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The British School of Brussels: Why this international community is attracting Belgian families

17:48 19/04/2021
In association with The British School of Brussels (BSB)

The British School of Brussels is an international school with a British flavour, says Principal Melanie Warnes, citing pastoral care, a wide range of diverse enrichment activities and an unwavering commitment to community service as examples of some of the best aspects of a British education. Combined with consistently achieving outstanding exam results and excellent facilities enabling learning, it’s not surprising that the Tervuren school is increasingly attracting Belgian families.

How multinational is the BSB?
We have around 1,350 students and approximately 70 different nationalities. This creates a brilliantly diverse student population; we very much see ourselves as an international school with a British twist. The percentage of British students is now about 30%, whereas a decade ago it was 80-85%. We’re noticing a continual increase in Belgian nationals who are looking for a global perspective; families who see their child being part of a bigger world. Today Belgian nationals at BSB represent 10% and this number is growing. Following this year’s accolade of being placed in the top 100 private schools in the world, and the number one school in Belgium for IB results, we’re definitely attracting more interest from local parents who are willing to invest in our high-quality holistic education that ensures every child is cared for.

The British School of Brussels

How does your education differ from Belgian schools?
BSB is unusual in that it has phenomenally high exam results without being an exam factory.  Exam results are the passport to world class universities and jobs, but our emphasis is on the development of the whole child. Student agency, leadership and the softer skills are just as important as exam results.

We offer an unparalleled choice in sports, music, drama and arts, but we place a huge emphasis on community service too. Vocational activities for all students enable each child to be the best version of themselves by broadening their horizons and aspirations with the aim of becoming good global citizens. Our BSB Futures programme supports this aim by offering programmes aimed at bridging the gap between education and business.

Languages are another strength of BSB. Our French/English bilingual route proves a popular choice. We also offer French, Dutch, Spanish and German as an additional language and we’re increasingly looking at other languages. With so many children of different nationalities, we’re also looking into how they can keep their home language up to scratch. When back home, families need to be confident that their child will step back in, not just intellectually but linguistically and with confidence.

Melanie Warnes with group of children

How transferable is your curriculum for students who relocate?
At secondary level, we have the different exams routes which are entirely transferable (A Levels, International Baccalaureate (IB), BTEC). In primary, we follow a more enquiry-based curriculum that equally values knowledge and skills. Even if the match with the next school is not exact, the hierarchy of understanding maths concepts or language development is age-related and fits comfortably with education around the world. We are expanding our programme called ‘Parents for Learning’ because we realise that due to the number of nationalities and the change in profile of some of our families, we can’t assume parents are familiar with some of the British terminology. This is also healthy for us because it makes us question ourselves. It’s a good way to continue to connect virtually with our families with regular sessions online, especially during the pandemic.

The British School of Brussels

How do you promote global awareness among students?
It’s wonderful for students to be bathing in this multicultural pool but we mustn’t assume that they will automatically adopt an international mindset. We have to be active: consciously and deliberately making sure that we have diverse multinational examples within the curriculum. We are very fortunate to live in Belgium: it’s a great host country and there are rich examples of history and diversity to tap into. We explicitly make global awareness and global citizenship part of our taught and extra-curricular experience. Development of intercultural understanding includes being culturally sensitive enough to negotiate and navigate groups of diverse people. These are practical things that we teach and give opportunities for children to develop.

How does BSB approach pastoral care?
Pastoral care has always been a strong feature of our school. It stems from our emphasis on the development of the whole child: in other words, not prioritising academic success above all else. We now tend to refer to it under the more modern term ‘wellbeing’, to stress the holistic approach to a student’s enjoyment and success in school. This approach has various implications. It means, practically speaking, that wellbeing accounts for a significant part of our budget. This takes many forms: we employ dedicated and experienced tutors and mentors; students with additional educational needs benefit from help from specialist staff; and senior leadership roles in the school carry significant responsibilities specifically relating to pastoral care.

The British School of Brussels

We invest in truly respectful and open relationships between staff and students, with parents, and between students themselves. All of these are important, but the first is absolutely fundamental to student wellbeing: if you don’t have really strong relationships between staff and students then your pastoral care is always going to be limited. Ultimately, I think success in this area comes down to genuinely listening to students: not only what they say, but what may lie underneath. BSB is a big school, but I like to think of it as a village; a community of mutual support.

What are the challenges to providing this kind of care?
Providing care in a multicultural context such as ours means we are nuanced in our dealings with students. Staff have to be culturally sensitive because any given behaviour will mean different things in different cultures. The skill is intervening in the right way, to avoid creating a problem where there isn’t one. We take a staged approach so that students can take different pathways. Some need regular support over the year or several years, while others need short and medium-term interventions. The key is that the child has agency. They need to feel confident that they can trust and relate well to the adult around them so that they stay in control.

BSB friendship bench

Of course, the pandemic has added an extra layer of difficulty, meaning we have had to be flexible and proactive in our approach. During these challenging times we take extra care to keep in contact with students who we know are more vulnerable. Even though the school has been in full swing since September (either in school or with our well-established continuous learning provision), we recognise that some students have higher than normal levels of anxiety. This is particularly true at the upper end of the school, where there are huge levels of uncertainty for those who have had their exams cancelled. Our fundamental aim is to make sure that all students are happy, trusting and mutually respectful in an environment where it’s okay to say that one needs help.


Written by The Bulletin with The British School of Brussels (BSB)