President. − The next item is the report by Jean-Marie Cavada, on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education, on the European Schools’ system (2011/2036(INI)) - (A7-0293/2011).
Jean-Marie Cavada, rapporteur. – (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, at this somewhat late hour the students are, I trust, sleeping, and it will not be long before their teachers are doing the same. We, however, are still up. Drawing as it does on the Commission’s last report on the European Schools’ system, our report aims to improve the European Schools concept, which must be adapted to the new economic requirements and the changes in society.
This concept must remain a model of inspiration for national school systems, promoting European citizenship and encouraging increased mobility, as well as the learning of the languages of the Member States, the languages of the countries of Europe.
These are the main points of this report: first, it contains a set of policy priorities to improve this educational model in Europe, in particular by establishing an appropriate legal basis for it, in accordance with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The current legal status has reached its limits and requires a radical change to allow the Union to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the work of the Member States, without, of course, superseding their competence, and to adopt legally binding acts to that end pursuant to Articles 2 and 6 of the TFEU.
I believe that Article 165 of the Treaty could be a perfectly appropriate legal basis. The European Schools must set an educational example by basing themselves on the dissemination of European culture, values, integration and languages. It is, therefore, essential for the Member States to cooperate when developing their national syllabuses, drawing on the simple example, which has worked wonderfully well up to now, of the teaching approach used by the European Schools.
The opening of Type II and Type III Schools must be wholeheartedly encouraged. It is in this spirit that the report insists that holders of the European baccalaureate should be able, once and for all, to apply to any university in the EU, with the same rights as nationals of the country in question who hold equivalent qualifications, as it is essential that the baccalaureate is automatically recognised in all of the Union’s Member States.
In this difficult period, I wished to stress the absolute need to rationalise the Schools’ management costs, without calling into question the fundamental principles on which the concept rests, especially mother-tongue teaching by native speakers, in order to maintain the quality of this teaching. Similarly, I believe it is essential to maintain equal and equivalent teaching conditions for the children of all language communities in the European Schools.
It is, therefore, with a concern for fairness that the report highlights, in accordance with Article 4 of the Convention defining the Statute of the European Schools, the plan to see general use of the working languages for teaching all non-fundamental subjects, without, of course, this being detrimental to those whose mother tongue is not one of the working languages.
To ensure good governance of the European Schools, very serious attention must be paid to the lack of seconded staff. This must be compensated for by local recruitment of teachers, whose salaries should be paid by the Schools. The Board of Governors must, therefore, ensure that Member States that do not contribute financially by seconding teachers pay an equivalent financial contribution to the Schools’ budget.
I wished to reaffirm moreover that, in these difficult times in particular, provision for students with special educational needs remains a priority, and I have asked the Board of Governors, in this regard, to ensure that coefficients are applied to this category of student when calculating class sizes in order to ensure their full integration.
Finally, Madam President, Commissioner, I wish to repeat my call to the Board of Governors to work on providing alternatives that allow students who are unable to complete the course to find vocational courses. I would not wish to finish this presentation without thanking the Commission, my colleagues, the shadow rapporteurs and rapporteurs, and especially the parents’ associations, who have enabled us to reach a consensus on which to progress this issue. Forgive me for having stolen 45 seconds from you.
Elena Băsescu (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, I welcome the discussion on the report drafted by Mr Cavada, in light of the ‘Europeanisation’ of national education systems. This system will facilitate labour mobility in the future, as well as maintaining cultural links with the country of origin. The major benefit of these is mentioned in Article 40. This stipulates the teaching of secondary subjects in the working languages of the European institutions. In addition, creating classes for pupils who speak less common languages removes the communication barriers within this educational methodology.
I should emphasise that Romania has initiated reform of the education system in a similar manner. Since 1 September there have been more schools providing teaching in Hungarian, as is the case in Sighet, as well as in Ukrainian, in institutions like the Taras Shevchenko secondary school in Maramureş County. I support the development of the network of European Schools in Member States and the exchange of good practices with national schools.
