Your choice of foreign schools depends on where you live in Spain. There’s a good choice of English-speaking schools (accepting children from 3 to 18) in Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Tenerife and on the costas. For example, there are British schools in Alicante, Barcelona, Cadiz, Fuengirola, Ibiza, Lanzarote, Las Palmas, Madrid, Menorca, Palma de Mallorca, Marbella, Tenerife, Torremolinos and Valencia. In other cities and areas, there may be only one English-speaking school or none at all. 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. Like state schools, most private schools operate a five-day, Monday to Friday timetable, with no Saturday morning classes.
Private schools teach a variety of syllabi, including the British GCSE and A Level examinations, the American High School Diploma and college entrance examinations (e.g. ACT, SAT, achievement tests and AP exams), the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Spanish bachillerato. However, most Spanish private schools, i.e. schools teaching wholly in Spanish, are state-subsidised and follow the Spanish state-school curriculum. Some international schools are also subsidised and follow a totally bilingual (English/Spanish) curriculum and are authorised to accept Spanish pupils. They must teach the Spanish curriculum, including primary and secondary education, and the bachillerato.
They provide the opportunity for children to become completely bilingual and to choose between a Spanish and English-language university or career. To receive state subsidies and accept Spanish pupils, 25 per cent of a school’s total number of pupils must be Spanish and at least 20 per cent in each class. As a condition of receiving government funding, schools with Spanish pupils are subject to inspection by the Spanish school authorities. Many international private schools have mixed Spanish and foreign student bodies, e.g. one-third American or British students, one-third Spanish and one-third other nationalities, although they may be called American or British.
Private school fees
Private school fees vary considerably according to, among other things, the quality, reputation and location of a school, but are generally low compared with those of private schools in northern Europe and North America. Not surprisingly, schools in Madrid and Barcelona are among the most expensive. Fees don’t usually include registration, books, materials, laundry, insurance, extra-curricular activities, excursions, meals and transport (most private schools provide school buses. Most private schools subscribe to insurance schemes covering accidents, in school and during school-sponsored activities. Some schools award scholarships or offer grants to parents with low incomes.
Private foreign and international schools usually have 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. Their aim is the development of a child as an individual and the encouragement of his 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 and many private secondary schools have a near 100 per cent 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.
You should make applications to private schools as far in advance as possible, as many 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 that you understand the withdrawal conditions in the school contract.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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