Creation of a “Secondary Campus” regrouping all the S6 and S7 pupils of the Brussels European Schools

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An important proposal is quietly but steadily advancing (towards implementation?) and we wonder if many parents of the Brussels European Schools are informed properly.

In the recent General Assembly of the School Brussels III (“Ixelles”) last December (2013) was proposed to the representatives of the parents a motion giving the green light for an important change of our schools.

Until now, every proposal for a reform or a significant change was widely explained to the parents and we are used to have information meetings by the APEEE, discussions in the Education Councils, presentations to the parents in the “cantinas”, meetings with the representatives of the office of the Secretary General Mr Kivinen, the opinion of the relevant unit of DG HR etc.

This proposal, to which I refer to, is the opposite. With no previous explanations, studies etc… we learned that already 2 APEEE voted in their General Assemblies motions asking the Schools to create instead of a full 5th European School in Brussels a kind of Campus regrouping all the S6 and S7 pupils of the Brussels European Schools (with Ixelles this makes 3 APEEEs).

We are a little puzzled with this course of events, but we consider useful before expressing a firm opinion on this matter, to submit to our readers the succinct rationale presented to the parents representatives. These explanations given briefly pretty late in the evening of the Ixelles General Assembly (Brussels III) are as follows (in italics): “Due to continuous overcrowding of the European Schools in Brussels, a 5th school is scheduled for opening by 2019. The sites currently under discussion for such a 5th school are either the school in Berkendael (currently used for the nursery and lower primary of Uccle) or a new site in Etterbeek at Blvd. General Jacques/Av. de la Couronne (1.2 km distance from the Ixelles school). If Berkendael is chosen, the opening could happen earlier than 2019.

It is not yet clear how the 5th school will be used. It could be a classical full cycle school (from nursery to S7). The General Secretary of the European schools, Mr Kivinen, seems to favour a school offering additional
space for nursery and primary pupils (where there is currently the highest demand). Some parents, notably from Uccle and Woluwe, advocate the creation of a secondary campus for all S6-S7 pupils of
Brussels. It is important to note that according to statistics provided by Mr Kivinen, there will be a lack of secondary class room space in the 4 current schools as of 2019, the time when the 5th school should open. In addition, this forecast is based on data reflecting the current overpopulation in Ixelles and not based on the official maximum capacity of 2 650 pupils for our Ixelles school.

Advantages and disadvantages secondary campus

Positive: Reduction of overcrowding in Ixelles (and other Existing schools) Better choice of options in L1 (mainly for DE EN, ES, NE sections from Ixelles)
Negative: Separation of siblings, risk particularly for isolated sections located only in one of the Brussels schools that secondary teachers will be split between S1 – S5 and S6 – S7 (relevant for the EL and CZ section in Ixelles)

Other alternatives: A classical full cycle school (from nursery to S7) could contain a 5th FR, EN and DE section as well as a 3rd ES, a 2nd EL and new sections, at least the Slovak one with the current Slovak SWALs from Ixelles. The need for such additional  sections is questionable for EN, DE, ES and EL and could further reduce class levels and choice of options in L1 at Ixelles.

The European schools are currently also considering the merging of some secondary sections from the existing schools. Thoughts go in the direction of merging IT, ES and NE sections from Brussels (no details are yet available on which sections might be concentrated at which class levels and at which school). EN and DE sections are currently exempted from this consideration as a merge would create problems with the mother tongue teaching of SWALS from these sections, and as there is an agreement with the Belgian authorities that each European school in Brussels will include a linguistic section for the official Belgian languages (incl. DE).

Another possibility would be the organisation of joint classes among the BXL schools to keep the options without merging secondary sections – almost only for S6 and S7. Such options should be on Wednesday
afternoon or on a half day reserved for this as agreed between the Brussels schools and, for such joint classes, the organisation of studies for S6 and S7 should be harmonised among the Brussels schools.”

We can suspect – with a risk to be wrong – that behind this proposal are standing some parents panicking a little because of the coming reform of the secondary. They may consider that a grouping of S6 and S7 could possibly give the opportunity to secure more “options” for the subjects to be offered in the years S6 and S7. Others may envisage the opportunity to create new linguistic sections, say in the primary, taking advantage of the resulting space created by the “displacement” of the S6 and S7 sections. Possibly such a scheme can offer some advantages. But we can express the fear that such a “Campus” school (regrouping only S6 and S7) will be so complex, that its governance will be a challenge to its managers. It is also beyond reasonable doubt that a school where all linguistic sections are present, will create an interesting APEEE, where each section can be certain to be on the board. Remains to see how such an oversized APEEE could work efficiently, but if the Council of Ministers can work, there is still hope for the “super APEEE”.

We can also ask the question if this grouping plan is really within the current intentions of the Board of Governors. Until now no official information was given. Are we certain that the advantages and disadvantages of
this plan are really only the few lines given to the parent’s representatives during the AG? As an example, does this reform means that most secondary teachers will work in 2 different schools? (Say in Ixelles or Uccle for S1 – S5 and in the “5th School” for S6 and S7)? What is the opinion of the teachers?

As a reminder, some years ago, a similar idea was proposed, i.e. the creation of a new school “Only secondary” with all years present (S1- S7). This proposal seems at first sight more reasonable. Possibly it will be even more difficult to put in place, needing even more careful planning and perhaps more space. But on the other hand, such a school (or schools) should permit real economies of scale and the possibility to offer a very large pectrum of teaching options.

“European Education” considers that the office of Mr Kivinen and the relevant unit of DG HR of the Commission should clarify the issue with detailed information sent to the parents and the pupils.

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Aim of the European Schools

Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe.

Marcel Decombis, Head of European School, Luxembourg between 1953 and 1960