An essential part of starting a new life in a new city, a new
country, or the beginning of a new phase in education is
ensuring that the school you choose for your children is a
good fit. In the course of an expat’s school life, they may
attend a number of different schools, so ensuring a smooth
transition is fundamental to the happiness of your precious
sons and daughters and their future academic plans.
Expats and internationals must rely on reputation, information
and intuition when making the big choice. Instead
of a list of top tips, let’s look at some important questions
you can pose when contemplating a new school for your
“There are various reasons as to why parents
choose a particular type of school as opposed to
others, however the baseline is that parents want
to pursue what is best for their children and for
David Gerone - École International Montgomery
What accreditations does the school have?
Some schools are accredited by the Council of International
Schools, some by the European Union, others are accredited
by the Council of British International Schools. Whichever
accreditation you rely on, these bodies have been set up to
ensure the schools adhere to solid educational policies.
“Look for a school accredited by the Council of International
Schools, safe in the knowledge that it
will have undergone rigorous assessment by this
Lindsay Purewal - DYP International School
Where is the school located?
Sometimes we have the opportunity to choose the school
first, then set up sticks based on that. The school run can
be a thing of joy or a daily disaster depending on journey
times, traffic, whether the school operates a bus service or
is equipped for before or after school care. Take the time to
research public transport links, travel time and the specifics
of the bus services a school offers and incorporate those
into your decision making process.
“Moving to a big city where spaces are limited
and classes are overcrowded? Look for alternatives
in the countryside: studying in a healthy environment
might be more easily accessible than
Erica Di Maccio - European School MOL
For those parents who are paying the school fees out of
their own purse, there are a few points to consider:
- What is included in the actual school fees?
- What application fees need to be paid?
- Are there annual administrative fees?
- What extracurricular activities are included in the school fees?
- If there are optional school trips, what are the costs of those?
- If the school has a cafeteria, how much does the food cost?
How does the school prepare my child for possible future
Yes, you have just moved, or are preparing to move and
aren’t keen on the prospect of calling the movers again
anytime soon, however this point is key for those families
that move about quite a bit. This question refers to future
schools they will attend on your next assignment, commission
or project, or the next phase of their school lives, be it
secondary or tertiary. These times of transition can be hard
on children, and schools offering inclusion support can make
a difference to how quickly your child adapts to their present
school, and any schools, colleges or universities they
may attend in the future. Some schools take a great interest
in helping children cope with change. Ensure you cover
this with the admissions team when sizing up a school, they
are there to help answer your queries and address your concerns.
What curriculum does the school follow? And to what extent?
Schools differ greatly in the curricula that they offer. Some
are broad-based and are adaptable to a number of educational
possibilities in other countries. Others offer a curriculum
set by a specific country that enables your child to continue
their education or transition back to their home land
more easily. Others yet again follow a curriculum set out by
a country however they do not follow it to the letter. This is
more particularly a consideration for parents of secondary
school children, each year the children progress the more
important it becomes to be aware of the subjects on offer
and the public examinations that the school can prepare the
“The curriculum will be key, as is the choice of
subjects for example. Does the school offer A
Level, IB, vocational BTEC courses or a mix of all
Kim Burgess - British School of Brussels
What are the class sizes?
This one can be a deal breaker, depending on the personality
of your child. Large class sizes are great for children who
excel in situations where the learning environment is lively,
fast paced, independent and utilise group-work due to less
one-on-one time from teachers. Other students prefer a
quieter, more structured and more supportive classroom
experience. This is often a more productive environment for
those students attending a new school in a new language.
Large and small class sizes have both advantages and disadvantages,
knowing what best suits your child’s approach
to learning goes a long way in helping to decide on the right
school, and nurturing their learning styles.
What assistance can the school provide in cases of special
Parents of a child with special educational needs require extra
support. Some schools have a comprehensive approach
to ensuring your child progresses and enjoys their time at
school. A few more questions for these parents could be:
- Does the school have a special learning programme tailored to suit my child’s needs?
- Will my child receive extra help from a teacher or teacher’s assistant?
- Will there be possibilities to work in smaller groups?
- How much feedback can I expect from the school?
- And for those children with special physical needs, is there support with physical or personal care difficulties, e.g. eating, getting around school safely or using the toilet?
What if my child does not speak English yet, or doesn’t
speak it well?
Especially in cases where you are moving your child from a
non-English speaking school to an English speaking school,
bilingual school or immersion school, the support that the
school offers for English as an Additional Language (EAL),
reading, spelling or writing support can be crucial to your
child’s English language development. Schools promoting
EAL extracurricular activities, learning support groups and
specialised teaching expertise are open to fielding questions
you have on this topic. Don’t be afraid to ask the specifics
of what they offer and ensure you are aware how they not
only can assist but also motivate and encourage your little
What’s the difference between bilingual and immersion schools?
Most especially in a country like Belgium, where there are
three official languages, the options available for bilingual
learning and immersion learning are broad and it can be difficult
to differentiate. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Bilingual learning: a school offers academic content in two languages. The split between the time spent in each language can vary from school to school. 30%-70% or 50%-50%. The schools offering bilingual programmes will expect that your child is a native speaker of one of the languages offered and can speak the second language fluently.
- Immersion learning: these programs are designed to help native and non-native speakers become bilingual and biliterate. There are many support structures in place to help your child learn the second target language and develop their skills across all subjects.
Is there a parent support association or network?
Moving to a new city or country is a big step for the whole
family. Some schools have vast communities and networks
where parents can share information and give each other
support. They can offer support via weekly catch-ups,
through social media, or operating a buddy system. These
big changes can often be quite daunting for spouses, who
can only benefit from making a new network of friends.
These school communities help families feel more quickly at
ease in their new surroundings and enable parents to be a
more stable source of support for their children.
What extracurricular activities are on offer?
Again, these vary greatly from school to school. These activities
offer opportunities for your child to broaden their social
networks, gain experience in sports, the arts and languages
and generally enrich their international schooling experience.
Questions answered, what next?
Once you have collated the answers to these questions, the
next step is to arrange a visit to the school to get a feel for
the teaching styles, compare the proximity of the school to
where you live, and generally soak up the atmosphere.
There are massive differences between schools regarding
school visits. Some schools require a non-refundable payment
of the administration fees before you can even set foot
on the grounds - others may invite you to check out classes
in action and even eat lunch in the cafeteria. Ensure you are
clear about school visits and how these are carried out.
“Meet the head teacher! You can tell a lot about
a school from a quick chat with the head. After
all, you are going to be leaving your precious children
in their care every day. Ask them what they
believe in, what they value and what their vision
is for the school and then sit back and listen for
Brett Neilson - St Paul’s British Primary School
It’s also a great idea to take the time to speak to families
already enrolled at the school. The school should be able
to put you in contact with the established community networks.
Families are usually open to discussing their views on
the school and how their children respond to the teaching
style and curriculum.
Choosing the right school is never an easy task, but we hope
the above guide will help set you off on the right foot with
this important decision.
A special thank you goes out to all our member schools who
contributed to this article. You can find a full list of our members
(and member schools)
by visiting us online.
International Schools in Brussels : here
Schools with new educational methods : here
You think that you are obliged to return to your country for your higher education studies? Absolutely not !!! Brussels offers you a large choice in English: here