Catherine Feore met Pascale Hertay the Director of BEPS International School to find out why parents love the school, how it delivers for all its students and what lies ahead.
2022 marked the 50th anniversary of BEPS International School, but it also marks a moment of transformation, with the school moving into new premises on Avenue Franklin Roosevelt with state-of-the-art facilities and the means to educate children from the Early Years right through to the end of their Secondary education.
Brussels English Primary School, as it was then, was established by a British couple in 1972. It was one of the first English speaking schools in Brussels. The current Director, Pascale Hertay, joined the school almost nine years ago after having taught in international schools in Abu Dhabi, Egypt and The Netherlands.
It wasn’t Hertay’s intention to return to Belgium originally, but she saw the potential of the school to develop into an international school with a different approach. She also had a vision of how children should be educated. At the time the school only provided early years and primary education.
Together: Congratulations on reaching 50. This is a seminal year for BEPS in many ways, was it a ‘Big Bang’ moment to cover secondary education?
Hertay: I had always worked with international schools that covered both primary and secondary education. However, when I started at BEPS my first task was to turn the school into the best international school in Belgium.
Firstly, that meant bringing the curriculum up to date, moving from a knowledge-based to a more skills-based approach and taking a whole-child perspective. Parents greatly appreciated this and wanted their children to continue to benefit from it, they wanted a secondary education that offered the same philosophy. We’ve built that up and can now offer the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (MYP), the Diploma Programme (IBDP) and the IB Career-related Certificate (IBCP).
“We moved from a knowledge-based to a more skills-based approach and taking a whole-child perspective”
For us it is about a mindset for learning. It’s an authentic approach to learning that accompanies the child throughout their life. We need to prepare children to be able to constantly adapt and learn in an ever-changing, fast-moving world.
This year was the year everything we’ve been working on has come to pass. The last piece of the puzzle has slotted into place and its now complete. We are fully implementing the curriculum that we believe in from early years to eighteen. It’s really something we are proud of and that we want to celebrate.
“We need to prepare children to be able to constantly adapt and learn in an ever-changing, fast-moving world”
How would you describe the school’s ethos? Is this something that is important for parents when they’re choosing a school?
I would say this is the most important issue for parents. We aren’t the only school offering the International Baccalaureate. The point is that we implement the curriculum in a very different way. We want the learning to be authentic, to be hands on. Our teachers are more like facilitators of learning, they are helping the children to ask questions, to enquire, to find solutions.
It is very important for us to recruit teachers who share this outlook, our teachers are also learning and staying abreast with the latest research and developments. This is very important for us, because we want the teacher to keep up to date.
“We want to remain a community, we want to continue to know every single one of our students”
We don’t want to become a school where we have three, four or five classes per year, we want to remain a community, we want to continue to know every single one of our students and to be able to support them to the extent that they need. We have grown as a school, but the board has decided that we also want to keep our identity as a family size school. We won’t go beyond 400 – 450 students.
For some parents, the main concern will be getting good results.
This is probably where we are also unique compared to maybe some more traditional schools. We’re not going to look at the results of our kids to market the school by showing how great results are. We expect the child who is capable of achieving high grades, but we are equally proud of those who don’t necessarily get the highest grades but who are able to achieve their dreams. We want every child to be successful in their own way. That could be going to university or choosing a different path. It doesn’t matter.
We also have a learning support team to work with the kids. Many children have specific learning requirements, some have ADHD, Aspergers or dyslexia. We can cater for the individual needs of children. Having small classes of not more than 18 students means that teachers can manage classes with mixed levels of ability and students who have different learning needs. We can also identify specific needs and in partnership with parents we can suggest specialized after-school support on some issues.
What are the new facilities like?
A year and a half ago we acquired a building from Lycée Molière and we then carried out extensive renovations. We applied the latest research of neuroscience, the new realities of working life, like co-working space. In short, we have designed the interior not like a traditional secondary school with corridors and different classrooms. What we’ve done is create a co-learning space, similar to a co-working area, where you have space for the individual to work independently, you have spaces for collaborative work and you have classrooms for specific subjects, like the science labs, which are to a standard similar to a university.
What is the student body like?
The last time we looked into it we found that the school had students from more than 50 different nationalities. The parents are from the diplomatic service, from the European institutions, the private sector and many other fields. It’s a good mix.
What would your advice be to parents?
I always say to parents, you must visit the school, don’t believe what’s on the website, go and see for yourself. The moment you step foot in the school and see the students, you will see for yourself how the school is different, how it is organized in a different way, you will see for yourself that community atmosphere you can feel from the moment you arrive.