Future of the Brussels Schools

Interlocutor: APEEE Bureau

In October 2019, the APEEE approved a joint statement with the other Brussels European School APEEEs deploring that the Belgian State had neither delivered on its 2010 promise to provide the needed infrastructure for a fifth school in Brussels by 2015 nor given any assurances to have a site ready by a specific date in the future. The statement prompted the Board of Governors to issue their own declaration on the situation in December 2019.

The current pupil population in the Brussels European Schools is an alarming 1500 pupils above the infrastructure capacity of 12,400, and the opening of the Berkendael primary campus has now resulted in a structural oversupply of primary pupils that will further exacerbate the existing problems in the overcrowded secondary departments of the Brussels schools.

Overcrowding in Brussels: The European Schools in Brussels are overcrowded; this is particularly true for EEBIII (20% over theoretical capacity) and EEBII and EEBI-Uccle (~10% over theoretical capacity). This has been the case for several years, but with a net increase of approximately 400 pupils each year, the situation has become serious in recent years. Whereas previously the overcrowding was felt in the primary, the addition of the Berkendael primary site in 2017 has relieved the primary campuses across Brussels but the overcrowding in the secondary has only become more serious year by year.

In 2010 the Belgian government committed to providing a fifth Brussels European School by 2015. They are now five years behind on their commitment and at the moment its delivery is promised only before September 2028.

The Situation at EEBI: The EEBI school management has in recent years identified overcrowding as one of the most serious pedagogical risks at EEBI with very likely and high impact on teaching quality, accidents, and supervision problems (source: EEBI Risk Registers, 2017-2019). On top of the pedagogical risks, the overcrowding also poses risks related to the safety of pupils and staff. In case of an emergency evacuation of the Uccle site (gas leak, bomb threat or similar) it makes a difference.

In Uccle pupils have certainly felt the effects of overcrowding, which has hit our current S1-S3 pupils particularly hard as they have moved through their schooling. And many of our Berkendael families have lived with "uncertainty", as they have had to resubmit an application when their children reach S1 and take whatever school is offered.

Thus in Autumn 2019, the EEBI APEEE was one of the most staunch advocates of sending a strong message to our Secretary General, the Commission and Board of Governors that the situation in Brussels in no longer tenable. At the moment, the APEEE currently awaits the results of the promised safety and pedagogical audit of the EEBI sites. This should take into account not just the fixed capacity of rooms but the dynamic capacity of the whole sites as well as the impact of the current numbers on the ability to deliver the European School curriculum and the well-being of members of our community.

Temporary Site at Evere

In January 2020, the Belgian government agreed to provide a temporary school site on the former NATO site in Evere to be opened in September 2021 and available until the opening of the fifth school. The campus will be a primary campus with quick-built modular structures and a capacity of 1500 pupils.

The opening of the permanent fifth school, also approved for construction on the former NATO site (close to but not contiguous with the temporary site), has now been postponed until September 2028 "at the latest". And the Berkendael site, which has been requested as a permanent grant to the European Schools, remains for the moment like Evere, a temporary site available only until the opening of the fifth school.

Populating Evere and Integrating Berkendael: At their meetings of October and December 2020, the Board of Governors approved a proposal to populate the Evere site and detailed Guidelines for the 2021-2022 Enrolment Policy. The plan is to attach the Evere primary site to EEBII. As currently envisaged, the Evere site will be filled through new enrolments in the FR, DE, EN and IT sections, and as they reach secondary Evere primary students will be automatically enrolled in secondary school at Woluwe.

A similar plan was agreed to integrate the Berkendael primary into EEBI, by which Berkendael primary students in sections already at Uccle (FR, DE, EN, ES, IT) will be automatically enrolled in secondary at Uccle. Pupils enrolled in the LV and SK sections will attend secondary as SWALS at EEBII and EEBIII, respectively, and pupils in EL classes will join their fellows at EEBIII for secondary. Pupils enrolled at Berkendael before September 2021 will also retain the right to request a transfer to another school for secondary--a measure which will help control the secondary population at Uccle. Taken as a whole, the new plan has finally given Berkendael families the clarity and stability enjoyed by other families in the European School system, while also honouring promises made to them at the time of enrolment.

