Parent intervention for Luxembourg Government,
CAF meeting 18-20 March 2009, Agenda point XVIII doc 2009-D-53-1 “Interpretation of Article 3.1 of the Convention defining the Statute of the European Schools – Letter from the European Commission.”
(A) Summary statement (to read out)
Parents welcome the request from the Commission for a constructive debate surrounding the appropriate structure of European Schools.
Of course this issue cannot be fully divorced from the issue of school location, nor can it be totally isolated from the question of the appropriate governance of the schools. Furthermore, it cannot be distinguished from the problems arising from delays by host countries to respect their obligations.
As far as Luxembourg is concerned, we strongly reject the assumption that it would be too late for any change. The school, promised for 2007, won’t be ready before 2013, plans are still not definitive, and there is time enough to adapt them in order to ensure a suitable school.
We wish now to concentrate on the perceived advantages of a horizontal structure over the disadvantages of a vertical structure.
Firstly, the legal argument.
It is not clear that any amendment is required to the current text (“…a European School MAY comprise…”). From previous decisions of the Board of Governors about the structures of the European Schools, different options are already possible. Such flexibility is desirable, and to be preferred to any ‘one size fits all’ solution.
Secondly, the pedagogical argument
Parents do not contest the idea per se that a simple administrative structure is unwieldy for large numbers of pupils. However, it is easy to conceive of administrative structures and sub-structures that could work with large numbers of pupils on a single site.
Schools exist to offer children the optimum educational opportunities, not for administrative simplicity. The maximum possible range of options and option combinations should be ensured. It is obvious to parents that the range of options offered to pupils will diminish following the implementation of a vertical split. With half the languages and nationalities in one location and half in another, less popular options with small pupil numbers, perhaps offered in second or even third language, are unlikely to be permitted in either location under current rules on minimum sizes.
Thirdly, the transport argument
In Luxemburg, for example, parents of all nationalities live all over the country (mostly to North and East) and over the borders in Germany, France and Belgium. They cannot be expected to relocate to facilitate school, because housing market in Luxembourg is famously difficult and expensive. It is already recognised that it will be impossible to duplicate the networks of public and private bus provision. Train networks in East and West of Luxembourg are incompatible. Parents will therefore have to bring children by car with huge environmental impacts in terms of increased emissions, increased congestion, increased accident risks, and other undesirable consequences. They will be unable to simultaneously respect school hours and core working hours of the EU institutions. Luxembourg already struggles to attract EU officials and risks becoming less attractive.
The increased travel time imposed on children will impact on their scholastic performance and reduce their opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities.
Fourthly, the financial argument
Economies of scale amounting to as much as 30% are estimated to flow from pooling of teachers, teaching materials and equipment under a horizontal structure. This is particularly significant given the current economic climate, but a relevant criterion for the understandable pressure from auditors, budgetary authorities and Member States for efficient and economic delivery of an effective service.
Parents in Luxembourg have since at least 2004 raised a series of questions, still regrettably unanswered, surrounding the appropriate structure of the European Schools. They, and parents in general, remain ready to collaborate in studies into the appropriate structure of the eventual European Schools, bringing extensive expertise and constructive ideas to the table. It is to be hoped this opportunity will be grasped by decision-makers to seek a collaborative, and above all effective, efficient, economic solution in the best interest of the children, their parents, and the good functioning of the EU institutions.
(B) Detailed comments (background information)
Parents in Luxembourg welcome the Commission initiative to launch a debate on the appropriate structure of the European Schools.
The note makes reference to the decisions of the Board of Governors in 2003, the supposed agreement of the Steering Committee to a vertical split, the delayed progress of the second school, and varied interpretations of Article 3.1 of the Convention. It asks the Administrative and Finance Committee/Board of Governors to consider
– whether a Type I school can comprise solely the secondary cycle or solely the nursery/primary cycle;
– whether a Type I school can have different components on different locations in the same city.
