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A primary concern for expat families moving to Spain with children is finding a good school. 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 several 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 expats planning on staying in the country short-term or those with older children usually 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 while these schools are free for children to attend, parents have to pay for books and extracurricular 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 the closest proximity to their homes until secondary school. Catchment zones come into effect in secondary school.
The primary language of instruction in state schools is generally Spanish or the language of the specific 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.
Public schools in Spain are usually the best for expats with very young children who can easily overcome the language barrier and culture shock, 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 fantastic option for parents who 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 an affluent area, then it is more likely to meet expat standards. Some of these types of schools admit children from as young as a 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 plenty, some of which have steep annual tuition fees. These schools are assumed to have smaller class sizes, better facilities and a greater array of extracurricular 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 to enrol their children in one of these schools, expats will have to move fast and be great negotiators.
Education costs vary considerably, so it is best to consult the school directly regarding tuition and curriculum.
International schools in Spain
International schools in Spain are private schools that teach a foreign curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the curriculum of another country, such as the United States or the United Kingdom. Short-term expats usually favour these schools because they allow their children to continue learning in the curriculum of their home country and 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 annual fees required or that it is covered as part of their employment contract.
Admission procedures vary from one school to the next, so it is best to contact each school directly. It is recommended that expats bring their child’s previous school year report card and their immunisation records to interviews.
Special-needs education in Spain
Expat parents with disabled children can rest assured that Spanish public and semi-private schools are required – and are afforded grants – to provide inclusive education to children with special needs as far as possible. Public schools have shared psychologist, speech therapist and sociologist services to support students. For children with disabilities too severe to accommodate in mainstream schools, a range of special-needs schools are available throughout Spain, especially in the major cities.
Disabled or differently abled children may also qualify for a government grant to assist with specialist treatments, tutoring or tuition for special schools.
Tutoring in Spain
Tutoring is a useful tool for children in Spain. Expat parents frequently employ tutors to teach their children Spanish, assist them in preparing for important exams or to assist with challenging school subjects. There are a variety of private tutoring companies in Spain that can accommodate kids at a facility, at home or online. Reputable companies include Preply and Apprentus.
►An expat explains how to register for the Empadronamiento.
"Schools in Granada are allocated according to your home address, so you need to choose your location first, then decide on the local school. As this is not a big expat area there are not so many bilingual or international schools, but there are a few. I would recommend that children mix in with local children to get a full immersive experience. It’s the most fulfilling way for them to learn." Read more about the expat life of Molly, a British expat who's lived in Spain since 1998, in her interview with Expat Arrivals.
"One of my children is in day-care, and the other is in infant school. Spanish education exist on three planes: public and funded by the government, private and paid for by tuition, and parochial, which is partially subsidised by the government and also by religious orders. What makes things more complicated is that curriculum and teacher training depend on the autonomous community.
We opted for a private school for our elder son for several reasons, and one was because of my work at a university. I was also particularly concerned about rote learning in the Spanish public system, rather than project-based work that promotes cross-curricular thinking and independence." Read more about Cat, an American expat, and how she's adjusted to life in Seville.
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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