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    Is this the end of camping for a school place?

    ©Joris Bulcke/Wikimedia
    ©Joris Bulcke/Wikimedia

    The spectacle of parents camping outside of school doors in the hope of finding a place for the for the coming year for their offspring is at an end, Flemish education minister Hilde Crevits (photo) has promised, introducing new rules for inscriptions. In the past, schools falling under the Flemish Community – including Dutch-speaking schools in Brussels – were held strictly to rules of preference: places were guaranteed without limit to brother and sisters of current pupils, to the children of staff, and then to children whose home language is Dutch. On a second level of preference were children whose parents, while not Dutch-speaking, were of a certain educational level, with for example the mother not having graduated secondary school.

    Those rules left, in the end, few spare places for anyone who failed to meet one of the criteria, and many families from Brussels and Antwerp in particular chose to send their children to schools well outside the city, simply in order to ensure a place.

    This created the spectacle of parents renting camper vans and tents in order to get a good place in the line when enrolments began – sometimes days in advance. The phenomenon extended even to the lofty heights of the Sint-Jan-Berchmans college in central Brussels, the alma mater of the king himself, although thanks to the brothers and sisters rule, it is not thought that he ever had to camp out to enrol crown princess Elisabeth, nor any of her siblings.

    In future, under the new rules, priority will still be given as before, but for the remaining places everything will take place online. The exception being that children will be allocated a primary school depending on the distance from home to school, not simply first come first served. Schools that do not sign up for the new system will not be able to refuse any qualifying applicant.

    As far as secondary schools are concerned, available places will be allocated by a lottery system, which has been used by individual schools in the part, to the satisfaction of few parents. The demerits of such as system are obvious: parents who select a school according to its educational record are rejected, and forced to send their child to a school which not only they do now know, but which might be inconveniently located or hard for a teenager to reach by public transport.

    In concrete terms, Crevits explained, the system works as follows: For primary school, registration begins on 1 March 2019; for secondary school on 1 April 2019. Parents who have signed up will be able to register from 6 and 29 May respectively. “The need to camp out disappears,” Crevits said.

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times