The APEEE published on 19 December 2022, a newsletter dedicated to overpopulation and its impacts. We contacted teachers and students via the Students’ Committee to ask them if they would like to share their feedack and experiences about overpopulation in Woluwe with the EEB2 community.
In fact, overcrowding has a different impact on the school community, whether you are a student, a teacher or even a parent looking in from the outside and experiencing overcrowding through your child who has to deal with the consequences.
You may be a student, a teacher or even a parent looking in from the outside and experiencing overcrowding through your child who is dealing with the consequences.
Please find below the three articles from our last newsletter of 2022 that focus on the lived experience of the different stakeholders in the school: students, teachers and parents.
Overpopulation From a Student’s Perspective
Written by Dillon SHAH, EEBII’s Steering Committee student representative
The multicultural environment at the European Schools has had a profound impact on the way I view the world and interact with others. I have felt a connection between so many different cultures and have seen first-hand how irrelevant international political, economic and social issues and tensions are to creating connections with people from different backgrounds. One of the things that has brought my peers and I together is the impact of overpopulation on our daily lives and the manifestation of that frustration into conversation.
But while it has sparked conversation, it is never positive. I have never heard anyone saying they enjoy pushing through congested corridors and failing to get to class on time nor has anyone appreciated the loud corridors or overcrowded study areas – of which there are fewer and fewer due to a lack of classrooms. Counter-intuitively, the high-quality pedagogical opportunities at the European Schools have led to an increased population which in turn reduces the quality of education, individual learning and overall well-being. EEBII’s secondary facility is an overwhelming 90.5% overcrowded, representing a figure of nearly 1000 students. This, on a day-to-day basis, has translated into plummeting mental health of students and a reduction in pedagogical quality brought about in part by heavier timetables particularly thorny for younger students. Our school simply cannot take it anymore.
I graduate at the end of this year and will take with me 14 years of treasured memories of a beautiful school community that I will miss so dearly. I want future generations to be as proud of EEBII as I am – but whether that is overshadowed by the chaos and horrors of overcrowding depends on whether our system faces its new reality: something needs to change.
Overcrowding From Teachers’ Perspective
The APEEE asked several teachers to share their experiences and feelings about the overcrowding situation. Some of them agreed, on condition of anonymity, to share their frustrations. You will find below feedbacks from two teachers.
“Firstly, there is overcrowding in some classrooms. Certain rooms are not large enough for a large group, and they are cramped.
Secondly, there is the overcrowding caused by simultaneous movement in the corridors and stairwells. At times we have seen frightening scenes on the stairs. It is only a matter of time before someone is hurt.
Thirdly, there is the overcrowding in the canteen. This week, because examinations have spilled over into the canteen, many pupils will receive a packed lunch. They may not eat in the canteen.
Fourthly, overcrowding makes our lives difficult in ways that parents cannot suspect. We have almost no extra rooms for meetings or for practice orals. Every 7th year pupil needs practice for the orals. This will often consist of about 30 pupils who need 45 minutes for a mock test. It has to be done in a quiet, private place. It is not possible to carry out an oral in the corridor or a busy place, given that 20 minutes are needed for quiet preparation and 20 minutes are needed for the actual oral exam.
Even if teachers wish to attend an online meeting, they must scurry to find a room which is empty, and which has a computer with a microphone and camera — all of this takes extra time and planning, adding to our normal workload.
Finally, there is the overcrowding caused by bad weather. If students cannot spend time outside then they must find a place inside, which is often very difficult.”
“The overcrowding situation in Woluwe secondary is a real issue for both pupils and teachers. In such a crowded environment, the pupils’ education, well-being and safety is being put at risk.
Large class sizes make it more difficult for teachers to give pupils the individual attention they need and deserve. A crowded classroom is poorly suited to either teaching or learning; students and teaching staff need personal and pedagogical space. The pedagogical approach of differentiation becomes increasingly difficult when class sizes go up significantly.
Having too many children and young people packed into constricted areas, such as stairwells, opens the door to unwanted behaviour. It is extremely hard to control hundreds of pupils on the move at the same time, let alone spot and intervene if a student is being verbally or physically threatened or abused while moving between classes or during the breaks.
Overcrowding leads to crushing, pushing, falling and unnecessary physical contact in the corridors and stairwells during breaks and between classes, when enormous numbers of students need to move at the same time.
Teachers need access to quiet, private spaces to carry out their non-teaching duties such as planning, marking, preparing for and conducting meetings, report writing, exam preparation etc. As almost every single room is occupied throughout the teaching day, finding an empty room has become virtually impossible.
Essential facilities such as toilets and eating spaces are insufficient to accommodate the excess number of pupils.
The staff and students at the school are doing their best to manage, in spite of the overcrowding, however, the only solution is simply to create more space.”
Overcrowding at School: Yes Indeed, But What Is It, Really ?
Written by Bengt Davidsson, Vice President for Administrative Affairs
When is a school full; how many pupils and staff members can a school accept? Last year the four Brussels schools commissioned a study to find out. This article aims at further explain some essentials, such as parameters and standards, when calculating the capacity of the Brussels’ schools.
All European Schools in Brussels are full, and especially the secondary cycles suffer from overcrowding. Also the nursery and primary cycle suffer from high population numbers, specifically at Ixelles. At the Woluwe site, the situation is alarming with 2,100 secondary cycle students. This equals a 90% overcrowding rate, or approximately 1,000 students. For the nursery and primary cycle at Woluwe, the population is currently 1,200 pupils while there are 500 at the Evere site, neither are overcrowded.
The over-population rate stated above originates from a study made the PwC consultancy in 2021. Commissioned and funded by the four Brussels’ schools. PwC developed a model and made calculations in order to identify the maximum capacity of pupils and staff for each European School site in Brussels.
