On 1 September, 1.12 million children in Flanders turned up for the new school year: 260,000 preschoolers, 410,000 primary school students and 450,000 secondary school students. The numbers at all levels are up on last year, in particular a rise of 8,000 in the number of preschoolers.
In Brussels, some 38,000 pupils at all levels were accommodated in Dutch-speaking schools, though not necessarily their first choice of school. In past years, the spring has been marked in the city by the sight of parents camping outside their school of preference to try to hook one of the few places open. That problem seemed to have largely disappeared this year.
However, according to Jean-Luc Vanraes, president of the College of the Flemish Community Commission in Brussels, there are no places left for children of parents who are not Dutch speaking but still want to send their children to Flemish schools, despite up to 20 requests a day.
Vanraes has submitted his plans for Dutch-speaking education in Brussels over the next five years to Flemish education minister Pascal Smet. They include an investment of €40 million and the creation of 5,000 new places by 2015.
In the rest of Flanders, native speakers also all got places, after the investment of €12 million by Smet in pressure areas in Antwerp, Ghent, Halle and Vilvoorde. That involved installing container classes, converting unused rooms in schools to classrooms and moving some younger school children into secondary school premises.
The success in finding places for everyone this year, however, “doesn’t mean the capacity problem is solved,” said Antwerp’s alderman for education, Robert Voorhamme. “Because of demographic developments, we’ll soon be facing structural challenges.”
The biggest among those challenges is a shortage of 20,000 teachers by as early as 2020. In the coming decade, some 30,000 new teachers are expected to graduate. At the same time, however, the growth in the number of children going to school means an extra 50,000 teachers will be needed. The shortage will be most felt in the pre-schools, where a deficit of 14,000 teachers is forecast. Primary schools will face a 6,000 shortage.
Elsewhere, it was revealed that 30,000 teachers in Belgium as a whole have taken out an insurance policy against violence inside and outside of school. The policy, which costs €25 for one school year, has been offered by Ethias for 12 years, but has seen a burst of growth in recent years. This year’s figure is 3,000 more than 2008. At the same time, the education ministry’s violence reporting unit said 217 incidents were reported to them in the 2010-2011 school year, an increase of 10% over the previous year.
In Ghent and Antwerp, police will give talks this year to teachers and staff on how to react in crisis situations. Local police will undergo training on how to handle a crisis in schools.
The Brussels’ commune of Schaarbeek opened the doors of a Dutch-speaking municipal school for the first time since the only existing one closed in 1978. Also in Schaarbeek, the private bilingual pre-school Pistache welcomed six new children for 40 available places. A Frenchspeaking and a Dutch-speaking teacher will alternate with the class.
In Wezembeek-Oppem, part of the Flemish belt around Brussels, a planned new school will now open only in 2012 because of delays in obtaining planning permission. About 50 residents lodged objections to the plans, which were turned down by the local council and will now be ruled on by the planning department of Flemish Brabant province.
About 900 children in Flanders are being home-schooled, including those from a Dutch family who moved here to take advantage of the more flexible regulations.