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The British School in The Netherlands

School History

Over the past 80 plus years, the BSN has gone from half a dozen children in a rented room in The Hague, to 2,300 students from 80+ different nations.

Have a look through the decades to discover the multitude of twists, changes and developments that go together to make the history of The British School in The Netherlands a fascinating and absorbing story. 

80 Years of the BSN: Just The Beginning


From The Beginning

1931-1940 | How it all Began

The School was established during the school year of 1931-1932 by Mrs Gwen Brunton-Jones as ‘The English Kindergarten and Preparatory School’. The humble School, located on the first floor of a Dutch school in the van Diepenburchstraat, started with just a handful of pupils up to the age of 14 fees were around 50 guilders per quarter. Mrs Brunton-Jones recruited a Vice-Principal (Miss Margret Davies) and teaching staff Miss Lehman and Miss Macdona. In 1935, the School changed its name to the ‘English School of The Hague’ and numbers started to increase as the School received support from both the British and American Ambassadors.

However, by 1939 it was clear that the School was under threat. Many families left as the war took hold and Miss Macdona finally received a telegram whilst in England for the summer break telling her not to return. As the Germans invaded in 1940, the School officially closed. Mrs Brunton-Jones was interned by the Germans and Miss Davies married and moved away.

1948-1960 | A Second Chance

Pupils in a line, all holding up their hands to ask a question.

The School was re-opened in 1948 by Nancy Macdona. The second beginnings were even more humble than the first - one rented room in the Jan van Nassaustraat and the help of three women, none of them trained as teachers (one of them Amy Weise). But by Christmas 1948, the School could boast 26 pupils. By 1952, numbers had reached 60 and new premises were found in a Dutch school on the Adriaan Goekooplaan. Expansion continued and Miss Macdona recruited a Co-Principal, Mrs Phyllis Donaldson, to take responsibility for the growing number of older children. In 1953, there was another move to Doornstraat, and then in 1954, the school was merged with the American and French Schools as part of the International School project. This project turned out to be a catastrophe and the School soon withdrew from it.

1960-1970 | A New Era

Staff, posing for a photo.

In 1961, Miss Nancy Macdona handed over the principal ship to Mrs Donaldson, Mrs D took her role with vigour. Adopting a very English approach, a school uniform was soon introduced and a school badge was designed. Houses were established (Leiden, Gouda, Delft & Amsterdam) and graduate teachers wore their gowns. In the winter of 1963, an extension was opened as the 250 pupils and 20 members of staff had already outgrown the building. But still, it was not to be enough.

The previously small School, originally populated by the children of diplomats, was quickly becoming a significant International School. The School now had to deal with parents who were not used to living abroad the school community developed to support this new ‘inexperienced breed’ of expat family. 

By 1966, it was quite clear that a second building would have to be purchased to allow the School to split into a Primary and Secondary division. The building chosen for the Senior Division was located at the Parkweg 17 – by a strange quirk of chance next door to the premises of the ill-fated International School ten years earlier. Mrs Maureen Jonker-Carroll took on the headship of the Primary Division at Tapijtweg and Mr Robert Carrington was appointed to be in charge of the Senior Division. By 1968, the student numbers had increased further to 419.

1970-1975 | Increasing Expectations

Students sat at their desks, The teacher stands behind

Space soon became a problem once more and in 1970, a third set of premises was purchased to house a ‘Middle Division’ after school inspectors commented on what Mrs D was already too aware of; the atmosphere was excellent as were the standards of teaching but there was a lack of space for indoor P.E., and classrooms for the introduction of new subjects such as Music, Crafts and Domestic Science were absent. In 1971, some 18 years after she first joined Mrs D retired following a short spell of ill health - no doubt influenced by the stress incurred in expanding the School to such a rate. Her amazing contribution to the School was recognised when she was awarded the O.B.E.

Taking over from Mrs D was Mr Neil Buckley who was to face an immediate challenge. Because of the circumstances, there was a strong pressure to discontinue the Sixth Form but he pushed forward with the recruitment of well-qualified teachers, introduced a range of after school activities and new subjects such as Music, Dutch and Spanish. His gamble paid off, the A-Level pass rate grew and as the Sixth Form grew the whole senior division benefited. The commitment to The Senior School also had a profound effect on activities outside the classroom with a multitude of clubs, sports, societies being founded and even a school magazine was created. The Senior School was no longer simply a place where students went for academic tuition.