The report was presented to the Brussels’ Steering Committee of the European School system, a forum in which the European Commission and the Belgian building authority are represented. The results of the study were presented and acknowledged by the forum and the school system in November that year.
The consultancy developed a model used for calculating the maximum capacity of the school sites. Ten parameters were chosen representing the most important facilities/features/functions of a school:
- Classrooms – normal and special classrooms such as ICT, arts, music and laboratories;
- Sport facilities – indoor rooms used to teach physical education but not outdoor areas;
- Canteen – including cafeterias for pupils and canteen for teachers and staff;
- Recreational areas – both covered and uncovered areas;
- Library – at school premises;
- Study room and multi-purpose room – spaces in which pupils can study and spend free-time;
- Sanitary rooms – including toilets, urinals and sinks;
- Teachers rooms;
- Event halls – rooms sufficient to host school events, e.g. event halls, sport halls and canteen;
- Administrative offices – space available for administrative staff;
Other parameters may be taken into consideration, e.g. buses and entrances, but their influence on the effective capacity of the infrastructure was considered to be limited because it is external to the school.
Three types of input to the model were used:
- Norms and standards applying to educational infrastructure and organisations:
- European Schools – specifically to the organisation and structure of education;
- Federal government which provide a framework to ensure workers’ health and safety;
- Regional governments – Wallonie-Brussels (FWB) and Flemish (AGION) authorities;
- Standards concerning pupils’ and staff’s wellbeing;
- Fire safety and related capacity limitations;
- Data on infrastructure, population and organisation – that was provided by the school;
- Specific features – e.g. language section, size constraints of groups, special education needs;
Pedagogical norms and standards are, for example, the minimum surface needed in a classroom and the maximum number of pupils per class. Safety and security norms and standards are made by an entity which is accredited to give an opinion or recommendation, for example the fire brigade. Wellbeing aspects include, for example, the time needed to eat lunch.
Since the schools aimed at using the outcome of the study as a decision-making tool, a distinction was made allowing schools to take informed choices by distinguishing between two limitations:
- Respect of health, safety and security of pupils and staff;
- Smooth and efficient working of a school and achieving its key objective i.e. pupils’ education;
While the European School is ‘like any other school’, it also has four specificities, or features, that are unique. This includes the great number of language sections, where pupils are assigned either to the language section which is their mother tongue or to their second language (the so called SWALS). There are constrains by a lower and an upper limit of pupils per group (which can vary among courses, e.g. subjects taught in a foreign language imply a smaller maximum number of pupils per group). Some courses have to be given at the same time (so called ‘parallelism’) in order to allow secondary cycle students to choose between options. The school also provides support to pupils with specific education needs (SEN) for which program there are different levels of support, from general to intensive. The consult had the task to take into account the special structure and organisation of European Schools.
Data used to compute school capacity relate to i) school population (staff and pupils), ii) school infrastructure (buildings, space, sanitary), and iii) school organisation (schedules, courses, services). Based on available standards and norms, and data and specific information provided, the consultancy calculated for each parameter total maximum number of pupils and staff that can be accommodated.
The results of the maximum capacity study shows that seven out ten parameters experience a capacity issue where the library, study and multi-purpose room, and the administrative office functions have no capacity issues. According to the consultancy, the most limiting pedagogical parameter is the classroom capacity whereas wellbeing capacity is limited specifically by a lack of recreational areas (covered and uncovered outdoor areas) but also a lack of teachers’ rooms. Furthermore, both cycles suffer from capacity issues concerning the sport facilities, canteen space, event halls, and sanitary rooms.
The maximum capacity to ensure the school’s primary objective, i.e. pupils’ education, are:
Based on study, while providing the maximum capacity numbers as listed above, the consultancy concluded that the school currently does not respect the pedagogical needs of pupils and staff.
There are capacity issues in the secondary cycle school building, in particular class rooms and other spaces for educational purposes such as laboratories are lacking. Moreover, the utilisation rate of each type of classrooms shows that there is very limited remaining capacity. The curriculum of the European schools creates important timetabling challenges because with multiple language sections, many parallel classes need to be organised in different languages. This leads to organisational constraint for the school management, partially when taking into account the parallelism effect, resulting in longer school days.
We can conclude that the consultancy report is reductive in the sense it mainly covers the norms in relation to amount of space available, but not health, safety and security aspects further than fire safety aspects. Any elements regarding to the consequences of overcrowding on, for example bullying and stress, have not been assessed.
How to organise a smooth and efficient running of the school? The curriculum of the European Schools creates challenges because with multiple language sections, many parallel classes need to be organised in different languages. The consequence of this is that although pupil numbers per class may be small, the demand for classrooms is very high. And with only five minutes between classes, pupils need to rush to get to the next lesson. Given the size of the school, these classes can be far apart. Sometimes there are penalties for arriving late. This means pupils must take the shortest route – which creates dangerous pinch-points in stairwells and corridors.
Overcrowding also impacts the services provided by the APEEE, where especially canteen is affected. As an example, Anja Galle, our director, considers the canteen infrastructure is no longer fit for the number of children it serves, the tables are overcrowded and the rows of tables are very tightly spaced. This implies mobility problems in the refectory for both the children and the service staff. As for the kitchen, it is not adapted for so many meals and there is not enough space to work, store, move around, causing stress.
The method aims at computing school capacity in the most favourable situation in a theoretical approach. We conclude that at present this study represent best possible outcome, but given the complexity of the curricula, it may not even be realistic to apply all situations in the capacity assessment model. Therefore, a conservative approach should be taken while using the results of the study, especially parameters representing pedagogical needs such as classrooms and educational facilities.