Over the past sixty years European society has seen dramatic changes . Yet even though the European Schools System has been described as a ‘social and cultural laboratory’, it has changed comparatively little during that time . What we do see, however, is a gradual process of social and cultural assimilation that has been increasingly put under pressure as a result of EU expansion and new social imperatives. This chapter draws on existing literature as well as new empirical material to analyse key themes that arise as a consequence of such tensions. The issues of social selection , sorting and segregation are considered in relation to educational practices within the European Schools as well as their relationships with local, national and international neighbours . Complex forms of citizenship in the European Schools are defined and analysed, and their interrelationships mapped out. In this way we present an original framework for defining the enduring characteristics of the European schools, as well as those that may need adapting for the future . This also has relevance for the evolution of international schools that are not part of the European Schools System.

Ideological Roots of the European Schools

As discussed earlier in this book, the European schools were designed initially as an inter-governmental education system with highly distinctive characteristics (Savvides 2006a, b, c; Carlos 2012). They were designed to be an important part of the European project. As such, the European schools were firmly grounded in an ideology of a ‘united and thriving Europe ’ (Hayden and Thompson 1997). There was a further agenda, however, as education delivered in this manner was quite deliberately seen by its founders as a site for engineering cultural integration (Theiler 1999). In this way, it was thought, the European schools initiative would be able to develop an innovative international model grounded in mutual co-operation . Carlos (2012: 488) describes this as ‘an imagining of Europe , in its earliest and simplest form’.

The European Schools System is based on the idea of three pillars (Shore and Baratieri 2005):

  1. 1.

    Education should be in the official languages of the European member states.

  2. 2.

    The syllabus and timetables should align to that of the various European member states, allowing for flexible entry and leaving points as students go backwards and forwards to their home countries, with no educational disadvantage. This includes the provision of the European Baccalaureate as an alternative to national pre-university entry qualifications .

  3. 3.

    The promotion of cultural exchange.

Mechanisms for this form of European integration included the construction of a history and geography curriculum that attempted to transcend borders, with instruction from multiple vantage points and national positions. For example, an early EC newsletter for a US readership describes how the European Schools were supplied with specialist maps of Europe, including roads, railways and major agricultural and industrial areas , putting them into a European rather than national context (European Community 1964). Another curriculum tool that was deployed was privileged access to native speakers of other languages, which led to enhanced opportunities for plurilingual education. Both tools contributed to a polydirectional and polycultural version of pedagogic reform , rather than one grounded in existing systems that predominated in any particular country (Rydenvald 2015). The combination of these social, cultural and linguistic factors also contributed to high academic standards, with the apparent bonus of creating what we might describe as ‘mini citizens of Europe’, and through this, promoting ideals of European unity. Indeed some have described the European Schools as a pedagogical mini-Europe (Haas 2004).

The system was always intended to expand indefinitely in response to the need and desire of citizens. Early on there was recognition that there could be other European schools in member states in the future (Jonckers 2000). By 2004, twelve had been established in total, but the system was reported to be in crisis due to two main factors. The first factor was overcrowding after European expansion into Eastern Europe . The second was the advent of Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Czechs and Slovaks, amongst others, who wanted to be taught in English or French and not in their mother tongue , because they regarded English or French as ‘more useful’ as primary languages in terms of their children’s education. This put an additional strain on teachers in the European schools, as they were being required to fulfil new pedagogical roles that were never anticipated by the original founders of the system , such as teaching non-native speakers in L1 (native tongue) classes (Kinstler 2015).

In spite of apparent difficulties in the practical aspects of delivery, there has been extensive demand amongst parents for the European schools model, even if they do not have a professional connection to the European Commission . While this group of parents is entitled to apply for school places on behalf of their children, in most of the European schools it is likely to be extremely difficult to find a place in view of the general problems of overcrowding that is placing a strain on most of the original European schools. One solution to this supply and demand problem has been to found accredited schools (Category II schools receive funding from Brussels and prioritise the children of Commission employees, unlike Category III schools ) or Category III schools, which are not subject to the same legal, administrative and financial arrangements as their European Commission cousins , and which do not form part of the intergovernmental system of education, but which nevertheless meet the same pedagogical standards (Board of Governors 2013). This 2009 expansion indicates growing appetite for the European Schools model amongst parents and students, beyond Brussels and indeed the European Commission .

