Open letter to the National Inspectors for the European School system

As you know, the situation at EEB IV Laeken has grown tense due to the important number of locally recruited teachers threatened by redundancy – 25 according to the school’s direction  – as a consequence of secondment proposals made by Member States. A strike action by pupils of the secondary took place at school today at 11.00. In this context, the APEEE decided to alert Member States on problems encountered at Laeken, this through national inspectors and Member States’ representatives at the Board of Governors of the European Schools. You will find below the open letter sent to them this Tuesday 12 March. A French version will soon be made available. Trade unions at the European Commission have addressed a similar letter to Günther Oettinger, the European Commissioner in whose portfolio the European schools lie.

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To whom it may concern,

The European Schools have been facing many challenges lately: increasing budgetary constraints, Brexit, a steady rise in the number of enrolled students, lingering uncertainty about a fifth European School in Brussels, the reluctance of Member States to second teachers and an inability to retain many excellent, locally recruited teachers (LRTs).
All of these issues have had an impact on the quality of teaching at the European schools. The parents, the pupils and the teaching community have been negatively affected by the uncertainty and tension that these challenges have generated.

For instance, at EEB IV such tension and feelings of uncertainty have reached a climax recently with the news of the secondment of 33 teachers for the 2019-2020 school year.
The secondment of non-native teachers to teach Chemistry in French and French L2/L3/L4 has been seen as especially egregious by parents and pupils alike at EEB IV as this flouts the rule laid out in document 2018-01-D-65-en-3: Control of the level of linguistic competence as part of the procedure of recruitment of non-native speaker teaching and educational support staff: “the appointment of a non-native speaker should remain a pragmatic and exceptional answer to a scarcity situation” (p.2).

In particular, the secondment of non-native French speaking teachers to Brussels to teach in French, in primary or secondary, defies common sense, since there is no scarcity of native French speaking teachers in Belgium. Moreover, European School salaries are slightly above those of the local Belgian schools, which means that its French speaking teaching positions are likely to be very attractive to domestic native French speaking teachers.

Concerns have also been raised at EEB IV regarding the conditions under which non-native teaching positions in Maths (EN), Chemistry (EN) and EN (L2/L3) have been opened up for secondment. Specifically, the school’s administrative board was never made aware of the permission granted to “Administrative Boards (…) not [to] mention the posts needing teachers whose native (or first) language is English” (p. 3 of document 2019-02-D-14-en-2 Posts of seconded teachers envisaged for the 2019-2020 school year). This omission has potentially led to native English speaking locally recruited teachers being replaced with non-native English speaking secondments.

We would like to underline that high-quality education in the native language of the students should remain an absolute priority of the European Schools, as stated in the previously-mentioned document, Control of the level of linguistic competence as part of the procedure of recruitment of non-native speaker teaching and educational support staff. As this document makes clear, the appointment of non-native speakers should remain the exception rather than the rule. Further, recognizing the need to ensure the linguistic competence of any non-native teachers recruited in exceptional cases, this document clearly states that: “The introduction of rules relating to checking the level of language skills in cases of secondments there, or the local recruitment of teachers who are not native speakers, is a necessity”.

The APEEEs and the parents it represents would like to express their serious concern over the increasingly common practice of employing non-native speakers in all situations rather than in situations of scarcity alone, a practice that clearly defies the established rule.
Moreover, an effective, independent and reliable control of the level of linguistic competence in accordance with document 2018-01-D-65-en-3 has not yet been incorporated into the selection procedure for seconded teachers. This has led to alarming situations in which seconded teachers have been asked to teach a subject for which they have not been seconded, and in a language for which they lack C2-level certification from an independent certifying body. In addition, some of the teachers already recruited have demonstrated neither “command of the technical vocabulary of their subject in the language or languages of tuition” nor “specialist terminology of the subject in that language”. As pupils at the European Schools are expected to attain a C1 level in their L2 when they pass the Bac, teachers that have sufficient qualifications are a necessity. Further, having a robust codified procedure to ensure this level for all newly hired teachers is paramount.

We would like to emphasize that it is of critical importance that all teachers seconded to teach in the primary level must have a native-level command of the language they teach in. This is paramount for both L1 and L2, as the groundwork for improved fluency in L2 is set in the primary years. In addition, all seconded L1 teachers must be able to communicate efficiently in the main working languages of the European schools – English and/or French.
In addition to ensuring the highest level of linguistic competence, seconded teachers should not be asked to teach subjects they have not been seconded for.  We have learned of recent practices where mathematics teachers have been asked to teach integrated sciences or IT, subjects for which they are not qualified and have no experience teaching. These practices lower the academic quality of the European Schools and should not be used under any circumstance.

