European baccalaureate to be rolled out at national level

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A secondary school in The Hague (Netherlands) will become the first national school to award the European baccalaureate from September 2010 under the reformed European school system.

A decision by the schools' board of governors to allow national schools to offer the European curriculum, taken in Stockholm last month and formally approved by EU education ministers at their meeting in Brussels yesterday, represents the first major step in implementing the current round of reform. 

The ongoing reform process, launched in 2005 at the joint instigation of the European Commission and the European Parliament, has already seen "the opening-up of the European schools system so that national schools can be accredited by the board of governors […] to offer the European curriculum and award the European baccalaureate," the EU executive said in a statement. 

Earlier this year, Vice-President Kallas had warned that European school system "might soon collapse" if not reformed, citing "alarming signs" like lack of teachers, cumbersome decision-making procedures and governments' unwillingness to invest in infrastructure (EurActiv 23/03/09). 

Four schools are already accredited under the new rules and a further two are set to follow. All are located in the vicinity of EU agencies and other bodies, and pupils who are the children of EU staff receive a "pro-rata financial contribution" from the bloc's budget. 

But following yesterday's developments, Commissioner Kallas said the conditions were now in place to set up accredited pilot schools elsewhere in Europe, and not just in cities hosting EU bodies. 

The first school to do so will be a secondary school in The Hague (Netherlands), which is set to offer the European curriculum from September 2010. 

Other aspects of the reform highlighted to ministers by the Swedish presidency of the board of governors include: 

  • Improving governance of European schools by simplifying decision-making processes and defining the responsibilities of the various actors more clearly. 
  • Offering schools greater autonomy to European schools in return for assuming more responsibility. 
  • Sharing costs more fairly among member states. 

The reform could see more European schools allow non-native speakers to teach in the system's procedural languages of English, French and German. 

The national schools already accredited are the Centre for European Schooling in Dunshaughlin (Ireland), close to the EU Food and Veterinary Office, Heraklion's School of European Education (Greece), next to the European Network and Information Security Agency, a school in Parma near the European Food Safety Authority (Italy), and another by the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki (Finland). 

Positions: 

Hailing the positive outcome of the "ambitious" reform process, European Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas called upon national governments to "disseminate the curriculum and the European baccalaureate as widely as possible in their national schools". 

Kallas welcomed the fact that Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands had "taken the lead" in opening up their school systems to the European curriculum, expressing hope that other countries would "soon follow suit in promoting European diversity and openness". 

Czech Deputy Education Minister Jakub Dürr told a hearing earlier this year that the multilingual nature of the European school model would be "very hard to emulate at national level," but conceded that national education systems could take inspiration from it, for example by teaching some subjects in foreign languages. 

Renée Christmann, secretary-general of the European schools, told the hearing that "language difficulties" meant that secondment of teachers who are non-native speakers of their primary teaching language would now be allowed. 

Educating students in their mother tongues is a "fundamental principle" of the system, Christmann explained, but "the need for burden-sharing between member states must be taken into account". 

The secretary-general described externalising the European baccalaureate to make it accessible to more people as a "very good idea" in keeping with the dreams of the schools' founders. 

Timeline: 
  • Sept. 2010: Secondary school in The Hague (Netherlands) to become first national school to offer the European curriculum.
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