Katarína Neveďalová (S&D). - (SK) Madam President, we must not forget in our work the children living abroad with parents who work in European institutions, in embassies and the like, and who have the option to study in European schools. These schools allow them not only to study in their mother tongue, and thus to maintain the link with home, but also to study other European languages and get a top class European education in a multicultural and multilingual environment.
I am opposed to cutting the budget for these schools, but I am rather in favour of looking for new solutions, such as looking for alternative funding sources from the private sector, for example, or accepting the children of parents who work in other international institutions.
I would also like to call on the Member States to fulfil their financial commitments towards the European schools, and to post teachers who will give tuition in the mother tongue. I would also like to call for 100% recognition of the European Baccalaureate in all Member States, and I call on European universities to adopt a unified approach when assessing secondary school graduates.
I would like to end by thanking the rapporteur, Ms Cavada, and the representatives of the European Commission for their excellent cooperation.
Barbara Matera (PPE). – (IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the European Schools are a vital facility for over 20 000 children of staff working for EU institutions.
They are not a luxury, they simply provide the opportunity for those who are called to live and work abroad in a different cultural environment to access mother-tongue education for their children. I am in favour of the development of the European School model throughout the EU, and not only where European institutions are located. I believe this particular educational system allows pupils to study in a multicultural, multilingual environment while retaining their mother tongue. I am also convinced that this model helps encourage European citizenship and promote mobility within the EU.
I will conclude by saying that the European School model promotes integration and embodies the spirit of the EU motto, ‘United in Diversity’.
Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D). – (RO) Madam President, in a Europe where the movement of persons is increasingly dynamic, which also generates a large influx of pupils accompanying their parents to another country, the European School concept must be promoted more at Member State level. The experience of the European Schools in this area should also be utilised more when it comes to producing curricula in European Union Member States, in order to establish the best possible correlation between them and the European Schools system, especially concerning the European Baccalaureate taken at the end of secondary school.
In order to achieve this, I think it would be useful to carry out twinning projects between European Schools and national schools, encourage pupil and teacher exchanges, as well as set up a common EU-level programme aimed at promoting among young people the work of the European Union, its institutions and policies.
Marek Henryk Migalski (ECR). – (PL) Madam President, I agree with most of what has been said. I agree with most of what Ms Băsescu, Ms Neved’alová, Ms Matera and Ms Dăncilă have said, and I would like to thank Mr Cavada for his report. The report contains a number of things that are worthwhile and worth stressing, such as the fact that the report recognises that the Member States are fully responsible for organising their national education systems, as well as what you said, Mr Cavada, that the European school system should allow all subjects to be taught in the pupils’ mother tongue. This is quite important, and is something which should be stressed and to which attention should be drawn.
However, my political group will be voting against the report, primarily because it contains are some ideological formulas regarding the constant attempt to create a common European identity, and for this reason the European Conservatives and Reformists Group will be voting against the report. However, we do appreciate those things that are worthwhile and of value.
Georgios Papanikolaou (PPE). – (EL) Madam President, may I too congratulate and thank our rapporteur, Mr Cavada, and add that this report is being debated on a very important day: today is the European Day of Languages. This is the day that reminds us that the European Union wants multilingualism and multifacetedness and supports diversity and multiculturalism.
It is precisely these principles and values that are served by European Schools, which are exemplary education establishments which achieve noteworthy results. These schools are a right, not a luxury, in our unified Europe, offering the children of EU servants and other children an education in their mother tongue. The results achieved by European Schools over the last fifty years speak for themselves. Basically, they offer a new and successful education model. Obviously, we have financial problems here too. However, there is certainly no room for compromise on the right to an education in our mother tongue.