The Impact of Maastricht

In addition to the expansion of Europe in 2004, another turning point for the European Schools pedagogical model had been the Maastricht treaty of 1992, when the European Community became the European Union . The Treaty was designed to bring about significantly closer involvement amongst Member States in the areas of matters such as foreign policy, military, criminal justice , and the judiciary. Article 127 of the Maastricht Treaty lays out its position on education:

The Community shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging co-operation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and supplementing their action, while fully respecting the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems and their cultural and linguistic diversity.

There were some reservations within some member states about the desire for what had been termed ‘ever-closer union amongst the peoples of Europe ’, a term dating from the earliest days of the European Community in 1957 and at the time , meant in a different context relating to mutual peace and co-operation (European Community 1957). This, combined with low turnouts in EU elections, led to the beginning of a potential lack of legitimacy for the EU (Savvides, op. cit. 2006a, b, c). There was also a perceived lack of a sense of European loyalty or identity (Garcia and Wallace 1993, cited in Savvides, ibid.). In turn, this also linked to a lack of electoral will for a proposed European Union constitution , especially in France and the Netherlands . From this it appears that the project of cultural integration was starting to falter, something that in time would also impact on the European schools, and which is discussed later in this chapter .

It was in the context of this that the post-1993 Directorate General XXII for Education, Training and Youth was established. Under the auspices of the Socrates programme, the Directorate has concentrated on programmes such as:

  1. 1.

    ERASMUS (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students , originally established in 1987)

  2. 2.

    LINGUA (a language teaching and learning programme, originally established in 1989)

  3. 3.

    COMENIUS (a primary and secondary education development programme aimed at encouraging school partnerships, established in 1994)

  4. 4.

    GRUNDTVIG (an adult education and lifelong learning development programme, established in 2007)

While these programmes clearly have education at their core, they are essentially about contact amongst and between EU member states and not about directly inserting distinctively European content into curriculum. This has been avoided because of what is seen as a nation state problem, with the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that individual countries wanted to retain control and direction of their educational systems . This is in spite of the apparent identification in the 1973 Janne report of ‘an irreversible recognition of an educational dimension of Europe and the irreversible initial movement towards an education policy at European Community level’ (Janne 1973: 10), and attempts within the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 to achieve greater levels of educational harmonisation across Europe, for example, with regard to qualifications. The absence of this kind of shared European curriculum and assessment process has meant that member states have never had access to the kind of tool that would allow them to buy in completely to the idea of cross-European educational unity . This both reflects the educational zeitgeist across Europe, resistant to a perceived loss of national independence, whilst at the same time presenting a significant area of tension in terms of future collaborative development amongst different countries.

Another area of tension is symbolised by the relationship between official versus unofficial EU languages. Within the European Community, and later the European Union , the ‘vehicular’ languages of French, German and English have been given privileged status, illustrating the cultural hegemony of the core member states (Shore and Baratieri 2005), whereas languages such as Maltese, Irish, Basque, Catalan and Welsh have been seen as less important (indeed Welsh, Basque and Catalan do not appear at all as official EU languages, even today, despite the fact that two of these languages are widely spoken in more than one country). To understand why this concept of the vehicular language links to an inherent problem of legitimacy, we need to consider the concept of folk versus elite bilingualism , as discussed in Bulwer (1995). Folk bilingualism (for example Maltese, Irish, Basque, Catalan and Welsh, as listed above) is not seem as an active choice, but instead something that has grown out of the domestic situation of a child. In this way such languages are minoritised and marginalised (Nic Craith 2006). Elite bilingualism, on the other hand, is potentially seen as more progressive and associated with modernity (ibid.). It has a more international mindset and has usually come about as a result of a conscious decision to study socially and economically useful languages with the potential for use in a professional context later in life . These are the reasons invoked by Eastern European parents for accessing L1 provision in English, French or German even though their child’s native tongue may in fact be Estonian, Czech , or Slovak. Meanwhile languages such as Maltese, Irish, Basque, Catalan and Welsh (or indeed Estonian, Czech or Slovak) continue to be implicitly treated as ‘folk’ languages (even where they are nationally recognised in their own member states as official languages) and not resourced to the same degree. While there may be sound practical and financial reasons underpinning this decision, the consequence is a two-tier structure that appears remote from the everyday concerns of millions of linguistically diverse European citizens in other regions. Even within the EU itself, of the three ‘vehicular’ languages, it is English and French that largely dominate, possibly on the basis that they are historically used as diplomatic languages, and in the case of English, possibly also because more twenty-first century technical , scientific and computing terms exist within it than most other languages (ibid.)

