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Moving to Brussels with a 12 yo entering secondary school... i know...

(22 Posts)
ninjaii Mon 28-Dec-15 01:18:11

dear all,

I'm knew on Mumsnet (although i spent the best part of this week-end going through a cluster of incredibly interesting posts about Brussels, circa 2011).

we are about to try and beat the odds by moving to Brussels with a 12yo dd in tow, and realize getting access to a local secondary school will be of a similar order of complexity to organizing a cheese and wine dinner in our 2nd tier city in China.

This forum has had highest level experts like natation, marchmad, longtime... have they moved on or are they still there under other names?

Anyone has a screen capture of complete schools in Brussels for a recent year? Can't find anything more recent than 2011 on the web.

And finally an update on local's views of some of the secondary schools would be amazing, as a lot can change over 5 years.
Anyone has any opinion on: AR d'Auderghem, Adolphe Max, A Charles Janssens, Athénée Jean Absil, A Léon Lepage, Robert Catteau, Don Bosco, Dachsbeck, Saint-Michel, Dames de Marie, de l'autre côté de l'école, école active, decroly, institut de la vierge fidèle, st andré, jean XXIII, émile jacqumain, sacré coeur de lindhout, saint-hubert, saint-pierre, saint-boniface parnasse...
I'm of course not expecting a full answer but any tip on one of those school that would enable me to move them up or down our list of priorities would be great. We'll be going at it with a "average index" as we come from abroad.

many many thanks in advance

lifeisunjust Mon 28-Dec-15 12:00:08

You need to state month of entry and year of birth and where work is

ninjaii Tue 29-Dec-15 07:20:08

hi lifeisunjust (i hope not...)
thx for your reaction!
we'll move this summer, my daughters were born in 02 and 04 (so will enter in 1st and 3rd secondary grade).
and my job is around Porte de Namur, but we don't have a place in Bxl (and won't before september most probably) so it gives me some flexibility for the school / place to live.

working further on the school list; will post an update soon

lifeisunjust Tue 29-Dec-15 11:55:08

I've sent you a pm, but I think given the further information, I'd go for Jean 23 or de l'Autre Cote de l'Ecole, the other schools would either for me be too big and not have an extra like Engish immersion to compensate or are too academic the last thing on their minds would be supporting 2 children with no French.

Jean 23 has the up to 13 hours English immersion, yes designed for French speakers, but the school I am sure would welcome mother tongue speakers - they might suggest a first year in only French then moving to the immersion if you want. It's ideally situated near Tram museum for 39/44/94 tram in WSP, easy connections to work.

De l'Autre Cote de l'Ecole has at its heart of philosophy inclusion and I know a girl who arrived there in 2014 in its first year with little French who has apparently flourished and will now I presume be entering 2016 in 3rd. It's listed as 4 classes per year, maybe 15 per class, so with 2 current years, has maybe 120 kids and another 60 to start in 1st in 2016. It's ideally situated near Herman-Debroux metro and the 94 tram line.

You need to contact each school individually to ask about enrolling the 2002 born and also to get the enrolment form for the 2004, they are likely to put 2004 born through the centralized enrolment which starts soon and you'll need to be very quick with the form. If the schools confirm the 2004 child, then you'll need to order quickly and deposit the form with the 1st choice school. If you find you don't need to go through the centralized enrolment, well far easier for you, if the schools can offer places directly.

Both of these schools are in fact only about 3km apart, along the 94 tram line. It makes it a no brainer when looking for where to live and personally if you go for these 2 schools, I'd choose to live nearer tram museum, just to get closer to English activities! But in fact all this area is great.

Ecole Active and Decroly are going to be very very popular, though they'd probably be sympathetic towards you, getting a place would be harder that the former mentioned, plus their location is quite far from Porte de Namur in travel time, plus there is far less of an English speaking expat community and activities to keep the spirits up when confronted with intensive French. It's far more important than people think at first to allow children to spend some time relaxing in their mother tongue, 100% French time n be just too hard on your brain, so finding an output for your mother tongue can be important. The eastern communes of WSL, WSP, Auderghem, they are nearer to expat English heaven and the schools are more used to English speakers.

