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Sorry, Brussels again! Specific questions about British School V European school, plus WHERE to live!!??

(33 Posts)
solittletime Tue 06-Sep-16 18:22:14

I am really sorry if you have replied to lots of other Brussels threads already, and I realise there are already lots of such threads, however they mostly seem to be about local schools. I'll just give a bit of background before I ask my questions!

We will be in Brussels for about 2 years and for some reason, on the little research I have done, I am not keen on the idea of the European School (is it the same as the International school?). We would be entitled to a place in the European school if we wanted.

My DCs are currently in an international school and doing the PYP curriculum and I'm not mad on it, but it could be mostly related to the school they are in at the moment.

Because we are only there for 2 years I'm thinking it may make life easier if we just move to near the British school (BSB), especially considering that after that we will go back to the UK and DCs will have to continue in the British system.
School fees are paid by employer.

It's our fifth and last posting, and it may sound terrible but I don't feel a strong need to immerse myself in local culture and throw the children in a local school to learn the language. Of course I will make an effort to learn French though, I'm not just going to completely put myself in a bubble - I just want an easy life for a few years. I will also have a toddler in tow.

So, questions below!

If you have personal experience of BSB could you tell me a bit what you think of it? Primary and secondary

Same if you have experience of the European / international school? I see there is more than one? Would you recommend one with both primary and secondary, in a nice area to live as well?

Is it possible to rent an apartment house with 4 bedrooms within walking distance to BSB. Would the area also provide walkable ameneties, shops, restaurants etc.. or is it very suburban and quiet?

Stockel also seems close to BSB, could that be doable with a short trip on public transport? Would it be a bit more lively there?

We would definitely want to live somewhere with a bit of life going on around us! I can't handle suburban areas where there are just rows and rows of houses. But I also don't need city centre buzz, what with having two older children and a toddler.

That's all I think!
Thank you so much!

solittletime Tue 06-Sep-16 18:23:37

And a bump for luck!

gastropod Tue 06-Sep-16 18:35:12

There are four European schools: one in Uccle/Forest (split across two sites, but basically southern Brussels), one in Woluwe St Lambert (east of the city), one in Ixelles (more central-south-east) and one in Laeken (north). You are unlikely to get to choose which one your children would be placed in, though you can express a preference. Laeken is the most recent and probably has most spaces for English speaking kids, but not so popular due to location. Overall the schools are decent, but very big.
If fees aren't an issue, BSB might be a better choice. Don't have personal experience of it but friends with kids there all seem contented with the school.

solittletime Tue 06-Sep-16 18:46:06

Thank you! So basically one just puts the children's name down for 'European School' and then they are allocated one? I thought they were all independent from each other! Is it first come first serve, or does it depend on where one lives or what organisation they work for?

Glad to see one vote for BSB as I'm instinctively tending towards it.
I'm just worried that I'm being short sighted in not considering the European schools that seem to be held in such high regard by EU officials. but I have a prejudiced idea of them being very elitist and EU centred....
Would welcome anyone who wants to change my mind though.

lifeisunjust Tue 06-Sep-16 18:56:33

I'd start with basics.

Ages of children month/year (that will determine school year).
Location of work.
Are you absolutely certain you are entitled to EEB (which nominally costs under 15k per child) and also BSB which is up to 32k? It's quite rare that an employer is entitled to both.
Are you entitled to any other school in Belgium? There are about 50 private schools in Belgium, BSB is just one of them.
What languages do your children speak and to what level? EEB by end of secondary, children have to be pretty mother tongue fluent in 2 languages and pretty fluent in a 3rd, if your children are quite old, they'll struggle at EEB if they don't have enough languages.
Is there anything you are particularly keen to be near? Forget shops, sports centres, playgrounds, everywhere has these.
What is your budget for housing?
Are you really in Brussels for just 2 years? I've heard this said so many times and around half end up staying an awful lot longer, regret choosing international English schools and ending up with children unable to integrate in Dutch or French and stuck in the English bubble and paying a higher financial premium and living with friends who disappear at the end of every school year.

