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11 things to consider when choosing a school for your child in Spain

Finding the right school and going through the enrolment process can be daunting, so we've put together a list of the 11 points to consider before choosing a school for your child in Spain.

11 things to consider when choosing a school for your child in Spain
Public education is popular in Spain, but is it right for your kid? (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Whether your child is starting a new school this year or you are considering the next step in their education, there are several things to consider when choosing the right type of school in Spain, from funding to languages and after-school activities.

1.Public, private or “concertado”

First things first: funding. There are three types of schools in Spain: state-funded (público), private subsidised (concertado) and private. Here are some of the acronyms you will come across:

  • CEIP (Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria) preschool or educación infantil (ages three to six) and primary school (ages six to 12)
  • CC (Colegio Concertago): State-supported private schools
  • CPEIP (Centro Privado de Educación Infantil y Primaria): Private primary schools

Public education is popular in Spain. Tuition is free, but there are often extra costs to consider such as textbooks and school trips. You won’t need to worry about buying a uniform, however, as most Spanish schools don’t require one.

International schools are private schools that teach an international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the curriculum of another country. They usually have higher fees than other private schools, but Spain has the highest number of international schools in all of Europe, the majority being in or around Madrid and Barcelona.

2. Educational project

An important thing to take into account, especially when going to open days and introductory meetings, is what kind of educational project the school follows. Although you may be able to find most of the information on the school’s website, it’s worth coming to the meetings with a few questions: Is teamwork encouraged? Do children work on projects as well as learn with books? What is the main educational method and how are students evaluated? How many exams? How often do students use computers? How are the classrooms organised?

It’s also useful to know whether there is a big difference between the methods used in primary and secondary school, since sometimes the change is too abrupt for students and some children find it difficult to adapt. 

Another aspect to take into account is if the school has any strong points that help it stand out. For example, some schools give special importance to sport and have dedicated training facilities, while others are more involved in art or music.

3. Transport

Depending on how far away the school is, you will have to drive or rely on public transport. Some schools offer school bus routes, but many don’t. While a good school may be worth a long commute, it’s important to take into account how much time it will add to your child’s day.

4. Hours

School hours are quite long in Spain compared to other EU countries. There are two main schedules: some schools run from 9am to 5pm (with a long lunch break from 1pm to 3pm), and others (usually secondary schools) begin at 8am or 9am and finish at 2:30pm, which means students won’t be having lunch until 3pm. According to doctors, starting the day so early can leave teenagers “in a state of permanent jet lag” and starting an hour later can improve performance and concentration.

Primary schools teach around 25 hours a week. These can be organised in different school days. For example, it can either be split in two with lessons from 9am to 12:30am, then a lunch break and then classes from 2:30pm to 4pm. Children can either stay at school or go home for lunch. Other schools have a continuous school day (jornada contínua) with lessons from 9am until 2pm, and some schools add an extra half hour for lunch or two 15-minute breaks.

The first things parents have to consider in Spain is choosing between a school that is state-funded, private or “concertado”. (Photo by Clement MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

5. Languages

Perhaps one of the most important aspects to take into account for English-speaking families is whether the school is bilingual. If you want most of the teaching to be done in English it’s best to find an international school, while in public schools students start learning English at the age of six and continue to learn it throughout secondary school with the option of choosing a second foreign language (usually French, German or Italian).

The number of languages that are taught at school will also depend on which region of Spain you live in. Spain has five official languages: Castilian, Catalan, Galician, Basque and Aranese. In Catalonia, most lessons at school are taught in Catalan, while the Basque Country has different linguistic teaching models to choose from: lessons entirely in Spanish, partly in Spanish and partly in Basque, or entirely in Basque with some Spanish.

Read also: More Spanish or Catalan? What foreign parents in Catalonia think about language use in schools

6. Number of children per classroom

State schools have on average 21 students per class, which is in line with other OECD countries, however the number will vary depending on the region and wether it’s a public or private school. The higher the student to teacher ratio, the lower the quality of the education will be.

7. Academic level

A good way of knowing if a school is doing well is by looking at the rankings, or the results students have obtained in external exams. Private schools, and particularly British and International schools, usually top the national rankings. However, there are plenty of public schools that are highly sought after for their student’s high grades.