In Chap. 3 we discussed the technical aspects of language education and the European schools in considerable depth, but it is also necessary to touch on it to a certain extent here. Even though the principle of learning other languages is securely embedded within the European schools’ pedagogical structures and philosophy , there is little if any scientific evidence for their current approach to languages, where children study them in a semi-osmotic way in class (Gray 2003; Leaton Gray et al. 2015). This is because much of the teaching is not sufficiently explicit. Consequently the standards required in terms of learning different languages are unclear . The current practice of examining many subjects orally as well as in written form contributes to a lack of clarity surrounding requirements, as it means it is unclear whether final examinations are assessing the subject knowledge or the language of examination . Indeed, this is a major concern, which has led to the reform of the European Baccalaureate final diploma (ibid.).

Despite these difficulties of tracking and assessing linguistic progress out of context, the impact of ‘peer talk’ in language learning in European schools may be profound (Baetens Beardsmore and Kohls 1988). Another advantage of the natural ebb and flow of many languages within the European schools is that structures are orientated around horizontal tolerance of different cultures and language speakers, promoting the ability to be critically reflective on the nature of one’s own culture and language, as well as the way they impact on others, and promoting a more healthy sense of citizenship (Starkey, op. cit.). Nevertheless, while this is laudable, languages are still taken for granted in the current system to a certain extent, and one criticism might be that language instruction perhaps doesn’t go far enough in terms of deeper integration . This leads once again to the problems of legitimacy first seen in the Maastricht outcome (Theiler 1999) and reminds us that the European dimension in such schooling can be relatively vague, with an occasional lack of curricular coherence (ibid.). Theiler predicted the wider demise of the EU on grounds of problems such as these, and he was not alone in anticipating Europe’s current difficulties. There are also clues evident in an important quotation in the work of Savvides , by a teacher interviewee who probably did not know how prescient he or she was being:

I do not feel I’m really European because I don’t know what it means … so far for me the EU is not linked to people. It’s a financial world, a political world … an economic world , it’s not a people world . (Savvides 2006c: 125)

Here we see an identity issue being raised; people in the system have a sense of being involved with European integration in some way, but they don’t necessarily have a feeling of what it might mean to be a ‘European’. The personal and the political seem to be divided.

Social Selection, Sorting and Segregation

Novel patterns of system governance have resulted in administrative and diplomatic complexity within the European Union , and this is reflected within the European Schools. There are multiple power bases, which engage in complex interactions both within and across different networks, both vertically and horizontally . Ansell (2000) terms this ‘networked polity’, although he refers to the term at a regional level rather than an institutional one, as in this case . Hence we see a complex assemblage of actors (as described by Carlos, op. cit.) with multiple stakeholders, for example: students, parents, Interparents (Parent Association), teachers, directors, Joint Teaching Committee, Board of Governors , Office of the Secretary General of the European Schools , Joint Board of Inspectors, working groups, and the European Commission .

Within this structure, there are continuous negotiations taking place amongst and across groups, through the endeavours of the various working parties in place at any particular time , a practice explained in considerable depth by Carlos (ibid.). She describes a cyclical model that involves policy proposals flowing from one board to another, underpinned by new forms of meaning enacted at different stages. This negotiation and renegotiation leads to somewhat blurred boundaries, with the regular and routine grouping and regrouping of power bases and rule s. To an extent, such practices are unsurprising, and simply indicative of the usual power struggles routinely inherent within any form of policymaking, where lobbying and bargaining are embedded within everyday interactions. Yet, the particular complexity of this model, and its hierarchical structure, can result in parents being excluded from voting rights, particular in the case of financial matters, representing a form of stakeholder segregation. The next part of the chapter deals with other forms of social selection, sorting and segregation, with particular reference to the impact on students .


The European Schools System is meant to be comprehensive, which resembles the English system of secondary school, but incorporates some aspects of the French and German systems, such as a broad curriculum throughout, with only limited subject selection . Another characteristic of the European Schools System is the use of retention , where a student is kept down a year if he or she is seen as not meeting the usual standards of the existing year cohort. Educationally speaking, this type of intervention is unlikely to be effective and can even be seen as a problem (cf. Hattie 2008; Martinez et al. 2015). In the case of the European Schools, some children who don’t fit with the system are held back for multiple years and eventually encouraged to leave the European schooling system altogether if matters aren’t resolved.

