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Public school for my 4 1/2 year old in Brussels for September 2013!

(31 Posts)
DesperatelyMoving Tue 14-May-13 17:59:05

Hi everybody,

I just signed up and am new to this site. Hello!:-) I spend all evening yesterday reading all the good advices for choosing schools in Brussels, but I still lack some answers as to how to get my son, who is 4 1/2, into a good public school in Brussels. I hope you guys can help me out.

Some info: We are moving to Brussels in the beginning of September 2013. Our son is 4 years old, born mid January 2009. I speak Danish, my husband Italian and we have all of my son's life lived in English speaking countries, so he is tri-lingual. And now we are moving to a bi-lingual country, although with two new languages! Aiuto! Therefore, and because we thought that we would have education costs covered (which we still do not know of we will), we had decided on, and got a spot at a bi-lingual (English/French) Montessori school, so at least his familiar English would still be one of the languages spoken to him. However, as we are not certain we will have education costs covered - and because we actually prefere (good) public schools in order to better integrate into the local community, we are looking into what are the possibilities for getting our son into a (French speaking) public school.

My questions are these:

1) What are the best (French speaking) schools in the areas of Ixelles, Etterbek or zip code 1000 area? (And are these areas all French speaking areas?) (These are the areas where we will most likely live)

2) Do you ned to live in the area of the school (or can you also get into "out of boundary/area" schools?)

3) How do you apply for getting into a public school? Can you get/reserve a spot before you have an address (residency) and before having a Belgian ID card? In other words, can I call a school here from the US where we live now and reserve a spot before we even move there? (My husband will go there on pre-mission in June or July and would be able to go and visit the schools then). We will as mentioned only be moving there in September when the school starts, and I am nervous that we won't get a spot, then, if we can only apply the same month as he is supposed to start...

4) I read yesterday on different threads that the good public schools are difficult to get into, especially if you do not get in from the "start", i.e. when your kid is 3. Does this mean that I can wave goodbye to the hope of getting my 4 year old into a good public school?

5) Do "pre-schools" and "Maternelle" refer to the same type of schools - I have found both expressions used in different threads...?

Thank you so much in beforehand for your help!

DesperatelyMoving Tue 14-May-13 18:35:57

Ok, so I just realized that zip code 1000 covers all of Brussels. My mistake:-) By 1000 I meant the EU quarter....

Also, I get the impression there are both religious and non-religious public schools? We would be looking for non-religious ones.

Thanks again for help!

bruxelloise Tue 14-May-13 19:33:49

1) Ixelles, Etterbeek, Bruxelles 1000. Avoid all of them. You're too late anyway for any of the decent schools there. Ixelles is the very very worst place to look, you're 8 months to late, in fact it could be argued you are 3 years too late, needed to enrol at 18 months.

2) no but it's a good idea to live near enough to walk to school, a few schools give priority to residents of a commune, but not many

3) you apply to all school individually (a few exceptions at other times of year) if French, no you don't need proof of address for any Brussels schools. To improve your chances of school places if only applying from September, DON'T live in Bruxelles 1000, Ixelles, Etterbeek, Uccle, Forest. Go and live further east, Watermael-Boitsfort is the commune with the highest chance of school places. Out of 10 maternelles there, 8 of them probably have places still. Lowest population growth of the 19 Brussels communes. Please don't come in July, schools close at the end of June. Completely pointless coming when schools are closed. No you'll never get an ID card either, they are for Belgians only.

4) no you need to however live somewhere with slower population growth out east.

5) maternelle is a school for 2.5 to 6 year olds, next September for children born 2011 to 2008. If your son is born in 2009, he'll be 2e maternelle, if born in 2008, he'll be 3e maternelle. Some people call them "pre-school" in English which is not really a good term, they are schools not "pre" schools.

I'm just wondering what you think the advantage of a private Montessori is? Your son might learn the word bonjour there and might learn some passive French, but not much. IF you can afford private schooling, go for one where there is actually a chance of learning some decent French, if that's what you're after. There are only 2 of them, lycée Francais and British School of Brussels, however the latter is already full I have heard for their bilingual class for September, places however available in their English classes. If you want fluency in French, go for a local school or these 2 private schools, otherwise you'll be kicking yourself in 2 years time when your son comes out with little French and you wish you'd gone local.

