By Katie Jane Wickham and Robin von Breska
Today, the 6th of September 2021, our European School family welcomes a new site at Evere!
At the old headquarters of NATO in Brussels, a temporary site, as an integral part of EEB2-Woluwé will welcome its first pupils! The new Evere site will accommodate new enrolments in nursery and primary and slightly pause further exacerbated overcrowding in the European Schools in Brussels.
You can see some photos below, courtesy of https://www.eeb2.be/en/home/evere–ready-to-start/?lid=12204
For further information on the state of play of the overcrowding of the European Schools in Brussels, you can read the report from the pupils’ representatives that attended the ‘Steering Committee Brussels’ in 2020 -2021, which will also soon be published in CoSup’s end-of-year report.
Disclaimer: the report is not an official source of information, rather an informational report to constituents. Nonetheless, the data and information therein is derived from various documents of the Office of the Secretary-General of the European Schools and to the best knowledge of the authors, was correct at the time of writing.
Brussels Steering Committee
The European Schools in Brussels are systematically overcrowded. A fifth European School, which would accommodate 2 500 pupils, was foreseen to open in 2015. Due to delays by the Belgian Authorities in ensuring this, a temporary site will be opened in September 2021.
The temporary site will be an integral part of EEB2, and will be located at Evere, at the old NATO headquarters. The capacity will be for 1 500 nursery and primary pupils. The pupils attending the Evere temporary site in 2021 will be all eligible new enrolments.
The permanent fifth European School, with a capacity for 2 500 pupils, approved by the Board of Governors in 2010 and supposed to open in 2015, will be opened by 2028 at the latest. The Board of Governors decided to submit a programme of requirements for this school to be exclusively for secondary pupils, on the condition that the Evere and Berkendael temporary sites would remain available.
The PowerPoint used to debrief CoSup at its meeting in June is available here.
The European Schools in Brussels are currently critically overcrowded. Since 2017, the overall pupil population of the Schools in Brussels (EEB1-Uccle, EEB1-Berkendael, EEB2-Woluwe, EEB3-Ixelles, EEB4-Laeken), has surpassed the theoretical capacity.
At the start of 2020, there was a 12.4% or overall surplus of 1 535 pupils in relation to the theoretical capacity of the Schools, with EEB3 – Ixelles at 24.9% overcrowding, or 659 students more than the foreseen capacity.
Multiple factors contribute to the high enrolments at the Schools. As the EU Institutions have expanded in Brussels, so have the number of children eligible to attend the Schools. Additionally, more and more parents are choosing the European Schools for their children due to increased attractiveness measures and/ or pedagogical offer in the mother tongue.
Every year, approximately 400 – 450 additional places at the EEBs are granted. Clearly, though, a systemic lack of suitable premises to accommodate all these pupils persists. As a result, a myriad of detrimental impacts on the school communities ensue. The overcrowding results in increased stress, poses safety and security risks, weakens the pedagogical offer, increases staff and teacher workload, to name a few.
This working group, which was established in 1997 – before EEB3 was opened – comprises a multitude of members, such as the Secretary-General (Chair), Directors, parents, teachers, the European Commission, et al. and it aims to find solutions to the systemic and long-standing issue of overcrowding in the Brussels ES.
Importantly, European School rules (Article 2.3, Convention defining the Statute of the European Schools) stipulate that the host country – in this case, Belgium – is responsible for providing and maintaining suitable premises for new Schools, following agreements with the Board of Governors.
Therefore, the Belgian Buildings Agency (Régie des Bâtiments) gives updates on developments in the construction or maintenance of the Schools in Brussels.
2. Overview of 2020 – 2021
The Steering Committee met a total of 5 times this school year, to prepare documents for the Board of Governors and to track progress regarding the opening of a temporary site.
A. Renewal of the mandate of the Steering Committee of the European Schools in Brussels
To begin, the working group’s mandate was renewed in December by the BoG. This entailed a renewed composition, with a more restricted ‘Core Group’ and an ‘Enlarged Group’, following increasing numbers of stakeholders attending the meetings. Pupils had previously only had one representative, but after a request for equal representation to parents and other stakeholders, each Pupils’ Committee had a representative at the enlarged meetings:
- Robin von Breska (EEB1)
- Fabian Repplinger (EEB2)
- Alexandra Pantoulis (EEB3)
- Katie Jane Wickham (EEB4)
At the Core Group meetings, all EEB pupils’ interests were represented by Robin von Breska and Katie Jane Wickham.
B. Opening of a 5th School – history : delays
In 2010, the Board of Governors formally approved the setting up of a fifth European school in Brussels, with capacity for 2 500 pupils and which should be made available by 2015. Now, over six years from the foreseen opening, construction on this school has not even begun.
Indeed, political issues in the Belgian government hindered any reasonable progress on their responsibilities.
In 2015, the Belgian Government announced that this School would be available by 2019… Since this was not upheld, a temporary site for 1 500 nursery and primary pupils was planned to be opened by September 2021, in Evere, at the old NATO site. The Evere temporary site would be an “integral part” of EEB2.
The permanent fifth School (which would accommodate 2 500 pupils) is currently foreseen to open by September 2028 at the latest, and it would be in close proximity to the temporary Evere site, and located at Haren.
3. Temporary site at Evere
Much of the discussions at the Steering Committee’s meetings related to developments in the construction and logistical arrangements for the opening of the temporary site at Evere.
The Régie des Bâtiments repeatedly highlighted that the deadline for finalisation of construction & subsequent opening was very tight.
Several delays were reported due to late deliveries and a fire also occurred, damaging the constructed installations.
The reception of the site is planned for the 30th August, as such, it was decided to postpone the first day of school from the 1st September to the 6th September.
In October and November, the Steering Committee discussed the options for enrolment at the Evere temporary site for 1 500 nursery and primary pupils.
The Board of Governors approved the following option:
The transitory site in Evere is officially annexed to ESB2-Woluwe and host N and P pupils. As many of the ‘free’ enrolments as possible are transferred to the site, whose language section corresponds to one of those existing in ESB2- Woluwe. Pupils enrolling in Evere would continue their studies in the S in ESB2-Woluwe.
E. Infrastructure and safety & security
Multiple concerns about the infrastructure and safety & security of the Evere temporary site were expressed. For example, the site is located on a busy road, and with stricter speed limits to be enforced, congestion would further increase. The former NATO site also has traces of asbestos, yet the Régie des Bâtiments assured that this was dealt with appropriately. The site is also adjacent to the new Justitia courtroom, where the high-security trials for the terrorist attacks of Brussels 2016 will take place. Furthermore, there were worries that insufficient parking spaces and play areas were provided for.
4. Permanent fifth European School
The permanent fifth School, which should have been opened in 2015, is now scheduled to open by September 2028 at the latest. It will be located at walking distance from the Evere temporary site, also at the former NATO headquarters, and will be named Haren.
The Board of Governors decided to submit a programme of requirements to the Belgian Authorities for the school to accommodate secondary pupils exclusively.
It is yet to be determined which sections the school will accommodate and which pupils will attend it.