GinIsIn Tue 06-Sep-16 19:00:53

Disclaimer: this was about 15 years ago, but I attended both. HATED the European school- the huge numbers of students meant you were completely lost in the crowd- teachers wouldn't know your name even after a year - no accountability, worse than zero pastoral care. I really liked BSB - it felt a bit more polished and geared towards producing rounded, happy students.

GinIsIn Tue 06-Sep-16 19:01:26

In short, I went there a long time ago but wouldn't send my kids to the European school if it was the last school on earth!

Longtime Tue 06-Sep-16 19:47:22

There are issues with the European schools at the moment. There are lots of non anglophones in the anglophone sections and the British and Irish governments have put their foot down about providing so many Anglophone teachers. This is causing a bit of havoc with the teaching. If you have the opportunity to put your children in the British School (BSB), especially as it's only two years, I would go for it. I'll ask some mums on our facebook page to come and speak to you!

Also, lifeisunjust is our expert and she asks some very relevant questions.

Oh and with regard to where you live and not wanting an expat bubble? If your children go to BSB, that's pretty much what you will get if it's only for two years. Life is much easier if you live near the school. Definitely don't live in town - commuting can be an absolute nightmare.

solittletime Tue 06-Sep-16 19:52:18

Thank you for replies!
Phone battery about to die and can't charge to to power outage ( we're not in Europe!!) So will reply tomorrow.

Robin2008 Tue 06-Sep-16 20:15:53

If you are sure that you will be in Brussels for 2 years only and you are sure your employer will pay for BSB then I would not think twice about it and sign them up asap. Done! Our kids don't go there (local instead) but I have heard lots of good things - it really seems like a great school. I can't imagine that you would regret it later. Regarding housing, Tervuren is quite residential but around Tervuren town centre it can be quite lively. Stockel is indeed nice too but please don't expect it to be a very exciting place either. Yes there are markets and yes there are restaurants but to me it still feels like a quiet village. Still I think if you would like a bit of an easy life after all those postings far away, these are both good choices for you. Don't live in downtown Brussels if your kids go to BSB - logistical nightmare and not good for building a social life in the (only) 2 years you will have in Brussels. Stockel has a metro and tram going into town (Tervuren only has a tram and is further out to begin with) but think of how often you would really go, especially with a toddler in tow.

lifeisunjust Tue 06-Sep-16 20:22:56

If the children are going to be primary age, there are several other choices.
BJAB, BISB, BEPS, International Montessori, St Paul's. They all have their good sides.

lifeisunjust Tue 06-Sep-16 20:35:05

Don't dismiss EEBs because of location, as if you're entitled to EEBs for free, you also have us EU tax payers funding your buses to school too!

BSB is also elitist, poor children simply don't go to BSB or any other private international school in Brussels or surrounds, so I would not choose because of a perception that EEBs are elitist, as both choices are. They both have huge bubbles around them, usually language skills are very helpful in bursting through that bubble. It's also very common for younger siblings of children at EEBs or BSB or other private schools to start at local schools as they are free from 2.5 years.

lifeisunjust Tue 06-Sep-16 20:50:13

If your children are particularly sporty, especially as regards swimming or gymnastics, well no school in Belgium has a 25m indoor competition pool or a gymnastics hall like BSB and that would be a game changer for me if I had a child particularly gifted in those sports.

BSB is enormous however, now 1350 and by the end of the school year might top 1400. That is classes up to 25 in years 1 to 6 in primary, starts at 3 classes and by year 6 is now 5 classes. All the other smaller British based curriculum schools are 1 form entry, eg BJAB. BISB, St Paul's. It would be I hope true to say parents choose these schools for one of 2 reasons, 1) their employer will not fund BSB prices, mind you St Paul's prices are pretty high too, 2) the parents are seeking a small school where their child will get to know every other child and every teacher will get to know their child. There will be children who move to BSB from a quiet and intimate environment who simply will not get on with BSB and there will be children who have moved from a busy environment who won't get on too well with one of the small British curriculum schools, so if you are entitled to fees at all, then consider what you want for your child in terms of environment, consider what they are used to, consider whether they can adjust to a small / big school.

armadillo17 Tue 06-Sep-16 21:00:16

Hi, I have 3 children at BSB and can honestly say all my children really enjoy it. I have one in secondary, one in upper primary and one in lower primary so if you have any specific questions please feel free to ask away. My favourite thing about the school is that they look at the whole child, emotionally as well as academically and give lots of support and encouragement recognising that children have come from a whole range of school systems and backgrounds.

