Hope at hand for European schools?

7th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

Parents and teachers have raised alarm about overcrowding at European schools in Brussels, but what are authorities doing to resolve the problem? Martin Banks reports.

The European Schools authority has stressed that a decision is imminent on the provision of additional accommodation to address concerns of "totally unacceptable" overcrowding in European schools in Brussels.

New students will only be accepted at Brussels I (Uccle) in 2006-07

Each of the three schools — which primarily cater for the children of people who work in EU institutions and accredited diplomats — currently has more students enrolled than what they were originally designed for.

There are 3,013 pupils enrolled at the Woluwe school, 2,820 at Ixelles and 2,611 at Uccle. This is despite the fact that when they were established 50 years ago, each school had a nominal capacity of just 2,500.

At Woluwe — the school with the worst overcrowding — classes of 32 are commonplace and parents applying for places there for the 2006-07 school year are being told that Uccle will be the only school with availability.

A fourth European school is scheduled to open in a former cadet centre at Laken, eventually providing places for 2,500 students. But this will not be ready until 2009 at the earliest.

Temporary solution

With parents clamouring for action to tackle the problem, even the secretary-general of the European Schools, Michael Ryan, admits the institutes are at "saturation point".

However, he says a decision is expected "very shortly" by the Belgian authorities on the provision of a temporary school. A decision could be made by the end of the month.

Two sites have been earmarked: one in Rue Berkendael in St Gilles is a purpose-built school which is currently being used as a police training centre.

The European Schools logo

"This would cater for 700 children which is probably too small when you consider we will need 1,500 places between now and 2009," Ryan says.

A far more likely option is the landmark Tour and Taxis building, a large, former customs warehouse, situated on the outskirts of Brussels and currently under renovation.

But whatever venue is selected, Ryan has warned that neither is expected to be ready until September 2007, fuelling further unrest among parents and teachers.

Parent, teacher anger

A petition calling for urgent action to tackle overcrowding at the European schools in Brussels was recently presented to the European Commission, which is a major contributor to the schools' budget.

Parents have also warned they may remove their children from the schools in protest.

Taking up the issue is Michael Stenger, president of the Parents Association at Woluwe where he has three children, aged 10-16.

"The overcrowding, particularly at Woluwe and also Ixelles, is totally unacceptable and has reached tragic proportions," he says.

"It is having all sorts of spin-off effects; including children having to start their dinner breaks as early as 11.20am because the canteen is too small to accommodate so many children.

"So many pupils attend the school that it takes almost 50 buses to transport them in and out each day. The buses have to come inside the school grounds which many believe poses a safety risk.

*quote1*"The overcrowding is even having a behavioural impact on the kids themselves. Because so many are being crammed into school they have less space in which to play and eat and parents say they are becoming more aggressive as a result."

His comments are echoed by a European schools teacher who — speaking on the condition anonymity — says teaching staff share parents' concern about the overcrowding.

"We do not feel comfortable at having to take such large classes. Classes with 32 pupils in them should be the absolute exception, but that is not currently the case," he says.

"The sooner a temporary school is provided the better for everyone."

'We can manage'

Not everyone is unhappy, however, with one British parent, with two children in the schools, s

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