“depuis la décision prise par le CS en 2003”
According to an email dated July 15 2004 from Tessa Ryan (member of Kinnock cabinet) to Seán Ó Neachtain (MEP),
1. “…the Luxembourg delegate to the Board of Governors declared that his government would not accept a horizontal split of the two European Schools in Luxembourg in any circumstances…” – this is going beyond his legitimate brief: the EU institutions are entitled to expect schools which facilitate the good functioning of the EU institutions and it is not the role of an external individual (or a desired national policy) to obstruct that requirement, and the Commission should forcibly defend the interests of the EU institutions on principle!
2. The Luxembourg delegate’s opposition to the horizontal approach is based (i) on an incorrect interpretation of the statutes, which is already disproved by precedent in Luxembourg itself (eg. horizontal split Glacis/Kirchberg); (ii) on an incorrect understanding of accounting principles (past expenditure is irrelevant to future decisions which should instead focus on current needs and resources) and (iii) on …
“répartition par sections linguistiques préconisée par el Steering Group”
1. The steering group has no authority to decide this issue, having a purely advisory status.
2. Even if it did have decision power, parent representatives in the steering group (as in other fora) have repeatedly signalled their opposition to the proposed vertical split in Luxembourg circumstances, calling for a constructive debate on the basis of appropriate studies into the alternatives…astonishingly this still has not happened.
3. The suggested split by language sections was proposed without any prior debate, purely to support an initial budget allocation for the second school, and was always expected to be reviewed. Parent acquiescence in 2002 was explicitly declared to be conditional on such a debate taking place and on the timetable being respected. Neither is the case.
“compte tenue de l’état d’avancement”
1. The first promise of a second school in Luxembourg was in 1979 (Jacques Santer).
2. A petition was presented to the Chambre des Députés in 1986 to build the second school on Kirchberg, adjacent to the existing school.
3. The 2003 BoG decision foresaw availability in 2007, which clearly has not happened.
4. To ensure adequate construction quality, September 2012 (the latest suggested date by Ministère des Bâtiments Public) is clearly optimistic…local schools take approximately 4 years from first brick…and we don’t even have agreement on the plans yet.
5. The Secretary General has agreed that parents have an effective veto on the plans, as they have been promised (but not yet allowed) to participate in the “groupe de suivi” responsible for the design – which is contrary to what has happened for other schools, and despite the commitment of parents to participate in such design without preconceptions.
6. The Luxembourgish government has an unfortunate history of delaying its promises: school premises have been delivered late; sports facilities are not provided at all (possibly because of cost overruns in nearby national sports centre?); cheap ‘container’ alternatives are sought instead of genuine temporary buildings that are regularly provided for non school purposes, and which are then operated past recommended lifetime; shoddy workmanship which requires regular, expensive, disruptive repairs.
“il est clair que ce débat est dépassé pour Lux.2 “
1. This is incorrect. What will be provided are empty buildings: it will be a simple administrative choice what moveable materials go in them and which age of children are placed there. That has nothing to do with the Luxembourg government. Any costs of adapting toilets and other facilities, if indeed they need to be, are only a minor percentage of total expenditure. Although clearly preferable to do this already at the design stage, it can be envisaged subsequently.
2. The plans are still not definitive, and there is still time to adapt them…better a further slight delay to ensure a suitable school, than a quick solution which is a white elephant failure tarnishing the reputation of those involved for years to come…
3. A key factor in the success of any social project is inclusivity: it is quite simply crazy that end-users (parent representatives) are excluded from Lux. process… Parents remain willing to contribute.
“peut comprendre maternel/primaire/secondaire”
1. High Level Conference in 2007 defined European Schools type 1, type 2 and type 3.
– Only partial secondary: Dunslaughlin, Cadarache/Manosque and Den Haag
– Only primary: Heraklion.
2. The idea of a school in two locations is not new, indeed it is common in national systems, with clear pedagogical and administrative advantages many of which translate also to European Schools situation.
3. BoG decision pre-1988 “…may create classes in the annexe of a European School when it considers that the number of pupils is sufficient, even though, according to the criteria for class division, the overall school population of the School and its annexe is not great enough to permit the creation of new classes…”
– annex Varese, decision November 1984;
– annex Luxemburg, decision November 1979, 1984;
– annex Brussels II, April 1988.