I'm completely perplexed why people constantly go for Ixelles with children, given the school situation. Any chance of telling me why you chose Ixelles?

PS hardly anyone reads this section, post in "living overseas" and you'll get a far wider audience.

bruxelloise Tue 14-May-13 19:38:09

PS and the reason for a non religious school, given hardly anyone goes to Catholic church yet still the Catholic schools are in general far more popular? They don't teach religion Catholic maternelles, religion in obligatory in all primaires from the age of 6 and continues to age 18, Catholicism is the major option in the official non religious aligned schools too, the only difference is you can choose other religions or morality too, but the children are divided along religious lines, whereas in a religious school, children are united under a sole faith, be it various forms of Christianity, Judaism or Islam.

When in Rome!!!!! You need to forget your ideas of education based on your home countries and current country of residence and choose a school like a Belgian. Cut out the Catholic schools and you'll halve your options immediately. Your choice but I'd advise you not to.

bruxelloise Tue 14-May-13 19:50:17

PS again, Belgium is not bilingual, it's a country with 3 official languages. Only the region of Brussels is officially bilingual, but 93% French / 7% Dutch amongst the Belgian population, with many francophones speaking poor Dutch and most Dutch speakers having the speak fluent French in the region simply to survive.

DesperatelyMoving Tue 14-May-13 20:15:13

Thanks so much for your reply, this is very helpful, although only making me more desperate...

Well, we were hoping to live in either Saint Gilles, Ixelles, Etterbeek or in general the area surrounding the EU quarter (zip code 1000) merely because we want to be close to work and the areas seem nice - as far as we can read online. We are not big fans of long commutes but prefer living very close to work... and school. Little did we know that it is this difficult to get a spot at a public school. Well, and yes, it seems indeed like cutting out the Catholic schools more than halves the options available.

I will try and post also in the living overseas section, thanks for the advice!

Ups, yes, I left out German.

bruxelloise Tue 14-May-13 22:29:52

where exactly is work? I bet your idea of Ixelles being a short commute in reality is that Ixelles would take longer to get to work than if you lived out on metro lines 1 or 5. It's 20 minutes to Schuman on the metro from the last stop on these lines (Herman-Debroux and Stockel). You'd struggle to do Place Flagey or even worse Chatelain to Schuman in 20 minutes by public transport. It might look less in distance but in travel time, unless walking or cycling, it will take longer. You need to base commute times not on geographical distance but on reality of travel times.

St Gilles for schools, suicidal. Also probably even further to work.

There are only 3 decent schools in the EU quarter, absolutely no chance whatsoever of a school place at these schools, doubt any of these 3 would even be willing to take your name for the massive waiting list. I know a mum living 100m from Emile Jacqmain, child is 80th on waiting list :-)

Go and take a look at Watermael-Boitsfort, Auderghem, WSL, WSP and even small parts of Kraainem and Wezembeek next to Stockel metro. All those areas are 20 minutes to Schuman or less. All have schools with places, although you might not get the school you want at this late stage, at least you'll get a place. In these areas, you'll find loads of English speakers, first and second language, loads of kids with 2-4 languages, many keeping up English by doing activities in English. The majority of after school English activities are in this area. They are all pleasant areas and in fact have many more positives for children than the areas you think (from afar) are nice areas to live.

You are free to ignore the advice. However I would bet you €100 now that if you decide to live in Ixelles or Schuman or St Gilles, this time next year you'll be coming back to me with €100 that you wish you'd listened to the advice not to live there.

DesperatelyMoving Tue 14-May-13 22:41:32

Thank you for taking time to share all this info with me. You definitely have me reconsidering! Hmm, will inform husband tonight and look more into those areas. And I hear you on the travelling part - that what might look closer might not be in real travelling time. Thanks again, I might come back to you with more questions if you don't mind:-)

DesperatelyMoving Tue 14-May-13 22:42:54

Oh, and we don't even know with certainty where they will place the office yet, only that it will be around the EU quarter....

bruxelloise Tue 14-May-13 22:52:50

You need to study the STIB public transport map. St Gilles is not even near to the EU quarter which is Berlaymont-Square Ambiorix. The south of Ixelles is even further away. Geographically, parts of WSL and WSP and Auderghem are actually nearer, in public transport times, they are MUCH nearer than St Gilles and south Ixelles. I suspect you've never been to the places you plan to live in. The EU quarter is however very nice, but go one street the wrong way and you'd think you're in a different country, you need to be very knowledgeable about that area before looking at housing there and don't even think of letting an estate agent propose you any housing, choose it all yourself and then contact the estate agent.

