No deal, no problem as Luxembourg welcomes Brexit bankers' kids

As Luxembourg seeks to woo London bankers to the Grand Duchy, the country has done its homework to ensure their offspring have a place to learn.
As Luxembourg seeks to woo London bankers to the Grand Duchy, the country has done its homework to ensure their offspring have a place to learn.PHOTO: REUTERS

LUXEMBOURG (BLOOMBERG) - Luxembourg's schools can teach the United Kingdom a thing or two when it comes to preparing for Brexit.

As the financial centre seeks to woo London bankers to the Grand Duchy, the country has done its homework to ensure their offspring have a place to learn.

Starting on Monday (Sept 17), parents will be able to send their children to one of four recently opened free state-schools offering whole departments delivering an English-language curriculum, with the added bonus of teaching French or German, plus Luxembourgish.

English-language education in the country - which is the world's second biggest fund market and a hub for multinationals such as Amazon.com - has already grown exponentially since 2016, when the UK voted to leave the 28-nation bloc.

The expansion means the choice is no longer between the two European Schools, set up for the offspring of EU officials, or the two main English-language private schools, St George's International School and the International School of Luxembourg which charge 13,390 euros (S$21,408) and 17,140 euros, respectively, for students in their senior year.

"We could no longer offer just one system," said Ms Myriam Bamberg, spokesman at the Luxembourg Ministry of Education. "We had to meet this diversity's needs. There are now new European sections in English, French or German that offer an alternative to the traditional Luxembourgish system."

Without the expansion, pressure for English-speaking classes would have become difficult as the country actively markets itself as a prime destination for financial firms seeking a foothold on the continent post-Brexit.

 

The UK's decision to quit the EU has already convinced more than 30 financial companies - mainly in insurance and asset management - to seek a foothold in Luxembourg. Statistics office Statec says Brexit has brought some 250 new jobs to the country, with estimates that ultimately 3,000 new positions could be created.

The schools teach three different types of high-school diploma: the UK system of A Levels, where students tend to specialise in three or four topics, or the broader International Baccalaureate, and European Baccalaureate programmes. The latter is mainly offered by the European Schools set up in countries with EU institutions.

Expat and parent groups on Facebook's social media pages are bursting with questions about schools in the country, with parents who just moved or are about to move to Luxembourg seeking advice on the quality of the schooling in the local and the private systems. They include questions about classroom sizes, after-school care and activities and transport options or traffic - an issue, depending where people live.

In the weeks after the June 2016 Brexit vote, Ms Gemma Williams was packing boxes for a move after her husband took up a job with Amazon in Luxembourg. She said her immediate priority was to choose the right school for her two girls.

Being able to benefit from multilingual state schools and the fact that their children, now four and seven, had not been to school in the UK before, the Williams family ended up opting for the traditional local system. Classes are initially taught in the local language, with pupils then going on to learn German and French in primary school, followed by English in secondary school.

"We also thought it would be better for them to integrate, because they would speak the languages, while in the private schools it's all mainly English," said Ms Williams, who gave up her job as an English teacher before their move over from Northampton. "And if there's any gaps, I can fill them."

Figures published by the education ministry just ahead of the official Sept 17 start of the 2018-2019 academic year show a steady increase in the number of pupils joining the new international classes introduced by the government.

Some 2,206 primary and secondary school students are expected to be following these new English, French or German sections, compared to 1,621 students last year, according to the latest numbers. To put those figures in perspective, the country with a population of about 600,000 has just over 104,000 pupils in its primary and secondary schools.

Finding the right teachers has not been a problem thanks to a new law that was passed in December 2016 especially for their school, said Ms Pascale Petry, headmistress of International School Michel Lucius. Her institution, a traditional secondary school, started offering an English-language section at secondary level in 2011 and has since grown into a fully established international school, for both primary and secondary education.

"This law allows us to recruit teachers internationally," said Ms Petry. Teachers in the traditional system come from Luxembourg. In the international section of Ms Petry's school, teachers are from countries including Luxembourg, the UK, Ireland and Canada.

"The key for them all is to speak close to native-speaker level and to be highly qualified and experienced," she said.

In 2017, the primary school opened its doors to 259 pupils of more than 50 nationalities, 28 of whom were British, she said. The secondary international section counts almost 532 students today, of whom 80 are British.

Like many of their compatriots, Brexit worries the Williams family. They have not regretted their decision to move. With both parents and kids happy in Luxembourg, they have since extended their initial plan to stay for two years with no idea yet whether they will move back.

Their elder daughter is now fluent in Luxembourgish and on Monday will start primary school, where she will learn to read and write in German and have first lessons in conversational French as well.

"I didn't plan to be here, but I am quite happy about it. There's so much for the girls to do here, like the parks you have, you'd have to pay to go to them in England," she said. "I didn't expect it to grow on me."