For years I have said that choosing the best kind of education in Spain for your children is one of the most important decisions you will make whether you are moving abroad or you are already living abroad. Should you opt for local state schools, private international schools or bilingual schools in Spain?
We all do what we believe is best for our children, yet how do we make the right choice regarding the best schools and types of education? Rules and regulations differ from our home country. In Spain, there are no league tables to advise us which are the best performing schools, although there are many regulatory bodies that can be consulted to conduct basic checks.
In our “education in Spain” articles you can read lots of advice and experiences that may help you to make up your own mind on what is best for your own child.
I am a firm believer that enrolling children in local Spanish school from an early age is a good option for most if not all young (ie. up to age 5 or 6) children. However, from experience, I know that once they are five or six years older, the process may not be as smooth. That said, older children have taken this path and have done so very successfully. Every child is different and our role as parents is to decide what we believe to be best for them.
Before sharing my findings and thoughts on bilingual schools in Spain, I’d like to share our Spanish education story so far with you …
From the year they turned three, both our children attended local state-run schools in Spain. I stand corrected, Joshua actually spent a year in a local French school, age three!
Our children never fail to amaze me. They are so resilient and adaptable.
Joshua & Francesca January 2019
Their Spanish school experience, however, was very different during their first years. Joshua fitted in and adapted from day one. He spent one year at a local village school in Arenas near Velez Malaga and then stayed at CEIP San Sebastián in Mijas Pueblo from age five to twelve. During my final meeting with his tutor, when I shared my thought about the local secondary school or a private bilingual school, I was told Joshua will do well, whatever school you decide to send him to”. She knew him well!
Francesca, on the other hand, had a rather more disruptive and emotional start. It was painful for many. Painful for us as we saw our quiet, “angelic” daughter scream and cry at the start of every term for the first few years. Painful for whichever school patio monitor who was punched and kicked by this fragile looking small child who transformed into a maniac as soon as she was sent through the school gates. We soon learnt that this performance ended as soon as she entered the school building. She was calm in the classroom, well most of the time.
As much as it tore me apart to see her like that, I knew in my heart that we were doing the right thing.
Jump forward eight years and aged eleven, our strong-willed, independent, caring and intelligent daughter had developed strong roots and was ready to spread her wings. She was ready to make a big change in her life and follow in her brother’s footsteps … in her own individual way, of course!
We are extremely happy with our decision to put both children into Spanish state education, in local a village school, from an early age.
We can confidently say that as a result of our decision to put the children in the local village school:
they are fully bilingual in English and Spanish
they are open-minded and caring individuals
they are knowledgeable about the importance of community values
they can switch speaking between the local Andaluz dialect and clear Castellano
they are fully integrated into the local community
they have a good knowledge of Spanish geography
they have a profound ability to effectively communicate with people of all ages, backgrounds and social status
they display creativity and a passion for learning
However, as happy as we were with our children’s Spanish state education, we decided it was time for a change. We wanted our children to be educated in their mother tongue, in English, as well as their adopted Spanish. We were looking for bilingual education.
The Truth about Bilingual Schools in Spain (in our opinion)
Before sharing my thoughts and findings with you, I’d like to clarify what I understand as “bilingual education”.
“I believe that a school that advertises itself as “bilingual” should offer an equal number of subjects in each language.ie. In our case, half of the subjects in English, and the other half in Spanish. I think the teachers, if not native, should demonstrate an advanced level of the language, both written and spoken.”
When researching secondary options for our children, I struggled to find schools offering what I believed to be “bilingual” education. Most “bilingual” schools simply offered a couple of subjects that were taught in English. The majority of schools seemed to offer a British curriculum which was not what we wanted.
In order to research the matter further, I invited parents to answer a simple questionnaire about their experiences with “bilingual schools in Spain”:
This is what I said …
“Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience of bilingual (English/Spanish) education in Spain. My aim is to provide an accurate image of the current state of “bilingual” schools in Spain.
I do not intend to make any school look good or bad. I simply plan to give a true picture, based on experiences from parents and teachers.
