If you and your family are thinking of relocating to the Costa del Sol or other parts of Spain, your children's education will be a major consideration. Here is an overview of the education system in Spain:
The Spanish Education System
From ages 6 to 16, education is compulsory in Spain. Schools in the country are actually believed to be of a better educational standard than those found in many other European countries, including Britain, with far fewer discipline problems and better attendance statistics.
International schools are the most obvious, and popular, choice for expats. There are several to choose from in Andalucia. Some of them teach exclusively in English, others in Spanish and English to provide a bilingual education.
Most of these international schools are members of the National Association of British Schools in Spain, or NABSS. As British schools they typically follow the UK's curriculum, offering GCSEs, A/S and A-levels, and some even offer the internationally-accepted International Baccalaureate diploma as an alternative to traditional A levels.
All international schools are fee-paying institutions, with fees varying from school to school. However, class sizes are smaller than in the UK, and teaching takes place in a relaxed atmosphere.
Spanish schools offering state education are open to all EU citizens. State education is free from pre-school age to age 18. However, parents will be expected to pay for stationery and books as well as extra-curricular activities such as excursions.
Around 30% of Spain's school children attend a private school, which are fee-paying, but offer a lower student to teacher ratio than state schools due to smaller class sizes. If you are choosing to send your child to a state school, just like in the UK, the catchment area is all-important, which means concentrating one's property search on the right area from day one of the house-hunt.
Villages and city suburbs offer their own nursery and primary schools, but secondary schools in Spain have larger catchment areas, so your house-search should cover a large area.
Pre-school Education (0-6 years), Educación Infantil)
If your children are still small, it is a good idea to enrol them into pre-school education, called Educación Infantil. Doing so can help to integrate your family into the Spanish-speaking community much more quickly. Pre-school education is divided into two 3-year segments, those covering ages 0-3 years and 3-6 years. It is not compulsory to enrol your child in pre-school education, but it is free during the second stage, ages 3-6, in state-funded schools, and helps your child to integrate too. In addition, the Spanish education system provides a wide range of nurseries, state-funded and private fee-paying ones, some run by expats themselves.
How to apply for Nursery Places
Applications for nursery places now fall under the Junta de Andalucia's Consejeria de Educacion (Department of Education). Applications are made in April for the following September. A provisional list of children who have been offered nursery places ( called the guarde) is then published. A time of 10 days is then allowed for anyone to voice potential objections, and the final list of children to be admitted to the nursery appears towards the end of June.
Parents then have to formally enrol (matricular) their child at the end of June/beginning of July. If parents have chosen a private place (see below), they will have to pay a matricula (enrolment fee), before being given their child's matriculacion (enrolment document).
Some private nurseries (guarderias) have places subsidised by the Junta de Andalucia, usually offered to children of working mothers.
The system can seem a bit complicated when applying for the first time: parents are awarded points according how near to the nursery they live and work; whether they are single or married; how much money the parent/s earns; how many children their household has (three is considered a large family - familia numerosa). A subsidised place can also depend on whether or not any of the other children also attend the nursery; whether the parent/s work there; and various other criteria apply, such as if the child is a victim of domestic violence or acts of terrorism.
Depending on how many points the parent/s have at the end, they are then awarded funding of 0, 25, 50 or 75% by the Junta de Andalucia's Department of Education. Fees for sending your child to a nursery start at around 300 euros per month. Many nurseries also offer comedor, catering, which is free for children with subsidised places. For those without a subsidised place it costs around 50 euros a month.
Bilingual Nursery Schools at the Costa del Sol:
ARROYO DE LA MIEL
Peter Pan Nursery
C/ El Olivar 5, Arroyo de la Miel (Benalmádena). Tel: ( 34) 952 562 103. Also now located at MARBELLA ; C/Los Naranjos s/n, Urb. Linda Vista, San Pedro de Alcántara, 29670 Marbella. ( 34) 952 782 051; Bilingual education: 0 - 3 years. Also offering after school activities club, excursions and baby-sitting service.
Costa Kinder Care
(adjacent to the Buddhist Stupa), Benalmádena Pueblo. Tel: ( 34) 952 448 007; www.costakindercare.com Bilingual education: 0 - 6 years. The nursery also offers after-school activities/homework club and language classes for adults.
St. Javier's International School
Marbella. Tel: ( 34) 952 823 457; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Bilingual education: 1 - 7 years. The nursery also offers optional after-school classes and babysitting services at night.
Swan's International Primary School
Urb. El Capricho, Marbella. Tel: ( 34) 952 773 248; www.swansschool.net. 3 - 11 years. (Swan's also have a secondary school - see relevant section for details).
SAN PEDRO DE ALCÁNTARA
C/. Los Eucaliptos 60, Urb. Linda Vista Baja, San Pedro de Alcántara. Tel: ( 34) 952 786 029; www.calpeschool.com. Bilingual: 3 - 9 years.
Saint George's School
Urb. Cortijo Blanco s/n, 29670, San Pedro de Alcántara. Tel: ( 34) 952 786 606. 2 - 8 years.
The International School Estepona
Centro Commercial La Zarza Camino de Cortes, Urbanisation El Paraíso, Estepona. Tel: ( 34) 952 884 789; www.marbellaschool.com. Bilingual: 2-12 years.
Compulsory Education (6-16 years)
Spain's compulsory education comes in two stages:
Educación Primaria, or primary education, happens from ages 6 to 12
Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO), or lower secondary education, takes place from the age of 12 to 16. But unlike schools in Britain, if children fail their end of year exams at either primary or secondary levels in Spain, they risk having to repeat the entire failed academic year.
Non-Compulsory Education (16-18 years)
Students aged 16 to 18 can follow one of two routes, as long as they have their certificate to prove they have completed their ESO stage:
Bachillerato, the upper level of secondary education, which prepares students for university or
Intermediate vocational training, which starts with general training for the workplace, then moves into specialist areas and work experience placements.
Before applying for a Spanish university place, applicants are expected to complete the Selectividad entrance exam in their final year of secondary education.
Once they have been accepted at a university, students study for three years. They gain either a licencia (in academic subjects) or a diploma in vocational or technical subjects. Graduates can then pursue further study for the the equivalent of an MA or PhD at a Spanish university.
Developing empty nest syndrome? Not a chance! It is customary for students in Spain to attend the nearest university while living at home. Andalucia and the Costa del Sol offer students several good local universities, such as Cordoba, Granada and Seville, as well as Malaga. Obtaining a grant is very difficult, so just like in the UK, your children's future will mean a considerable investment.
International Schools at the Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol has ca. 20 private international schools and, while around 60% of these are British, parents from other European countries will also be able to find Finnish and French, German, Norwegian and Swedish schools, many of which teach children throughout their school ages 3 to 18. International schools are primarily found in Malaga, Granada, Cadiz, Seville and Marbella.
Useful contact: National Association of British Schools in Spain - www.nabss.org