João Ferreira (GUE/NGL). – (PT) Madam President, European schools have an important mission: to provide native-language instruction for pupils whose parents are working outside their country of origin. It is therefore with great concern that we view attempts, on the pretext of cost efficiency, to implement measures that could well put the mission and objective of European schools at risk.We are speaking of measures such as increasing the minimum class size for elective subjects, the vertical merger of two or more different years into a single class, or the reduction of support for pupils with learning difficulties. Some of these measures could well give rise to situations that in the past were considered unfairly discriminatory by the European Ombudsman.We reject any step backward in this area. It is furthermore unacceptable that in European schools the principle of multilingualism is being attacked and that the privileged status enjoyed by some of the languages of the European Union in other domains is being extended in this case to the detriment of the rest.
Iosif Matula (PPE). – (RO) Madam President, it is not only the European Union’s constant enlargement and the increasing number of officials whose children attend the European schools, but also the need to be more cost-effective in light of the economic crisis which have made it necessary to review this education system.
Adapting the curriculum to national education systems, for example, may facilitate the rapid integration of pupils on their return to their country of origin. The financial constraints must also be offset by the principle of learning subjects in the mother tongue, including languages spoken by a smaller number of citizens, thereby helping reinforce a common European identity.
At the same time, including a course in the curriculum devoted to EU integration may help raise awareness about European citizenship right from a young age. It is also just as important to clarify the legal status of these schools and for Member States to assume full responsibility for managing this area by providing sufficient funding and for seconding the requested teaching staff. I would like to thank and congratulate Mr Cavada.
Jaroslav Paška (EFD). - (SK) Madam President, the EU created the European school system for children of employees of European institutions, making it possible for the children to get an education in their mother tongue at the location where the European institutions are situated. As a result of the EU’s recruitment policy, there has been a constant increase in the number of pupils of these schools, and in connection with this it has been difficult to ensure a sufficient number of qualified teachers and language assistants.
Since there is no effective mechanism for enforcing the commitments taken on by Member States when these schools were established, some Member States are failing to fill positions with their posted teachers, and school managers must therefore improvise and replace the missing teachers with language assistants who do not always have adequate qualifications. It would therefore be a good idea to complete the rules on the functioning of European schools so that they are capable of fulfilling their mission, as the parents rightly expect. If the Union now needs to make savings, let it save rather on museums or trips to Strasbourg, but not on the education of its children.
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). - (SK) Madam President, the mobility of EU employees, who naturally relocate together with their children, is a feature of European Union life. It is important for everyone to receive an education in their mother tongue, and the European schools are unique in this sense, performing a praiseworthy activity. It is also important and at the same time pleasing that the European Schools serve as a fine pedagogical model for other types of school.
I fully support the expansion of the European school model. It is one way of developing a common European identity from an early age. In this sense, I would like to call for European schools and their expansion to be afforded appropriate conditions, whether political, bureaucratic or financial. An educated nation - an educated society - means better jobs, better quality of life and higher living standards. It is also important to ensure that pupils and students at all types of schools receive high quality information, including information that will enhance their European awareness, providing a sound foundation for a common European prosperity.
Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the Commission. − (FR) Madam President, firstly, I would like to thank Mr Cavada for his report as well as for his remarkable cooperation and his support for European schools. This really is very important.
I am very glad that almost all the speakers today support the European Schools system. It is very important for me and for the Commission, and I am sure it is very important for the European Schools, because Parliament is a legislator. Its voice will be very important when we discuss budgetary and other issues.
Parliament will be well aware that the European Schools are of high importance to me and to the whole Commission. I fully agree with Mr Cavada when he argues in his report that the European Schools cannot be considered elitist and a luxury, rather than a necessity. They are essential for the European institutions and fundamental for a smooth-functioning public service with a large number of expatriate staff from all over Europe. The Commission welcomes this report on the European School system and is in full agreement with its main orientations.