As far as students are concerned, retention may simply be a consequence of being in the wrong European school or language section at the wrong time , something that has little if anything to do with innate student ability. This is clearly evident within retention rates, which differ considerably across the different schools and countries. For example, if we examine the retention data for the primary sector (P1–P6), for 2010 to 2012 (the latest available literature freely available to the authors), we see that it is 0.1% to 1.2% in Culham, UK, where this is not regarded as a common educational practice , and the highest is 3.1% to 3.9% in Luxembourg 1 , and 2.5% to 5.3% in Mol, examples of where retention may be more closely aligned to prior teacher expectations. Mean rates were 2.2% to 2.7% across all European Schools P1–P6 for this period . As the rates differ so much, to the sociologist’s eye, it seems less likely to be caused by student unsuitability, and more likely to be a consequence of regional cultural practices and expectations.

The practice of retention can have negative consequences. Sociologically speaking, retention with the year group below may well bring with it a potential sense of anomie (alienation) on the grounds that one doesn’t fit. In this way, the European schools’ upper secondary triaging of students into an ‘in-group ’ (who can cope with the work) and an ‘out-group’ (who can’t cope with the work) amounts to clear evidence of social selection, with unintended outcomes when students leave for academic reasons (as opposed to family relocation for work, for example). This is very different from the inclusive, comprehensive model of schooling envisaged by its founders. In our 2014–2015 research into the upper secondary curriculum, we spoke to several students who had survived the sudden conceptual shift required by the mathematics and science curricula at S4–S5 level (age 14–15), something that is said to be a known phenomenon within the European schools . Their view on leavers was that ‘those students did not work hard enough’ and ‘we don’t have anything to do with those students now, we are not in touch’, indicating a kind of social ostracism once a student had left, because the student concerned had not made the grade academically (or indeed never fitted in at all).

This social selection also has an effect on the perceived standard of the European Schools System by outsiders. This is because in educational attainment terms, the success of these schools at upper secondary level is being measured by the success of those who have survived what can be a challenging, and even somewhat academically harsh, system for certain types of child, effectively selecting them at the age of around 15 . From our discussions with European schools inspectors during 2014–2015, we found that this may present problems for late developers, those with special educational needs, and those who start in the system late with relatively weak L2 (second language) and L3 (third language) skills. Another category of student that might experience difficulties are those who are more vocationally inclined, as there is virtually no provision in this regard. For them, the system can be a very difficult one. Therefore what we may be seeing here is less a kind of social selection, and more a kind of inadvertent segregation , linked to how familiar and established families are within the European Schools System and the Commission itself, and how closely they fit with existing social groupings there. Shore and Baratieri have described this group as:

A social class that does not need to worry about obtaining a specific job on leaving secondary school and, perhaps, confirms their status as a highly adaptable and mobile group in the top ranks of Europe’s elite . (Shore and Baratieri 2005: 36)

Social distance, leading to a child leaving a European School for reasons other than parental employment, may simply be a manifestation of the kinds of class-based problems we see in segregated schooling systems elsewhere, where belonging to a higher social class (or in this case a class of elite bilinguals) can be educationally advantageous (cf. Jenkins et al. 2006; Ball 2006). We therefore now turn to the issue of social segregation .


European schools are often described as being more like ‘company schools’, providing a facility for a clearly defined social group, in this case certain types of employees . This is because they have very strict admissions rules , as follows (Fig. 4.1):

  • Category I : Students who have to be admitted by the European Schools. These students are exempt from school fees.

  • Category II : Students covered by individual agreements or decisions, each entailing specific rights and obligations for the students concerned, particularly as regards school fees.

  • Category III : Students who do not belong to categories I and II. These students would be admitted to the European Schools in so far as places are available, in accordance with an order of priority listed here. The ordinary school fees fixed by the Board of Governors would be payable for these students .

Category I

The children of staff in the service of the Community institutions and of the organisations listed below [1] employed directly and continuously for a minimum period of one year .

  1. 1.

    Members of the Community Institutions

  2. 2.

    Officials covered by the Staff Regulations of Officials of the European Communities [*]

  3. 3.

    Staff covered by the Conditions of Employment of other Servants of the European Communities [*]

  4. 4.

    Persons with a directly binding contract of employment, governed by private law, with the Community Institutions

  5. 5.

    National experts seconded to Community Institutions

  6. 6.

    Employees of the E.I.B.

  7. 7.

    Staff of any Community organisation set up by an act of the Community Institutions and staff in the service of other organisations recognised by the Board of Governors

  8. 8.

