Choosing the right school for your child in Spain

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If you are moving to Spain as a family, you might be wondering about one of the most important aspects – the education system. Understanding the schooling system in Spain can be a stressful and daunting task, with lots to plan and the thoughts and feelings of your child to consider. Whether it’s playschool, primary school or secondary school, expat parents have lots of important choices to make.

But you’re not alone! With millions of expats successfully making the move in the past, there are brilliant systems in place for foreign children. In this education supplement we will be looking at how to choose a school in Spain, the education system in Spain, school life post Covid, bridging the gap between digital and traditional learning, and much more.

The education system in Spain

The good news is that education in Spain is of very high quality, scoring over the OECD average in maths, literacy, and sciences. The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (Ministerio de Educacion y Formacion Profesional) governs schools in Spain and collaborates closely with the local autonomous communities (comunidades autonomas), who distribute financing, advise on curricula, and supervise education standards.

Spanish schools are classified into three types – public (colegios publicos), private (colegios concertados), and privately-funded (colegios privados), which include international schools.

School ages in Spain

School is only obligatory in Spain between the ages of 6 and 16 (educacion primaria and ESO).

Spain’s educational system is divided into four stages. Infant school for ages 0 to 6, primary school for ages 6 to 12, secondary school for ages 12 to 16, and university preparation or vocational training for ages 15 to 18.

Choosing a school in Spain

Enrolling your child or children in a new school can be really stressful, particularly when making sure your little one is happy is the most important thing. Your choice will be influenced by a number of variables, including your financial situation, the age of your children, and their aptitude for learning a new language.

International school or Spanish school? The first choice you need to make first is whether you want your child to continue speaking their native tongue at school or if you are comfortable with them enrolling in a Spanish school. Many international and British schools in Spain will teach according to the US or UK curricula, and there are also Norwegian and French schools you can choose.

Public, private or concertado? This decision will mainly be influenced by your financial situation. Public schools in Spain are free, private schools charge a fee ranging from hundreds to thousands, and concertado schools are usually subsidised and have a religious element.

You might want to think about enrolling your child in an international school if you want them to receive an education utilising the same system as in your native country. Spain has the most international schools in Europe, and they are paid private schools that follow an international curriculum (either the International Baccalaureate or the curriculum of your native nation).

Location and transport are very important considerations.  Typically, you’ll need to enrol your child in the town’s school. If a nearby town’s school has open spots, you might be allowed to enrol there, however, local children will get priority.

Consider your child’s transportation options if the school is far from home. Some areas of Spain don’t have any public transportation, and not all schools will provide it, and the time it takes to get to and from school could add lots of extra time onto your child’s school day.

The duration of the school day varies school-to-school in Spain. Classes typically begin at 8am or 9am and finish anywhere between 2pm and 5pm. Schools that end earlier will just have a little snack break and won’t have a lunch break. Instead, children will eat when they get home. The schools with later finishing times will have a lunch break.

Some schools offer a longer lunch break during which students can leave for up to two hours and come back later for further instruction.

Compared to other EU countries, school hours in Spain are long. Looking at the school day and how your child will cope, asking them how they feel about the school hours, and deciding whether they fit into your working schedule is paramount to choosing a new school.

Lunch and food options will be something else you will need to consider when looking into the duration of a school day. some schools provide a lunch period while others finish the day earlier so the pupils can eat at home.

For schools that offer a lunch break, some will have a “Comedor” (dining room/canteen) while others may require the students to bring their own packed lunch from home.

If the school has a cafeteria, you might want to inquire about the food options because they may differ significantly from those served at British and American schools.

The languages taught and extra available help for non-Spanish speakers is very important and, by law, Spanish public schools must help foreign students integrate into the Spanish school system. This can be done through individual Spanish tuition or in small groups with other foreign children. Some schools will also put children into a lower year until they reach the required level of Spanish.

The primary language in the majority of Spanish schools will be Castilian (Spanish). Catalan, Galician, Basque, and Aranese are the other four official languages of Spain, hence in certain regions, some classes will also be taught in the second language. Children whose mother tongue is not Spanish will therefore have to acquire two new languages when they begin school in Spain.

How the school performs will undoubtedly have a big impact on your decision. Looking into a school’s rankings and the outcomes of its students’ external tests is a useful way to determine its performance. Lists for both public and private schools should be made available and published publicly. Private schools typically place first in the nation, especially British and international schools. Yet Spain also has a lot of prestigious public schools.

The number of children in each class will have an effect on your child’s learning experience, and the average number of pupils in each class in Spain is 21. This may differ depending on region, and numbers may also be different in private schools. This is something important to consider, as larger classes may result in poorer education quality.

After-school activities are a brilliant way to encourage your child’s interests and can also come in handy for parents who are working and need to keep their child in school a little bit longer. Make sure the available activities are in line with your child’s interests, and does the school have the resources to effectively operate them? While choosing a school shouldn’t likely be based just on the facilities offered, having well-designed and maintained facilities will be crucial in determining how your child will learn.

After-school activities are also the perfect way to get your child to integrate with other children, immerse themselves in the language, make new friends and learn new skills.

Speak to other expats to find out more about schools in your area. A great idea is to join expat groups online and on social media to speak with other foreign families who have made the move to Spain and enrolled their children in new schools. From these conversations, you usually receive very honest and helpful advice from people who have already walked in your shoes.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do remember to come back and check The Euro Weekly News website for all your up-to-date local and international news stories. Remember, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

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Written by

Laura Kemp

Originally from UK, Laura is based in Axarquia and is a writer for the Euro Weekly News covering news and features. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at [email protected]