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A primary concern for expat families relocating with children is finding a good school in Spain. Options vary between public, private, international and semi-private schools. These institutions range from Catholic to secular, co-educational to 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 children send them 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 these schools are free for children to attend. 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 municipal register, or Empadronamiento, at their local town hall.
Children usually attend the state school in closest proximity to their homes until secondary school, when the principle of catchment zones takes effect.
The primary teaching language of state schools in Spain is generally Spanish, or sometimes the language of the region, such as Catalan in Barcelona. Do not assume that teachers in the state system will speak English, as many do not and those that do will have varying levels of proficiency.
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 its location 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 language, and the curriculum will be the Spanish state curriculum.
Private schools in Spain
Private schools in Spain are numerous and always have annual tuition fees. 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. Short-term expats usually favour these schools because they allow their children to continue learning the curriculum from their home country in a language they are familiar with.
Most urban centres in Spain have a healthy assortment of international schools. Keep in mind that these institutions can often be on the outskirts of a city, making for long commutes. 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. It is recommended that expats bring their child’s previous school year report card and their immunisation records to any interviews.
Are you an expat living in Spain?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Spain. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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