    UKAEA staff seconded to the JET project at Culham

  9. 9.

    Staff of the European Investment Fund’s Secretariat

  10. 10.

    National officials attached to the Permanent Representations of the Member States to the European Communities, with the exception of staff recruited locally

  11. 11.

    Teaching staff and the administrative and ancillary staff of the European Schools and of the Office of the Representative of the Board of Governors

  12. 12.

    Staff covered by the Service Regulations of the EPO in Munich.

The special conditions governing the admission of the children referred to in points 1 to 11 to the Munich School and those for the children referred to in point 12 to the other Schools are determined by the Board of Governors .

Category II

Students covered by individual agreements or decisions, each entailing specific rights and obligations for the students concerned.

Category III

The order in which the following students are listed is the order of priority for admission purposes:

  1. (a)

    Children of national officials seconded to diplomatic representations, to the NATO Representation and to the Consulates of the Member States (with the exception of locally recruited staff);

  2. (b)

    Children of members of the diplomatic service returning to their home country in which a European School is situated and where they can only be integrated into the national education system in place with great difficulty on account of the latter’s special features ;

  3. (c)

    Children of national officials of the Permanent Representations of non-member States to the European Communities (with the exception of locally recruited staff);

  4. (d)

    Children of staff with diplomatic status, posted in Brussels or in Luxembourg , belonging to non-member countries which signed the Lomé Convention;

  5. (e)

    Other officials posted abroad, in all the Schools;

  6. (f)

    Others: priority will be given to students whose mother tongue or language of previous education is not a language of tuition in the national education system .

Please Note the Admission Regulations for Category III Students

  1. a)

    Decisions on admissions in category III, as allowed by the regulations, are taken by the Director , in accordance with the provisions of Article 8 of the General Rules of the European Schools.

In admitting such students, the Director must ensure that enough places are kept free in each class to allow a reasonable number of children coming into categories I and II to be admitted during the year without this leading to a class having to be divided.

  1. b)

    No category III student may be admitted to a class which already has 24 students at the beginning of the school year .

  2. c)

    See also the “Policy on Enrolment in the European Schools in Brussels” and the “Admission Criteria of the European School, Munich”.

Admission of Children of Assistance of Members of the European Parliament

  1. 1.

    Admission of the children of accredited parliamentary assistants

    The Board of Governors confirmed that the children of accredited parliamentary assistants come under Category I for purposes of access to the European Schools .

  2. 2.

    Admission of the children of local assistants of Members of the European Parliament

    The Board of Governors decided that the children of local assistants of Members of the European Parliament are classified in Category III for purposes of admission to the European Schools .

(Source: Office of the Secretary General of the European Schools 2017)


Fig. 4.1

Terms and conditions of admission

The argument for describing them as ‘company schools’ as opposed to ‘international schools ’ has some grounds. Despite the fact that children from many different nationalities attend them, looking at the admissions rules, they use a distinctive model that is not as straightforward or inclusive as a normal international school. By its very nature and location, the model and the curriculum exclude many non-Europeans, as they will not be eligible for many diplomatic or civil service posts in European member states or within the Commission itself. In turn, the curriculum itself specifically privileges European perspectives over global ones, for example through the incorporation of ‘European Hours ’. This comes at the expense of an international perspective in the truly global sense, and potentially risks promoting what Starkey describes as a form of ‘Eurocentric cultural superiority’ (Starkey 2012).

Another issue in terms of segregation is that European schools also have very little to do with their immediate local communities, as a rule, in that they are not embedded within local educational authorities and they generally don’t share many facilities or resources with other local schools. In this way, the somewhat isolationist nature of EU Schools belies their supposed social liberal philosophy in some respects, as students may be standing side by side with each other but certainly not socially adjacent to their geographical neighbours. Finally, if we look at the admissions rules for Category 3 students , the category for those families who do not have a diplomatic or employment connection with the European Schools, fees can range from around 3500 Euros a year to around 6800 Euros a year depending on the phase of education. For many local families on a national average wage or below, such fees may be prohibitive, particularly if they have more than one child of school age . Consequently students in the European schools are schooled apart from other students in the local area, as well as those who can’t afford fees or who are not members of the European diplomatic, scientific and political ‘family’. Their system is segregated on multiple levels, and has been accused of encouraging elitism through this, as well as through an apparent lack of accountability (Oostlander 1993).