Cross off all the other schools, unless you really want to go for an academic school which might be sympathetic like College Don Bosco, but others like St Michel, they'll laugh at you for asking.

lifeisunjust Tue 29-Dec-15 11:58:57

Ps Jean 23 open day 19th January, Autre Cote is 30th January.
Autre Cote will probably ask you for voluntary top-up fees too, expect maybe 1k per child per

ninjaii Tue 29-Dec-15 19:02:12

great feedback. Amazing expertise!
i should have mentioned that my kids are bilingual english/french. this won't be too much of a problem. one is hugely competitive and the other hugely hedonistic so finding a school that suits them both IS a bit of a challenge...

About bypassing the centralized enrolment, i don't think it is possible at all. One thing i'm still checking is if they agree to enrol my 2002 dd and if this can count towards priority for 2004 dd in which case i'd have a much higher chance of getting in. But i'm not sure this will fly.

i received some PMs too (thx to the authors!) , and i'm also in touch with a few locals. I will compile, anonymize and post the collected information in a few weeks; can be useful for those who will come next.

ninjaii Tue 29-Dec-15 19:12:39

my list as it now stands. still need to do the commute time test... and get some extra info (like parascolaire/ASA for 'de l'autre côté de l'école' and others)

Likely top 10 (2 to scrap...)

St Boniface
Collège saint-michel
Sacré cœur de Lindhout
Collège Saint-Hubert
Académie Royale d'Auderghem
Athénée Charles Janssens
Ecole active
école decroly
institut saint andré
lycée Emile Jacqmain
Notre-Dame des champs
de l'autre côté de l'école


Collège Jean XXIII
Athénée Jean Absil
Collège Don Bosco
Lycée Dachsbeck

Some of those i checked but didn't keep (so far) for various reasons:

Dames de Marie
Adolphe Max
Institut de la vierge fidèle
Lycée français
Athénée Robert Catteau
Athénée Léon Lepage
Institut de l'Assomption
Athénée Marguerite Yourcenar

lifeisunjust Tue 29-Dec-15 20:46:58

To get priority enrolment on grounds of sibling to enter S1, the sibling needs to be enrolled and attending the school in January 2016. You won't be able to bend this rule, it's the same for everyone. If you have to go through centralized enrolments for S1, then you'll have to face reality you'll be given average points which rules out all but AR Auderghem and de l'autre cote de l'ecole.

You'll not find it easy getting most of your top 11 schools to offer you an S3 place before exams are completed in June 2016, unless the S2 year is not full already, because between S2 and S3, the academic schools in your top 11 will already have flagged up children they plan to kick out of school, as they reduce classes, so they won't be able to offer an S3 place unless you can show your elder child would pass the level of those brightest enough in S2 to pass exams to continue. The academic schools are brutal in removing low performers. You have 8 academic schools in your top 11, which reduce their classes between S2 and S3.

Dames de Marie and l'Assomption are very well regarded academic schools which I'd group with ARA Auderghem, AR Jean Absil, AC Charles Janssens , ND des Champs, College Don Bosco and Jean 23 as having wider academic standards and more choice in curriculum from S3 upwards.

The creme de la creme of academic schools are
College St Michel, College St Pierre, AC Robert Catteau, Lycee Emile Jacqmain, La Vierge Fidele, Lycee Mater Dei, Maria Assumpta, College St Pierre de Jette, SC de Lindhout, SC de Jette.

I wouldn't live anywhere near Marguerie Yourcenar, Leon Lepage or Dachsbeek.

lifeisunjust Tue 29-Dec-15 21:43:57

Missed off St Andre from la creme de la creme

lifeisunjust Tue 29-Dec-15 22:06:31

You do absolutely have to look at the options from S3 upwards. Without Latin or Greek or Dutch, some of the schools are complete non starters unless you want to go with perhaps one single option left. This for me would be far more important than looking at the school's project or how many extra-curriculars are on offer (the school websites don't tell you everything, Jean 23 for example has 2 other ASBLs who offer masses of extra curriculars which are not listed on their website).

