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Primary schools - Leuven or Brussels

(23 Posts)
gingerbreadjuan Mon 04-May-15 10:20:06

There is a possibility that I and my family will be going to Belgium for 3 years. I will be working in Brussels (schuman) and we will be coming from teh UK. We have 2 kids, my son is 5 and my daughter is 9.

We have been in Brussels before for 6 months, whereby my kids went to a local french speaking school. However, if we come back we like the idea of living in Leuven. The problem there is the flemish language for the kids. They are bi-lingual (english/spanish) but have no flemish.

If we go for Brussels we have the opportunity to send them to one of the European Schools and so language would not be an issue. This is naturally the easiest option. However, I am still tempted by the Leuven option. It seems a nicer place for kids to live and I think it would be a closer nit place them to go to schools and make friends. The main issue is the language.

Any thoughts from those who have sent their kids to flemish speaking school when this is not their native language is welcome as well as general thoughts on teh options.



spinoa Mon 04-May-15 12:05:40

There is an international school in Leuven

although it is quite new.

The primary schools in Leuven are used absorbing non-Dutch(*) speaking children, particularly the schools around the university. I would imagine that the 5 year old would be fluent within a few months - most children of that age pick it up very quickly.

(*) The language is often referred to as Dutch rather than Flemish and most language classes for adults around Leuven tend to teach "Dutch" rather than "Flemish". The differences between Dutch and Flemish are relatively small, although it is not unusual for them to subtitle each other's TV shows...

Onelankwen Mon 04-May-15 12:06:50

As Leuven is quite a big town, the teachers will be used to having children in their class that don't speak Dutch. There will be a support teacher to help your children in the beginning, but they'll soon pick it up. In my son's school (in Flanders) we had 2 Australian children that arrived in September. By October they spoke Dutch quite fluently a,d had no problem at all to follow the lessons.
Also, all Flemish teachers know English well, so there won't be any big communication problems.
The only problem that might arrise is that there won't be a place for your children in the school of your choice. I would contact them as fast as possible. There is a huge shortage of places in primary schools at the moment. Enrollments started on the first of March and most schools will be completely full by now. I don't know if the problem is as urgent in Leuven as it is in Antwerp, but over here there is a huge shortage of places in primary schools.

Onelankwen Mon 04-May-15 12:09:48

I am a teacher of Dutch as a second language for foreigners en Dutch and Flemish are definitely the same. The official name for the language is Dutch. There are a few difference, comparable to the difference between British and American difference.
When I teach I use the Flemish variety of Dutch, i.e. a few different words and a different pronunciation, but this is still considered to be Dutch.

gingerbreadjuan Mon 04-May-15 13:55:33

Thanks all, I am encouraged by the idea of sending them to a dutch/flemish smile speaking school. I did notice the international school in Leuven but the fees would not be paid for so that is not an option. I know there are difficulties in finding places at a lot of schools in Brussels and expect that could also be the case for Leuven. I hope to get confirmation of whether or not the post will go ahead and then I can start doing some real ground work.

Any more views from others more than welcome.

Thanks again GB

cannotseeanend Mon 04-May-15 16:45:45

I've never met anyone working in Schuman area and living in Leuven. It will be quite a long commute. Have you thought about the impact on the family that you will spend 10 hours a week less at home than if you lived near to work?

I don't think Brussels is any better or worse than Leuven to live and find no difference in people's experiences of bringing up children in Leuven or Brussels, other than to say the Flemish do tend to be far more insular and not friendly to outsiders, but since Leuven is a university city full of foreigners, you'll be less likely to find this attitude amongst native Flemish in Leuven than in areas with less turnover of foreigners.

You're going to run into problems with getting school places in Brussels or Leuven.

