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. The grounds of the brand new purpose-built campus are still under construction ie. running tracks, all weather pitch etc but the main interior building is finished and visitors could be forgiven for thinking that BISB has been there for much longer than a year.
BISB follows the National curriculum of England and Wales with GCSE’s at 16 and the IB at 18years. SAT’s, in line with UK educational policy, are also conducted by the school. 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.
Some expats stay only 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 approximately 70% diplomatic and expatriate families and 20% Hungarian families. The school manages to keep the British school feel to it with the compulsory uniform, mainly British teachers, UK curriculum and students work placed all around the school – it makes the school very welcoming. For children coming into BISB from the UK, this British school feeling is, of course, very reassuring and eases the transition from one ‘home’ to another. Most students find the academic level the same as the UK and adapt quickly to their new environment.
In 2004, when the school relocated, the primary section had 115 boys and 105 girls, senior school had 33 boys and 33 girls with an additional 22 in sixth form (IB) but numbers have increased each year with some waiting lists for primary classes. The new campus has definitely increased the appeal of the school. Primary school classes have an average of 17 students per class although this number decreases in the Senior school with 17 students being the largest year group and many year groups only having an average of 10 students.
Originally started as a primary school, the incorporation of a secondary school a few years ago has meant that the school is still ‘building up’ the classroom sizes in secondary. This has different effects on both pupils and parents – some like the small classes and find individual attention from teachers is a huge bonus, others feel that they would like more friends and bigger year groups. 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.
Fees are high and have increased greatly since the move to the new campus but, as most students are paid for by corporate packages, this does not seem to have decreased the number of students. Scholarships, bursaries and discounts for early payment of fees (or for additional siblings in the school) are available – each application is treated individually. A school bus service is provided even after extra curricular activities – very popular with parents but relatively expensive if paying personally.
For the non-native English students, an ESL programme is incorporated into the curriculum throughout the school. High quality ESL teachers work with individuals or small groups and fluent English is not a pre-requisite on entrance up to 14 years. At age 14 or 16 (GCSE and IB programmes) language tests are given on entry and a certain proficiency is necessary. BISB is a non –selective school and apart from producing previous school reports and passing a basic, standard entrance test, students will be accepted.
Results at GCSE and IB are on a par with a reasonably good UK school. Not unlike in the UK private schools, parents sometimes mumble about the results not being as good as they should be when class sizes are small and individual attention is therefore at a premium but the school stands by their philosophy that each student reaches his or her full potential at BISB.
BISB is a popular choice for many British and international families. The school is warm and welcoming and students and teachers are very much at ease with each other throughout the school. However, the small classes/year groups in the Secondary school do not suit everyone and parents should be aware of this when visiting the school.
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.
The fabulous, purpose built campus is large, bright and very modern. The full size swimming pool (indoor), 2 gymnasiums and fully equipped fitness centre mean that students can be active in a wide range of sports. Team travelling for various sports matches, to countries within Europe and sometimes further afield, are both regular and popular with students of all ages.
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 once again, 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.
In the Primary school (located at a different campus further into Budapest, but again one with fabulous facilities) there are 203 boys and 151 girls. The Senior school (11 – 19) has 215 boys and 178 girls. Class sizes vary but the average ratio is 18 or less to 1; some year groups have 3 or more classes. The curriculum is American and international with the IB Diploma offered at 18 years. There is a broad intake of international students at AISB but the school still manages to produce excellent IB and high school results.
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. Special needs students are taken on individual merit but are not accepted if this is in excess of 30% of the school day. A non-selective school, report cards from previous schools need to be produced for acceptance into the school. An English proficiency test is given to non-native English students and the higher up the school the student enrols, the higher the level of English language competency required.
Students coming from the UK to AISB find that the curriculum is different – in some subjects they may be ahead and in some they are behind. However, most students find this evens out over time. Teachers are very supportive and individual tutoring during lunch or tutorials is offered by all teachers. At AISB students are very much left to their own devices to hand in assignments on time, organise their homework and take responsibility for it – unlike the more ‘spoon-fed’ approach in many UK schools.
Yet students soon adapt to this and the transition from a UK to an American curriculum does not prove to be that difficult for most of them. Students returning to a UK school sometimes have difficulty ‘catching up’ in the separated sciences (Integrated Science as one subject only is offered up to high school at AISB. After that, high school offers separate science subjects in accordance with the International Baccalaureate) but overall students reportedly adapt without extra tutoring – this of course depends on the student and school they move to.
Certain areas of maths in AISB middle school may cause problems (mainly because the basic course means AISB may have covered something earlier than in a UK school), but overall students adapt without extra tutoring. However, extra help, should it be needed, is readily available from teachers.
There are many British students of all ages at AISB. The school offers fantastic all-round facilities in an integrated and international environment and the open, nurturing and culturally rich academic setting make AISB a popular choice among the expatriate community here.
The Britannica International School (BIS) offers an international education based on the English National Curriculum for students aged 10 – 18 years. UK key stage 3 SAT’s at age 14, Cambridge International GCSE exams at 16, Cambridge AS/A Level exams at 16-18 are all on offer at BIS. The student body of the school is small – an average of 12 – 14 students in each year group and, as 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. Small school located in new campus convenient to main expatriate residential area (2nd district) – limited outdoor facilities and small gym. Class sizes vary throughout the school – some 6 or 7 students and some up to 12 students per year group. The school is small generally but some expats choose it because of exactly that. Wide mix of nationalities and some Hungarians.
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 new campus opened 3 years ago offers fantastic 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.
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.
Finally, 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.