All you need really is a school which is
open to a child new to a very different educational system
has a fair number of English speakers in it already and other nationalities - some do, the more classical ones like St Michel will not have so much
has a curriculum easier to slip in to, the 4 hours Dutch is unavoidable, but looking at alternatives to Latin and Greek are important, as they are the most prevalent of options in the majority of the schools you've shorlisted and some have little other choices of options, some several more

Longtime Tue 29-Dec-15 22:57:43

You have st Michel and decroly on the same list. They are so, so different as schools!!!! What exactly are you looking for? My eldest two went to st Michel for a while. I didn't like the elitist attitude. I visited decroly with another mumsnetter. It would have suited them so much better.

ninjaii Wed 30-Dec-15 15:17:44

hi all,

again, thank you so much for your help. your tips are invaluable and my list now looks quite different from the one I posted here before. i'm now focusing on getting info on which schools were complete last year and whether anyone with an average index ever got in. Then the list will change further...

sometimes i feel i take part to the amazing race or something.

lifeisunjust we did look at all the options in S1 and S3 for all schools. Latin is fine in S1, we'd just rather avoid it in S3 so as to not add too much to older dd's burden.

Longtime: you are right. we oscillate between different options: more of the same (decroly is a bit similar to the environment they are in for the moment) or switch to a more rigorous environment (maybe not the ultimate rigor though). Or just whatever decent we can get. We will talk to all schools on our list. Those where it is clear we can't make it (either because of our index or just mismatch) we'll remove.

It is also possible that in the end our daughters end up in different schools.

well, it sure adds some spices to the relocation...

thx again! happy new year to you all, we'll be in 2016 7 hours before you do. What a headstart!

lifeisunjust Wed 30-Dec-15 16:59:11

You cannot ever find details of how many applied but I can tell you which schools were immediately full and all but de l autre cote of your top 11 were.

lifeisunjust Thu 31-Dec-15 10:08:08

Your only realistic schools which offer more than 1 class non latin and greek for s3 - remember s3 you have to apply for vacancy in a class not the year so even if space in year might not be in non latin and non greek class - are jean 23 college don bosco college st hubert assomption de l autre cote mater dei. Looks like all more central schools have single alternative classes in s3. All those schools are excellent.

As for s1 again realistically you should concentrate on those same schools to stand a chance of succeeding on average points.

lifeisunjust Thu 31-Dec-15 20:20:48

This group might bring lots of advice on schools and also where to live.

ninjaii Tue 05-Jan-16 00:58:46

just a word of advice for other parents in our situation in the future: if you come from outside the EU pay attention to the fact that you'll also need to get a certificate of equivalence, meaning a validation by Belgium (Communauté française) of the school grades of your children. Only then can they be fully registered in their new school. It does make a difference if your kids plan to finish high school in Belgium.
You don't get identical information on the website (, in the circulaire and when calling the hotline but it's a good idea to have a look at the process before moving as you'll need some documents from your current school which are easier to get while you are still around. In some cases (for some languages) those documents will need to be translated/certified. Then your new school should help you fill up and send the dossier.

lifeisunjust Tue 05-Jan-16 19:05:28

I've never had anyone been asked to get equivalences for schools here and I have helped at least 1000 families. I would ask the school why they are being so

ninjaii Tue 05-Jan-16 23:56:14

it's not only one school. Was mentioned by most of them and confirmed when I called the administration. Some schools also told us of kids having to leave their class after not getting the equivalence (eventhough the schoolyear had started already). For families coming from a non-EU country, non-EU system, secondary school. Compulsory.

But the fact that the families (!) you helped didn't need it is puzzling. I don't know what to make of it.

lifeisunjust Wed 06-Jan-16 09:18:55

I know many many children who've entered secondary. None have been asked for equivalences. There is only one external exam in secondary anyway which can be used abroad in the French system, CESS, taken in 6th secondary, so puzzled as to what equivalences you can offer, when there is nothing to compare against in the Belgian system except this CESS.