Given your children have been in French before and could go to European school and if you're looking at English as the major language, then they'd get European school 4 in Laeken, I'd put Spanish as 2nd and French as 3rd and looking to live in a place convenient for Laeken - you could look at Wemmel for example, Jette, Groet Bijgaarden.

gingerbreadjuan Tue 05-May-15 10:00:45

Thanks cannot see for your comments. On the time for commuting it takes me 30 mins to get from Meiser to Arts Loi on the bus, about the same time as Leuven to Schuman. The commute from leuven to schuman is actually a pretty short one and so I dont think that would an issue.

The issue is more as you say difficulties in getting a school as oppossed to being able to get a place easily in the European school and the added language benefits that that would offer in terms of ease of settling in. While I think the english section would be the prefernce if we were to go down the European route I was wondering if anyone knows where the spanish speaking section is based?

cannotseeanend Tue 05-May-15 15:43:18

In theory it is 35 minutes Leuven to Schuman on 2 trains, but it's 3 trains an hour at peak times. In practice, you would have to factor in the times to get to Leuven station and times to cross platforms and wait for the next train at Nord station. Compare that to 20 minutes by direct metro from Stockel where you'd easily get housing a 5 minute walk away, or other places in Brussels region. Bockstael is 5 minutes by direct train to Schuman near EEB4. Boitsfort is 10 minutes by direct train to Schuman. Even outside Brussels in Dutch speaking areas, there is for example Hoeilaart which is 20 minutes by direct train and you could get housing 5 minutes walk from the station there too. There are so many other areas you could look at which are more convenient for work than Leuven. When the tunnel is finished, it will make Mechelen only 15 minutes by direct train to Schuman.

Spanish sections at Ixelles and Uccle and I'd choose Ixelles simply for convenience of location.

I'd think about the fact you have many after school and social activities in Spanish and English you simply won't find in Leuven. That has consequences for the children and the spouse too.

Updatingmywill Sun 10-May-15 08:28:05

The commute from Leuven would only be viable by train - E40 quickly jams up in rush hour leading to a drive of 1h30 to 2h. I'm told by people in my office that you need to be passing Heverlee by 06:30 in the morning to get a relatively clear run in.

kelda Sun 10-May-15 08:28:45

I live in Leuven. To be honest, there are not that many children who commute to school in Leuven, although I do know one child who comes from Tienen every day.

Certainly in my children's school Sint Jan there will be support for non flemish speaking children. They have an extra teacher who helps with this - make sure you ask about this in the schools you look at.

BCT is very active in Leuven and the international student population and Imec means that there is a lot of english spoken throughout the town. There are also a couple of english speaking churches.

Most foreigners here make a decent attempt to learn flemish.

I do know children who have been to flemish speaking schools and did not pick up much flemish at all, mostly due to the lack of flemish at home. It is not easy for every child, and they are not all like 'sponges'. I've seen many times on mumsnet people saying that children will pick up the language in no time at all - but this is simply not true for all children. Realistically you are looking at two years with plenty of support outside of school as well.

Leuven has initiatives to encourage children to speak flemish outside of school including some very good after-school activities and summer day care (Fabota springs to mind). Demographically these are mainly aimed at the immigrant population (mainly north African and Middle East) to encourage integration from an early age.

kelda Sun 10-May-15 08:48:58

For just three years, I really don't think it is worth looking at a flemish school. Particularly not for your 9 year old. I remember a nine year old who started at flemish speaking school and after two years she was far from fluent, struggled with making friends and ended up being home schooled so that she wasn't so far behind when they went back to their country of origin.

It should be easier for the five year old, although you will probably find that he is held back in kleuter school for a couple of years to give him time to learn the language, again delaying his academic education.

And really, what is the point of learning flemish if they are not going to grow up here? Unless you move to Holland or Aruba, their flemish will be completely forgotten within months of leaving Belgium.

