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Innovation and tradition go hand in hand at the British Junior Academy of Brussels
The British Junior Academy of Brussels (BJAB) prides itself on its traditional yet forward thinking and innovative approach to teaching. Headteacher Sarah White believes passionately in preparing children for the future with all the personal and academic qualities they need to succeed in life.
“The school’s been established for 30 years. We have alumni contacting us and talking fondly about their beginnings at BJAB and how it set them up wherever they went,” she says.
Located in the suburb of Montgomery, BJAB offers high-quality tuition in English for children aged three to 13. With a school population of 240, spread over three close-proximity sites, its small size guarantees a family atmosphere for pupils and staff.
For Sarah White the key to the school’s success is its emphasis on the whole child, not just academic performance. “This means good manners and treating others with respect and kindness. I know every child and I greet them every morning.”
She credits its traditional values for providing pupils with the stability and structure that are essential for an international school with over 30 nationalities represented. “Transient children benefit from this firm ethos. For example, we have a uniform and the children take a sense of pride in it. If you come to the school, you will see happy children who are productive.”
Adds White: “I believe that when children are challenged academically and expected to behave in a certain way, they feel happy and secure and then they’re learning.”
The school is equally proud of its tradition for cutting-edge technology. “Every single child from the age of five is provided with their own iPad. It’s not at the expense of handwriting, the children will use them naturally to look things up. Higher up in the school we use robotics,” says White.
She points out that BJAB was the first school in Belgium to use an AI platform for maths, science and English with pupils’ assessment enhanced by AI, thereby personalising the programme for each one.
As regards the school’s educational programmes, it follows the national curriculum of England, enhanced by local context, plus daily French lessons for all year groups as well as Latin and Spanish for older pupils. Says White: “We also add more breadth and depth with the curriculum used in English public schools, the Independent School Examination Board (ISEB).”
The school carries out tests that shows that 70-80% of its pupils are achieving higher than children in the UK. While acknowledging that its student intake is “very bright”, White credits the school’s regular and informal assessments for ensuring the academic development of each child.
But life in the classroom is not only about tests. “Every lesson has a challenge element and every child can access it, even those who are struggling. We’re encouraging children to push themselves so that every child, whatever their circumstances, is achieving their full potential,” she adds.
Another factor for exam success is the small class size at BJAB. “There’s never more than 15 in each class so that we can focus on every pupil,” says White.
This also affords it more flexibility. On a recent visit to each year group, she asked what they would like to see on the curriculum. “One said they wanted to do some gardening, another wanted to help the community. I decided to combine the two and I’m proposing to the commune that we do some gardening under the trees on the street,” says White.
Although the school is growing organically and future plans include offering classes up to the age of 18, pupils currently move onto other schools when they are 13. Many head to top-flight schools in the UK.
“Almost 100% of them achieve their first choice school,” says White, who prides herself on having good contacts with these schools. “As we’re small, I also know all the parents. When Belgian children stay in the country and go to local international schools, their parents may call me three years later and ask for help getting their child into a public school in the UK.”
BJAB makes the most of its central location to explore the city. When it comes to facilities, the recent acquisition of a third building in Boulevard Schmidt has given it additional outside space for sports as well as extended indoor facilities. These include an art and design building that White fondly calls ‘Maison Magritte’, a multi-purpose hall also serving as a theatre and a refectory.
“One of our unique selling points is our café culture for children as well as having our own chef. It encourages the staff and myself to sit down with the students because we’re all enjoying decent home-made food. The conversation flows and children are learning table manners as well as socialisation.”
When summing up the philosophy of the school, BJAB’s headteacher says: “We are a school with traditional values but we are intent on innovation and preparing our young people for their future with all the personal and academic qualities needed for success.”