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Spain's education system can offer a lot to the expat family, but do your research and find the school that is best suited to the needs of your children.
When you reach the grand old age of five in Spain, it's time to go to school.
But should your parents want to hand you over earlier, you will find nursery
schools for children from as young as nine months. Parents usually need to register their children for the September intake in May,
either directly at the school or via the local town hall.
Nursery education (3-6 years) (Educación Infantil, EI). Children usually receive three years of nursery education to develop their physical and mental skills. From the age of four they learn to read and write and by the time they complete their EI they will know the alphabet. Emphasis is placed on learning about various aspects of different cultures, the environment and road awareness skills.Primary education (6-12 years) (Educación Primaria, EP). The six years of primary education are split into three two-year periods. If the child has not reached the required standard by the end of any period they may have to repeat the second year of that stage. Pupils learn Spanish language, maths, Conocimiento del Medio (which includes history, geography and biology), Physical Education, Art and a second language, usually English. Religion is also taught at this stage in most schools, focusing on Catholicism. There is no streaming in Spain; classes are all mixed ability, and parents can see teachers once a week to discuss their child's progress and problems. Children are introduced to exams from around the third year of primary school, but there are no national level testing exams as is the case in the UK. Parents need to buy all textbooks and materials, but they save on uniform as few state schools have one. Homework may be given from the first year onwards. School hours vary depending on the school and are usually from 9am to 4pm with an hour's break for lunch. Some schools, however, prefer to work through to 1.30pm or 2pm without a break and then the children finish for the day. If your child's school day continues into the afternoon and you are unable to get home for lunchtime, school dinners are available. Prepare your child for the fact that they will be sizeable lunches, as it is the main meal of the day for Spaniards, and that they will be encouraged to eat it, along with all the Spanish children. This may be traumatic at first for your child, being made to eat strange food with names they don't understand.
Secondary education (12-16/18 years) (Educacion Secundaria) The secondary school system in Spain has seen major changes in the past decade. It has moved away from the traditional rote-learning model and is now more akin to the British comprehensive system. Pupils attend secondary school (instituto) aged 12 to begin their four years of compulsory education. At the end, they receive a certificate and can either leave or go on to study for the 'bachillerato'. If a pupil does not reach the required level of maths or Spanish at the end of each year they can be made to repeat the year, which can cause discipline problems when an older child is placed in a class of younger children. Subjects include the usual range and the ethos is now far more geared towards project work and continuous assessment than the old-style endless fact-learning. Spanish schools have a relaxed atmosphere with less discipline than British schools, for example, and the family is expected to help the child with their studies. Pupils who stay on after 16 can study for the two-year 'Bachillerato' academic course (either Arts, Humanities, Sciences or Technology), or enrol on practical training courses called 'modulos'. Those who have passed the Bachillerato with good marks and who want to go on to university take an entrance exam in June.
For information about British English-language schools in Spain, contact the
British Council, Paseo Martínez Campos, 31, 28010 Madrid. tel. 91 337 3500, www.britishcouncil.es, or consult ECIS
(00 44 1730 268244 or www.ecis.org). For information about American schools in Spain, write to the Instituto de Cooperación Ibero-americana, Avenida de los Reyes Católicos 4, 28041 Madrid (91 583 8526). Information is also available from embassies in Spain.
Enrolling your child Foreign parents should prepare for a long process of enrolling their child in a Spanish state school. Go to your local town hall in the area you are moving to in order to ask their requirements as the process and paperwork vary quite substantially from region to region. Generally, enrolment takes place in May and you will need to take the child's birth certificate or passport with an official translation of the parent's passport. You will also need proof of the child's immunisation, proof of residence and two passport photographs. To enrol your child in a Spanish state secondary school, you need proof of convalidation - the official record of your child's education. It is best to do this before you move to Spain, having obtained the appropriate forms from the Department of Education at the following address:
Ministerio de Educacion y Ciencia
tel. 91 701 8000
Send the completed form together with your child's school record book and/or
examination qualifications, plus his birth certificate. A child will not be accepted at school until the official papers have been
received and stamped by the Department of Education. Expect the process to
take between 3 and 6 months although a receipt from the Ministry for the
convalidacion documents for your child should be acceptable.
Integration Some primary schools in areas with large expat populations such as the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca provide extra Spanish classes to bring foreign pupils up to speed and to minimise disruption in classes for the Spanish children. They may also encourage a pairing scheme between Spanish and foreign children to help new pupils settle in.
An international school will enable your child to ease their way into school in a foreign country yet in familiar surroundings, with smaller classes taught in their language. But their level of Spanish may not be any better than if they had studied it as a second language back home.
PUBLIC (STATE) SCHOOLS Spain's public or state schools are non-fee paying, though parents must pay for school books, school supplies and extra curricular activities such as sport, music and art. Foreign pupils can attend Spanish state schools, but you need a document known as the 'empadronamiento'. For this, you will need to register at the local town hall. Take originals and photocopies of your passport, proof of address and details of your Spanish bank account. The bureaucracy and paperwork required for enrolling your child in a Spanish school is lengthy and only manageable if you speak at least some Spanish. Spain's public schools have improved considerably in recent years and the qualifications gained are valid if your child wants to study at a university elsewhere, such as the UK. However, in areas with large expat communities such as the Costa del Sol, there is a growing problem of foreign pupils flooding schools (in Andalucia, the number of foreign pupils in Spanish schools quadrupled between 1997 and 2001). The result is disrupted classes, inadequate teaching and worse exam results as teachers are unable to deal with so many non-Spanish speaking pupils. Bear in mind, too, that if you send your child to a public school in Barcelona, most teaching will be in Catalan, and in the Alicante area a proportion of classes will be in Valencian.
SPANISH PRIVATE SCHOOLS There are many varieties of Spanish private schools, some which teach
entirely in Spanish and are subsidised by the State providing they have at least
25 percent Spanish students. Others are bilingual schools which place a strong
emphasis on English.
Most are day Catholic schools and co-educational with classes from Monday to Friday. Fees vary greatly, though they are generally lower than private schools in the UK and US. Schools in Madrid and Barcelona are naturally the most expensive. A subsidised Spanish school costs about €600 a year.
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