1975-1980 | A Time of Action

Men in Suits and Hardhats, standing at a building site

During this time of growth in the 1970s, the decision was taken to change to schools name – detailed information behind the reasoning for this is not clear, but nonetheless, The English School of The Hague became The British School in The Netherlands in 1976.    

Between 1971 and 1977, the student population doubled, from 500 to a staggering 1,000, it was clear that a full-scale reorganisation of structure and premises was required. Another search for space ensued, resulting in the securing of land in Voorschoten for the building of The Senior School (a combination of the Senior and Middle Divisions). This allowed the School to vacate the van Stolklaan and Parkweg premises and turn Tapijtweg into a Junior School. In the year that the first foundation stone of The Senior School was laid the school was also busy branching out to the far North of Holland following a plea of the Nederlands Aardolie Maatschappij (N.A.M). The school referred to as a ‘dépendance’ of the Junior school, started with 14 pupils and in the fullness of time, it became a self-contained full part of the BSN.

Two years later, in 1979, the School in Assen had expanded into two classrooms, and the children joined their counterparts for activities such as P.E., craft and swimming. Also, on 23 April 1979, the Summer Term began in the new purpose built premises in Voorschoten under the headship of Mr Brian Davidson. The school was opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester.

1980-1985 | A New Division

Young pupils reading and talking to each other

With the elder students now relatively spoilt for space, attention turned to the younger students. The Junior Division had expanded to such an extent that the decision had already been taken in 1975, to move the youngest children and form an Infant and Nursery Division. This new division was to be based in the rented premises on the Prins Bernardlaan in Leidschendam and headed by Mrs Horsley.

In 1985, the provision for Teaching English as a Second Language was extended to The Senior School, enabling the BSN was to accept children of twelve and thirteen years of age who were unable to speak English on arrival and successfully take them through GCSE and A-level examinations. This further boosted numbers, and by the late 1980s, there were over 1,200 pupils within the whole School.

1985-1990 | Settling Down

Four pupils sat around two BBC Micros

The move to Granaathorst in Mariahoeve was a fortuitous event – Mrs Jonker-Carrol (Head of Junior at the time) still recalls hearing ‘through the Grapevine’ that the Dutch School currently residing there might be moving out. She describes how she was literally knocking on the door of the School the very next morning to start the process of acquiring the site for the BSN. The resulting negotiations led to one more move in the life of the BSN as Granaathorst became the new BSN Infant School in 1986 under the headship of Mrs Val Price.

For a few years, life continued in a relatively settled fashion at all BSN Schools, which now numbered two sites in The Hague, one in nearby Voorschoten and one in Assen. Visits were common place: from Leiden Geology Museum to the Aircraft carrier ‘’Ark Royal’’, new experiences were a way of life for BSN Students. Life in the classroom was also starting to change with the introduction of the first computers (remember the huge floppy drives and single colour screens?); music and technology were becoming an increasingly  important part of the students’ extra-curricular lives with Senior, Junior and Infant School staging their own productions. The annual school musical had been a fact since the move to Voorschoten in 1979, but in the second half of the 1980s and into the 90s it really took off – one glittering, glamorous production after another: The Kind and I, Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, Carousel, Cabaret, West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof (which even went on tour in Frankfurt!). 

Then, in 1989, the School got the golden opportunity to buy an additional 4 hectares at Voorschoten, effectively tripling the site area. This provided space for two new sport fields a cricket pitch, tennis courts, a dance and drama studio plus the ‘boerderij’ and associated buildings (the ‘boerderij’ is a municipal monument whose external appearance had to be preserved – it also became the home of the Principal of the BSN).

1990-2000 | Changing Times

Group photo of Pupils and a Staff Member

Late 80s early 90s saw changes in key staff, as well as in premises across the BSN. The facilities at Voorschoten were even further enhanced when HRH Princess Margriet opened a new ‘state-of-the-art’ Science, Technology and Music building in 1992. Also, in 1992, the Tapijtweg opened a whole new wing providing four more classrooms, a large library and a resources area was built. The library was opened by Helen Sharman, during the same visit Helen also visited the BSN’s school in Assen, at which point the School there was officially renamed ‘The Helen Sharman British School’

Despite the new extension, in 1993, the Junior School was still seriously overcrowded and the whole of Year 6 had to be moved out of the Tapijtweg and into temporary classrooms at The Senior School. In 1996, came the answer to the School’s prayers: the School secured grounds in Mariahoeve and on July 12th, 1996, the Foundation Stone of the ‘Vlaskamp’ School was laid by the Duke of Kent. In September 1997 the splendid new, award-winning Junior School opened its doors to 700 children aged 3 to 11 years of age.