4. Horizontal approach is now proposed for Munich. Also sought for Brussels IV and V.
5. Whilst constrained by current site, the Lux. experience with single secondary cycle demonstrates workability, albeit with some difficulties. Suffice to imagine improvement possible from a purpose-built design concept.
1. Problems of vertical approach are now apparent from Brussels experiment. These include
-Reduction in subject choice for students (smaller numbers in one or both locations after split means minority options are not offered in either).
-Lost opportunity for economies of scale (teachers, teaching materials).
-Perception of priviliged and underprivileged locations, creating division and intolerance instead of fostering cohesion.
This helps to explain why there is increasingly only around 50% takeup of EurSch. by parents.
2. A ‘one size fits all’ solution is not desirable: each location has specific circumstances and needs. Luxembourg does not have the public infrastructure (incompatible train systems East and West of country, impossible to duplicate bus network), nor the affordable housing (it is why parents live in Germany, France and Belgium instead) but does have a policy to centralise EU institutions on Kirchberg.
3. National school building policy in Luxembourg is regional lycées but place-of-residence primary schools. For EU officials, place-of-work (ie. Kirchberg) is the common factor… Similar approaches are taken in other member states as well. There is no reason to suppose it would not work in the context of the European Schools.
4. The Commission only mentions article 3,1. of the Convention (the 2003 decision was taken with Spain and parents against, Italy abstaining; remember that was EU 15!) , a decision according to article 3,3.(a) has never been taken with view to the split of the Luxembourg population.
5. There has been no study into Luxembourg proposals. 32 questions raised by parents at public meeting in 2004 remain unanswered to this day. Solutions to foreseeable transport problem are not forthcoming: the end result will be impossibility for parents of young children to simultaneously respect school hours and work hours of EU institutions. Feasibility of a ‘strawman’ proposal rejected for Brussels (lower secondary + upper secondary) was never investigated in Lux. situation. Note: parents do not contest the desirability of an additional management layer; organisation into subsidiary administrative units (eg. ‘houses’, ‘sections’; etc. etc..) whose cost would be more than covered by benefits!
6. The school trajectory in Eur.Sch. is 14 years (nursery to baccalaureate). The Luxembourg government saves nearly 75m EUR per year by not having to educate the c.5000 Eur.Sch. children in the national system (cost estimate per pupil: EUR 15000 per OECD 2007). An appropriate budget for the new school might therefore be 2500 x 14 x 15000 = EUR 525 million (the actual proposal is closer to EUR 375 million). Moreover Luxembourg is the EU member state with the largest per capita net benefit from EU membership (total EUR 7.7 billion per 2007-13 EU Budget, 2007 national population 476000 per Eurostat). The existence of high quality European Schools would be a major attraction for high value expatriates to relocate to Luxembourg. There are no excuses for failure to deliver adequate schooling.
7. The schools are not EU institutions, so their location is not bound by the Treaty, which would require à Luxembourg (ie. in the city) rather than au Luxembourg (anywhere in the country). However, the schools are clearly a key factor in smoothing the operation of the EU institutions (ECJ+EP+EIB+ECA and not just the Commission) so should be sited nearby. By contrast it can be argued that the Study Centre operated by the Commission is part of administrative infrastructure and should comply with the Treaty. Current, logical, policy is to combine Study Centre with school…
Only looking at legal aspect, should also look at
– financial aspect. Duplication of resources by splitting (if actually do respect guarantee given in public in 2004 by Directors to ensure same range of options to secondary students irrespective of strict rules on actual pupil numbers). Both teacher hours and pooling of materials and equipment.
– transport aspect. Bussing children greater distances will involve increased risk of accidents, stress and boredom- and will reduce time available to participate in extracurricular activities
– pedagogical aspect. Main concern is loss of subject options in secondary cycle. Additional concern is lost possibility for children banished outside city limit to participate in after school activities run by parents (who nearly all work on Kirchberg).
– environmental aspect. Vertical approach and out of city location will require thousands of extra car journeys and tonnes of extra pollution.