I have just made the decision to pay for my son to attend fully bilingual private secondary education as I do not feel the state schools offer an acceptable level.
I am of the belief that the teachers providing classes, in English, in state schools, need more training and a higher level of English to better carry out their roles.
Hence this research … My current beliefs may not reflect the true picture. So, before writing the post on our family blog www.familylifeinspain.com , I’d like input from others.”
Here are a few comments and suggestions made by the parents, in response to my open questions:
Q1. How happy are you with the level of English of the teachers giving the classes?
“We’ve been really lucky, the level of English of the teachers at my daughters’ school is fantastic, (almost) native. And they are really good at teaching! And I’m not talking about learning hundreds of (useless) vocabulary lists. My daughters (7 and 9) can have short conversations in English, enjoy watching English TV and have also started reading in English. However, we know it’s not the same in other schools in the same town.”
“Only Catalans can teach English in public schools, the level is really low, not one child in 5 or 6 form can say a word of English to me. My kids are appalled by the mistakes the teachers make in class.”
“I was one of two teachers at the school who had formally studied bilingual education. The rest had studied English and primary teaching.”
“My kids attend a semi-private school (colegio concertado) but they follow the Comunidad de Madrid curriculum. I think the schools shouldn’t be called bilingual because the percentage of classes is not 50/50 and also they don’t actually produce bilingual children. Some children do acquire good language skills but usually because of the support they receive outside the school”
“Based on 2 different schools that we left! The first in Torremolinos is supposedly a completely bilingual school at ESO level, however we were told they were not sufficiently qualified to do the Bachillerato classes in English – if that’s the case then I don’t believe they would be capable of doing any classes adequately in English. The second was our last school in Benalmadena, it was ordered to offer bilingual education at which point all the teachers signed a petition saying they wouldn’t/couldn’t do it – the town hall backed down and allowed them to start with just 25% in English and made the appropriate allowances. The repeat-rate is sky high, so clearly something is going badly wrong!”
Q2: How do you think Spain can improve its Bilingual Education?
Teaching English at school with (almost) native teachers is important. – Methodology plays an important role too. Some methodologies are obsolete and yet still used by many (most?) teachers. Too many kids are unable to say or write a simple sentence after 6 years of English…
By having native English teachers teaching the language.
Having teachers of both nationalities speaking their own language only!
Lower the prices in the private schools or raise the level of English spoken by Spanish teachers in the state schools.
By bringing in native-speaking teachers, begin at infant level and not enforce it on a school that is not appropriately equipped. Good education 100% in Spanish is far better than shoddy teaching because the teacher only speaks intermediate English.
Giving more support and better qualification and training to their teachers,.
Start in pre-school. Native English speaking assistants and teachers.
Parents who want bilingual education are obliged to go to a private school
As you can see from the sample answers above, my own research into local schools, in the Malaga area, highlighted what I had already been lead to believe by other parents and friends working in the education sector:
the level of English of teachers in the many “bilingual” schools in Spain leaves a lot to be desired
there is a need for more qualified and/or native teachers
the term “bilingual school” is used too loosely, more control is required
it is pretty much pot luck as to what level of English is offered, based on the teacher you have
Needless to say, this does not make our role as a parent any easier when choosing the best school for our children!
This article from El Pais in English highlights some interesting facts that may explain some of these differences and nuances. Some of the statements and facts are quite frankly shocking …
“The boom in public bilingual centres in Spain has been remarkable. In the 2010-2011 period, 240,154 students were studying in a bilingual program in one of Spain’s regions (except Catalonia, which does not provide data). In the 2016-2017 period, that figure had jumped 360% to 1.1 million, according to an EL PAÍS study of data from the Education Ministry. Some 95% of Spanish students at bilingual schools have chosen to be taught in English.”
Regional differences in bilingual education “There are notable differences between bilingual education in each of Spain’s regions, especially when it comes to the English skills required of teachers. In Asturias, where more students study in English than any other region (52.3% in elementary school and 33.7% in high school), teachers only need to have an intermediate level (B2). The same is true in Andalusia, where 30.5% of elementary school students and 28.6% of high school students study in English. In Madrid however, where 43.8% of primary school students and 27.6% of secondary students take classes in English, teachers must have an advanced level of English (C1).
