A primary concern for expat families relocating with kids is finding a good school in Spain. Options vary between public, private, international and semi-private (colegios concertados) schools, and these institutions can be Catholic or secular, co-educational or single-gendered.
Parents will need to carefully evaluate a number of factors before making their choice – considering their child’s age, the anticipated length of their stay in Spain, their budget, the primary teaching language they would prefer and the curriculum that would best suit their child.
Each situation is different and worth careful consideration, but generally expats who only plan on staying for a short time or those with older aged children send their kids to an international school in Spain.
Education is compulsory in Spain for children between the ages of six and 16, and the school year typically extends from mid-September to the end of June.
Public schools in Spain
The standard of the state education system is supposed to be as high as that of the private system and, what’s more, it’s free for children to attend public schools in Spain. Parents normally do, however, need to pay for books and for fees incurred by extra-curricular activities. It is free for expats to send their children to state schools in Spain, as long as they have registered on the Empadronamiento or Padron, the municipal register, at their local town hall.
Documents required to enrol in a state school in Spain generally include:
• Birth certificate
• Parent’s marriage certificate (or document stating they are both legal guardians of child)
• Passport or ID card
• Papers issued by the Town Hall Education Department confirming a place at the school (to get these papers, a certificate proving residency is required from the Padron office)
• SIP number of the child (issued in person by the Social Security office)
• Medical Certificate including immunisation record (issued by Spanish paediatrician at the Centro Medico)
Children usually attend the state school in closest proximity to their house until secondary school, when the principle of catchment zones takes effect. In Spain, there is a noteworthy absence of a national rating system for evaluating individual schools and, as a result, word-of-mouth tends to be the best way to determine the standards of an institution.
The primary teaching language of state schools in Spain is generally Spanish, or sometimes the co-official language of the region such as Catalan in Barcelona. Do not assume that teachers in the state system will speak English, as many will not, and those that do will have varying levels of proficiency.
Expats report that public school teachers can be more severe and are likely to give less individual attention to each child. Furthermore, the community of pupils and their parents is generally not as sophisticated or as involved as within the private schools.
State-schools in Spain tend to be best for expats with very young children who can easily overcome the language barrier and other challenges, and for expats who plan to live in Spain long-term.
Semi-private schools in Spain
Semi-private schools are former private schools subsidised by the Spanish government. Fees are low, and in some cases, non-existent.
These schools are a good option for parents who would prefer smaller class sizes for their children, but the standard of each is dependent on the neighbourhood it is situated in. The rule of thumb seems to be that if the school is located in a prosperous area then it is more likely to meet expat standards. Some of these types of schools admit children from as young as one year old.
The primary teaching language in these schools will also be Spanish or the regional co-official language and the curriculum will be the Spanish state curriculum.
Private schools in Spain
Private schools in Spain are numerous, uphold various curricula and always have annual tuition fees. As in other destinations, these schools are assumed to have smaller class sizes, higher-quality facilities and a greater array of extra-curricular activities.
Unless the private school is a bilingual school or an international school, the primary teaching language will be Spanish or the co-official language of the region.
Demand can be high for the more prestigious private schools in Spain and, in order to enrol their children in one of these schools, expats will have to move fast and negotiate well.
Education costs vary immensely, and it is best to consult with the school directly regarding tuition and curriculum.
International schools in Spain
International schools in Spain are private schools that teach an international curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the curriculum of another country.
Expats, especially those in Spain for the short-term, usually favour these schools because they allow their children to continue learning the curriculum from their home country in the language they are familiar with.
Most urban centres in Spain have a healthy assortment of international schools, an overwhelming amount of which seem to be British. Keep in mind that these institutions can often be on the outskirts of a city, making for long commutes for the little ones.
Additionally, these schools normally have high tuition costs, and expats should make sure their wages can cover the high annual fees required of them before they agree to move to Spain with their families.
Admission procedures vary from one school to the next, so it is best to correspond with each school individually. In general, it is recommended that expats bring their child’s previous school year report card and their immunisation records to any interviews.