British School of Brussels: Developing Learners through Modern Education and Clear Values

There has been an implicit transformation of the very nature of education in recent times, and this transformation shares space with a ceaseless technological revolution. The traditional classroom learning of reading from textbooks and chalkboards, has undergone a revolution. The new generation of learners are more inclined towards experience based learning and real-case scenarios, thus, persuading schools to redefine their standards of providing quality education. There have been a considerable number of schools across the world, visibly transitioning to cater to these changing trends and needs.

The British School of Brussels (BSB), is a prime example, and has been redefining the benchmarks of quality education since 1970. BSB is a very special community which is mutually supportive, unconditionally welcoming and unfailingly respectful.

The school has a beautiful site spanning ten hectares, surrounded by woodlands and lakes near the Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, and is a twenty-minute drive from central Brussels. It currently caters for 1,350 students from 70 nations, with children aged 1-18 years.

BSB is an inclusive international learning community, working together and inspiring success. The school lives by its Guiding Statements, aiming to be an educational force for good by developing confident, caring and courageous people who engage actively, ethically and purposefully with the world, fostering curious, resilient learners who enjoy life and achieve the best that they can, and encouraging respect for self, others and the wider world.

The school is, and aims to continue to be, a community of learners recognised as living and breathing the values of its Guiding Statements. BSB’s vision includes providing the highest quality of teaching, learning and support that is second to none, providing excellent facilities which enable great learning to take place and also developing a healthy, vibrant and progressive culture where children and adults successfully learn together.

BSB is an independent, fee-paying, not for profit international school, which meets the needs of internationally mobile and expatriate families in Belgium as well as local families who require an international education for their children. All students follow a British-based curriculum up to age 16 followed by the choice of three pre-university routes – English A Level, International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma & BTEC vocational courses.

BSB also has a bilingual French/English programme for children between 4-14 years. There is also an Early Childhood Centre for children aged 1-3 years. The school’s Primary section offers a bespoke curriculum with integrated learning themes that are inquiry based and skills driven. Whilst British-based, it is uniquely adapted to the needs of BSB’s international and multicultural student body.

The school has outstanding facilities for sports, music and drama and is the only international school in Belgium to have its own swimming pool. Enrichment activities every week include a wide range of choices including Music, Drama, Sports and much more.

The Guiding Light

Melanie Warnes, the CEO and Principal of BSB is an experienced and successful Headteacher, recognised by the UK Government’s Department for Education as a National Leader of Education. This prestigious status recognized the work that Melanie had undertaken in developing successful leadership and improvement in schools. She also has a keen business sense having worked on secondment to PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in London and also having set up a not for profit group of schools in the UK.

Melanie is passionate about workplace cultures and firmly believes that engaged, motivated and valued staff provide a higher quality service which in school terms, means a better education for the children in the teachers’ care. She is committed to bridging the gap between the worlds of education and commerce as she passionately believes in the potential of students to make the world a better place.

A significant initiative that Melanie has spearheaded since joining BSB, is to change the patterns of interaction between staff, by creating a Professional Learning Community. Here, all staff irrespective of their position and role in the school, collaborate and connect to constantly review and challenge themselves to improve practice. Melanie’s view is that the staff at the school are of such a high calibre that they can be freed up to be increasingly more creative and collaborative.

“I couldn’t do what I do without the support of a dynamic and impressive Board of Directors and a great team”, says Melanie.

Exhibiting Excellence 

The academic results at BSB are outstanding. In 2019, the school’s graduating students achieved a 99% pass rate in A Levels; over 90% in IB Diploma and a 100% pass rate in BTEC. Its average IB Diploma points score over the last few years has been a superb 35. BSB students successfully graduate to join some of the top universities around the world. The school’s alumni network is impressive including a heart surgeon, Olympic athlete, authors, actresses, engineers and artists.

BSB recruits the best qualified teachers from around the globe. Most are UK qualified with impressive international experience. But BSB also believes in the holistic education of the child and therefore all staff, from the coaches, the teachers through to the security team are qualified in their field. “Just as important all staff have to buy into the Guiding Statements of the school. We really believe them and live them daily in our lives,” Melanie expresses.

An extensive provision for Additional Education Needs (AEN) or learning support and English as an Additional Language (EAL) is available to all students.

Apart from these accounts of BSB’s accomplishments, the biggest success is that it is a genuinely inclusive and progressive environment based on mutual respect. “You will not find lots of rules and barriers here, rather we are self-regulating, warm and manage to balance social interaction with academic excellence,” Melanie adds.

