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European Schools - 2008, September 24

European Schools

The state of the European schools in Brussels is far from satisfactory. The considerable delay in building the new school in Laeken and the inappropriateness of the temporary site in Berkendael, in a context marred by overcrowding, add to the crisis concerning the way our European schools are run. More and more parents are opting out of the system or deciding not to enrol their children even though the European schools provide, for most of the languages spoken in the 27 Member States, the only possibility for families to give their children an education in their own language.

Regarding infrastructure, the situation is worrying and gets worse year on year: the Laeken school should have been ready for 2007/2008, but we are now being told to wait until 2012/2013 – another four years, or nearly as long as our children are in primary school. General overcrowding in the 4 schools is giving rise to rigid timetables and overloaded working days (sometimes 9 hours per day in primary schools at least twice a week), a situation which is only made worse by the fact that the majority of parents also have to agree to an excessive journey time for their children to get to school. The Berkendael annex is unsuitable as it is too small to house everybody and, moreover, situated far from the Laeken school of which it forms the annex: currently, parents of new pupils, regardless of where they live, have to enrol their child in the Laeken school only to see him shunted over to the other side of town just a few years later. Only a few are fortunate enough to pick the school of their choice if they take part in the ‘lottery’ set up by the institutions: what a shining example of public administration, when transparent and fair admission conditions are replaced by pure chance! 

Clearly, things can’t go on like this. What’s more, very often, parents don’t feel supported by the schools or the institutions. So it’s not surprising that more and more families are choosing not to send their children to the European schools! Because of this, the number of children actually enrolled in the schools is climbing more slowly than foreseen, handing the Belgian authorities a pretext to justify, after the fact, the reason why they are behind in their building work. The Commission must provide the exact number of families who are forced to abandon the European education system.

Enough is enough!  The idea behind the European schools was to create a vital tool for the running of our institutions and provide added value for Europe. This seems a distant memory today. It is not just the children and parents who are bearing the brunt of this – it also paints a shoddy picture of our institutions. We must all come together to demand:

- for work on the Laeken school to be completed by 2012 : the opening of the new school cannot be put back yet further; the Commission must get the Belgian authorities to make a clear commitment ;

- for planning work on the 5th school to start straight away, in order to avoid a repetition of the setbacks experienced when the IXELLES and LAEKEN schools were under construction, with parent consultation on the site and infrastructure of the fifth school; the Commission and the other institutions must produce reliable estimates on the real needs in years to come;

- for the Berkendael school to be extended as a matter of urgency, by acquiring the adjacent building, in order to meet the existing demands for more space as of 2009;

- for a new annex to be built near Laeken to meet enrolment demands made after 2010, as of which Berkendael can no longer accept new children, even though the Laeken school will still not be completed at this date ;

- for the Berkendael school to be made into a permanent nursery/primary school, so that young children in particular can go to school near to their homes;

- for plans to be drawn up and made public concerning the development and occupation of all of the European schools in Brussels, and for the same plan to cover all schools for the period 2008/2013. Such plans would be binding for the European and Belgian authorities and could be monitored by parents and citizens’ representatives; the annex to the plan would list the rules governing how places are awarded, which should be simple, clear, public and sustainable, bringing an end to the current ‘lottery’ when it comes to allocating school places;

- for class sizes to number at least 20 children, which would allow children whose home is closest to the school to attend;

- for the existing school sections to be streamlined in order to enable them to welcome as many pupils as possible and avoid the existing differences between sections ;

- for an independent professional evaluation to be conducted regarding the quality of service provided by the schools and their respect for children’s rights, in order to make them more attractive, in particular for parents who have been turning away from European schools over the past few years;

- for an improvement in the way the European schools are run, in particular in respecting the parents’ say in the language in which they wish their children to be educated ;

- for efforts to be made to promote the European schools, in particular those in Brussels, which, in spite of difficulties, can point to a number of unique pedagogical innovations.  

The Union Syndicale and CONF-SFE would like to discuss these demands with all parents concerned and other trade unions and associations in order to launch joint institutional action, the only solution to fulfil the staff’s expectations.

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