5 major rules

1 choose an area where you can actually find school places
2 choose school place(s) BEFORE choosing actual housing
3 don't finalise school places or housing before referring back to this forum
4 treat all estate agents and relocation agents with suspicion, don't even bother with relocation agents unless your employer obliges you to
5 treat all landlords with even greater suspicion and don't ever ever ever sign a fixed contract unless you understand the consequences you cannot get out if it, 99% of the time a 9 year contract is best

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 03:23:00

Ok, so I have been looking around at the web page to find schools and looked into the areas you mention, and they are all definitely a possibility. Is it rightly sensed that you don't particularly like Ixelles or Etterbeek? (or St, Gilles, but you are right, it won't be close to work) for living in in general, or is it just that it is impossible to get into the schools there? I would love to here your thoughts on those areas verses the ones further out you mention for me to take a more informed choice - not as concerns schools but just where it is nice to live. You are right, I have never been to Brussels, my husband has some months ago, but only saw the area around the EU quarter, which he liked. But I hear you on the fact that it changes from street to street - that was also the impression (well, the very very little impression you get) from "walking" around in that area with google maps' street view. And I agree and realize that the first step must be to find a school, then house. Therefore, we are also trying (besides freaking out) to widen our options and, besides public schools, look into other private schools that may be more affordable than the Montessori International school where we have a spot, in case it will not be covered by my husband's work. It is actually not imperative to us at all that our son learns French (as I am actually a bit concerned how he will react to a fourth language being "thrown upon" him), but we have to keep options open, also if that implies him learning French, because we need him in a school so that I can work also - when I find a job in Brussels (next stress factor:-). If you have any recommendations on (affordable) private schools, I would be grateful to her those too!
Thans again!

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 04:04:48

Also, I wanted to ask you, what about the small area just south of Grand Placa and north of St Gilles, and the areas just west of Grand Placa? Are these not nice? Why do all expats seem to live east and south of Brussels? Thanks:-)

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 06:53:28 is useless, use this public schools map instead.

I love Ixelles and Etterbeek, they are simply NOT the place to look for schools at this time of year, unless you particularly enjoy looking for a need in a haystack. There are however loads of other reasons not to choose Ixelles, like housing is more expensive, parking is crap, no metro except in the northern boundary, slow tram, less to do with children, then Etterbeek is only good if you have over 2500k or are happy to live in an apartment.

It's not the housing which changes in the Schuman area, it's the people!

You pay for what you get with private schools, with the exception of the lycee francais, if you are paying under 15k per year, you are paying for a school where teachers are likely NOT to be native speakers, where teachers are likely NOT to be qualified and where teachers are likely to be badly paid and therefore turnover is high.

If you cannot find a local school, send to Ecole Acacia for a year but A YEAR, then start planning for a local school from September onwards. If you are not bothered about no French, then the best private schools in central Brussels are BISB and BJAB, avoid BEPS.

Which Montessori and why? Not that they are bad, it's just that I cannot think of a reason why to choose, if you are wanting your child to learn French, because it won't happen. Have you checked the school hours in this Montessori school? Have you checked garderie prices? Employers are unlikely to cover them and factor in 5 euro an hour. In a local school, garderie is typically 7 to 18.30 and garderie around 1 euro an hour. Extra-curriculuars in local schools are likely to be more plentiful and cheaper too.

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 06:54:05

north of St Gilles and south of Grand'Place, are you serious?