Firstly, let me mention the opening-up of the system and the European Baccalaureate. The Commission fully supports the extension of the European curriculum in the Member States via the pedagogical accreditation of national schools with a view to developing a European Forum for Schooling and improving professional mobility. In fact, pupils who have spent all or part of their school lives in the multicultural and multilingual environment which the European schools provide begin their working life with an enormous advantage. The holders of the European Baccalaureate go on to study all over Europe. Their openness towards others and their ability to adapt to new environments single them out. This should also be the foundation stone of their future development as European citizens.
Last May, I went to the Council to remind the Member States of this opportunity, and I recently wrote a letter to the ministers for education to encourage them to open up their national systems. The Commission also agrees that the system is currently experiencing some structural shortcomings, and has been for some time. We have to face several challenges in the near future concerning the governance of the system, the infrastructure to be provided by the host Member States, the secondment of teachers by some Member States, the budgetary constraint of the EU budget contribution, and so on. These difficulties can pose serious problems to some schools and parents. I am fully aware of that but we, together with the Member States, and you, the Members of the European Parliament, have to address those questions and find the best practical answers.
Concerning the governance system, the Commission emphasises the need for a solution to the existing deficiencies, but bears in mind that a change to the intergovernmental structure was proposed during the last reform process and was unanimously rejected by the Member States during the negotiations. With the recent experience of the Member States’ reaction to the concept of reform of the governance aspects, and in particular the intergovernmental structure, the Commission is hesitant to reopen a fundamental debate with the Member States on this issue, which could be very long and far from a guarantee for a constructive solution.
The Commission is convinced that the necessary adjustment, notably giving the EU institutions a weight corresponding to their financial contribution, can be made within the framework of the existing Convention, even though this depends on the Member States’ commitment and goodwill, as well.
To give another example, under the current Convention, Member States which contribute less to the system than their quota of seconded teachers in relation to the number of national pupils can compensate for their deficit by way of a financial contribution. In the letter I recently sent to the Member States’ education ministers, I drew the attention of those concerned to the obligation stemming from the agreement on the European Schools.
The report also mentions alternative means of financing that could be explored. The Commission agrees that this is an option to take into account. For example, we could take inspiration from the arrangements made by the European School in Karlsruhe.
As far as the general budget of the European Schools is concerned, the Commission has intensively supported solutions that are cost-efficient in order to keep the evolution of the budget under control. These include adapting seconded teachers’ salaries along the lines followed for the staff of the EU institutions in the 2004 reform and rationalising the practical organisation of studies within the schools, which was decided by the Board of Governors in April of this year.
It remains the Commission’s clear priority that the core curriculum should not be affected by these rationalisation measures. As is mentioned in the report, the Commission fully agrees that the quality of education must be safeguarded. It absolutely essential for the pupils to receive the education required for access to higher education after the European Baccalaureate. As far as pedagogical methods are concerned, the Commission fully agrees with the rapporteur that the European Baccalaureate must be recognised in all Member States and that the pupils must be treated under the same conditions as nationals of each country. The Commission is following this process very closely.
The report also mentions the importance of the support given to pupils with special educational needs, the so-called SEN pupils. Indeed, everything should be done to help SEN children to follow the curriculum as far as they can be integrated in the European Schools, while bearing in mind that the European Schools are ordinary schools and not specialised schools.
In the current context, I am very much in favour of the idea of an external evaluation of the Schools’ pedagogical performances. The best way to do that is to use the PISA study, which the OECD has been carrying out for many years. I am glad to say that one European School – the one in Luxembourg – is already involved, with brilliant results. All the European Schools should participate in this evaluation. The Secretary-General and the Directors agree that this approach is the most efficient way to make an evaluation. The Commission proposed this last June. It should be discussed this autumn so that the Board of Governors can take a decision in December.
To conclude, I would like to thank you for showing an active interest in the European School system and in the future educational possibilities of more than 22 000 pupils and, hopefully soon, of even more European pupils.
President. − The debate is closed.
The vote will take place tomorrow (Tuesday, 27 September 2011).