The popularity of bilingual schools has risen so dramatically that many regions have been unable to keep up with demand. In Andalusia, for instance, “there are not enough teachers qualified to speak well,” says Christian Abello, professor of English studies at the University of Seville. After the bilingual program was launched in 2004, the Andalusian regional government allowed teachers with a low intermediate level of English (B1) to teach classes in the first few years, says José Antonio Romero, coordinator of the bilingual program at the public school Miguel Servert in Seville. “We began without qualified teachers, and CLIL training – the European methodology to learn a new language through other subjects such as mathematics – is voluntary. The regional government did not supervise the teachers’ progress,” he adds.”
The British Council have been involved in attempting to improve the level of education in Spain offered in English …
“We have been working since 1996 with the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training to support the implementation, development and evaluation of bilingual and bicultural education throughout Spain. This “Bilingual Project” has been pioneering for both Spain and Europe, and has inspired other governments and education authorities to develop multilingual education and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) projects in their schools. The British Council is proud of our legacy in Spain promoting, developing and supporting bilingual education. Our priorities are to work with National and Regional Authorities in Spain to establish best practice in teaching and learning in bilingual schools.”
Mijas Costa is a beautiful stretch of coastline on the Costa Del Sol. Popular with holidaymakers, this whitewashed destination is perfect for any trip with family or friends. It holds a perfect mixture of tradition and culture, without leaving behind the beautiful beaches and stunning sea. But what if you decide you love it so much you want to move there?
Here are five factors to consider before making that brave step into the sun and moving to Mijas Costa
Moving to Mijas Costa proves to be a walk in the park (or on the beach) when it comes to the lifestyle. Found nestled between Fuengirola and the east Marbella resort of Cabopino, the area is full of a diverse range of restaurants, bars and shops.
Mijas Costa is approximately 25 km from the Malaga Airport, which works out as an easy 20-30 minute drive. It’s perfect for friends and family to come and visit throughout the year without long transfers and tiring journeys. A taxi would cost around €40.
There is a popular coastal walk to Fuengirola and over to Benalmadena which follows onto Torrequebrada. It is possible for walkers to venture all the way to Malaga if this is of interest – making for a great time to explore and discover new places.
Living in Majis Costa couldn’t be more relaxing, however this does make it a very popular area and properties don’t stay on the market for long before being snatched up. A property boom hit the area in the mid noughties when thousands of British and Irish property investors and lifestyle buyers flocked to the area.It is recommended to 100% commit to moving to Mijas Costa before property searching to avoid missing out on the perfect villa.
The good news is that there is a property for every budget, as prices vary largely in Mijas. A two bed property would set a buyer back by around €150,000, however it would not be a surprise for a more spacious 3 to 4 bedroom villa to be on the market for over €500,000. If you spot a great property at an even greater price in the area, it is advised the grab the opportunity with both hands. The area is very popular and many are constantly considering living in Costa Mijas.
3. Getting around
Leaving town to move somewhere where the sun shines is always a good idea, if it is possible to move around. Transport in Mijas Costa varies. A regular bus can be caught from nearby Fuengirola every 30 minutes which runs to a selection of beaches and towns. An overground train can also be caught in Fuengirola which runs a scenic route along the coast before reaching Malaga Capital. It also does a handy stop at the airport.
There is currently no train link which runs directly to Mijas Costa. A hire car is a good idea to get out and explore more of Costa Del Sol, but not essential to enjoy a lazy week in the sun and lazing around the pool.
Marbella is just a 15-minute drive away and inland pueblos of Mijas, Coín and Alhaurín el Grande are close by. Malaga City is around a 30-40 minutes leisurely drive which is the perfect distance for a day trip. If the kids are holding you back from living in Mijas Costa, don’t worry. It is home to many attractions for little ones, including its own water park complete with water slides, wave pools, play islands and body skiing slides.