The parents are sometimes asked for school reports, but not equivalences. In any case, the use of school reports is a bit limited when it comes to academics, but pretty useful when it comes to attitude and effort.

Lycee Mater Dei, College Jean 23 and College Don Bosco, I know children who entered in secondary from abroad and not all in 1st secondary, in upper years, who had no such demands other than the previous school report and that is demanded of all children entering secondaries here from 2nd to 6th secondary. It is used maybe for useful means of determining academic suitability but possibly for non justifiable means, such as keeping out non white and non desirable. It's one reason for the 1st secondary enrolments, based on priorities and geography, to give all children a fair chance at the beginning, but from 2nd secondary upwards, it's the last school report you're usually asked for.

If you're being asked to submit the last school report, it would be a very picky school which demands a translation, as all French secondaries teach English from 3rd to 6th, so it would take one of the English teachers a few minutes to translate anyway. Belgians can be however deliberately picky, just because they can.

I cannot see how the French Community could possibly make equivalencies of a school report from abroad, how the heck would they translate grades and in any case all Belgian schools grade how they like!

ninjaii Wed 06-Jan-16 13:42:04

hi, it doesn't seem to work exactly like that. From the legislation (i read the "circulaire" and also called the "bureau des équivalences" directly + it's also detailed on the webpage I posted the link to earlier on) they say that if your child comes from outside of the EU the school has one month to introduce an "equivalence" dossier on behalf of the child. The request is made to this equivalence office (part of the Communauté française administration) who summons experts in charge of assessing whether whatever you did before is good enough for you to enter secondary school in Belgium. In case they say no the consequences are also detailed (get into a lower grade, for instance go to 2s instead of 3C). The documents they request vary from one (official) source to the next but it's usually the school reports of the year or years before. And translation is only needed from some languages (not english, german, spanish...).

so it's a bit hazy whether schools chose to deliberately ignore this obligation, or whether the administration doesn't enforce this rule, or whether they used not to enforce it and they do now, or whatever else... but the 3 schools who mentioned it to us (without us asking) and the mail i received from the administration were not ambiguous.

I'll try to dig further and will post here what i find. But I definitely hope that I misunderstood something and it is (still) working the way you describe it.

thx again!

lifeisunjust Wed 06-Jan-16 14:28:35

I know of Americans who've entered secondary at Mater Dei and Jean 23 no problems. The Americans entered Jean 23 with no French so were put below a year, which would only be expected and considering around half of all students repeat one or two years here.

I wouldn't worry about it in the slightest. If they want to put your child down a year, they will, they have the freedom to do so for all students, irrelevant their nationality. From what you've written, the bureaucracy can just happen whilst already in school or waiting for the school year.

Your best source of bureacracy information is the head of Le Verseau, as they possibly get a rather high number of applications from students outside the EU, due to the 4/5 hours a week English mother tongue lessons. She's helped me in the past with info. I've just written as a favour and she's responded, have no connection with the school, she helped me with a family relocating from the USA who were considering BICS (a private and at the time non recognised school) V local school and gave advice which was invaluable for the family in deciding against BICS at that time. They didn't go to le Verseau either but to local school in the end in Brussels.

ninjaii Mon 20-Jun-16 16:20:54

dear all,

an update, as other parents may read this thread and be interested in how it ended...

ultimately, believing in my lucky star I put Collège St-Michel on top of a 5 schools list including as well St-Boniface and Vierge Fidèle (where we had a very very good discussion with the deputy director, herself a former expat; she was the most enthusiastic at having our kids in her school).

We didn't make the first cut (the 80% of seats attributed by the school) but did get a seat in the next round, without any intervention, letter or whatever.

So it seems that with an average coefficient you may still be lucky and get a seat even in oversubscribed schools...

again, thx to all for your help and comments last december

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