I have witnessed a great debate in my “Writers and Bloggers About Spain” Facebook group this week. It related to what to do when a teacher calls you in to point out that your child is probably working too hard and getting everything right and is a “bit independent”. Nothing wrong there I hear you say. Well obviously the teacher thought it relevant to flag it as a problem.
The child concerned was in a Spanish state school. Now, many of the members of the group have children in schools in Spain in the three main types of school: state, “concertado” and private. Almost en masse the members of the group said the situation was due to the herd mentality of Spanish education and that anyone who stands out is told to get their head down as state education is seen asa means to a single end, becoming a civil servant, although it also encompasses the socialization of the individual, something which in my opinion Spanish schools do very well but then again all schools in Spain do and that reflects the society as a whole too.
I thought it might be an idea to look at the options with particular reference to expat children coming into Spain. I have talked about the education system in Spain before here about nurseries, here about international schools in Valencia and here about HND and PGCE provision for older children and adults and finally here about keeping the kids happy and a couple of videos talking about that. However, things have changed recently and you should be aware that education in Spain is changing and not totally for the better.
Firstly a quick look at the differing types of education in Spain.
1) State schools. The schools you find in every town and village in Spain. They are funded at a regional level and therefore the situation with them is not the same across Spain. However they are generally conservative in nature regarding the way they educate children as teachers are largely stuck in a routine and not encouraged to experiment with new styles of teaching. The curriculum and passing the year to get into the next year is all important. The parents have to buy books every year and usually there is no uniform although this is changing in some areas. You should always check if the school does the majority of its teaching in Spanish or a local language (Valenciano, Catalan, Basque (there is a separate Ikostola system in the Basque country) or Gallego.)
2) Concertado Schools (Semi private) These schools are semi funded by the state and partially by the parents. Prices vary according to area and the school however bear in mind that in the concertado schools there is much more emphasis usually on Catholic education as they are largely ex church schools. Many times teaching is done by nuns and priests too. If you have any religious objections it may be better to look into the background of the concertado school you are interested in before placing your child there. However they do tend to have a good reputation with the Spanish middle classes (here we go back to the education the parents received in the past, conservative and religious in nature) they generally teach in Spanish except in certain parts of Catalunya and the Basque country. There is often a uniform to buy in the concertado schools along with the books and other costs.
3) Private Schools. The best known of the private schools are the international schools but there are also totally private Spanish schools. The international schools are generally the ones that expat parents are interested in. They range from almost totally Spanish in nature, ie over 90% of the children in the schools are Spanish, to having a majority of immigrants in the school (usually northern european and russian) this being the case on many of the Costas. The results of the international schools are usually different to the state and concertado schools as their primary focus is a different set of exams but they more often than not also achieve university entry for the students in Spain or even abroad. The cost of the international schools varies from region to region but expect to pay more in Madrid and Barcelona then elsewhere. Costs in Valencia range from around 600 euros per month for ten months of the school year but rise for children coming into the school for just a year.
However, as usual we need to make reference to the crisis with some facts, salient facts to tell the truth about the current situation.
1) in Valencia many state schools have not received the money they should have done from regional government meaning that they lack for basic things like a decent school meals service, pens, books and facilities.
2) the situation is even worse for the concertado schools.
3) in Spain as a whole the central government want to lose 20% of the teachers and therefore it is cutting back on education spending at all levels from primary up to university and beyond. Teachers are protesting and there are a wave of strikes by both teachers and pupils.
4) many private schools are losing class numbers in certain parts of Spain as the parents cannot afford to send their children to the schools due to unemployment.
There is one area where the crisis is not really affecting the schools in many places, private international schools. According to NABSS (the National Association of British Schools in Spain) class sizes are being maintained and waiting lists are up in most areas. (This may not be the case on the Costas)
The international schools are viewed by Spanish parents as giving their children an escape and greater opportunities than the state and concertado schools that still stick to old style teaching or rote learning and repetition with a high number of exams. Those schools do not generally encourage children to think around a problem, something that is massively reflected in Spanish society too with most politicians and businesses blinkered by their own prejudices and the limitations of the way they were taught, whereas the international schools concentrate on a curriculum where investigation and individual learning plans are largely encouraged.
If you are bringing your children to Spain and are looking to get them into international schools then bear in mind that there are often waiting lists and your preferred school may not be available.
You should also bear in mind that the younger the children are the better chance they have of getting used to Spanish state or concertado education. We always suggest that teenagers should go into the international sector I at all possible so as not to waste a year learning the language. They will learn it anyway in the international schools (although this may not always be true on the Costas)
If you are thinking of buying a house in Spain then as I have suggested before you should always leave money for the education of your children if you have them because it is better to get a cheaper house and ring fence the money for education meaning that your children settle in quicker to the place they are living. (you can hear an interview I did with Nick Snelling a couple of years ago about the options for education in Spain here)
If you have any questions about the education system in Spain and what you should be doing or if you ant help in contacting schools in Spain and talking about options for your children just get in touch on email@example.com and ask away.