Belgium offers a huge choice when it comes to types of school, which means that it should be possible to find just the right school for your child and your situation.
Below you can find some questions that may help you in making your decision, as well as some valuable local resources where you may want to ask for advice and for personal opinions etc.
- What age is your child and what languages does he/she already understand/speak?
If your child is very young, a local pre-school/school may be the best and most convenient choice for your whole family. They are likely to adapt quickly to their new environment and may even pick up a local language, even if you don’t speak it at home.
Older children are more likely to have difficulty adapting to curriculum in French or Dutch unless they already speak the language, so an international school or local school with an English stream may be a better option.
- How long are you planning to stay in Belgium? And is this an isolated move, or just one in an expected series of moves?
If you plan to stay in Belgium long-term, and your child is still quite young, a local Belgian school may offer them – and you – the chance to integrate in the local culture and make local friends.
If on the other hand you will only be staying a few years, will be moving to another (non-home) country afterwards, and/or your children are older, you may need to ensure continuity of their education in which case you might want to choose an international school or a European school where your country’s curriculum is taught.
Even if you do plan on staying in Belgium long-term, being thrust into a local school may be tough for an older child who is already in late primary school or secondary school. If international schools are not an option, maybe a local school with an English stream could be a good choice.
- What is your budget?
While state schools are free – and the quality of teaching is generally good – international and private schools tend to have very high fees, e.g. up to around EUR 30,000 per year per child.
Some employers may offer to pay for school fees as part of their relocation packages, or may have agreements with certain institutions for reduced fees. Ask your employer to understand what might be possible.
- Where do you (plan to) live?
Wherever you decide to live, you will have easy access to local Belgian schools. If you decide to live in Brussels, you will have more French-language schools available to you than Dutch, and also note that places in Dutch-speaking schools are harder to secure due to high demand.
In Brabant Wallon and Wallonia, you may even have the possibility to have ‘immersion’ in English or Dutch, where around 75% of lessons are given in the immersion language as of around age 5.
While you do not necessarily need to live close to a local school for your child to go there, priority may be given to children living closer if demand for places is high.
As for international schools, the majority are located in and around Brussels and Antwerp, with some other cities having a smaller selection of international schools. International schools typically offer bus service for students, so ask schools about the radius within which they can offer this.
- What kind of teaching and support method would suit your child best?
Teaching methods and general ethos may vary between schools, and it is important to find out as much as you can about these, before making a decision about how suitable a school is for your child.
Belgium also has a wide range of method schools, which may be worth considering depending on your child’s needs.
- What kind of higher education do you/your child envisage?
If your child is likely to pursue higher education in your home country, or another country, you need to think about what certifications will be most valuable to them.
Is it better to follow a British or American curriculum? Or maybe the International Baccalaureat (IB) a certification, which is widely recognised for university admission around the world, would give the most options if you are not sure where you will be living in a few years.
Keep in mind that many schools have waiting lists. Even if your child is not due to start school for a year or two, it may be wise to go through the selection process and get them on a waiting list at the school(s) of your choice now.
Asking for advice
If you don’t have local friends who can answer your questions and help you make up your mind, you might consider asking your questions in one or more of the following Facebook groups – these groups are ‘closed’ groups, but you can request to join:
- English Speaking Mums in Brussels, Belgium Facebook group
- Brussels Area School Parents Support Page Facebook group
The BCT Schools Support Network Facebook group is also a valuable resource. You do not need to be a BCT member to request to join this group.