If you are planning to relocate to Spain with your family, one of the crucial considerations is finding the perfect school for your child. Navigating the Spanish education system may seem overwhelming at first, as there are numerous factors to account for while prioritising your child's thoughts and emotions. Whether you are seeking a playschool, primary school, or secondary school, expat parents are faced with significant choices.
Fortunately, you are not alone in this endeavour. With a multitude of successful expat experiences in the past, there are well-established systems in place to support foreign children. In this educational supplement, we will explore the process of selecting a school in Spain, delve into the education system itself, discuss school life in the post-Covid era, bridge the gap between digital and traditional learning, and much more.
The Education System in Spain
The education system in Spain boasts a commendable standard of quality, with students consistently outperforming the OECD average in mathematics, literacy, and sciences. The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (Ministerio de Educacion y Formacion Profesional) governs schools in Spain, working closely with local autonomous communities (Comunidades Autonomas). These communities play a crucial role in financing, advising on curricula, and ensuring educational standards are upheld.
Types of Schools in Spain
Spanish schools can be categorised into three main types: public (Colegios Publicos), private partially-funded (Colegios Concertados), and privately-funded (Colegios Privados), which include international schools.
School Ages in Spain
Compulsory education in Spain is mandatory between the ages of 6 and 16 (Educacion Primaria and ESO). The Spanish educational system is divided into four stages: Infant school (ages 0 to 6), primary school (ages 6 to 12), secondary school (ages 12 to 16), and university preparation or vocational training (ages 15 to 18).
Factors to Consider When Choosing a School in Spain
Choosing the right school for your child in Spain involves considering several important factors. One crucial aspect to evaluate is your financial circumstances. Different types of schools, such as public, private, and concertado, have varying fee structures. Assessing your budget will help you determine the affordability of different options.
Additionally, the age of your children plays a role in the decision-making process. Understanding the specific educational stages in Spain, such as infant school, primary school, and secondary school, will ensure that you select a school appropriate for your child's age and developmental needs.
Another significant factor is language adaptability. If your child is proficient in Spanish or you want them to become fluent, a Spanish school can provide an immersive language experience. Alternatively, international schools offer instruction in various languages, including English, French, and others.
Lastly, consider the curriculum and educational approach of each school, as well as its location and accessibility in relation to your home or workplace. Taking these factors into account will help you make an informed decision that aligns with your child's educational and personal requirements.
International School or Spanish School?
When deciding between an international school or a Spanish school, you need to consider the language of instruction and curriculum. International schools cater to expat communities and often follow curricula based on the education systems of their respective countries. For example, there are international schools in Spain that teach according to the US or UK curricula. Additionally, you can find Norwegian and French schools as well. These schools provide education in the students' native language and offer a familiar academic structure. If you prefer your child to continue their education in their native language and follow a curriculum aligned with their home country, an international school may be the right choice.
On the other hand, Spanish schools provide instruction in the Spanish language and follow the Spanish national curriculum. Attending a Spanish school can provide your child with an immersive experience in the local culture and language. It allows them to integrate more fully into the Spanish community. However, it is important to assess your child's language proficiency and their ability to adapt to a new language of instruction.
Public, Private, or Concertado?
The choice between public, private, or concertado schools is often influenced by financial factors. Public schools in Spain are funded by the government and do not charge tuition fees. These schools follow the national curriculum and are accessible to all residents, including expats. Public schools are a popular choice due to their affordability, but they may have larger class sizes and fewer resources compared to private schools.
Private schools in Spain charge tuition fees and offer various educational approaches and curricula. They often have smaller class sizes, more specialised programs, and a wide range of extracurricular activities. Private schools can provide a higher level of individual attention and resources, but the cost of tuition varies greatly depending on the school.
Concertado schools are a unique type of school in Spain. They are privately owned but receive partial funding from the government, allowing them to offer education at a subsidised cost. These schools often have a religious affiliation, such as Catholic schools, and follow the national curriculum. Concertado schools provide an intermediate option between public and private schools in terms of cost and resources.
When making a decision, consider your financial situation, educational priorities, and the specific offerings of each school type to determine which option aligns best with your preferences and your child's needs.
Location and Transportation
Location and transportation options play a crucial role in your decision-making process. Typically, you would enrol your child in a school within your town. However, if nearby schools have vacancies, you may be allowed to enrol them there, although local children usually receive priority.
If the school is far from home, consider your child's transportation options. Some areas in Spain lack public transportation, and not all schools provide it. The time spent commuting to and from school can significantly impact your child's daily schedule.
School Hours and Lunch Arrangements
School hours in Spain can vary between different institutions. Classes usually start between 8 am and 9 am and end between 2 pm and 5 pm. Schools with earlier finishes may only have a short snack break, while children eat their main meal at home. Schools with later finishes usually include a lunch break.
Certain schools offer an extended lunch break, allowing students to leave for up to two hours and return for further instruction.
It is important to consider the school day's duration, how your child will cope with it, and whether it aligns with your working schedule when selecting a school.
Regarding lunch and food options, different schools have different arrangements. Some provide a lunch period with a dedicated dining room (Comedor), while others require students to bring their own packed lunches from home. If the school offers cafeteria services, inquire about the available food options, as they may differ from those served in British or American schools.
Language Instruction and Support for Non-Spanish Speakers
The languages taught and the availability of support for non-Spanish speakers are crucial factors to consider. Spanish public schools are legally obligated to assist foreign students in integrating into the Spanish school system. This support may include individual Spanish tuition or small group sessions with other foreign children. Some schools may also place children in lower year levels until they reach the required level of Spanish proficiency.
The primary language of instruction in most Spanish schools is Castilian (Spanish). In certain regions, classes may also be taught in Catalan, Galician, Basque, or Aranese. Non-Spanish-speaking children will therefore need to learn two new languages upon starting school in Spain.
School Performance and Class Sizes
Evaluating a school's performance is crucial to making an informed decision. Examining a school's rankings and the outcomes of its students' external assessments can provide valuable insights into its academic standards. Public and private school rankings are typically publicly available. While private schools often rank highly, especially British and international schools, Spain is also home to many esteemed public institutions.
Class sizes can significantly impact your child's learning experience. The average number of students per class in Spain is 21, though this may vary by region and differ in private schools. It is important to consider class sizes, as larger classes may impact the quality of education provided.
After-School Activities and Facilities
After-school activities are an excellent way to encourage your child's interests and provide support for working parents who may require extended school hours. Ensure that the available activities align with your child's interests and consider whether the school has the necessary resources to effectively operate them. While facilities should not be the sole basis for choosing a school, well-designed and well-maintained facilities can significantly contribute to your child's learning experience.
After-school activities also facilitate social integration, language immersion, the development of new friendships, and the acquisition of new skills.
Seeking Advice from Other Expats
Speaking to other expats who have enrolled their children in schools in Spain can provide valuable insights. Joining online expat groups and social media communities allows you to connect with foreign families who have already made the move to Spain. Conversations with experienced individuals who have faced similar challenges can offer honest and helpful advice, providing you with a wealth of firsthand information.
By considering these factors and seeking guidance from other expats, you can make an informed decision when choosing the right school for your child in Spain.
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