Making the right choice

How to choose a private school

To help you choose an appropriate private school for your child(ren), you should ask the following questions:

Making the right choice
  • How long has the school been established?
  • Does it have a good reputation?
  • Does the school have a good academic record? For example, what percentage of pupils obtain good examination passes and go on to good universities? All the best schools provide exam pass-rate statistics.
  • What does the curriculum include? What examinations are set? Are examinations recognised in Spain and internationally? Do they fit in with your child’s long-term education plans? Ask to see a typical pupil’s timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
  • What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects?
  • Are intensive English or Spanish lessons provided for children who don’t meet the required standard?
  • What are the facilities for art and science subjects, e.g. arts and crafts, music, computer studies, biology, science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography? Ask to see the classrooms, facilities, equipment and pupils’ projects.
  • What religion(s) are taught?
  • How large are the classes and what’s the pupil/teacher ratio? Does the stated class size tally with the number of desks in the classrooms?
  • What are the classrooms like? Check their size, space, cleanliness, lighting, furniture and furnishings. Are there signs of creative teaching, e.g. wall charts, maps, posters and pupils’ work on display?
  • What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What nationalities are the majority of teachers? Ask for a list of the teaching staff and their qualifications.
  • What is the teacher turnover? A high teacher turnover is a particularly bad sign and usually suggests poorly paid teachers and/or poor working conditions.
  • Which countries do most pupils come from?
  • What is the pupil turnover?
  • What are the school hours?
  • What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually longer than state schools’ (e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in summer) and they often don’t coincide with state school holiday periods.
  • Is transport provided to and from school and for extra-curricular activities?
  • What sports instruction and facilities are provided? Where are the sports facilities?
  • What sort of excursions and supervised school holidays are organised?
  • What is the quality and variety of food provided? What is the dining room like? Does the school have a dietician?
  • What standard and type of accommodation is provided (in the case of a boarding school)?
  • What medical facilities does the school provide, e.g. infirmary, resident doctor or nurse? Is medical and accident insurance included in the fees?
  • What kinds of punishment are applied and for what offences?
  • What reports are provided for parents and how often?
  • What are the withdrawal conditions, should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s notice is usual.
  • What are the fees?
  • What extras must you pay? For example, are lunches, art supplies, sports equipment, excursions, clothing, health and accident insurance, text books and stationery included in fees? Some schools charge extra for every little thing.

It’s advisable to check whether a school is recognised by the Spanish education authorities and whether it belongs to an accredited organisation. Most British schools in Spain belong to the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS, www.nabss.org ), whose members are visited and approved by British school inspectors. Advice about British schools in Spain can be obtained from the British Council, Paseo Martínez Campos, 31, 28010 Madrid (913-373 500,http://www.britishcouncil.org/spain ) or from the European Council of International Schools/ECIS (UK 01730-268244, www.ecis.org ). Information is also obtainable from embassies in Spain.

Before making a final choice, it’s important to visit the schools on your shortlist during term time and talk to teachers and pupils (if possible, also speak to former pupils and their parents). Where possible, check the answers to the above questions in person and don’t rely on a school’s prospectus or director to provide the information. If you’re unhappy with the answers, look elsewhere.

Finally, having made your choice, monitor your child’s progress and listen to his complaints. Compare notes with other parents. If something doesn’t seem right, try to establish whether the complaint is founded or not; if it is, take action to have the problem resolved. Never forget that you (or your employers) are paying a lot of money for your child’s education and you should ensure that you receive good value.

  • How long has the school been established?
  • Does it have a good reputation?
  • Does the school have a good academic record? For example, what percentage of pupils obtain good examination passes and go on to good universities? All the best schools provide exam pass-rate statistics.
  • What does the curriculum include? What examinations are set? Are examinations recognised in Spain and internationally? Do they fit in with your child’s long-term education plans? Ask to see a typical pupil’s timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
  • What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects?
  • Are intensive English or Spanish lessons provided for children who don’t meet the required standard?
  • What are the facilities for art and science subjects, e.g. arts and crafts, music, computer studies, biology, science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography? Ask to see the classrooms, facilities, equipment and pupils’ projects.
  • What religion(s) are taught?
  • How large are the classes and what’s the pupil/teacher ratio? Does the stated class size tally with the number of desks in the classrooms?
  • What are the classrooms like? Check their size, space, cleanliness, lighting, furniture and furnishings. Are there signs of creative teaching, e.g. wall charts, maps, posters and pupils’ work on display?
  • What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What nationalities are the majority of teachers? Ask for a list of the teaching staff and their qualifications.
  • What is the teacher turnover? A high teacher turnover is a particularly bad sign and usually suggests poorly paid teachers and/or poor working conditions.
  • Which countries do most pupils come from?
  • What is the pupil turnover?
  • What are the school hours?
  • What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually longer than state schools’ (e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in summer) and they often don’t coincide with state school holiday periods.
  • Is transport provided to and from school and for extra-curricular activities?
  • What sports instruction and facilities are provided? Where are the sports facilities?
  • What sort of excursions and supervised school holidays are organised?
  • What is the quality and variety of food provided? What is the dining room like? Does the school have a dietician?
  • What standard and type of accommodation is provided (in the case of a boarding school)?
  • What medical facilities does the school provide, e.g. infirmary, resident doctor or nurse? Is medical and accident insurance included in the fees?
  • What kinds of punishment are applied and for what offences?
  • What reports are provided for parents and how often?
  • What are the withdrawal conditions, should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s notice is usual.
  • What are the fees?
  • What extras must you pay? For example, are lunches, art supplies, sports equipment, excursions, clothing, health and accident insurance, text books and stationery included in fees? Some schools charge extra for every little thing.

It’s advisable to check whether a school is recognised by the Spanish education authorities and whether it belongs to an accredited organisation. Most British schools in Spain belong to the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS, www.nabss.org ), whose members are visited and approved by British school inspectors. Advice about British schools in Spain can be obtained from the British Council, Paseo Martínez Campos, 31, 28010 Madrid (913-373 500,http://www.britishcouncil.org/spain ) or from the European Council of International Schools/ECIS (UK 01730-268244, www.ecis.org ). Information is also obtainable from embassies in Spain.

Before making a final choice, it’s important to visit the schools on your shortlist during term time and talk to teachers and pupils (if possible, also speak to former pupils and their parents). Where possible, check the answers to the above questions in person and don’t rely on a school’s prospectus or director to provide the information. If you’re unhappy with the answers, look elsewhere.

Finally, having made your choice, monitor your child’s progress and listen to his complaints. Compare notes with other parents. If something doesn’t seem right, try to establish whether the complaint is founded or not; if it is, take action to have the problem resolved. Never forget that you (or your employers) are paying a lot of money for your child’s education and you should ensure that you receive good value.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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