Longtime Sun 10-May-15 09:10:37

I completely agree with everything Kelda says. I am usually the lone wolf when it comes to pointing out the negatives of the Belgian school system. She is completely right when she says they do not all pick up the native language really easily. Add to that the system is much more old-fashioned than the UK system - lots of learning by rote, exams from the age of six in many schools. I also agree that it will be most difficult for your nine year old. My three were all born here and went to French-speaking schools from the age of 3. They still struggled through primary and worse in secondary. My youngest recently asked me (she is just coming up 16) if I would home school her for the last two years because she has had enough of working so, so hard for mediocre results.

My advice for anyone moving here is if you're here long-term, then consider the local system (but I still wouldn't necessarily choose it if I had the opportunity to put them in a European school or other), if you're not here long-term, it's not worth the effort that they and you will likely have to put it to achieve good results and more importantly that they are happy. Of course I know families here where the children have come quite late to another language school and are doing well but it so depends on the child and it's a risk I wouldn't be willing to take (with the benefit of hindsight of course).

P51mama Sun 10-May-15 09:11:39

My husband commutes into Brussels by car daily from hoeilaart, which is no problem once you get used to Brussels traffic. My son, 5, is in the local school which is excellent and full of international kids. They are very open to it and used to it. My daughter, 11, is in school in Leuven for personal reasons and again a very good school with many international kids. I prefer leuven as a city to Brussels. We love living in hoeilaart as it's so close to both with the advantage of flemish schooling which is also less expensive. Best wishes

P51mama Sun 10-May-15 09:22:15

The flemish system is nothing like the french, it's much more modern, not parrot fashion learning, no exams until later and rated as one of the top education systems in the world. Also the Dutch speakers tend to speak English anyway unlike the french, making integration easier.

cannotseeanend Sun 10-May-15 09:42:55

I can only base my experience of French schools on the 3 schools my children have attended. So far, only 1 out of 3 requires parrot fashion learning and I'm sure it happens next door at the Flemish school too of the same name and reputation as an academic school which likes children to fit their narrow views. The other 2 schools, especially the primaire, is the opposite of parrot fashion learning.

I'd focus on 2 things.

1) What will be the effects of a longer commute to work by choosing somewhere that currently has no direct public transport and requires a change, adding on the travel time to get to that transport too? Think about the effect on being able to get back to your children's school(s) for parents evenings, or simply being there for drop-off and pick-ups. f course you could end up with a lousy commute by living in an inconvenient area of Brussels - just as an example, if you chose the most southerly reaches of Uccle, it would take just as long on public transport as Leuven would! Commute is not just about distance but time and what alternatives there are when public transport goes wrong / when roads for cars are blocked.

2) What will be the effect of the children having access to education in all 3 languages they can speak, English, French and Spanish, all for free (total French cost you're looking at is about £100-£300 more per year) and instead putting them in a 4th language no-one can speak yet?

abusymama Sun 10-May-15 11:08:29

I don't want to be a kill joy, but I don't see any benefit of immersing your children in yet another language for only three years when it is a language they wil probably never use again. You don't have too much to lose with the younger ones, but I think it's a bit tough for the nine year old.

My son went into a Dutch speaking school when he was 7 - He is now 13. We are stuck with it now and it has been quite a difficult experience. We both speak decent Dutch, but is is not really enough to be able to help him and you have to take this into account too. You need to be able to communicate with the school and possibly other parents too.

We have chosen a very tough school, but it is very close by and we know people there. We are now looking at other options and hope to move him to another school where the teaching style is less regimented and less theoretical.

We have had very little support and what we have had we found and paid for ourselves outside of school hours. My son is bright, but not brilliant and has had to work hard to keep up. It has been tough for us as a family and it is causing a lot if tension. sad

There are many positive sides to the school system here - it is cheap, the standards are very high, the learning level is very high too, but there it doesn't work for everyone.

I would seriously consider the European and embrace the international dimension being offered to you for free. Don't add a 'dead' language (sorry to the Dutch speakers out there I don't mean to offend) when your kids could become even more fluent in the three they have - especially as this is long a long term posting for you.