Nevertheless, the current plan does not address several key issues:

  • There remains an overabundance of primary campuses (soon to be six) in Brussels compared with secondary campuses (still only four). More specifically, there is no clear strategy to make space for the Evere and Berkendael primary students in the already overcrowded secondary campuses at Woluwe and Uccle—-i.e. either by building additional secondary capacity OR by depopulating the primary at these sites and re-purposing existing primary infrastructure for secondary use.
  • Even with the Evere site, the pupil population is likely to reach current levels again in as little as three years, well before the fifth school is expected, and there are as yet no measures proposed for this eventuality.
  • There is still no plan for populating a fifth school by 2028, and the temporary nature of the Evere and Berkendael sites means that any measure put in place at the moment may also need to be “undone” in as little as 6-7 years.
  • Finally, even with a foreseen capacity of 2500 students, the fifth school will likely be full at the moment it is opened or soon thereafter. Given the timelines experienced, a sixth school should already be in the pipeline.

These issues and more generally the lack of long-term planning have been raised over recent months by the APEEEs, Staff Committees, Trade Unions and AdP (Association des Parents - Crèches / Garderies in Brussels), and a discussion has already been launched at a December meeting of the Brussels Task Force attended by the Secretary General and Belgian authorities. The Future of the Brussels Schools is regularly treated by the Brussels Steering Group (the former "Groupe de Suivi"), a periodic meeting of different stakeholders in Brussels (See: APEEE and the Brussels Schools). Unfortunately, the renewed mandate for the Groupe de Suivi, approved by the Board of Governors in December 2020, has narrowed the potential scope of the group and placed new limitations on the involvement of the four Brussels APEEEs, the Staff Committees and Future Parents (AdP). It is a troubling development given the issues at stake.

In the meantime, the APEEE will continue to raise the issues with the EEBI Administrative Board.

Supporting Documents

CCP: Note to Georgieva on the European Schools - urgent issues raised by parents' associations (29 October 2015)
EEB APEEEs: Joint Statement of Four Brussels APEEEs on Overcrowding (22 October 2019)
BoG: Statement of the Board of Governors on the situation of the European Schools in Brussels / Déclaration du Conseil supérieur sur la situation des Ecoles européennes de Bruxelles / Stellungnahme des Obersten Rates zur Situation der Europäischen Schulen in Brüssel (2019-11-D-17; 6 December 2019) - EN / FR / DE
Staff Committees and EEB APEEEs: Joint Declaration of the LSC of Brussels and Parents' Associations on the 5th school in Brussels / Déclaration conjointe CLP de Bruxelles et associations de parents sur la 5éme école à Bruxelles (31 January 2020) - EN / FR
Commission CLP: European schools’ overcrowding problems in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic (newsletter article; 18 June 2020)
OSGES: Situation of the European Schools in Brussels – Temporary site in Evere / Situation des Ecoles européennes à Bruxelles – Site temporaire d’Evere / Situation der Europäischen Schulen von Brüssel – Vorläufiger Standort in Evere (2020-10-D-17; 20 October 2020) - EN / FR / DE

Document 2020-10-D-17-1 was approved at the October 2020 European School Board of Governors meeting with one change to Section VI. Proposal (p.7) "As from the 2021-2022 school year, all new enrolments pupils enrolled in those sections and satellite classes that exist at ESB1 would continue their education in secondary at ESB1-Uccle. Pupils who were enrolled when it was not known that Berkendael would become an extension of ESB1-UCC would retain the right to express their wish to enrol in secondary in a school other than ESB1-UCC. Provided that it was feasible according to the rules included in the Enrolment Policy, their choice would be respected (compulsory transfers)."

Staff Committees, Trade Unions, EEB APEEEs, and AdP: Call to End the Prolonged Critical Overcrowding of the Brussels European Schools (13 November 2020)
OSGES and BoG: Decisions of the Board of Governors concerning the guidelines for the 2021-2022 Policy on Enrolment in the Brussels European Schools / Décisions du Conseil supérieur concernant les lignes directrices pour la politique d’inscription 2021-2022 dans les Ecoles européennes de Bruxelles / Beschlüsse des Obersten Rates über die Leitlinien zur Zulassungsstrategie 2021-2022 an den Europäischen Schulen von Brüssel (2020-12-D-6; 04 December 2020) - EN / FR / DE
Commission CLP: European Schools - Staff Committee repeats its call for urgent action on overcrowding (newsletter article; 16 December 2020)
OSGES: Memorandum - for the attention of the members of the EEB Steering Group / à l'attention des membres du Groupe de Suivi EEB (23 December 2020) - EN / FR

See also: APEEE and the Brussels Schools

Last update: 11/07/2021