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One of the lesser-known mysteries of the EU is the existence of the European Schools that lead to the European Baccalaureate.  

These schools were launched in the 1950s to serve the children who are dependents of employees of the European Institutions that are run under the auspices of the EU. The schools are funded by the EU and their dependents pay no tuition. Consequently, several of the schools are in Brussels, seat of the EU, and the others are located in Spain, Italy, Germany, Italy, UK, Luxembourg (where the largest schools is) and The Netherlands.

These thirteen schools (a fourteenth opens this year in Brussels due to pressure for places) are operated by a Board of Governors, and are opened at the ‘invitation’ of the host country - note that France has not yet seen the need to do this. All the policies, curriculum, materials, etc. are managed out of a central office in Brussels, and they have their own inspection teams to safeguard standards.

The idea behind these schools is that the children are taught in their native European language and related to that their own national culture, and learn up to two additional languages during the course of their education, with Latin being an optional extra.

Therefore, the number of ‘mother tongues’ taught in each school can range from three to twelve.  This means not just in the ‘language arts’ or ‘literacy’ classes, but everything – maths, science, humanities, etc. During secondary school, one of the additional  languages is designated as a ‘working language’ which means that the student is pretty much bilingual in the mother tongue and that designated working language by the time he or she finishes.

Of course they get all the creative and performing arts, physical education etc. Children in the primary schools experience a ‘European Hour’ of extra-curricular games and cultural activities, presumably to learn about each other’s heritage.

All of these are taught by qualified staff, and jobs are highly sought after because the salaries and benefits (this being an EU operation) are very attractive. So, depending on the populations classes are quite ‘bespoke’, in many cases taught in small groups. There are some elements of ‘internationalism’ – at least in the Euro-context – to create ‘Euro- globally-minded citizens’.

The fact that the children are taught in their native languages does not mean that they are following the ‘national’ curriculum of their country – there is a special curriculum for these schools which has been individually agreed with the respective governments (presumably to ensure that the minimum national expectations are addressed) so it is a common curriculum delivered in whichever European languages are appropriate.

This ensures that European Baccalaureate holders are eligible for university in the home country (as well as all the other countries in the system). However, the standard of the EB is so high that, provided students meet language requirements, they would probably be eligible for  universities in any country in the world.

French language speakers represented the largest co-hort in the 2006 European Baccalaureate exams, followed by German and then English. University admissions guidance is part of the offering.

Special needs provision is also strong, though it is not likely that special provision would be made for non-EU dependents. SEN support is carefully planned and supervised through the provision of an IEP.

Children may enrol from the age of 4, and although the schools are predominantly for EU dependents and they are always given priority, non EU dependents may apply on a fee-paying basis if places are available. However, there do not appear to be ‘application forms’ or the possibility of early applications, or even waiting lists. One must simply ‘approach’ the school of choice and hope for the best.

There may not be a fast answer, as they don’t confirm these places until after the enrolment period and therefore applicants need a backup plan. There is a Central Enrolment Authority based in Brussels that establishes admissions criteria and policies (this is, after all, the EU), but admissions decisions are based at individual schools.

This really is a very elite educational opportunity with high standards and if it is an option, it is well worth considering.

The European Baccalaureate Diploma

The education at EU Schools culminates in the European Baccalaureate. In 2006, there were 1320 students who took the exam (see why we think it is elite!) and the system sustains about a 97% pass rate with some of the schools producing a 100% pass rate. There is an examinations board (chaired by a university professor and with members from all of the participating states) that monitors and reports on the results.

The European Baccalaureate is awarded after examinations at the end of the 7th year of secondary education (though they must have attended an EU school for at least the final two years of education as the exams draw on the learning in these final two years). Assessment is based on a combination of course work and exams, both oral and written, to evaluate learning of the content, as well as mastery of the mother tongue and additional languages.

It is seen as a university-preparatory programme. Pupils must take a minimum of four and a maximum of six exams in the following areas: basic language (generally mother tongue), the first foreign language (also referred to as a ‘working language’), a pupil-selected optional subject, geography or history, and maths or science.

The EB is often confused with the International Baccalaureate which is an entirely different programme. Though academically rigorous, the EB lacks the ‘integrated’ element of the IB Diploma, and the central core of the IB (the Extended Essay, the 150 additional hours of Creativity, Action and Service), and the required Theory of Knowledge epistemology do not feature in the EB.

For more information (and if you are adept at deciphering the Euro/bureau/speak in written EU mandates!) see the EU Schools website www.eursc.eu, or stagger through the External Evaluation of the European Baccalaureate completed by the University of Cambridge International Examinations (January 2009).

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