The UK blamed its decision on a failure to address flaws in the European Schools system, which it said imposed an unfair burden on the UK to supply teachers.
In a statement to the board of governors of the European Schools, which is made up of representatives of the European Union's member states plus the European Commission, the UK government said that it had been compelled to take the step because of an imbalance in cost-sharing. Commission figures show that the UK currently has 219 teachers on secondment to European Schools, which is double the share of UK pupils in the schools.
Teaching staff in European Schools are seconded from member states for nine-year periods. The UK has long complained that it is being forced to provide a disproportionately high number of teachers because so many parents want their children to be instructed in the English-language sections. Recent changes to the admissions system have reinforced the trend, since students may now opt to be schooled in their “dominant” language rather than their native language. This means non-Anglophone parents can request that their children should be taught in English, by claiming that they speak English at home.
There are 14 European Schools located close to EU institutions or agencies. They were set up by an intergovernmental agreement, with the intention of teaching the children of staff in the EU institutions, though, depending on their location, the schools also take pupils with parents from other backgrounds.
There are five schools in Belgium, three in Germany, two in Luxembourg and one each in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
There is one school in the UK but it is scheduled to close in 2017. In 2009, the schools' board of governors passed a non-binding resolution seeking to link the secondment of teachers to the number of pupils from each member state. This should translate to 114 teachers from the UK, about half the current level.
Belgium and Ireland also carry a disproportionate burden, with Belgium providing 51 teachers more than it would under a proportional system, and Ireland 30 more.
By contrast, France should be providing 196 teachers but instead provides only 184. Italy should provide 50 more teachers, while Spain should provide an additional 32.
“Very little progress has been made in respect of implementing this resolution,” the UK's statement says. “Therefore we are not planning to assign any additional teachers to the European Schools system until substantial progress has been made towards proportionality.” The UK is suggesting that education ministers should discuss the issue at one of their regular meetings.
According to sources in the European Schools system, failing to change the system will make it necessary to recruit Anglophone teachers locally and pay them within the Belgian system. “But there are not loads of qualified native English-speaking teachers floating around [in Brussels],” one teacher said.
In a letter to parents on 17 April, the UK said that until a long-term solution is found, “the UK is determined to work with colleagues in the European Schools system to ensure that the education of pupils will not be adversely affected by this decision”.