Mijas also has its own auditorium which hosts concerts throughout the summer months and a free flamenco show takes place twice a week in the village square. An outdoor swimming pool can be found in Osunillas as well as a football pitch and indoor gymnasium. Beaches in Mijas Costa offer jet skiing, water-skiing and paragliding to keep every day fun. The destination is home to some of the best golf courses and nearby Miraflores Golf and Lawn Tennis Club comes highly recommended, providing entertainment for every age.
For a night out, the Hipódromo Race Course proves popular with a family-friendly atmosphere, live horse racing and entertainment shows in-between races.
5. Food and drink
The popularity of the area may not work in everyone’s favour for finding somewhere to live, but the wide variety of food and drink on offer makes moving to Mijas Costa amazing. A line of typical beach bars can be found built on the sand, locally known as chiringuitos. Favourites offered here include the local tapas. Spanish bars can be found sitting alongside Italian restaurants or even the odd cafe offering a full English breakfast. The choice of food available will never leave a disappointed face or an empty belly behind.
So moving to Mijas Costa is a perfect move for anyone looking for a popular area in the heart of Costa Del Sol.
The properties are hard to get hold of but once bought, never regretted. Activities are available for the entire family, from children’s water parks, play parks, sports clubs to golf courses.
Those who like their food will never be disappointed, with a range of Spanish, Indian, Argentinian, Chinese and British food on offer to keep tummies happy and full.
The area is accessible by train and bus from nearby Fuengirola and taxis are reasonably priced and highly accessible.
The amount of British and Irish people in the area create a friendly atmosphere but do not take away from the natural beauty and cosmopolitan feel of this lovely destination.
If you are thinking about moving to Mijas Costa, remember to consider housing, travel and financing and everything will fall into place.
You’re not far away from owning your dream holiday home in an aesthetically pleasing and bustling area now. Book a flight, visit the area, we can arrange for you to visit properties. See if the children will feel comfortable there and most importantly, try to imagine yourself there. If you can see yourself moving to Mijas Costa and spending all of your time in the sun, then we say go for it.
According to data from the Horticultural Trades Association, over two-thirds of British adults enjoy visiting a garden centre every year. This just goes to show how much the British love gardening. However, if you’ve recently moved from the UK to warmer parts of the world like Spain, you will have to change the way you garden.
Here are simple ways to create a garden for a warmer climate:
Research about the soil
The main soil type in Spain is clay. In the UK, clay is one of the most difficult soils to work with, but in Spain, it actually works really well. Droughts and extreme heat are much less damaging on clay soil than any other type of soil, which makes it easier for plants to germinate and grow healthily. The rainfall in Spain is also less than what Britain gets in a year, so your garden won’t be wet, clogged, and unmanageable.
Understand climactic changes
Climate patterns change frequently in most Mediterranean regions, which means in some areas summers could have rainstorms, while in others there could be extended periods of drought. It’s important to learn about the weather patterns where you live so you can effectively choose which seeds to plant.
Pick the right plants
The Mediterranean Garden Society has a list of some of the best hot weather plants you can easily grow in your new garden. One great example is Aloysia gratissima (known in southern Spain as La Faborita), which grows six to nine inches tall. It thrives in well-drained soil, and come spring its white flowers bloom to give your garden a calming vanilla smell. You can also plant some Bush Morning Glory, which has a beautiful, snowy lavender flower that blooms in summer.
Succulents are also a great choice. They grow best in places with sweltering heat and require very little maintenance. They also come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colours. You can spread them throughout your garden and even use them as decorations indoors.
The hot weather also makes it ideal to grow a huge variety of vegetables—from cabbages to root veggetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, artichokes, and beetroots.
Build a reliable water system
If you don’t water your plants regularly they will dry up fast, so make sure the water system you choose is reliable and efficient.
Watch out for plant pests and diseases
Remember that the warmer climate makes your plants more prone to pests and diseases. The head of RHS Advisory Services Guy Barter explained to the BBC that you need to choose your plants carefully to work with your gardening environment. Decompose your compost properly so that it doesn’t attract flies. Make sure you have a place for it where you can aerate and water it easily. Gardening experts say the larvae of the rose chafer beetle are often found in compost, and although they are not generally harmful to every plant in your garden, they can damage the plants you are growing in pots.
