The British School of Amsterdam: Helping pupils feel at home for 40 years
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On the Havenstraat, in the expatriate heartland of Amsterdam Zuid, the sound of demolition, drilling and jet-washing echoes around a 19th century listed building as, brick by brick, the former detention centre is transformed into a stunning 14.000m² cross-shaped school with a giant glass dome at its heart.
In 2021, The British School of Amsterdam’s 1.000 students, currently split across three sites, will, at last, be reunited under one roof – a fitting finale to 40 years of history.
The multimillion-euro move and renovation is a world away from the school’s modest beginnings in the late 1970s, when three families banded together to provide a British education in one parent’s living room.
Looking back, it is easy to see why the family feel of The British School of Amsterdam, a school founded by parents, has remained central to its culture and philosophy. In the early years, staff and students inhabited the same social circle, inviting one another to birthday parties and helping each other out in times of need.
When the school’s longest-serving principal, Mike Roberts, was recovering from blood poisoning in the 1980s, it was a parent who took him in; while he helped bring a family’s two daughters to school when their mother was incapacitated due to a back injury.
The giant Havenstraat project is being managed by contractors, of course, but back in the day, when the school was run on a shoestring, the headmaster was often site manager; and parents, staff and governors were regularly called upon to help with removals and redecorating. The school came first, and its supporters made many sacrifices.
Just as the school was dependent on the commitment of the parent community, so the parents were dependent on the school. “During the 1980s, we lived and breathed the BSA,” says Patricia Ellman, who served as PTA secretary. “I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
"Sometimes, the first bit of support parents get here is through the school"
Newcomers built a much-needed social life around the school, manning the phones for the Children In Need telethon, for example – where goodwill and good wine was abundant – or bidding at the lively charity auctions of the 90s when prizes ranged from a second-hand car to a teacher offering himself up for babysitting services.
“Sometimes, the first bit of support parents get here is through the school,” says Linda Whitaker Naghieh, who has taught at the BSA for 34 years. “They come here, they’ve left all their family links, and they’re alone in a new country, perhaps dealing with things in a language that they don’t know.” She credits the BSA’s friendly, caring community as a key reason why the children there are such a cheerful bunch. “If you’ve got happy, settled parents, you’ve got happy, settled children,” she says.
Helping students feel at home is something that characterised the BSA from the start. “We were all very good at integrating foreign children and welcoming them into the British School culture,” remembers Michele Bar-Pereg, one of the school’s first teachers. “We were able to offer a safe haven from the disturbances of relocation.”
Nowadays, parents get a lot of information from the internet, but in the early days, they would leave notes in the children’s lunch boxes asking teachers for advice. One Christmas, a parent even telephoned the school to ask where they could buy mince pies!
The reassuring environment the school created has led some alumni to make the Netherlands their home and raise their own families in the city. “The British School of Amsterdam was a magical experience and has had a profound impact on my life since I am now back living in Amsterdam,” says Pippa Shire, who attended the school from 1982-85. “I feel as though my experience of being a pupil at the BSA was a big part of my yearning to return to the city,” she says.
A popular school
The BSA’s early years had been all about recruiting and retaining students to increase funding and set the school on stable ground. Later, the search was not for pupils but for properties, as the popular school outgrew the Jekerstraat, its first home, and the Heinzestraat (1982-85) in rapid succession. The Jan van Eijckstraat, a charming Art Deco monument with a village-school feel, was acquired in 1985 and was once expected to house the whole of the BSA forever.
This year, 77% of IGCSE students and 68% of A-Level students achieved an A*-B
Today, the Jan van Eijckstraat is just one of three buildings that make up this thriving school, which now provides a British education to around 20 times as many children as in the 1980s, when it taught Primary-aged children only.
Now, children aged 3-18 can enjoy a British education in a school where the welcome is warm, and the academic rigour high. This year, 77% of IGCSE students and 68% of A-Level students achieved an A*-B, as the upward trend at the school continues.
The student body, which includes around 50 different nationalities, might be much larger than the early days, but the community remains close. Alumni know that they have been part of something special. “Every now and again, someone will just drop in,” says Claudia van de Laar, who joined the Early Years staff in 1994 and has so far never forgotten a face. “They talk with fond memories of being part of the British School,” she says.
Arrange a visit
Prospective families can visit the school during term time. Please note that for many year groups there are currently waiting lists, tours will be prioritised for year groups where space is available. Fill in this form to arrange a visit or contact the Admissions Team for more information via [email protected] or by phoning +31 (0) 20 6797840.