If you have a choice of where to send your kids to school in Barcelona, it can be a lot of pressure. Make the right decision and you could put them on a path towards lifelong learning, a prestigious college education and a successful career. Choose wrong, and well, you know.
In Spain, there are three types of schools: public schools, publicly funded private schools, known as concertados, and private schools. Public schools are free of charge while concertados are private schools that receive government funding in exchange for signing education agreements with the local authority. These schools have subsidised fees and sometimes have better facilities than public schools, so they provide a good midway option between public and private.
Without forgetting your budget and location, one of the main factors to consider when choosing the right school for your kids is language. While it is compulsory to learn Castilian at all schools, even where Spanish is not the main language, in public schools in Barcelona, classes are taught primarily in Catalan. If this is a new language for your child when he or she starts school, it may take longer to settle in and feel comfortable, though it’s likely to lead to better long-term integration into the local community for the whole family. That being said, the majority of teachers won’t speak English, which could become an issue if you wish to communicate about your child’s progress and do not speak the language. The same goes for helping with homework.
If your child receives his or her education in Catalan and Spanish, you will need to work with them at home on their English if you intend for them to return to the British or American education system at some stage.
Charlotte, from the UK, is currently looking for the right place to send her son, as he starts school next year. “Living in Gràcia, there are quite a lot of options. My husband and I are definitely going with a public school or concertado, but most importantly, we want our son to be happy. Our ‘research’ is based on what other parents and neighbours have to say about the schools their kids are in, and we’re leaning towards the schools where the curriculum is a bit more relaxed. Since neither of us are from here, I like the idea that our son will experience typical Catalan traditions at school, since we don’t plan on celebrating La Castanyada or doing the Tió de Nadal at home.”
There are two identifiable groups of international schools here to choose from, as well. The first type of international school teaches children in their native language, following the curriculum of their ‘home’ country, and may or may not teach Spanish as a second language. In addition to British and American schools, there are German, French and Swiss schools in the province of Barcelona. These schools typically offer the International Baccalaureate, which is comprised of four well-respected programmes of international education. This option ensures that children will remain proficient at reading and writing in their native language, while becoming fluent in a second, third or fourth.
The second group teaches students in their native language, but follows a curriculum based on the Spanish national system, leading to the Bachillerato from ages 16 to 18, after which students will take their university entrance exam. In this school setting, Spanish will most likely be spoken socially. Some believe that pupils of these international schools become more proficient in languages in general, with a designated language (or two) spoken at home and the local language and a compulsory foreign language taught at school.
Not every international school is created equal. Emma Grenham, 42, who runs Kids in Barcelona, said: “Although they may be international by name, they are not always by nature. In some cases, the majority of pupils [at international schools] are local children and not the offspring of globetrotting, transient families as might be expected. British and American schools attract Spanish families seeking an English-language education for their children. Some international schools regulate their intake by fixing the percentage of national and international students enrolled. It may also be the case that your child receives his or her formal teaching in English but on the playground or during after-school social occasions, the lingua franca among classmates is Spanish.”
Overall, international schools do expose children to a diverse range of cultures, encouraging openness and tolerance as well as a keen interest in different languages and traditions. They tend to have smaller classes, and a less rigid regime and curriculum than Spanish public schools, aiming instead to develop a child as an individual and encourage his or her unique talents. Rather than teaching a production-line system, they provide a wider choice of academic subjects while simultaneously relying on sport, culture and art to give students a well-rounded education.
International schools are also sometimes an easier option for families who only plan on living in Barcelona for a few years. However, international schools are expensive and can cause families to get stuck in a foreign resident bubble. To avoid this, make a point of getting to know your neighbours, invite all the families (local and international) from your child’s football team over for a barbecue, or join a Spanish/Catalan playgroup.
Choosing the right school for your kids in Barcelona takes careful consideration. Upon relocating, visit the different schools you’re thinking about, meet the teachers who work there, and be honest with yourself—is this really a place where your child will thrive?
To learn more about Santa Clara International School, or to schedule a visit, please contact us here.