Adopting Technology, Surpassing Challenges

“The major challenge that we face as educators, is how to prepare students for the work environment when it is ever changing. In many ways, we are preparing students for future careers that don’t exist yet due to continuous new technology being developed in the work place,” states Melanie. BSB believes that it is essential that students are exposed to new skills and technologies in every area of the school life.

BSB began an ‘Employer Engagement’ Programme to help bridge the gap between students’ education and their future professional endeavours. The programme offers Secondary and Upper Primary students direct access to working professionals through in-school and on-site experiences, enabling them to make well-informed decisions about potential career paths.

The aim is to encourage students to consider how they might apply their lessons to life beyond campus and inspire students to identify and grow their personal strengths and interests. At the same time students build professional skill sets that not only position them to succeed in today’s competitive job market, but that are also universally relevant and fitting of BSB students’ global destinations. One Expert Panel, entitled ‘Jobs lost, jobs gained: workforce transitions in a time of automation’ and presented in partnership with the British and American Chambers of Commerce and McKinsey Global Institute, focused on the impact that Artificial Intelligence may have on the future workforce. The event was designed specifically for these youngsters.

Off-campus trips, in which students gain first-hand experience of a partner company’s workplace, means that students have the opportunity to interact with company employees, tour the site, discover company culture, explore the role of each department, and learn how these departments must work together to promote the wider mission of the organisation.

New technologies in the classroom enable BSB to enhance learning. The school is currently implementing Microsoft Office 365 and believes this has great advantages for learning, not least of all as teachers are able to share in realtime work for students. Students at BSB are provided with a iPad in Primary and Laptop in Secondary for most year groups, however teachers expect students to keep up traditional skills such as handwriting or solving algebraic equations on paper. Oral skills e.g. debating, presentations, drama, etc. continue to be an important part of the school’s curriculum. In a nutshell, technology at BSB is used to enhance learning and not to replace it.

Going the Extra Mile 

BSB is a learning focused school. Its definition of learning is clearly documented and available to all staff, students and parents. It focuses on a range of learning outcomes – academic, personal, social and physical. The school’s definition of learning underpins everything that the school seeks to achieve in terms of learning and teaching.

BSB defines learning as “… a transformational process of acquiring, applying, connecting and adapting new skills, knowledge, behaviours and attitudes to affect an alteration in long-term memory and develop a deeper understanding, in order to inform action. The school has also translated this into student statements:

  • What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know before?
  • What do you understand now that you didn’t before?
  • What will help you to remember and use what you have learned in the future?

BSB is focused on supporting its students now and for their future, helping students turn information into knowledge and knowledge into wise action. As a school BSB is committed to creating a ‘culture of inquiry’. Also, the school helps students develop a robust set of skills for their life in a century that is rapidly changing. “✓ Confident ✓ Caring ✓ Courageous ✓ Curious ✓ Resilient ✓ Respect are the most important words BSB associates with and develops in members of the BSB community” says Melanie.

All the way through the school these are evident, whether that be in the formal taught curriculum or in the over one hundred enrichment activities happening on site every week, from chess to rugby from swimming to gymnastics, from reading clubs to yoga.

“At BSB we genuinely believe in the education of the whole child, this includes seeing students of every age as agents of change,” Melanie expresses. She and her team of educators believe that as a school they are morally and professionally obliged to do everything they can to provide the space for students to initiate new ideas and to learn how to see ideas through from inception to execution. The team believes that this builds confidence and helps develop the essential skills for whatever the students chose for their future.

For instance, students at BSB have worked closely with the senior staff in the school to transform the use of plastic in the cafeteria and reduce waste. Another example is that of a student who devised a car pool app for staff – it was his idea and he made a business case, developed it and will launch at a whole school staff meeting. The ethos of BSB is such that students are comfortable to initiate ideas and the school is committed to listening and action.

Beholding the Future

In order to fulfil the strategy to offer a high quality and sustainable campus, facilities and resources, BSB is continuously reviewing and renewing its infrastructure. After the replacement of its internal sport facilities with the Jacques Rogge Sports Centre (inclusive of the swimming pool, gymnastics arena, sports hall, dance studio and fitness suite) the school will now be focusing on the rest of the campus.

In order to plan this appropriately—realistically and on the basis of an objective point of view—there has been a complete facilities condition assessment and the school is currently in the process of establishing a master plan that will cover the upgrade of the campus in the coming decades. The main focus points will be based on a reflection of BSB’s Guiding Statements and undoubtedly on sustainability. The end goal for the school is to make its campus an even better experience than it already is without any major expansion. BSB is also celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020.

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