Do they have PTA type groups/activities?

Sorry for all the questions. The kids are in bed - I should be packing!

natation Fri 30-Nov-12 23:05:40

Someone asked for a mums and tots group recently in Brugge. I couldn't find any trace of one. There are mums and tots houses in Brussels, not many but they do exist, not the same as a mums and tots groups like in the UK but nearest equivalent. But I couldn't find any in Brugge, not to say they don't exist, just couldn't find any reference to them on the internet.

There is no English speaking BCT (equivalent of NCT) group in Brugge either.

Yes PTAs exist but they vary from school to school, just like in the UK.

I can see your daughter's school uniform has a standard white top, they are 17 euro, yes you read that right from one single supplier!!! Then there is a Winter grey shirt and tie too, also from a single supplier. Round or V neck navy jumper and navy skirt or trousers. Navy blue outside coat. Nothing about buying from the supplier of the shirts, so I'd definitely blitz M and S for jumpers and trousers/skirts. Black, blue, brown, white shoes. Shoes are seriously expensive here, get pairs in bigger sizes if you can. This info is in the "school reglement"

snickerdoodle Sat 01-Dec-12 22:15:09

Thanks for finding the info about the uniform! I'm going to google translate that whole document to see if there is anything else interesting.

What a good idea to buy shoes, jumpers, skirts, trousers, etc at M&S before we go. I want her to fit in, but it does look like everyone is wearing an assortment of navy pieces. I did notice that shoes were really really expensive over there.

Thanks again - I really welcome all these fantastic ideas. We're so busy packing up our flat that I know I wouldn't even have thought about these things...

natation Sat 01-Dec-12 23:12:06

Just remembered a good tip for entertainment. Boudewijnseapark. Buy a season ticket, unlimited access, only indoor play area and ice rink open in Winter, 50% off at many other parks. It's only €49 for an adult or child over 1 metre for a whole year.

Oh you know schools here normally have a yearly or bi-yearly school residential, so your daughter might be going away for a few days soon. Our 7 year old is doing a 5 day circus school in March. These school trips can start as early as 4 years old. Most schools do a ski trip in P5 or P6.

natation Sat 01-Dec-12 23:14:57

PS if you join our private Facebook group for mumsnetters in Belgium and Netherlands, then there is a member who was born and grew up in Brugge, she might be able to help you with some tips. You just need to send a pm to longtimeinbrussels, portofino or me.

snickerdoodle Sun 02-Dec-12 09:58:53

Last night I wrote a post expressing my shock at the residential and it has disappeared!

Anyway, I'm not sure I'm ready for such a thing! My dd has only been away once overnight when her brother was born. A week seems like a really long time for a 7 year old!

natation Sun 02-Dec-12 10:29:27

The School Reglement booklet only mentions specifically the week long "forest class" which P5 (vijfte leerjaar) and P6 (sechste leerjaar) do, so looks like no ski class.

Our youngest did a 3 day residential to a farm at the age of farm at the age of 4 whilst still in M2 (tweede kleuter). In P2 at the age of 7 she is doing the 5 day circus class. In P3 or P4 she'll do a 5 day "green" class and in P5 she'll do a 10 day ski class. Some schools do a residential every year, so my pocket is much happier that our school does them only ever 2 years on average! Our 11 year old is very lucky this year, to celebrate the end of primary school exams and to mark the end of up to 10 years these children have been together at their school, they are going on a 3 day trip to the Loire and Paris to visit artistic sites - their school is quite progressive and the year-long project is art, so they are learning all year how to produce art, about famous artists etc. There is no such thing as a non educational trip here!

The Scouts do lots of camps too from the age of 5/6. Our daughters do 2 weekend camps in the Autumn and Spring, they are actually held in Youth Hostel type accommodation, the Spring one next year is with all 650 Scouts/Guides in the unit from the ages of 6 to 25 and it will be in a school camping in classrooms and sports hall. They both do a Summer camp in July, the 7 year old does 7 days and the 11 year old will do 14 days. They look forward all year to the Summer camps, especially the older one.

natation Sun 02-Dec-12 10:46:12

This is where our 7 year old will be going. You're lucky as the Flemish schools get subsidies for these residentials, us francophone parents pay much more for these residentials.

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