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 13:24:17

Perhaps it's worth you listing
1) the sort of housing and area you currently live in
2) the sort of housing and area you'd like to live in, eg size in m2, number of bedrooms, garden or not, house or apartment, maximum price, how you plan to travel to work and school, what after-school activities your son will be doing, how far away from open space and playgrounds you wish to be, if you want restaurants and cafes within walking distance

Ecole Acacia is indeed ok as a school, I'd never recommend it long term, or for fluency in French, there is an awful lot of children with neither French nor English there and I don't feel that is great for teaching in 2 languages which the majority of children do not speak or understand, but for a year it's definitely worth considering between either moving to a really good private school or a public school.

In the EU quarter, out of the 3 decent schools in that area, La Retraite du Sacré-Coeur is most likely to have places or at least allow you to put names on waiting lists, but you would be very lucky indeed if you were in fact offered a place there.

So faced with 100s of possible phone calls to schools in Etterbeek, EU quarter schools, Ixelles schools and 1 or 2 phone calls to schools in Watermael-Boitsfort or 4 or 5 calls to schools in WSP, I know which option I'd choose.

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 14:48:48

Oh I didn't answer why expats live south and east of the centre, well they don't, some live in the centre but it takes families much more time to find school places there and you don't have the luxury of that time.

The biggest pull of the eastern communes is that there is more green space, rents for similar sized houses are less than in Ixelles and Etterbeek, but still beyond the reaches of many locals, a larger choice of rentals, good schools, middle class and international commmunities where few schools have an ethnic group whose language is spoken in the playground instead of French, more after-school activities in many languages including English, fast metro connections to the EU quarter and the inner pentagone of Bruxelles Ville. So there are many reasons why the eastern communes are very popular with international families.

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 14:55:35

Good morning!

I cannot stress enough how helpful you are, thank you!

So, what's wrong precisely with the areas around Grand Placa - please tell me before I move there because I (wrongly) think it looks nice on google maps:-)

Currently we live in a pretty populated and culturally diverse area in DC close to downtown and three minutes walk from my son's public school. The area is a mix of expensive housing and less expensive housing. We live in a (nice) big apartment complex, 2 bedrooms around 120 square meters. In brussels we are looking mainly for a nice apartment (but houses are fine too, but not a must at all), also around 120 to 150 square meters, 3 bedrooms, in the price range of 1500 - 2300. It should be in an area with access to a play ground and preferably even a little green park of some sort.

The Montessori school is the International Montessori Schools and Child Development Centres, the Kleinenbergstraat 97 location. The reason for choosing that one was simply that we like the philosophies behind the pedagogics and teaching approach and that it looks like they have nice premises. And that we could get a spot. And that we thought the price did not matter as we were told my husband's work would cover (which they still might, but I will need to ask whether they cover everything, including after school hours care and transportation (school bus) costs). But a concern is definitely the French....I don't know how long we will stay in Brussels (maybe 3 years) and don't know if we then will move to another country where French is dominating or where in Europe we will end up afterwards (maybe in Copenhagen, maybe Geneva), so I don't know yet how necessary it is for my son to learn French. If we only stay 2 years and then move to Denmark, I really do not care about him learning French as I think he has enough languages to deal with. But if we end up staying longer and even perhaps move to Geneva, which is also a future possibility, then it would be great for him to learn French and then it would indeed be a problem with the Montessori school in the long run. But we might go for it for a year and then change him into a public school if we don't find one right away that we like. But I must admit I am leaning more and more towards the idea of living in the WSP,WSL or most eastern part of Etterbeek and then expect some commute to school.

Well, now I will start calling schools - and hope they will speak English to me!:-)

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 15:07:06

Oh ok, thanks, I did not see that last answer about where expats live and why the eastern communes attract people before I answered...

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 15:36:32

Oh, one more question, do you know of the schools: "Tutti Frutty" (which apparently started as a language school only but have opened a full time program as well ( and "Roots and Wings" ?

And a related question: if price did not matter and we should be concerned about our son learning French..., what fully French speaking schools would you recommend (besides Lycee in Uccle) in the areas of St Gilles, Ixelles and Etterbeek - if there even are any? Thanks! I know I have so many questions and they change all the time...sorry. My husband and I are also not totally agreeing on how important French is (he think it is important), and he does NOT like the idea of living outside Schuman, St Gilles, Ixelles or Etterbeek. He is deaf to the advice that commuting to work will most likely be longer measured in time in car or public transport from those areas compared to, say, WSL.