Good luck and please feel free to ask more questions - many of us here are with you in spirit. I am perhaps a bit negative at the moment so please take this into account too!

kelda Sun 10-May-15 11:24:59

Agree abusymama. My children are all bright but they all need help with their homework, and if the parents don't speak flemish, then where do they get that help from?

The flemish education is a very high standard, with regular testing from age 6. Five times a year they come home with a list of marks for 20 or 30 tests, with the class average next to each result. If they fall behind, they will have a lot of stress and there is a high chance they will be held back a year. Many children have out of school tutors or logopedie (a type of speech therapy that also focuses on maths and reading/writing), just to keep up. To expect a nine year old, however clever, to cope with a completely new fourth language, with neither parents speaking the language, is head-in-the-clouds-thinking at best.

abusymama Sun 10-May-15 11:35:39

Thank you Kelda. Yes your comments on the marks are true too. My son has on average 80-90 tests per half term. On many Friday's he has 5 tests on the one day, which means we go into test meltdown on a Thursday night.

I know our school is a bit over the top, but it is not the only one, I can assure you.

abusymama Sun 10-May-15 11:46:54

On a lighter note, please note that M&S have just opened a wonderful shop here. You are Welcome.

kelda Sun 10-May-15 12:08:33

grin I wanna go

Longtime Sun 10-May-15 12:42:04

Yes, come to Brussels! We have a great public transport system here, reasonably priced and then just visit Leuven! Go and live in Stockel and your dh can get the the metro straight in. Your dcs can go to a French-speaking school which they already have some knowledge of (or your 9 year old could go to the European school on the school bus and your 5 year old could go to a local school) and you can meet the many wonderful mumsnetters who now live there because whenever anyone asks where to live in Brussels, we always say Stockel! The schools are good, there is a market, a cinema, restaurants, cafés and it's on a direct metro line to the centre. I actually don't live in Stockel but I'll try and rally the troups to come and give you some advice.

We have a secret fb page you could join if the post is confirmed and you can see for yourself.

On a more serious note, I do understand what abusymama is saying about adding another language to your children's repertoire. I think there are advantages to learning a second language whatever it is, even if it isn't a world language (like Dutch isn't). However, that's not the case for your dcs as they already have more than one language. Also, most children need some parental support and I have seen friends' children flounder and the parents being unable to help in any way. This was why I put my dcs in French and not Flemish. My Flemish is ok now but wasn't when ds1 started school (23 ½ years ago!!!).

Blancheneige1 Sun 10-May-15 14:47:19

While many Flemish people do the Leuven-Brussels commute, it works better if your office is near the train to Leuven, which won't be the case in Schuman. Factor in a 15-20 minute trip to get to Central Station, then your train time, and then from train to home. A work colleague did it for many years by car, getting to the office at 7am and going home before 5pm to avoid heavy traffic. Either way, it's a considerable chunk out of your time. Your choice of course, but a simpler and shorter commute would cut out a great deal of stress for you and your family - and you could live somewhere equally nice, have an easier trip to work and spend more time with your family.
Leuven is a lovely town but it's very Flemish so both parents and children will need to commit to the language. Flemish schools (in any part of the country) insist that a child must have a good command of the language before attending basisschool at six - so your younger child may face being held back for a year in kleuterschool and your older child may have a tough time learning the language, especially if neither parent can speak it or help with homework. It isn't an impossible situation and might be a good idea to get a Dutch-speaking after school babysitter to help them with homework. Language, as you may already know, is deeply political in Belgium and there is less and less tolerance in Flanders for foreigners who don't learn the language (although rich white English-speaking expats get more of a break than francophones or anyone else.) You will have an easier and more pleasant time if you all learn at least some Dutch, in fact, I wouldn't really recommend living in Flanders outside of the Brussels outskirts if you didn't.

gingerbreadjuan Tue 26-May-15 09:46:42

Thanks very much for your constructive advice. Definitely some food for thought. I should find out in the next few weeks if I have been successful or not in obtaining the post or not. Further questions no doubt if it is a yes.

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