Yes it is in an expat bubble, but to be honest I think most of the fee paying schools are to an extent. For housing I would guess it really depends on your budget. Around BSB you would probably be looking more at a house than an apartment. This is the area that most BSB families tend to live in for ease, especially for collections for after school activities (they have just opened an amazing sports facility with swimming pool, gym, dance studio etc). Also if you have secondary aged children that like to go out on bikes and meet up with friends Tervuren may be the natural choice. Stockel is also do-able via tram and walking / shuttle bus. For the amount of time you will spend doing pick up /drops offs at school I think I would opt to live as close to the school as possible and then tram it into town for the shopping / social occasions.

I don't have any experience of the European school system so I can't make any comparisons.

Good luck with your search and know there are lots of lovely ladies on here who can help you with any questions you may have. They were stars in helping me 3 years ago!

Longtime Tue 06-Sep-16 22:07:46

solittletime, if you'd like to join our (secret) facebook group so you get even more answers, please feel free to pm me.

solittletime Wed 07-Sep-16 08:48:24

Ok back in the 21st century again today!

Life Thank you for outlining all the practical points. I'm only on my second day of research (we decided on Sunday to go for Brussels) and because the EU is paying International school fees on our current posting I sort of assumed they would do the same in Brussels.
Now I see that the European schools are there for people like us and I'm doubting whether BSB fees would be paid for, so we're going to find out today.

That would make a big difference to our decision of going to Brussels, unless I finally start hearing something positive about these European schools!!
Maybe somebody will come along with positive experiences?

DC1 would be in Yr6 then Yr7, so just for the first year of Secondary. My children only speak English, that's interesting to hear about the issues with being multilingual for secondary school.

Of course it would be great if they acquired another language while we are there.

I'm really sure we will only be there for 2 years. I am very ready to go back to the UK after quite a few overseas postings. We could extend it to 4 years but that would be the max.

Fenella sorry to hear about your bad experience! Do you think your experience is typical of your other contemporaries...?

And Robin thanks as well. I'd prefer to be near the school but Stockel could be a compromise for my DH to get the metro to work. Still I would like an easy and short public transport journey to the school

scaryteacher Wed 07-Sep-16 08:49:29

I didn't like BSB, but as my ds was there with life's eldest, and both are now at university, it may have changed. I moved mine back to UK for sixth form. It is, imo, nothing more than a glorified comprehensive, and I have to say, I found it way behind the curve with some things.

Tervuren, Moorsel, Vossem, Duisburg for renting.....lots of us do. You can pay anything from 900 Euro to upwards of 3500 Euro per month to rent.

If you are FCO, then there is presumably a rent ceiling; if you are HM Forces, they'll sort the housing for you. If neither, then ouch!!!!

Look at, which is a good site, and seems to be used by lots of l/ls here. We found our rental through them, and are very happy with it. Be aware that you will have to pay for lots of things as a tenant here that you wouldn't in UK, and that there isn't a concept of fair wear and tear here when you leave. It costs!

I don't do FB, so am not in the group, but pm me if I can help.

solittletime Wed 07-Sep-16 08:50:23

longtime facebook group sounds like a good idea thanks!

I will wait to find out about the fees then start looking in to the other british schools. Thanks everyone!

solittletime Wed 07-Sep-16 08:55:17

I agree Life I think elitist was the wrong term to use, as they are all, at the end of the day, private and expensive/exclusive schools.

I guess my problem is that what I really want is just to go back to the UK and put my children in the local school. I've just had enough of the expatty/international vibe!

But I could live with living walking distance to a british school for a few years for the sake of finances and not having to work while toddler gets to school age.

I don't think I can do the whole settling in a new country, putting children on a school bus every day etc etc.. I have expat fatigue!