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 15:58:35

There is very little housing immediately south of Grand'Place, most is office space and government buildings. There is an area between the Palais de Justice and La Chapelle train station which is quite poor and the only public transport in that area is the 27 bus, wouldn't touch any schools around there except Robert Catteau and given the waiting lists to get in are longer than the longest motorway in Europe, bit pointless moving there for schooling as you'd struggle to get a place at even the least popular schools at this point there due to overpopulation. You really wouldn't want to keep a car in that area and you'd not be driving it hopefully to the EU quartier every day from there, getting there by public transport requires a bus and change to metro, would take longer than living in WSL or WSP or Auderghem or Watermael-Boitsfort.

The International Montessori school you refer to is a 20-40 minute journey from the EU quartier to Sint-Stevens-Woluwe (Zaventem) by car, 30-40 minute journey by bus, then times that by 4, if you decide to live in the EU quartier and travel out there and back 2 times every day. I don't quite understand if you are so keen to live in the EU quartier/St Gilles / Ixelles / Etterbeek areas, why you didn't choose the only Montessori school in that area, Montessori House Brussels at Montgomery roundabout, instead choosing a school which is a 30km trip (4 * 7.5km) from the area you wish to live in. There is of course nothing wrong with the school, it has an excellent reputation for looking after the children there, especially if you're not paying for it, but it's not in the area where you're looking, your son will not learn a great deal of French there (on the past experience of listening to the level of those children who have gone there who don't speak French at the beginning), why not just go for an English school with similar pricing like BJAB and BISB or Montessori House in the area where you wish to live where public school places might be hard to find, but where private schools rival each other for business. Why put yourself and son through such a long school journey, when you could instead live near to schools within walking distance and go private in the areas you wish to live or move to areas 20 minutes commute from where you want to live and choose a public school and walk to school. IF you go for International Montessori SSW, I'd say live near the school, don't put your son through a long bus journey on a school bus, calling in here there and everywhere, or put yourself through the journey by car either.

Have you thought what you'd do if suddenly your employer stops paying the school fees, garderie fees, school bus fees (which at a guess would top 20k per year?) If you're uncertain now, I'd not trust an employer to continue to pay. I know several people for whom withdrawal of school fees has become a reality. Going for a public school doesn't come with such a risk.

Nice premises does not equate to a good education. I do draw the line at some public schools which are in an appalling state, but for the most part, I am not in the slightest bit seduced by a school with nice premises equating to the ability of teachers to draw the best educate out of our children.

150m2? Well that is very big for a 2 bed or even 3 bed, that's the normal size of a 4 bed. You have a very big choice in Etterbeek, WSL and WSP for that size and price range for apartments, the choice of houses in that price range and size increases as you go east, you'd have quite a bit of difficult finding houses in Etterbeek in particular in that price range, most houses are much bigger and so many of them are now subdivided into smaller apartments. The further out you go from the EU quartier and east, the more chance of getting a playground, but in fact they are all over the place.

If I were in your shoes, I'd be looking within a 1km radius of Mérode metro and be accepting that I'm unlikely to find a public school place for next school year, I'd go instead for Ecole Acacia in Etterbeek and immediately start looking at schools like Ecole du Bonheur, Sacré-Coeur de Lindhout, Ste Anne, La Farandole (opposite Ecole Acacia), St Stanislas, La Colombe de la Paix. Out of those schools named, the one I'd try to live nearest to is probably Ecole du Bonheur or SC de Lindhout, that area is just great for shops, near Cinquantenaire, near public metro and tram, nice shops and cafes. Ecole Acacia won't make your son fluent in a year, but would give him a stepping stone to a local school or even transfer to an English only school like BJAB and BISB which are very near, if fees are paid.

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 16:13:41

Tutti Frutti is very popular with those looking for public schools in St Gilles/Forest/Ixelles but arrive too late or apply too late for places. Again your son is unlikely to pick up much spoken French, not many if any French speaking children at the school, most with backgrounds like yourself. It's cheap and I'd say on parental feedback bucks the trend of me saying "you pay for what you get" because the parents who do manage places there like it, are realistic about the lack of French fluency. It's very popular though, usually full, did you actually contact them? It is however quite a trek from here to the EU quartier, requiring a tram/bus connection.

