Private and international schools in Spain
As an alternative to state education in Spain, expat parents can opt to send their children to private schools, international schools, or international baccalaureate schools in Spain.
If you're moving to Spain with children, there is a wide range of private schools (escuelas privadas) in Spain in which you can enrol your child: subsidised private schools, bilingual schools and fully independent international schools, including American and British schools.
Private and international schools in Spain can offer a lot to the expat family, but you need to do research to see which Spanish education system best suits the needs of your children.
Private schools in Spain
Most private schools in Spain are co-educational Catholic day schools, although a number of schools (including some American and British schools) take weekly terms or boaders. Similar to state schools, most private schools in Spain operate a Monday to Friday timetable.
You can choose a private school in Spain based on which course level or curriculum you want your childen to learn, including:
- the Spanish bachillerato;
- the British GCSE and A-level examinations;
- the American High School Diploma and its college entrance examinations (eg. ACT, SAT, achievement tests and AP exams);
- the International Baccalaureate (IB).
The Spanish bachillerato is generally taught at Spanish private schools, which teach entirely in Spanish, are state-subsidised (thus cheaper) and follow the Spanish state-school curriculum.
Some international schools are also subsidised, follow a bilingual (English/Spanish) curriculum and are also authorised to accept both Spanish and foreign pupils. They are required to teach the Spanish curriculum, including primary and secondary education, and the bachillerato. These schools provide the opportunity for children to become completely bilingual, and to choose between a Spanish or English-language university or career.
To receive state subsidies, 25 percent of a school’s total number of pupils must be Spanish (at least 20 percent in each class). As a condition of receiving government funding, schools with Spanish pupils are subject to inspection by the Spanish school authorities.
International schools in Spain
Some private schools in Spain are independent and can thus follow a curriculum of another country, although fees tend to be higher. In addition to American and British schools there are also French, German, Swedish and other foreign-language schools in Spain. Under Spanish law, all foreign schools must be approved by their country's embassy in Spain. Some international schools accept children from ages three to 18.
If you prioritise an easy transition for your child over integration, it is worth considering a private international school. Also if you are only staying in Spain on a short-term contract, you may feel it is not worth putting your child through the strain of having to learn another language – although the immersion will be beneficial in future years.
Your choice of foreign schools will depend on where you live in Spain. There’s a good choice of English-speaking schools in Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Tenerife, and on the costas. For example, there are British schools in Alicante, Barcelona, Cádiz, Fuengirola, Ibiza, Lanzarote, Las Palmas, Madrid, Menorca, Palma de Mallorca, Marbella, Tenerife, Torremolinos and Valencia.
Private, foreign and international schools tend to have smaller classes and a more relaxed, less rigid regime and curriculum than Spanish state schools. They provide a more varied and international approach to sport, culture and art, and a wider choice of academic subjects. Many also provide English-language summer school programmes combining academic lessons with sports, arts and crafts, and other extra-curricular activities.
A usual aim is developing a child as an individual and the encouragement of his or her unique talents, rather than teaching on a production-line system. This is made possible by small classes which allow teachers to provide pupils with individually-tailored lessons and tuition. The results are self-evident with examination pass rates high, and private secondary schools have an exceptional university placement rate.
On the other hand, one of the major problems of private foreign-language education in Spain is that children can grow up in cultural ‘ghettos’ and be ‘illiterate’ as far as the Spanish language and culture are concerned. Although attending a private school may be advantageous from an academic viewpoint, integration into Spanish society can be severely restricted.
International schools vary hugely, however, and some international schools take pupils from Spain as well as expats. Spain has one of the largest number of 'foreign' schools of any European country, meaning schools where the majority of pupils are from the host nation, as many Spanish seek the prestige of sending their child to an English-speaking or other foreign-language school. So in some schools, lessons may be in English but Spanish can rule in the playground.
Education fees in Spain
Private school fees in Spain vary considerably depending on the quality, reputation and location of a school, but are generally lower compared to the cost of private education in Northern Europe and North America. Not surprisingly, schools located in Madrid and Barcelona tend to be among the most expensive.
Fees at subsidised Spanish schools are around EUR 700 a year, whereas fees at independent foreign schools range from around EUR 4,000 a year to well over EUR 8,000 a year at senior schools (particularly for boarders).
Fees usually do not include registration, books, materials, laundry, insurance, extra-curricular activities, excursions, meals and transport (most private schools provide school buses). As an example, you may need to budget around EUR 800 a term for meals and other extras.
Most private schools subscribe to insurance schemes covering accidents, both in school and during school-sponsored activities.
Some schools award scholarships and offer grants to help parents pay fees, depending on their financial circumstances.
How to apply to a private or international school
Apply to private schools as far in advance as possible, as some international schools have waiting lists for places. You’re usually requested to send school reports, exam results and other records. Before enrolling your child in a private school, make sure you understand the withdrawal conditions and fees in the school contract.
It’s advisable to check whether a school is recognised by the Spanish education authorities and whether it belongs to an accredited organisation. You can also consult ECIS for a list of international schools in Spain, otherwise most British schools in Spain belong to the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS), whose members are visited and approved by British school inspectors. Advice about British English-language schools in Spain can also be obtained from the British Council.
David Hampshire / Expatica
This was an extract from Living and Working in Spain, by David Hampshire. Published by Survival Books, updated 2015.
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