Education in Spain... Some questions to ask yourself!

By: Lisa Sadleir

One of the most important decisions you have to make, when moving to Spain and also when you are already living in Spain , with children, is which school to send them to.  Many parents start by deciding whether to enroll their children in a Spanish state school or a private international school.

The availability of state schools and international schools in Spain varies by region. Hence, if you are planning to move to Spain, it is advisable to carefully research the schools in the area you plan to make your new home, before you plan your move to Spain.

We all do what we believe is best for our children, yet how do we make the right choice regarding the best schools for them?

Rules and regulations differ in each country. Not all countries have league tables to advise us which are the best performing schools, although there are many regulatory bodies that can be consulted to conduct basic checks.

Probably the biggest worry when moving abroad, to a new country, is that you cannot rely on the strong network of family and friends for practical experience, advice and guidance. This is where online resources are a lifesaver for many of us, providing us with information, advice and shared experiences.

Let’s look at a few points to consider and questions to ask yourself, whichever country you are moving to, or living in:

  • Is your child better suited to a small or larger school?
  • Do you prefer them to change schools as they progress or stay in the same (For example the jump to senior school or the potential change at sixth form level)
  • How far do you want your children to travel to school?
  • What transport options do you need to be provided by the school?
  • What timetable best suits your own commitments?
  • Do you prefer you children to have meals in school or will they come home to eat?
  • Are the availability of extra curricular activities important to you?
  • Which language do you prefer your children to be educated in?
  • Do you prefer a particular curriculum / teaching syllabus?

Our advice would be to firstly consider these initial questions, consider your own requirements and jot down your own answers before carrying out further research on specific schools.

If you are deciding which is the best school in Spain for your children, the following factors are just a few of many that should be considered, based on our own experience and examples of other families we have assisted, here in the Málaga area of Spain:

The age of your child:  From experience, (this is only my personal opinion and to be taken or left as you choose),  I would highly recommend enrolling any child aged 6 years or below in a Spanish state or Spanish speaking private school, whether it be a nursery or primary school.  At this age they are sponges and you may be amazed at how quickly they integrate and pick up the language. I clearly remember our son´s first word after only a few days in nursery school … “mío”!

Your knowledge of the Spanish language: I am lucky to have a pretty high level of Spanish and my husband has a good conversational level. However, we often have to use Google in order to complete our eight year old's homework assignments. I truly believe that many expat children struggle in school due to the lack of available support at home, as a result of  a lack of language ability. My advice would be that once you are unable to help your children with their Spanish homework then you should consider either moving them to a private/international school or, as a more economical alternative, source a home tutor.

Financial commitments:  Private schools are not cheap. State education is a much cheaper option. Recently, we have seen quite a sharp increase in foreign students joining our children´s state school. Unfortunately, these are not children that have just relocated, these are older children that were previously in private international schools who, due to the downturn in their parents economic position, have been forced to end their private education.  Needless to say, they do not find it easy. This is not to say that any child older that 6 or 7 will not adapt. Children are amazing and they never cease to amaze us.

Your desired level of integration in Spanish life:  This may seem like a strange consideration,  however,  we have met many people that have no interest whatsoever in integrating with the local Spaniards. Their children have attended private schools and have picked up the language randomly, as children do, by chatting with other Spanish children. As a result, their children have integrated in a minor way in their town/village yet the parents continue to mix in their own circles.

I am in no way stating that if your children do not attend Spanish state school that you will not integrate. Nor am I saying that by putting your children in the local school will you be accepted as part of the local community.  In our village, everyone seems to know our children and I have worked hard at always being involved in meetings, school trips and activities in order to be accepted by the local mums. Now, after almost 3 years, we seem to be considered as part of the community … As a parent, you need to decide what you want and what you think is best for your child and your family.

School Timetables:  In Andalucia, the State school timetable for lessons is generally from 9am until 2pm. In most schools, there is a canteen option (at extra cost) and extra curricula activities (at extra cost) and an early morning drop off option (at extra cost). In other parts of Spain the schools close for a 2 hour lunch and continue lessons in the afternoon. Private/International schools tend to follow the traditional UK timetables of 9am until 4pm or 5pm.

Whichever type of school you chose, do consider the implications of the timetable and  transportation options.  It is very easy to soon get fed up of spending half your time as a school taxi.

I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought and helped you to realise that you are not alone. There are lots of sources of advice, information and assistance to help you in your decision making journey.

You can find lots more articles about Education in Spain on our website (see link below) and we are very excited to introduce a new project we are collaborating on: Why not pop over and have a look!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingLisa Sadleir is a British expat living in Spain. Blog description: British family living in Mijas in Malaga, South of Spain. Legal and General Advice, including information about relocating and all aspects of living, working and enjoying family life in Spain.
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Contest Comments » There are 19 comments

Molly wrote 10 years ago:

Alot of things to consider when looking how to educate your children in a foreign environment. Also a great opportunity for them to grow and learn of different cultures and languages. Lisa S is a mine of information!

