We caught up with Dr Steve Lewis, Director of the European School in Bergen, which is situated in the province of North Holland, to find out about opportunities for teachers from the UK to work in the Netherlands. Read more.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about your school?
Celebrating our 50th anniversary in 2013, the European School Bergen (ESB) has provided a European education for the children of the employees of the Joint Research Centre for Energy in Petten, Noord Holland, which develops high-level knowledge and technology for sustainable energy systems.
The ESB is part of a system of 14 European Schools with around 15,000 students in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain which offers a genuine European education with an emphasis on languages, culminating in the European Baccalaureate – a qualification highly recognised throughout the EU and beyond.
Please tell us more about teaching and learning at your school.
The school in Bergen is in a unique position to offer a European education to the children of the international community and local Dutch community because of the proportionately low number of students from the Research Centre, and we have the space, potential, and aim to expand from our present 600 students in the 4-19 age ranges. Our growth so far has been limited only by our relative distance from the Amsterdam/Haarlem area, although we have many students and teachers who make the 30-45 minute commute from there.
The students are placed in one of three language sections – either French, Dutch or English – and they follow a harmonised curriculum which is the same as in all other European Schools. From an early age the students choose one of these three languages as a second language, and then later in the secondary school they go on to study history and geography in this second language. So all students will be fluent in at least two languages, and in the secondary school they’ll go on to choose a third, and possibly a fourth and fifth language. Sciences are also well catered for in the school, and are emphasised because of our connections to the centre in Petten, which is the reason for our existence.
There is also a strong artistic and musical tradition in the school, and because we are a small school with plenty of space, there is a relaxed, happy family atmosphere in which the primary and secondary schools share common areas on occasions, making the transition from primary to secondary smooth. Individualised learning is stressed, and teachers have to do a lot of differentiated teaching, especially in languages. Another major feature of the system is the use of native speakers as language and subject teachers, and as a result the national composition of the staff is as diverse as that of the students.
We are also specialists in distance learning, catering for entitled mother tongue students for whom we cannot find teachers locally. Currently in school, and by distance learning, we offer mother tongue tuition in English, Dutch, French, German, Finnish, Swedish, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Hungarian and Lithuanian. In principle we have to be able to offer any European mother tongue to students who are entitled to mother tongue tuition – for example as a child of an EU employee, or if the parents take out what’s known as a ‘Category 2’ contract, which is more expensive than the normal school fees for a Category 3 student. Our fees are highly competitive as a result.
What kind of results do the school’s students achieve?
Given our diverse school population we achieve results which are comparable to all the other European Schools, and nearly all of our students go on to higher education in various European countries. Their Baccalaureate gives them great flexibility in their choice of country, and our students are highly regarded by universities and employees because of their linguistic skills, which complement their other all-round educational achievements. Visitors are astonished at the complexity and polyglot nature of the school, and at the same time its informality, cultural integration and friendliness.
Could you tell us a little about the school’s location?
Bergen is in an area of natural beauty in the province of North Holland, near the dunes, woodland, sandy beaches and the larger town of Alkmaar – which has good links by road and rail to Amsterdam, Schiphol Airport, Den Haag and beyond. It is an attractive, chic and stylish town, and popular tourist destination with an international flair. It was developed in the early 20th century as an artistic ‘colony’ and still draws many artists and art events. It is also famous for its contribution to the architectural heritage of the country.
What opportunities exist for people in the UK to work at your schools?
UK teachers can apply for jobs to our school in particular, and the European Schools in general, by responding to adverts that we tend to publish in February each year.British teachers are in fact employed by the Department for Education in London during their nine-year contracts in the European Schools; they must demonstrate linguistic skills at the interviews, which are held in London. The rewards are high and there is strong competition for teaching posts.
There are also opportunities for local contracts where there is a need, and the recruitment procedure is arranged by the school using local newspapers and networks. However in practice it would be rare for someone to come from abroad for such a post because there is no expatriate package, as there is for those on nine-year contracts.
What support do you offer new teachers?
New teachers are given individualised support because their needs are so different, given that they come from so many different places, but the normal approach would be to appoint a mentor. The school is also small enough for many others to become involved, and the bursar provides information about the local authorities, registration and tax.
What opportunities are there for Brits to work more widely in the Netherlands?
In the Netherlands in general there are some other opportunities in the international schools, mainly in Amsterdam and The Hague. International education is developing in other cities as well (Maastricht, Hilversum, Arnhem and Eindhoven). UK teachers can also work in the Dutch system if their qualifications are accredited, although in practice this is difficult without being a fluent Dutch speaker.
What is the Netherlands like as a place to live and work?
The Netherlands is a great country to live in with lots of possibilities for culture and travel. It is a safe environment in which to live and work, but it can also be expensive for people coming from outside London. Anyone looking for a move abroad, yet wanting to stay close to home, with all the comforts, products, TV etc that they are used to would find almost everything they need here. From Schiphol you can also fly to all the regional airports in the UK, which makes visiting friends and family very easy. Other than traffic jams, a lack of mountains and a relatively high cost of living there are no real disadvantages. Public transport is excellent, reliable and relatively cheap, and there are historically interesting, beautiful sights everywhere.