When relocating to Spain with children, one of the difficult decisions that you have to make concerns their schooling. Any choices that you make will impact on your child’s future and may determine a very different outcome to what might have been, had you stayed in the UK. For obvious reasons, the older the child, the more difficult the situation. However, even moving with very young children and trying to settle them into a new nursery may be disruptive for a while.
You will likely hear all kinds of hearsay from other expats about which is a good school and which is a bad one. You will hear parents’ stories about their children having nightmares whilst at a particular school. I hear, especially, on the Costa del Sol, tales of schools being used as a cover up for all kinds of criminal activity. Try not to be influenced by other peoples’ experiences and do your own research.
As an expat in Spain, depending on where you are living, you have a few options. If you want your children to follow the British education system and ultimately take GCSE’s and A- levels, than you will be looking for fee paying international schools. These tend to be bilingual, some with less emphasis on the Spanish language than others. With regards to language, they all use different timetables. Some might teach all in English, with one or two hours a day being taught in Spanish, others may do English in the morning and Spanish in the afternoon.
Such schools are increasingly popular with Spanish parents who want their children to learn English to native level. Some international schools are more ‘international’ with others as nationalities generally include English, German, Russian, South American, Dutch and Spanish. There are schools, particularly on the Costa del Sol which are predominantly English. The age range for international schools depends on the size of the school. Some cover pre-school to sixth form i.e. 3- 18, whereas other might only be 3 – 7. If at three, you feel that your child is too young for school, there are also international kindergartens that take children from 1 – 6.
There are also Spanish private schools, where children are taught entirely in Spanish and most of the other children in their class will be Spanish. They follow the Spanish system and tend to be cheaper than the more British international schools.
Finally, the ‘free’ option is the state system otherwise known as public schools. Again, children will only be taught in Spanish with English taught as a foreign language as French and Spanish are in the UK. The older the child, the more difficult it will be for him or her to adapt to a new language, system and culture. The attitude of the parents also plays a part in the adaptation period. It helps if the parents can speak Spanish and have an understanding of the Spanish culture in order to communicate with class teachers etc. Likewise, the ability to speak Spanish will also allow you to support your child with their homework, you will be able to read letters sent home which will not be in English and your child’s school life will not be so alien to you.
Many people who send their children to the local, public schools are often very proud of the fact that their children grow up to be completely bilingual. However, parents must not overlook that speaking English is one thing but reading and writing is another. At a
Spanish public school and a Spanish private school your child will not be taught to read and write in English. It is up to the parents to ensure that the child learns to read and write in English outside of school time, as it is not the responsibility of the school.
Your child’s education is one of the biggest decisions you will have to make about life in Spain. Choosing a home is quite simple in comparison. In Spain, it is illegal not to send a child of six years upwards to school, so home-schooling is not an option, as it is in the UK. Talk to those whose opinion you trust, have a look around the different schools. Unfortunately, you can’t really go touring around the public schools as you are lucky to have a look around even if your children are pupils!
There are so many advantages for British children growing up in Spain that will no doubt benefit them in the future wherever they decide to live. Nevertheless, I do come across people who return to the UK for a free education system that they understand.