The completion of this building allowed the BSN to combine the Nursery, Infant and Junior Schools on one site in The Hague. The departure from Tapijtweg was an emotional time – it was the first building owned by the School and held numerous precious memories for many of the staff. However it was time to move on, so in the Autumn Term of 1997, the Junior and Infant Schools merged into the new school. The ‘Vlaskamp’ building was officially opened by HRH Prins Willem Alexander in November 1997.

The notion of bringing these three Schools together permanently on one site was not to last. The popularity of the new Junior School, along with the buoyant Dutch economy, led to a significant increase in pupil numbers in The Hague and major new developments were embarked upon. In July 1999, a three storey school building just a couple of minutes’ walk from the Junior School was purchased and, after extensive refurbishment, became a new Foundation School, which opened in September 1999. Major central services – Human Resources, Accounts, Information Services, Marketing and Community Services were also housed on the Tarwekamp (fondly known as the ‘Wheatfields’) along with the Language Centre which runs courses for adults.

2000-2005 | A Thriving Community

In 2001, in order to place The Senior School in a position where it could truly keep up with the projected growth of the future, the brave decision that an entirely new Senior School had to be build was made. And so, in June 2001, work started on this enormous project.  

The Junior and Foundation Schools were now almost running at maximum capacity and newly formed admissions office (set up in 2001) was faced with the inevitable task of turning families away in some year groups. Another solution had to be found. Once again, through a combination of good fortune and persistence with the Gemeente, the BSN was provided with the opportunity to take over an unused Dutch School (located 5 minutes from the Junior and Foundation School). With Paul Ellis and Wouter Hoobroeckx working together the concept of another Junior School was born. 

During this same period, a major Senior School building project was in full swing.  The original senior school in Voorschoten was gutted, remodelled and refurbished and a second new 'half' to the school was built - joined in the middle by a huge glass atrium. This wonderful new building, designed to take up just over 1,000, was now home to 750 students, aged 11-18 and was formally opened in September 2003 by Queen Beatrix. 

In 2004, re-branding resulted in a new style logo and the creation of the concept of the 'BSN Family of Schools’. The names BSN ‘Junior School Vlaskamp’ and BSN ‘Junior School Diamanthorst’ were coined.

2005-2010 | Space at Last

A Celebration

Behind the scenes, the Board of Management knew that future growth was still likely to exceed the existing buildings. In 2006, a deal to purchase a large site in Leidschenveen, just to the East of the City, was made. The site was big enough to hold a new (third) Junior School plus a Day Care Centre and Out of School Care Facilities, Sports Facilities, and a Community Centre offering language courses to the local community.

In the spring of 2008, the school got confirmation on its success in obtaining approval to offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma at The Senior School. The IB World school status marked an exciting new phase as the School is now able to offer greater post 16 choices to future students. Since the late 1990s, the BSN had almost doubled its size to 2,200 pupils and 1,800 part-time students representing 86 nationalities. The educational change had however gone well beyond just growth. The demands upon teachers have increased and there’s new technology: the interactive whiteboard and computer have transformed the classroom and teaching methodology. In July of 2008, Principal Trevor Rowel left the BSN and in August of that same year Martin Coles took his place.

In 2009, the Foundation School was integrated within the soon to be, three Junior Schools to benefit all the children regardless their age. The Foundation School closed its doors for the last time in July. A year later, in 2010, the move to the new campus at Leidschenveen took place. The Leidschenveen Campus was officially opened by her Royal Highness Maxima of the Netherlands. With only 17 students left, The Helen Sharman School was no longer viable and the BSN Junior School in Assen was closed in 2011.

2010-And Beyond | Creation & Innovation

Three Children learning from an iPad

Saturday 7 July 2012 saw the official launch of the BSN Alumni Association, established to help bring former students together. The launch took place at the Senior School in Voorschoten and was a fantastic success with over 200 Alumni from all over the world reuniting with old friends and teachers.

In September 2012, the BSN took the major decision to roll out a 1-to-1 iPad programme. The programme, which actively integrates iPads into the classroom, embraces the new ways of learning, teaching and working while complementing and enhancing those the school already does.

In the summer of 2015, our Principal, Dr Martin Coles retired and handed on the baton to Kieran Earley, who joined the BSN from Devonport High School in the UK.

We look forward to what the coming years may bring as we enter a new chapter in the BSN’s amazing history.