Your Guide to State schools in Spain
State education in Spain is almost exclusively co-educational and is entirely free, from nursery school through to university.
Finding a place for your child in a state-run Spanish school is normally a straightforward affair for an EU citizen.
You will need to provide the child’s passport, birth certificate and a proof of address. Places are allocated according to catchment areas, so it is worth finding out about the schools and education options in an area before buying property.
Some of the more popular schools have a waiting list but the local authorities have a responsibility to find an alternative school if necessary although it’s quite common for the school term to arrive only for you to find out that a place still hasn’t been made available. In these cases, because of their obligations, you may find your child placed in a school that isn’t convenient to where you are living.
In areas with large ex-pat communities, many schools provide special Spanish language coaching for new foreign children for the first few weeks.
Pre-school and primary
For most Spanish children, school starts with nursery or pre-school (Guaderias) at the age of three to five. Compulsory education begins at six years of age in a primary school and lasts for six years in all. At the age of 12, pupils move on to secondary education for the next four years. When they’re 16, and if they’ve completed the four years, students are awarded a graduado en educación secundaria certificate and may attend a higher secondary school.
Pupils who haven’t successfully completed four years of secondary education are awarded a school certificate. At 16, students may attend a vocational school which provides specialised training for a specific career. Spain has 75 universities 56 state-run and 19 private universities run by private enterprises or by the Catholic church.
Schools and language
If your child is of Pre-school age they will learn Spanish quickly and will soon become bilingual. Imagine attending a school however at the age 8, 10 or 13 where you cannot understand even simple instructions or talk to a fellow pupil. For your older child, it could be very unsettling and he may suffer both academically or psychologically as a result.
Further, it is still quite common – even on the Costa del Sol where the Brits have been living for 30 years or more – for many Spanish teachers to have only a basic command of English. This can be a recipe for disaster where communication between the teachers and the children is slow and often frustrating. Obviously, this will also affect the speed at which the children learn. It was for this very reason that we moved our children into a Spanish private school. Although a little difficult at first, they are now pretty much fluent and teaching us Spanish!
One solution is to find a good Spanish tutor before you move. Between six months and one year of weekly tuition should give your child a good grounding to enter a state school, where the Spanish will improve dramatically.
A second option is to enrol your student in an international school for the first couple of years and then move them into the state system when their Spanish is of a sufficient standard. As parents, it is important that you know enough of the language to communicate with teachers so that you are able to track your child’s progress.
Because of the economic importance of the English speaking community on the Costa del Sol (Not just Brits but Dutch, German etc), it is now quite common for the Spanish to place their own kids in international schools early on, ensuring they have a good grip of English for the future, and later move them into Spanish schools.
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