Protect yourself and your guests from the sun
You can’t very well enjoy your hard work if you can’t sit in your garden with a cool glass of wine and marvel at your blooming flowers. Take the warm weather as an opportunity to get the cosiest pieces of outdoor furniture, and create an inviting garden where you can entertain guests and have BBQs. Pergolas and gazebos are ideal for entertaining and will also be a nice focal point. Some of the pergolas on Screwfix are open air, and come with additional gazebo kits. A covered gazebo is preferable as it will provide good cover from the sun during the day and add to the overall look of your garden. You can also add climbing plants to the structure to make your chill out spots look even more attractive.
It’s also maybe worth considering joining gardening and home interior design events to get more inspiration about the best garden designs that work for the warmer weather. We wrote about one of the most sought-after events in Estepona, which featured a lot of practical advice from local Mediterranean gardeners and interior designers. Be sure to check if any of these events are happening near you. As long as you have all the right tools, there’s no limit to what you can do in your summer garden, especially if the weather is nice and sunny.
Do you intend to move to Spain with your family this year, and maybe buy a property? If so, you’ll already be thinking about sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun, with a tall glass of sangria by your side. That said, before you can get working on your tan and enjoy la vida española, you’ll need to sort through some practical things and pay attention to our Currency Exchange Tips.
For example, how can you transfer your money from the UK to your Spanish bank account at a top exchange rate? Well, to ensure you maximise your euro total, and start your new family life in Spain on the best foot, please find below 10 easy tips. Keep these in mind, and exchanging currencies to move to Spain will be ¡muy facil!
Our 10 Currency Exchange Tips:
1. Plan your money transfer well in advance.
Are you thinking about moving to Spain with your family in the next few months? If so, start looking at transferring money to your Spanish bank account now.
This is because, the sooner you look at exchanging currencies, the bigger the window you give yourself for an outstanding exchange rate to become available!
2. Talk to a friendly, professional currency dealer.
Is this your first time transferring a significant sum of money to Spain? If so, speak to a friendly, professional currency dealer.
He or she will explain the process and answer your questions in straightforward language, without any jargon. This way, you can put your mind at ease.
3. Transfer your money with a foreign exchange broker, instead of your bank.
When we transfer money to Spain, it’s tempting to use our local bank. The thing is though, the banks know this, so they offer inferior exchange rates.
Instead, a foreign exchange broker can get you a significantly better currency rate, to make moving to Spain with your family a breeze.
4. Accept a good exchange rate as soon as it arises.
When you exchange currencies, our impulse is often to wait and see how high the exchange rate goes. The thing is though, the foreign exchange market is highly volatile.
Given this, instead of trying to “time the market”, exchange currencies when a good rate arises. This way, you’ll receive the euro total you need!
5. Keep an eye on the foreign exchange rate with Google.
To keep an eye on the foreign exchange rate, and find out when sterling climbs, you can simply use Google.
Just enter “GBPEUR” into the search engine, and Google will return the current exchange rate, as well as a historical exchange rate graph. This way, you can see if the exchange rate is favourable!
6. Don’t exchange currencies at the “low of the day”.
On a given day, the exchange rate fluctuates. Today, for example, the pound to euro interbank exchange rate has moved almost 0.5 cents!
As a result, to lift your euro total when you move to Spain, ensure you don’t exchange currencies at the “low of the day”. This is the point when the exchange rate is lowest!
7. Transfer your money with a currency broker that’s “FCA authorised.”
To make sure that your money is highly secure when you exchange currencies, use a foreign exchange specialist that’s “directly authorised by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA.)”
This means that the currency dealer will adhere to all UK regulations to transfer funds, and protect your money!
8. Avoid banks or currency brokers that charge fees or commission.
In 2018, you can transfer your money to Spain while paying 0% in fees or commission. This way, you save the highest possible amount, to lift your euro total in your Spanish bank account!