Yolanda Solo wrote 10 years ago:

Very balanced article on education in Spain. Lisa is spot on emphasizing the fact that you have to do what is right for you, your child and your situation. Read carefully the part where she tells you the things you need to consider because choosing. Things like the distance, travel etc. is not something that I even considered a problem until circumstances changed and it became a real struggle to make those trips.

Maya wrote 10 years ago:

In choosing to become an expat you wind up facing making decisions about a lot of things that you may have taken for granted in the UK whereas here become a choice - education, health etc. It's always good to question the reasons for your decisions and look at all the options, its so difficult as a parent to get it right all the time, but this advice will help you have a better chance of getting this big one right for you and your family

Fiona Flores Watson wrote 10 years ago:

A very useful post - Lisa is a positive mine of reliable information about everything to do with living in Spain, and as a mum she's also got the low-down on schools here. All her questions are very pertinent and worth considering carefully. As a mother of two children in the Spanish state system myself, I can highly recommend this article.

Michael Soffe wrote 10 years ago:

Excellent advice - Thank you!

Christopher Gamble wrote 10 years ago:

As with every choice in life, there are good and bad consequences. But making choices without information is risky. This blog helps mitigate such risk and is highly informative, practical and enjoyable with Expat families at heart.

Ali Meehan wrote 10 years ago:

Useful questions to ask yourself whilst thinking through the process, plus experience from a Mum who has been there!

Julia Espin Waller wrote 10 years ago:

What about these questions? (depends where you live), language subjects, class schedule? We had to work very hard to give our children the best education around.

Sue Sharpe wrote 10 years ago:

Once again, Lisa has come up trumps - well researched - this article is really useful information for anyone who is thinking about relocating.

Stephen Hall wrote 10 years ago:

.....all well and good but the MAJORITY of expat parents pay lip-service to mastering Spanish themselves. They cannot ask the decisive questions to teachers, assistants themselves and wonder why their children struggle. The daily and plaintive "Toddo bueno?" at the school-gate is manifestly not enough! The fact that the children speak Spanish better than the parents is usually enough for mum and dad to think all is OK when often is far from satisfactory.

Robin wrote 10 years ago:

A very thorough and knowledgeable resource for parents contemplating education in Spain.I haven't seen information this good brought together anywhere else.

Lindsay wrote 10 years ago:

Great round up of sensible advice Lisa. The language can be an issue even for children born overseas and with fluent parents, and needs a close eye kept on it - teachers may dismiss an expat child having a problem limited vocab, but it really can impact on understanding. Home tutors or making use of after school clubs with a Spanish tutor are always a good idea to assist with homework.

Simon wrote 10 years ago:

Lisa always looks at questions from all possible and is definitely the person to contact if you you have questions about your children's education in Spain.

Cat Of Sunshine And Siestas wrote 10 years ago:

Having lived and worked as a teacher in Andalusia, this is an excellent article for any considering schooling for children in Spain - particularly the young ones. It's amazing how thorough Spanish parents are when researching schools, but their children often stay in those schools until university.

Maria wrote 10 years ago:

One of the problems I have encountered with the education in the Costa del Sol is the lack of diversity. The British schools only employ teachers of British nationality and offer a very limited British curriculum. Most students do not plan to stay in Spain to pursue a college education and this limits their opportunities to pursue higher education in the United States since there is no guidance offered to apply to these universities. They should open the hiring process to include some American teachers as well as other nationalities.You cannot limit your student's horizons in today's competitive world. There should be laws in place limiting these hiring practices since at the end of the day, the only ones suffering the consequences are the students.

Guy Alexander Bell wrote 10 years ago:

A great article and very well researched. I think the point about parents getting involved and understanding what is going on in the school is vital. Other parents also like to see parents making far more of an effort than simply dropping the kids off at the gates. Our daughter goes to a catalan speaking school in valencia. We went to a parents meeting 2 weeks ago, couldn't really understand it,mbut got the jist of what was happening and i think they respected we at least tried!

Tamara Essex wrote 10 years ago:

This is all SOOOooo useful, thanks Lisa. This is the most informative guide anywhere, bringing together loads of fantastic info. Highly recommended for anyone thinking about moving to Spain with children.

Charlotte wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for this fantastic information. We will make it available to our clients moving to Spain with their families. It's the sort of thing we're always being asked about and I never know the answers!

Carol Byrne wrote 10 years ago:

Informative and very useful information, all points worth considering with care. Often more thought is given to the size of the house, the proximity to the beach and the nearest bar amongst expatriates - living here is quite a different matter and once again Lisa has come up trumps in pointing out the pitfalls and positives - thinking of moving to Spain with kids? Then cut out and keep.

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