The British School of Brussels is proud of its unique ethos as ‘an educational force for good’
With a student body of 1,365 children representing over 70 nationalities, The British School of Brussels prides itself on being a truly international community. The school, located in the leafy suburb of Tervuren, is committed to developing people who can rise to the challenge of the modern world and who engage actively, ethically, and purposefully with the world around us.
As principal of BSB since 2016, Melanie Warnes (pictured) has brought her ‘hearts and minds’ philosophy to teaching as well as establishing a value-centred approach to leadership. In declaring the international school an educational force for good, she says “the bold statement” is one she confidently believes in.
“We are living what we believe in and role modelling our values in the decisions we make, being a force for good in the here and now, not only in the way we are preparing our students to do good things in the future,” responds Warnes.
How the school reacted to the Ukraine refugee crisis is a prime example, she points out. Within days of the Russian invasion and receiving emails from families asking if they could accommodate displaced Ukrainian students, the BSB updated its policy on admissions and offered 50 free places to children aged one to 18.
“The response at all levels of the BSB community was a completely instinctive one and in complete synergy. You can only achieve this by everyone being on board, without a single dissenting voice. It was a situation in which values came first,” says Warnes.
Six months on and the number of Ukrainians at the school has grown to 55. “These students have brought nothing by joy to us. I think they’re remarkable and all have their own stories; they’re grasping this opportunity and contributing much more than they’re receiving.”
Additional language support was provided by a dedicated expert team and three students have been assisted in getting into Belgian universities this autumn. The experience has been positive except for the context in which it occurred, says Warnes. “It’s a dramatic example of our ethos and culture.”
Families joining the school are expected “to support these values” to build a positive eco-system that strengthens the whole community and creates “a real tangible harmony.”
Her favourite buzz words summing up the atmosphere of the school are “magic and joy” after they were attributed by a visiting team of designers advising on BSB’s plans for a major development of the campus. “Joyfulness was squeezed out during Covid, so this was a welcome comment,” says Warnes.
Record exam results and international awards
Although BSB is a non-selective school, it’s celebrating further record-breaking exam results. Post-16 students have achieved a 100% exam pass rate for A Level, BTEC and the IB Diploma for the third consecutive year. The school regularly outperforms other schools in the UK and Europe.
Warnes welcomes the challenge of maintaining these high results, admitting it’s a nice problem to have. “If anything, the school has been typically English and a bit modest about itself.”
Boasting around 130 students in each post-16 year, there’s an almost equal number selecting either IB or A Level. The more vocational BTEC is an option that can be combined with A Level, and this combination means that there is a pathway for all students.
The exams results are a consequence of putting in place all the right conditions for success, adds Warnes. “It’s a measure of a great education if good citizens come out of it, who also happen to be in possession of great results.”
BSB’s achievements have resulted in a raft of awards. It’s this holistic approach that has led to BSB being named as British International School of the Year 2022. This prestigious award recognises the school’s incredible work in transformative and innovative projects in the area of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in education and its efforts to promote its values through its everyday actions.
BSB has also been named as one of 10 best private schools in Europe for the third year running and independently ranked among the top 100 private schools in the world in the 2022 Spear’s Schools Index.
In addition, the school’s 'BSB Futures' career programme is a finalist in the 'Future Pathways' category of the International School Awards 2023, in recognition of its work to help the school’s older students make the best choices for their future.
Virtually all BSB graduates have gone on to study in higher education institutions around the world over the past three years. With the school’s intake increasingly diverse, expert staff have been recruited, specialised in admissions to US colleges as well as Belgian and British universities.
“We can confidently advise students to study anywhere in the world. It’s about finding the best course for them. Although the vast majority head to university in the UK, significant numbers are going to the US, Canada, and the Netherlands, and increasingly Belgium,” explains Warnes.
Boosting students’ confidence
As part of its ‘educational force for good’ philosophy, the school has long focused on providing students with the opportunity to present and perform. During the pandemic, it maintained this with every primary school child taking part in a production. “Depending on the rules, we had audiences, we wore masks, we livestreamed, we recorded… teachers became more and more inventive with the technology to continue the activity without breaking the rules.”
For Warnes, the school’s honed skill at giving children life-long confidence, epitomises the atmosphere that pervades BSB. “It’s about children being the best they can be, it’s also about contributing to a group and a sense of community.” She recalls fondly the first live production post-Covid: “You’d think theatre had just been invented. It’s about that joy and wonder.”
The school is currently busy rehearsing for its annual secondary school musical extravaganza, which this year is Barnum, as well as a Christmas concert on 20 December. In January, drama students will be performing showcases for The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Dynamic working environment
With numbers back to pre-coronavirus levels, the BSB welcomed 36 new staff members at the start of the term. The school is a very energising place to work because the challenges are creative ones, says the principal, explaining that she can never predict where expat families are going to come from.
A strong brand and equally robust financial position enables it to weather “volatile times,” including the current energy crisis. “The indexation on salaries has had a significant impact, but we can absorb it. While the world may be volatile, we’re an oasis of calm.”
Assisting the Leadership Team and staff in running the school are the boards of governors and trustees. “It’s one of strengths of the school that we’re not owned by anyone. The governors are a cross-section of people; some are parents, and some are co-opted because of their skill set.”
She credits the boards for establishing the school’s unique vision and providing continuity, whatever the future challenges that may arise.