A different kind of system segregation is encountered by some European schools’ teachers in relation to the fact that various forms of national law can come into direct conflict with European law when it comes to the terms and conditions for their employment. The principle of subsidiarity means that the European Union has no hard powers to determine education or teacher employment policy across all its 28 member states. Instead it relies on negotiation, which sometimes can be problematic . For example, there has been conflict between UK national employment law and European law in relation to the standard nine-year contracts used for teacher secondments from the UK education system to the European Schools System. The intention of these limited-term contracts is to ensure that teachers stay in touch with developments in their national systems. This is a very different type of employment from an international school , where teachers might be on indefinite contracts. It has come about because in many countries in Europe, teachers are directly employed by the State, and allocated to a particular school or region, meaning that, if an EU schools’ secondment ends, they can simply go back to their home country and be relatively easily redeployed. In the UK, teachers are employed not by the State, but an individual school , meaning that when an EU schools’ secondment finishes after nine years, the teacher is made redundant and accrued employment rights are lost . This places a UK teacher at a disadvantage compared to, say, a French, German or Greek teacher, where their Governments will ensure (and indeed underwrite) the teacher’s continuing employment (Schmalenbach 2010). Therefore, for a UK-funded teacher, their experience of the system amounts to a form of segregation in a wholly different model from the national system they are expected to return to. This is diametrically opposed to the original intention of the nine-year secondment model, and a problem to which the EU Commission (or the UK for that matter) has been able to offer little in the way of a useful solution .

Another symptom of segregation is that European Schools can seem disconnected from the wider community, as touched on previously (Hayden and Thompson 1997). This happens on two levels. In geographical terms, it would be possible to stand in a European school building , and not know which country you were in unless you knew already, for example. This represents an unusual form of Eurocentrism in which the culture of European schools overrides national cultures. The second level is that this inherent cultural hegemony also overrides wider European ones outside the immediate European employee community (ibid.). In practical terms, this means that although you may live physically next door to a European school (and indeed be funding such schools indirectly via taxation), you will find yourself paying school fees to attend a European school as outlined earlier in the chapter, if a place is available for students in your category of applicant (and this is unlikely). It also applies to those closely connected with the European Union but not actually employed by the Commission, such as local journalists, lobbyists, and sub-contractors. They also find themselves with inferior access to European schools , even though it could be argued that they are an essential part of the Brussels political machinery. In this way, segregation has taken a number of forms, just as it has for teachers and students . As Stacul et al. (2006) argue, the pedagogical laboratory of the European School has resulted in exclusive institutions that try to dissolve the boundaries of national cultures at the same times as reinforcing class boundaries. This is because they are not designed to include a mass public .


The frequently stated desire amongst EU Schools, parents and students for an education that focuses on speaking multiple languages can be seen as a kind of social sorting, in which families seek membership of a specific social group , in this case a caste of ‘elite bilinguals ’. As explained earlier in the chapter, these are people who have learnt additional languages out of choice as an enhancement to their social, cultural and intellectual capital, as opposed to ‘folk bilinguals’ who have learnt a second language in addition to their national one, or as a result of immigration . This desire for elite bilingualism has created a number of problems within the European schooling system in recent years . For example, the UK has until recently found itself in the position of ‘over-seconding’ UK-funded state school teachers to European schools (Interparents 2013). This is because of the rise in the importance of ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) internationally, leading to the predominance of English as the chosen L2 (second language) within the European schools . Occasionally non-native speakers of English have also requested to be allocated to English mother tongue classes as well. Initially the UK Government routinely provided the majority of native speakers required to underpin such provision, but increasingly with greater numbers of non-UK students wanting such provision and fewer UK students actually attending the European schools , the UK Government argued that they were funding provision disproportionately and this represented a form of over-secondment (Bulwer, op. cit.; Interparents, op. cit.). Presumably the recent UK referendum and Brexit vote will make the provision of L2 (second language) English even more problematic in years to come, as the UK Government withdraws completely from provision, leaving English provision in the hands of the Irish and Maltese Governments .

Students are also sorted on the basis of mother tongue . It is often stated that many of the larger European schools are effectively ‘schools within schools’ on account of the number of different language sections that a school contains. When we visited Brussels III during the academic year 2014–2015, for example, we found there to be seven language sections in total: Czech, German, Greek, English, Spanish , French and Dutch . In a language section, students are taught in the mother tongue of that section. It is also possible to be a student without a languages section (known as SWALS), educated in a language section of his or her choosing. The existence of language sections leads to another unusual and somewhat contradictory phenomenon within the European schools, whereby the central model, whilst at the same time being reinforced by the mother tongue groupings of students, erodes nationalism .