Roots and Wings is a very small school, it's just English, it's in the very area I am trying to persuade you should be looking for local schools, it's right next door to one called Jean 23 Parmentier. I'd say excellent choice for short term solution, if you are having your fees paid, but then why not go for a local school in this area?

I'm afraid it's completely pointless recommending French schools in St Gilles (none is the answer though, wouldn't school there at all) / Ixelles / Etterbeek because your chances of a place at any school is quite low, it's not even great when you apply on time!!!!!! I could recommend you 20 odd decent schools, none of them will have places though so it's pointless doing so. So why live somewhere where you're not going to get a local school place because it suits a parent and put a 4 year old child through the commute to a school 7.5kms away in Flanders? I just don't understand why the needs on an adult come before the needs and education of a child. You will have to wait till next September 2014 for a possibility of a school place in the areas you wish to live in, unless some miracle happens and all those on the waiting lists for those decent schools just disappear.

I'm not sure if I really can help you more, if you have a husband who wants to spend an hour commuting form St Gilles to the EU quartier instead of spending 20 minutes commuting from WSL or WSP where he has never ever been to. I could ask 50 odd contacts to come on here who'd offer you the same advice, if someone is not willing to listen, then that's the end of the advice.

bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 16:16:23

PS WSP and WSL start between 500m and 1km from the centre of the EU quartier. Really what is the problem?

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 16:43:30

Thanks again for all your advice.

Well, it sounds like the areas around Grand Placa then is not a good option for various reasons.

I know that the International Montessori school is far away, but we could not get a spot at the Montessori House at the Montgomery roundabout unfortunately, they were full already long time ago. Our plan - if going with the International M school - was initially to find something to live in around that very roundabout so the commute would not be too bad. And we were planning on using their bus services, although I am not fully happy with it... The reason I then asked about the other areas was because of the fact that we might not end up with the International M school.

As an alternative to the French speaking public schools in case we don't manage to get into one the frist year and cannot use the International M or, as you suggested, the Ecole Acacia either - are there any private french speaking maternelles?

Did you ever hear of the "Tutti Frutty" ( or the "Roots and Wings"


bruxelloise Wed 15-May-13 17:46:19

Ecole Acacia IS a private French-English maternelle and primaire. Parental feedback is mainly positive but never had anyone stay there long term, it's fine for a year.

I've already written about Tutti Frutti - no school bus service and a less than ideal commute and not a very weak French base and Roots and Wings - it's in English not French and it's NOT where you want to live but where I'd suggesting you should look in the commune of WSP for a local school.

The only other private maternelle is BICS, they'll offer you a place in the Rue de Theux branch, I'd choose Acacia over BICS because of reasons not willing to say in public.

All private schools are here. You'll find the 2 English schools I'd recommend on there, BISB and BJAB, plus Roots and Wings which I'd recommend, except for the fact that if you're after a local school above a private one, then you may as well go next door to the public school!!

Montgomery roundabout is not in the EU quartier, neither is it in Etterbeek. It's in WSP!!!!!!!!

You'll find a parent of children currently in Acacia on the FB group, but they are all leaving, some going to local schools so they can actually pick up a bit more French.

DesperatelyMoving Wed 15-May-13 19:36:30

Sorry, I do not refresh the page enough so I had not seen that you had already commented on Tutti Frutti!

And sorry, I should be more clear, I meant private French ONLY speaking private schools in order to avoid the bilingual ones (like the one we have) where they apparently do not learn French. Which will be a problem when/if he then switches to public primary later on.

Ok, it definitely sounds like the thing left for me to do is to work on the stubborn husband who do not want to believe it takes that long to commute neither for him or kid, and convince him that we should instead go for WSL or WSP. (He is traumatized after I dragged him to a US suburb from where there was a horrible commute). But I will convince him that it takes longer from these three areas that he seems to like so much (St Gilles, Ixelles and Etterbeek). If he was ready to live at the roundabout (which I know is in the "start" of WSL), he should be ready to go out a bit further.

Thanks again for all your time!

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