The language may be unfathomable but the choice of schools is pretty straightforward.
Given that the British International School of Budapest originally started during the communist era with a few children in a room on the top floor of the British Embassy, it is quite amazing to see the school today. Known locally as BISB, the current campus opened in August 2004 and is in the 3rd district in the Buda hills. BISB follows the National Curriculum for England and Wales with IGCSE’s at 16 followed by the IB Diploma. BISB is the choice for many Expat families in Budapest –especially Brits who need to keep their kids in a UK curriculum or for GCSE’s.
There are expats who only stay for a couple of years and feel that BISB offers less of a disruption to the overall education of their children. Student population is made up of families from over 70 different nationalities.Some students leave at 11 and 13 to head off to UK boarding schools; the small year groups and secondary school are often a contributing factor in this decision. No tutoring is given for Common Entrance Exams to UK schools, but parents can find private tutors in Budapest.
A school bus service is provided even after extra curricular activities – very popular with parents but relatively expensive if paying personally.
Not unlike the BISB, the American International School of Budapest (AISB) originally started with American children in the American Embassy but it has long been established at the campus at Nagykovacsi (basically just outside the Budapest area but still easily accessible for students). The fleet of school minibuses collecting and dropping off students all over Budapest is a common sight as most students use this method of transport. As at BISB, the minibuses also ‘drop off’ after all the extra-curricular activities – a luxury for many mothers who usually face the heavier traffic at 6pm and when time is at a premium.
A 350 seat theatre, drama/dance studio, band/chorus rooms, 6 science labs, computer labs, art studios and a large and fully equipped library make this school a very popular choice for various expatriates and the wealthier Hungarians. Fees are high but as most are paid by companies rather than individuals, this does not decrease the numbers of students and, as the facilities are so ‘state of the art’ most parents do not complain.
There are many non-native English speaking students at AISB, but a very effective ESL programme is well established and individual support incorporated into the students curriculum effectively integrates these students into the English speaking environment of the school.
The Britannica International School (BIS) offers an all-through international education based on the English National Curriculum. The school is financially helped by the Hungarian Ministry of Education, there are possibly more Hungarians enrolled than in other International schools in Budapest.
Fees are much lower than at BISB and AISB and scholarships are offered to some Hungarian students. The school does not offer a school bus service. British students there find the transition from a UK School relatively smooth because of the curriculum.
The Greater Grace International School of Budapest was established in 1991 by Christian Missionaries. Full-scale American primary and secondary school featuring the American curriculum, Saxon Maths programme and other supplementary material. Pre-school through to high school with Diplomas awarded in accordance with standard American practices. Tiny school but now on a greatly enlarged campus with much-improved facilities.
The French School is located out in District 2a where many expats live. Typical, full French curriculum is offered up to IB. Some non-native French speaking families do choose this school – fees are much lower than at AISB or BISB and the campus offers good facilities at all ages. However, some British parents who have tried it have said that the language immersion is difficult (fluent French is required very quickly) and the transition from one school system to another together with a new language make it difficult for some students to adapt.
The local option
A few expatriates have been brave enough to put their children into the Hungarian school system but numbers are small, mainly because the Hungarian language is very difficult to master to any degree of fluency. This can create a huge barrier for expatriate families, especially ones only in Budapest for a few years. Most feel that the disruption to continuous education is too great. However, for those with a parent who is Hungarian, regular contact with Hungarians and long-term residents, it is certainly a choice worth looking into.
Extra curricular activities are mainly done within the schools and a wide selection is on offer – but the bus service at BISB and AISB does make for a much easier life for busy parents. Dance classes, football and other sports programmes are available at weekends and are popular and easily located – usually in the main expat residential areas.
For any expatriate coming to Budapest with school age children, the best way to choose a school is to visit them. All the schools are very happy to show you around and as they all offer different educational environments, this is definitely the best way to make your choice.