TheHammaconda Wed 07-Sep-16 10:16:52

If you're an EU employee I think there is an educational allowance that would go towards school fees doubt it would be generous enough to cover the BSB ones though!

You can find information about the application process to the European Schools on the ink{\]]2} website. You apply centrally, expressing a preference of school, you are then allocated a place. At this stage in the enrolment process you may not have siblings grouped in the same school.

The European Schools are fantastic. Standards are high, the teaching is good and the facilities are better than you would see in a UK state school. BSB's facilities are out of this world but that's what you're paying for.

If you went for the EEBs your secondary age child would be very behind in second language. They would have to have intensive catch up classes or be put back a year. As they go through secondary some subjects are only taught in the second language.

lifeisunjust Wed 07-Sep-16 15:24:50

If your children are still primary age, then lack of 2nd language won't be such a problem in EEBs.

I wouldn't be put off children going on a school bus every day to EEBs as 90%+ of the children arrive on the school buses as they are free to category 1 children. You are most likely to be allocated Laeken, the newest school with swanky facilities - cost of renovation paid by Belgian tax payers would have built about 10 new secondary schools it cost us so much!

The EEBs are enormous, so is BSB. If I had the right to EEB, I'd certainly consider it.

If you are coming to Brussels, there is more to the region than just school. The reason we live here is the opportunities for sport and music that my children would not have in the UK because I wouldn't be able to afford it and less helicopter parenting - I let my 9 year old take herself to school and her activities with her friends, no mum needed. Then there is more culture in Brussels than we would have access to where we lived in the UK before. Then there is the proximity to other countries, so that once I do have enough money again, we'll be hopping on a train out to eastern Europe for a bit of life out there, much easier to do from Brussels than from the UK, much cheaper too.

Remember your toddler can also go to a local free public school aged 2.5 years too and formal education in local system starts later than in the UK, so whilst 90% of locally schooled children start school by the age of 3 full time, they start formal learning a year later than in the UK and by the age of 10 years old, they are perhaps a year ahead of UK educated children in literacy and maths.

Oh and public transport here is cheap as chips. Children under 12 completely free on the train here, on all Brussels region public transport too. Adults pay 500 euro for the year for a Brussels transport pass and your employer covers usually at least 70% of that, so in reality you might be paying a whole 150 euro for unlimited public transport for the whole year. Also most children get public transport / cycle / walk to local schools too, there are some who insist on driving inside Brussels to go to school but they are the minority still.

lifeisunjust Wed 07-Sep-16 15:29:19

PS BSB is an easy commute on public transport from Stockel, it's 25 minutes by bus or about 30 minutes by tram. Or you live anywhere along tram 44 which goes to Montgomery, the limit of the EU quarter, that's a maximum of 25 minutes by tram to BSB, 12 or 13 minutes if you're half way along the route near Tram museum or Madoux for example. Lot of BSB students take the 44 tram to school then walk or take the free shuttle bus to the school. Madoux is 5 minutes or 3 stops from Place Dumon, the heart of Stockel.

Yika Wed 07-Sep-16 15:36:10

The enrolment policy for the EEBs changes from year to year so you might be luckier one year than another in terms of getting your preferred school. Allocation to one of the four schools is a lottery (literally - you get a ranking number and then they go through the list of numbers allocating places by preferences. We got a fairly low number ranking but managed to get into our second preference and I'm pleased.).

The EEBs are huge. (3000-4000 students in each).

I'd certainly consider BSB if I had money to burn but haven't looked into it closely in absence of same.

I like living in Brussels, it's a nice medium-sized city and good for families.

scaryteacher Wed 07-Sep-16 18:36:17

Dh used to do the tram and metro into Schumann every day from Tervuren, change at Montgomery from the tram to the metro and vice versa. Easy peasy.

solittletime Thu 15-Sep-16 09:06:30

Thanks everyone! Looks like you experts where ahead of me, eebs are indeed our only choice, or we try to budget for something private, but not sure whatvthere is with in terms of secondary for dc1? Would only need first few years. Looks like BEPS goes up to age 12, presumably that means one year 7 class.

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