8. Teachers

Meeting some of the teachers and learning a bit about their professional background can be crucial. Parents need to feel like they can trust the professionals who are taking care of their children’s education – it can often be an essential part of the decision. It’s a good idea to ask as many questions about their teaching methods, areas of expertise and if they teach a foreign language, whether they are a native speaker.

9. Canteen

Most schools have a canteen for lunch, so it’s worth finding out what type of food is on offer and how long students are given for their lunch break. Are there vegetarian options, or special meals offered for students with allergies? Does the school have its own kitchen or is it a catering company? Is there a lot of processed food or are there enough healthy options?

10. After school activities

Whether you need your child to stay in school for longer in the afternoon before you can pick them up, or they want to learn a new skill or sport, it’s always useful to have a variety of options for after school activities. Many schools offer various types of sport, music or drama lessons that can help with expanding their learning and but also making friends.

11. Facilities

The quality of the school’s facilities is the first thing you will notice on an open day visit, and while it probably shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing a school, having well-equipped and well-maintained facilities will play an important role in shaping your child’s educational experience. Aside from sports facilities, are the leisure areas big enough? Is there enough green space? Is there a library, quiet area for studying? Are classrooms equipped with computers, projectors and other technical equipemnt?

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Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

The governments of Spain and the United States have agreed to recruit more English and Spanish-language assistants from each other’s countries as a means of bolstering bilingual education in the two nations.

Spain and the US to exchange more language assistants in bilingualism push    

Spain’s Education Minister Pilar Alegría and US ambassador to Spain Julissa Reynoso met on Wednesday to sign a memorandum of understanding which will reinforce educational cooperation between the two countries. 

The agreement had been previously signed by Miguel Cardona, the United States Secretary of Education, who tweeted: “This week, alongside [Spanish] Ambassador [Santiago] Cabañas, I signed a memorandum supporting the study of Spanish language & culture in the US, and the study of English in Spain”.

It is in fact a renewal of a memorandum between the United States and Spain which has facilitated mobility of both conversation assistants and students between the two countries in recent years.

The aim of this newest memorandum of understanding is to further strengthen student and teacher exchange programmes and promote bilingual and multicultural teaching in both educational systems.

No exact details have yet been given about how many extra language assistants will be given grants to join the programme. 

Several teacher recruitment sources suggest the current number of North American language assistants (including Canadians) heading to Spain every year is between 2,000 and 2,500. 

The Spanish government has stated that in 2023, this figure will be around 4,500, which represents a considerable increase in the number of US and Canadian citizens who can apply through the NALCAP programme, which stands for North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. 

According to Spain’s Foreign Ministry, the following requirements must be met by US candidates in order to participate in the programme:

  • Be a U.S. citizen and have a valid passport
  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree or be currently enrolled as a sophomore, junior or a senior in a bachelor’s programme. Applicants may also have an associate degree or be a community college student in their last semester.
  • Have a native-like level of English
  • Be in good physical and mental health
  • Have a clean background check
  • Be aged 18 – 60.
  • Have at least basic knowledge of Spanish (recommended)

NALCAP recipients receive a monthly stipend of €700 to €1,000 as well as Spanish medical insurance.

Application dates for 2023 are usually announced in late November. See more information on the NALPAC programme for US nationals here

According to The Fulbright Program, one of several US cultural exchange programmes that organises the recruitment of US nationals for Spain: “English Teaching Assistants assist teaching staff at the early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, vocational and/or university level for up to 16 hours per week, with an additional two hours for planning & coordination meetings. Responsibilities include assistant-teaching, in English, subjects such as social studies, science and technology, art, physical education, and English language.”

READ MORE: The pros and cons of being an English language assistant in Spain

There are also currently more than 1,000 Spanish teachers working as visiting teachers in the United States, Spain’s Moncloa government has said, without adding yet how many more will be recruited in 2023.

Additionally, more than 1,000 North American students now take part in the Spanish Language and Culture Groups managed by the Spanish Education Ministry’s Overseas Education Action (or Acción Educativa Exterior, AEE).  

Canadian applicants can find out more about working as language assistants in Spain by visiting the NALCAP Canada website.