The practicalities underpinning educational delivery in such a complex, plurilingual context contribute to this. Over the years there have been various attempts to produce teaching materials in different languages . These were usually widely distributed but not always properly evaluated (Theiler, op. cit.). The outcome was that special European schools ’ textbooks were not always considered appropriate by teachers (Savvides 2006b), who instead developed their own teaching materials. This led in some circumstances to a lack of collaboration amongst some European schools’ teachers from different nationalities, and in turn a somewhat atomised form of professional identity for some teachers (ibid.) Similarly, student identity can be somewhat atomised as well. It is clear that there is usually unqualified approval of students trying to speak other languages , but this does not automatically lead to high levels of competence in non-native tongues , or deep integration . This is because the pedagogy of language instruction within the European schools is not always sufficiently well-structured (Baetens Beardsmore and Kohls 1988). This can lead to limitations to the linguistic ability of some students, where they can speak enough of an additional language to ‘get by’, but not necessarily a great deal more (Shore and Baratieri 2005).

A further issue peculiar to the European schools is that while multiple languages are welcomed, relatively few sociocultural demands are put on students in terms of integration due to the existence of language sections as ‘mini schools ’ (Bulwer 1995). That having been said, it would be very wrong to dismiss the existing structure as having no merit at all in terms of promoting international cohesion . Baetens Beardsmore and Kohls (op. cit.) found that by the end of the secondary school phase, friendships are cross-national and racism rare, if students stay in the system for a sufficient amount of time . Savvides (2006b, op. cit.) similarly found that although it might seem like several schools running within one large school, European Hours provision helps with integration, although in a later work she also describes some evidence of atomisation, such as the national groupings on school trips (Savvides 2008).

In summary, therefore, we see multiple forms of social sorting taking place within the European schools, and multiple identities co-existing under the same institutional banner . The experiences of children vary greatly according to their ages, nationalities, and prior social backgrounds . Similarly teacher identity can be very different depending on the traditions that have defined the professional practice of individual educators. Much of the academic research in the field indicates that it is length of time within the European Schools System which indicates how close a teacher or student is likely to be to the concept of some sort of ‘ideal type’ (to use a technical sociological term), aligning well to the traditions and values of the system and thriving within them. However the national and cultural diversity embedded within the European school structures makes defining an ideal type more exact than this somewhat problematic . Nevertheless the next section attempts this, through the lens of citizenship .

Forms of Citizenship

In the absence of what has been described as ‘Leitkultur ’ (Pomerantsev 2016), or in other words, a mainstream model of cultural transmission, citizenship in the European schools cannot rely on simplistic indicators of belonging or nationalism. For example, it would be considered inappropriate within the European schools to pledge allegiance to the EU flag daily, in the manner of American children in relation to the US flag. Similarly the Anthem of Europe is usually absent from everyday schooling, not least because performing it properly would presumably require a full orchestra and four-part choir. There is no single monoculture that prevails. What we do see instead of a cohesive monoculture are various forms of social fragmentation within what is on many levels the same social group (Haas, op. cit.). This is partially due to the elite bilingualism practices amongst students and their parents, as seen in the drive towards non-native speakers joining the English sections of various European schools , as we discussed earlier. Here we see language learning as an active choice, and linked to the concept of what might cautiously be labelled third culture kids (Fail 2007), whose identities are international in context as a result of being brought up in a different country during their early years.

There is an additional interplay between citizenship and social class within the educational system here. It is a relatively privileged model where the individual sits at the centre (in this case with personalised timetables and special educational arrangements unique to them alone) with the collective aspects of schooling more peripheral. This has come about purely as a result of the pragmatic arrangements that need to be in place to administer a system as complex as this with any degree of parity and efficiency at all. However a relatively individualistic model such as this also promotes exclusivity , and a by-product may be the development of elites (Swan 1996), as we have seen in the tendency to filter certain types of student out at upper secondary level. This filtering process has its own complexities. The broadly configured European Baccalaureate that students sit at age 18 has been designed around an essentially Francophone model (hence the name) with some aspects of the German Abitur system embedded within it, and it is a long way from the British A Level examination , which focuses more on early specialisation and choice. The system is very much an academic one, and does not usefully provide for vocational streams (Marjoram and Williams 1977), although there does seem to have been a single attempt at this. Existing technical and vocational provision is very limited and dates from 1969. It includes: (Group 1) geometric drawing, notions of technology, handicraft; (Group 2) accounting and commercial arithmetic, typewriting, shorthand and commercial correspondence; (Group 3) child care, domestic science and art . These represent short non-academic courses and while still permissible under the regulations, do not seem to be offered any longer in European schools, leaving no vocational programmes at all. Children who don’t fit with this elite academic model are regarded as having what Goffman (1963) might describe as a ‘spoiled identity ’ in which they are effectively rejected by the mainstream, leaving to seek an education elsewhere.