So, when you speak to a currency broker, ask them to confirm that they charge 0% fees and commission.
9. Get peace of mind with an International Transfer Receipt (ITR).
When you transfer money abroad, you’ll like to know that your money has arrived safely in your Spanish bank account as soon as possible.
To get this peace of mind, ask your foreign exchange broker for an International Transfer Receipt (ITR). With this, you’ll receive quick, clear confirmation that your money transfer has been successful.
10. Protect yourself against volatility, with a forward contract.
To guarantee that you get the euro total you need when you move to Spain with your family, you can set up what’s called a forward contract.
With this, you lock in today’s exchange rate, so you know well in advance what euro total you’ll receive in your Spanish bank account. This way, you’re protected against currency volatility!
With these 10 tips in mind, transferring money for your move to Spain will be a cinch. So you’ll enjoy less stress, and more ¡siesta under el sol!
Further Education in Spain: How To Decide What Options are Right for Your Child
Parents on the Costa del Sol, as in other parts of Spain, are constantly having to make decisions on their child’s future based on language, suitability for their personality and where you think they will want to live and work when they get older. When you’re considering what further education in Spain path is right for your child, it starts to become more complicated, as the world is their oyster and options are almost endless, however, they are still young and need your support and assistance.
If you’re debating this decision at the moment, here are some thoughts from the experts at the Schellhammer Business School, the first English-speaking business school in southern Spain, to help guide your thoughts.
When we speak to parents bringing their children up on the Costa del Sol about further education in Spain, they tend to be confused on whether to send them to Spanish Universities, send them abroad to keep their options open or keep them here to study. Of course, no child is the same and so there is no one solution for everyone.
So, in this blog post, we want to give you some pros and cons of these three common options.
Pros – There are options both big and small, with most bigger cities in Spain being home to one.
Cons – Teaching style may vary from students who have attended English schools all their life.
Ideal for – Young individuals who are looking to become a lawyer, doctor, dentist or other regulated profession and wanting to practice in Spain only.
UK or US Universities
Pros – The curriculum and teaching style will be familiar for students who have attended English schools all their life.
Cons – Tuition at UK universities have risen substantially over the past years and universities in the US can often cost several 100,000 USD. Moving to another country away from parents as well as starting a new chapter in their education can be too much for many young people and they can struggle without the support network.
Ideal for – Individuals looking to gain a degree in a regulated profession, such as medicine or dentistry to then practice in that country and very independent, confident youngsters with good life skills.
Local Universities teaching in English
Pros – No need to travel abroad or live in an unfamiliar environment and follow a teaching style and curriculum that pupils coming from English educated backgrounds will be familiar with.
Cons – Since they are private and not funded by government, they are fee paying institutions, but there are also scholarships, grants and financial aid that students can apply for.
Ideal for – Young individuals who wish to stay in Spain but gain academic qualifications suitable for business, hospitality and other related fields in social sciences in Spain and abroad.
About the authors
This guest post was written by Evangelos Zographos, Head of Studies at Schellhammer Business School.
Schellhammer Business School offers a range of higher education programmes including a pre-University Foundation Program, undergraduate Bachelor of Business Administration and postgraduate Master of Business Administration aligned and validated via the European Bologna Treaty Norms, as well as an Executive Program. From September, Schellhammer Business School will also be expanding its educational offer with Cambridge International AS & A Levels.
Founded in 2009 and expanding into a stunning new campus in Estepona a year ago, they are the only British accredited business school in Spain that teaches in English. In 2018 they were recognised with the prestigious British accreditation by ASIC (Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges and Universities). This is an important accreditation, recognised by the British Government’s Home Office, approved by Ofsted and leading educational bodies in the USA and Europe.
All courses are taught in English and offer a personalized approach to learning, with small class sizes and attention on developing the strength and self-knowledge of the individual. The business school is located on a secure 200-hectare estate featuring an 18-hole golf course, gym, three swimming pools and a unique natural environment.
They are currently accepting applications for the upcoming academic year.