In times of austerity budget cuts have hit the European Schools System as well. This does not come as a surprise. What is surprising however is how these budget cuts will translate into a fundamental change in the spirit with which the school has been created.

The system of European Schools was created 60 years ago by parents. It is a unique system in which contrary to International Schools, pupils are taught in their mother tongue but learn two foreign languages at the age of 6 and 12 (and can opt for more). The European Baccalaureate gives access to universities in 28 Member States – or at least it should.

In Brussels and partly in Luxembourg as well, the situation has changed over the last 60 years. Many children are bi- or multilingual and for some of them, the foreign languages they learn are languages that they know already. However, this is certainly not the situation of all children in all European Schools, many of whom have to learn the languages from scratch.

But the highest level of management of the European Schools – the Secretary General and the Board of Governors - want to carry out a deep reform of the Secondary based on the hypothesis that all children are multilingual.

The official reason for the reform is of course the need for more flexibility and efficiency of the European Schools. Even though it remains unclear where this reform need comes from. In a PISA Study of the OECD carried out at the European School in Luxembourg and published in 2006, pupils of the European School performed better than students in leading countries like Taiwan, Finland or Korea. Why should we thus change a winning horse?

The real reason is of course the need to save money. Whilst the fundamental question of why in an economic crisis savings should be made in education at all remains of course unanswered, the question of how these savings are made in the European School system leads to answers which leave not only me completely puzzled.

After the reform, pupils studying Maths 4 and Maths 6 in S4 and S5 should be taught together for 4 hours as, according to the Secretary General, peer learning will lead to better results for all pupils. Just think of yourself in your “strong” or “weak” maths class. Would you have benefited from being mixed with the other group? The math cracks can opt for an extra two hours of maths (in S4) teaching in a group restricted to those wanting to deepen their competences in maths. According to the School Systems’ management, math cracks are also linguistic geniuses (as they are all multilingual anyway). Hence these extra 2 hours could also be taught in their L2 or L3. This latter possibility has recently been ruled out in an email to some parents by the Deputy Secretary General of the European Schools, however it is included in the proposals of the Working Group which was created for the Reform of the Secondary, so that the situation remains at least unclear.

However, the rule of teaching maths in a foreign language should not be limited to maths but also extended to science. As physics is apparently a problem for many pupils in S4 and S5, the proposed solution to the problem is to teach physics in a foreign language. The logic behind that solution remains a mystery. However, contrary to the way History and Geography is taught in the current system, i.e. in L2 with a group of pupils having the same L2, the new proposal goes further: pupils of L1, L2 and L3 can be mixed in one group: maybe this should also increase the peer learning effects for language learning? But what about learning physics then? And what will be the level of pupils after S7?

Further reforms include the abolishment of obligatory philosophy, of certain laboratory courses etc. As a result, the European Baccalaureate will no longer grant access to all universities in Member States. Just imagine the Education Minister in any country announcing reforms in the national curriculum which would lead to a Baccalaureate that does not give access to universities in his country.

A further problem related to the savings problem but not directly linked to it, is the UK’s unilateral decision to no-longer second teachers to the European Schools (cost-sharing). This means that English-speaking teachers have to be recruited as local teachers with a fixed-term contract of one school year and on a much lower salary. Other countries will probably follow the British example and thus undermine the whole idea of a European School.

Not my problem as I am an alumni and not concerned, you might think? Maybe not. If the European Baccalaureate is worth nothing more than a piece of paper, the same is true for your own Bac. Who will understand that the Bac before the reform is a different kettle of fish from the Bac after the reform?

Or you might not have children yet and think that you are not concerned by the European School system? Well, that may change.

Unfortunately there is no lobby for European ideas, let alone for the European Schools. So, if we don’t fight for our own school, nobody else will.

The system is also extremely complicated and I am not convinced that all decision-makers really understand the full extent of the consequences of these reforms. And that’s where you as alumni come in: explain to national inspectors, to members of the Education Council, members of the Council’s Budget Committee, to MEPs and to anyone else involved in this reform. The reform will be passed in November and be effective as of September 2014 if it goes through.There will also be a petition launched by parents which I urge you to sign and spread as soon as it is out.

I have always been proud to be an alumni of the European School and have wished my children to have the same opportunity. However, I am anything but proud about the school that some managers are trying to build with the sole aim of saving money in mind.

Two documents for more information about the reform: Doc 1 | Doc 2

Sign the petition here

PRUY Claudia