There’s a catch 22 when it comes to getting your expatriate children into school in Spain – firstly why would anyone who needs to get their children into a school commit to a property rental before they have secured their children a place, because you can be allocated a place in a school almost anywhere within your catchment area. And yet, you cannot even begin the process until you have a fixed address in Spain! So, starting from this point of confusion, it’s clear that finding a school for your children in Spain will not necessarily be easy.
We’re well aware of the many frustrations expatriate parents face as they seem to be passed over by pushy Spanish families who know how to play the system, as they struggle to get their child into a decent educational establishment and then when they realise the fact that the public schools have very different and sometimes old fashioned teaching methods that don’t seem to do children any favours at all.
So, in a bid to hopefully ease your frustrations, we have put together a report about education in Spain, your choices, how the system works and what you’re going to have to accept and come to terms with if you’re moving to live in Spain with children of school age. We have included some resources we think you will find invaluable!
The Education System in Spain
Schooling for children is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, and you can choose to send your child to a public school (i.e., a government, state funded school), a semi-private school where fees are minimal but where parents pay to top up on everything other than fees, or a completely private school where fees run from a few hundred euro a month up to twenty thousand a year. Note: international schools where education follows the British or American national curricula fall into the latter bracket.
You can also choose to send your pre-school child to a nursery, and children can remain in school until they are 18 before applying to university. I.e., the system is very similar, on the surface, to that in the UK. However, teaching methods differ, the curriculum naturally differs, and expatriate parents can become very frustrated with the public school system.
The Public School System
Just like in the UK, not every state run school is equal, and you’re awarded a place at a school in your catchment area based on a points system that rates aspects such as how close parents live and work to a given school, whether a child has siblings at that school and so on. Even if you live next door to a given institution, if it is very popular you may not be awarded a place as competition will be fierce, and you can be sure the Spanish families who have been through all this before will be au fait with manipulating the system whilst you won’t.
Now, you can complain about how unfair this is until the cows come home but a) that won’t make any difference and b) it goes on in the UK too so you just have to accept it and work with it.
Which School for Your Child?
If your child is under the age of 10 and you’re moving to Spain for the long-term, it can make sense to enrol them in the public school system where they will most likely quickly1 develop the language skills they need. This approach will probably ensure your child integrates well and makes friends. If on the other hand you’re only going to be in Spain for the short-term and/or your child is over the age of 10, putting them through the state system could damage their education.
You will perhaps cause a lot of disruption by taking them in and out of a school in a short period of time, they will likely struggle more to learn Spanish, and the curriculum they follow will then probably change when you move on and put them in another school.
So, you have to think about the right method of approach to education for your child on an individual basis. The good news is there are a number of excellent private schools in Spain, and if your budget can stretch to meet their fees, your child can have a consistency of education and curriculum and perhaps avoid lots of problems with integration and interruption of their education.
Methods of Teaching in Spain
Despite a number of overhauls of the Spanish education system in recent decades, the method of teaching – even up to and through the university system – is very passive. Children/students are still expected to listen, take down facts, learn and regurgitate what they have learned in this passive manner in tests and exams. This certainly doesn’t mean that Spain’s education system ranks it among the best in Europe! However, Spain has some excellent business schools, some incredible universities, and the odd public and private school that really stand out.
You just have to be prepared to research hard to find the best educational institutions, and perhaps pay to have your child attend the establishment you favour.
Resources to Help You
There are a handful of excellent resources that we need to tell you about if you’re thinking of moving to live in Spain and you need to sort out schools for your child or children.
The first is Schools in Spain – an independent directory and news site dedicated to listing every single school in Spain! It certainly isn’t there yet, but it is very well populated with listings and it is a very good place to start when you’re researching what will be available in the area you’re thinking of moving to. If you’re already in Spain you can also list schools on this directory if they are not already in place, rank them if your child attends them, and generally interact and get involved in helping to make this an even more valuable resource.
The second is the National Association of British Schools in Spain which is a membership organisation comprising of only fully authorised British schools and which is a fabulous site if you’re planning on putting your children through a private, British school. All the schools are listed with contact details, an overview of the school and the age ranges accepted.
Finally, you may also like to try the British Council in Spain’s website that has plenty of resources for parents as well as their student children.
As I hope we’ve shown, you do have choices and options when it comes to schooling your children in Spain, and whilst the system is not perfect, at least you can access free education if you need to, or you have the choice of your child attending a prestigious private establishment and getting as good an education as you could possibly hope for anywhere in the world.