We see therefore that citizenship issues are highly complex within the European School System, and yet it is this that is the primary indicator that such schools are needed. Students are in effect a form of temporary migrant, and in transit throughout different EU member states in a way that is difficult to accommodate at a national level (Olsen 2000). Therefore the original founders were correct in understanding that there would be a continuing need for the European schools. However the identity formation of students, and to the same extent teachers, is more often than not a European schools’ identity rather than an essentially European one. It would be wrong to make the assumption that just because the curriculum is being taught plurilingually that a European dimension has naturally and automatically developed, despite the best intentions of the founders.

This raises a number of associated issues. Some teachers are concerned there is a concentration on languages yet there is complacency around subject content (for example in the history and geography curricula ); they have also expressed concern at the growth of cliques amongst language sections, and whether a Eurocentric identity is possible only at the expense of a truly international one (Savvides 2006b, c). As Savvides argues, it may be that developing a true European identity is elusive, which led to an attempt at a definition in 1988 by the Council of Ministers of Education (Savvides 2008: 8). As Furedi explains, ‘(i)t is evident that it is far easier to create a European Union than to make people think of themselves or identify as Europeans’ (Furedi 2012: 9). This vagueness means that the whole notion of a European identity has suffered from a lack of clarity throughout most of the history of the European schools. It may be that the roots of a European schools’ identity lie in a different type of classification and framing. Osler and Starkey talk instead of the idea of ‘cosmopolitan citizenship’, ‘based on feelings of solidarity with fellow human beings wherever they are situated’ (Osler and Starkey 2005: 23) and that might be what we are seeing here instead , rather than a European identity in its own right. This brings with it the possibility of international co-operation , but also a potential burden. In the words of one student: ‘(t)he European School was meant to integrate nationalities but stopped me being integrated into any nation I went to’ (Pomerantsev, op. cit.). Whether this is a particular characteristic of the European schools, or a wider problem associated with attending international schools , needs further consideration.

This chapter opened by asking whether the European schools reflected a united and thriving Europe. What is clear is that any answer to this question is a very complex one. The ideology of the European Schools System has its origins in a significantly more limited European project, involving many fewer countries than today , such as Germany , France, Italy , the Netherlands , Belgium and Luxembourg . European expansion to the current 28 member states has led to the European Schools System becoming much more complex and fragmented over time , particularly in the light of key policy changes dating back to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. This means that while the European Schools System remains separate from the national systems of the countries in which it is hosted, the political tensions currently experienced by Europe are starting to be reflected in its provision.

There are several aspects to this, and in response we see the European Schools System responding on a number of fronts. The pragmatic, plurilingual approach to education it routinely adopts has been challenged by the expansion into Eastern Europe, with many students demanding increased provision of English language teaching , and to a certain degree additional French teaching as well. An increasingly complex web of stakeholders and critics are attempting to renegotiate the basis for provision, and its underlying resource base, particularly in relation to the secondment of teachers from the UK, for example. Admissions policies have come under fire, although to a certain extent this has been ameliorated through the growing provision for accredited schools. This all indicates a system in flux. However within this we see new forms of citizenship emerging. These may indicate a more globalised , international model of integration that reaches beyond the European Schools System itself. In this way, European schools potentially offer a viable alternative to the standard international schooling model frequently based on either the UK or US systems, and a challenge to a monocultural nation state model of education. This sits within a global knowledge economy that has become a reality since 1993 and the Maastricht Treaty.

If the European schools can adapt for the future, ensuring appropriate levels of social inclusion beyond purely the linguistic and citizenship domains, and reflecting the fluid boundaries of modern political life beyond the nation state, there is the potential here for a much more integrated form of European education . This will, however, only happen if it can reach confidently beyond both national and social boundaries, as this form of schooling needs to find a way of appearing relevant to those beyond its immediate circle. In the next chapter we examine the European Baccalaureate and the notion of a final examination .