Education in Spain
Finding schools in Spain can seem very daunting. There are a wide range of options when considering your child’s education in Spain. There are State funded schools, Private Spanish schools and International schools. The decision you make will be down to the area you live in, the age and personality of your child and finances. The transition into a Spanish school will be easier if your child is younger in regards of language, cultural changes nd fitting in. State funded schools (Escuela Publica) are free (though you may have to pay for textbooks, other materials including stationery and art equipment and extra curricular activities). More than half of all students stay in full –time education until the age of 18. Spanish Private schools are generally cheaper than the UK. International schools, notwithstanding the cost, can seem very appealing in the first instance – the staff are English speaking, lessons are in English and they follow the British curriculum.
Enrolling in a Spanish School
Enrolling in a Spanish school can be quite complicated and you will need to have all the necessary paperwork in place before your child can start. This can be a lengthy and expensive process, depending on the age of the child. For a primary age child you should ask at the local town hall for advice as procedures and levels of paperwork differ by region. Usually you must provide the child’s birth certificate or passport, parents’ passports (original and copy) proof of immunisation and proof of residence (empadronamiento). If your child is transferring from a UK secondary school their existing education has to be verified (UK qualifications, for example, GCSEs, are not recognised in Spain) – year by year. This process is called Homologation (homologacion) or Verification. Once the verification papers have been received and stamped by the Department of Education your child can take up a place at a Spanish school.
Pre-school and Primary Education
Most Primary schools have a pre-school facility attached, Escuela Infantil from the ages of 3-6. These are similar to British Nurseries. Compulsory education starts at Primary School (Escuela Primaria) at the age of 6. Children start compulsory schooling in the September of the calendar year in which they are 6 years old. Therefore making them the youngest in the year rather than the eldest, as they would be in England or Wales. The school day finishes at 2 o’clock but most children do after- school activities such as sport or drama.
At 12, pupils begin Secondary School (Educacion Secundaria). When four years of compulsory education have been completed , pupils receive a Certificate of Secondary Education (Graduado en Educacion Secundario Certificado.) Pupils then go on to study for the Baccalaureate. This entails two years academic training to prepare for university or specialised higher level vocational training to prepare for a career. Pupils who do not graduate in this way receive a school certificate (Certificado de Escolaridad) and usually go on to a vocational school (Formacion Professional) where they undergo specialised career training.
There are many international schools in Spain. It is best to choose one that is a member of COBISEC or NABSS, organisations that regulate International schools within Spain. International schools either follow the British National Curriculum or the International Curriculum (PYP, International Baccalaureate). Your child will be taught in English and will gain qualifications that are recognised in England should you move back. The positives are as a parent it will be easier for you to join in the school community and you will understand and be able to access the curriculum more easily. The negative is that your child will not learn Spanish as quickly, although in different areas there are differing numbers of Spanish pupils. Many parents send their children to state primary and then on to International school for Secondary although some students have to be tutored to pass the entrance test.
Spanish Universities compare favourably with universities in other European countries. They have a tendency to be oversubscribed and overcrowded with huge numbers of students on the most popular courses. Many Spanish families, who can afford to, send their children to overseas universities – particularly in the UK or the USA. It is now possible with Spanish qualifications to apply to a UK University.
Schools in Spain have improved enormously in recent years but there are still some problems within the system. Primary schools are often criticised for their traditional and unimaginative teaching practices – rote learning still takes place. Secondary schools are beginning to undertake more modern European practices – but years of poor teacher training, under-investment in education (resulting in poorly paid and unmotivated teaching staff) have left their mark. Many local governments are now introducing Bi-lingual education. On a more positive note, it is estimated that over three quarters of non-Spanish children resident in Spain now attend State schools – with International schools becoming a less popular choice for ex-pats.