The practice of cross-section employment at the European schools, particularly when it comes to secondments, has had a negative impact on pedagogical and social cohesion. Teachers who are not a good match for the posts to which they have been assigned are not well regarded by their colleagues and pupils. As a result, they face considerable personal difficulties integrating into the school community. In addition, pupils are faced with serious learning obstacles, since they cannot properly understand their teachers’ instructions and lag behind in their command of the respective subjects as a result.

The European Schools have long been paramount promoters of equality and diversity. Therefore, our schools should not tolerate a climate in which the general principle of equal treatment in European law is not fully applied to all teachers. Often, LRTs are discriminated against because they are considered ‘second-class’ teachers, easily dispensable and sorely undervalued, in spite of the fact that they have shown tremendous skill, dedication and commitment in their efforts to help build reputable European schools where European values are cherished and embraced by children of all ages.

An example of how to promote European values is currently being offered by the secondary pupils at EEB IV, who have decided to support their LRTs by exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, as safeguarded by articles 11 and 12 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. We would like to emphasize that it is paramount that these rights not be infringed upon in any way, and no undue pressure should be exercised upon the children who decide to sit in and go on strike.

It is only fair that the same requirements regarding language and subject competencies should be applied equally to LRTs and seconded teachers – the European School curriculum is, after all, the foundation of all classes, irrespective of the employment status of teachers. All teachers should therefore be treated equally with regard to control of their linguistic and subject competence.

Given the fact that teaching in the European Schools seems to be moving increasingly in the direction of cross-section employments, with one Member State practically recruiting teachers for another Member State, a change in the recruitment process is both necessary and urgent. At present, Member States still rely on purely national methodologies to recruit and second teachers, which results in widely varying selection procedures that are not necessarily European in spirit or outcome. In fact, not all Member States require their secondary pupils to reach C1 level in their L2 or to study subjects in their L2, which means that the selection criteria in these cases are less than adequate for the European Schools. A standardized recruiting procedure, applied by all Member States, is becoming a necessity.

Considering the above, APEEEs recommend a two-phase approach to be implemented, as below:

Phase 1 should be dedicated to increasing the transparence and coherence of the selection procedures of each Member State. The following changes to the national methodologies are thus envisaged:

  • Ensuring that candidates are required to provide, for the L2 language they will be teaching in, international certificates at C2 level authorized by an independent, internationally-recognized body.
  • Ensuring that candidates have international experience teaching the subject that they are applying for in the language(s) in which they will be requested to teach. Previous studies in the respective language(s) in which they will be requested to teach should remain a clear and arguably indispensable asset.
  • Ensuring that the selection procedure takes place in the language(s) in which the candidates will be expected to teach and includes mock lessons as well as a question-and-answer session to verify candidates’ knowledge of their respective subjects.
  • Ensuring that the selection board is comprised of qualified assessors (native speakers or near-native speakers holding a C2-level certificate) that are proficient in the respective subject and can thus properly judge candidates’ language and subject competency, for example the ability of candidates to explain scientific/technical concepts in clear and direct language.
  • Ensuring that, for posts involving instruction in a different language section, candidates have firm knowledge of the teaching methods and culture of the Member States represented by the respective language section in addition to excellent L2 language skills.
  • Ensuring that the selection board includes a management representative from the European School concerned, a teacher representative from the sections concerned, and if possible, a parent representative from the sections concerned.

Phase 2 should be dedicated to harmonizing the selection procedures across Member States. Such harmonization would require the creation and adoption of a common trans-European methodology for the selection of seconded teachers at European level. This undertaking would of course require the sustained efforts and resources of Member States, together with the representatives of teachers and parents of the European Schools.

We are confident that, in these challenging times, we can rely on you to ensure that the European Schools remain the proud practitioners and promoters of European values by continuing to provide high-quality education to all students, irrespective of their nationality. This includes, of course, the provision of a high-quality pedagogical environment for all teachers, irrespective of their contract status.

For these reasons, we urge you to consider the necessity and urgency of the measures described above.

Sincerely,

APEEE Bruxelles IV, supported by APEEE of Bruxelles I, II and III and Interparents

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