Many international families choose to relocate to Madrid for either business or pleasure. Whilst most definitely landlocked (it’s over 300 kilometers to the nearest beach!), we can honestly say that no Spanish city matches Madrid’s offering of arts and culture.
When families relocate to Madrid, their success rate is very much attached to finding the right school. It can make or break the relocation and puts a lot of pressure on finding the right one.
Happy child equals happy parent, right?
However, choosing the right school is a difficult decision at any time but is even more complicated in a foreign country especially if you do not have a good grasp of the Spanish language and are unfamiliar with the education system (and let’s not forget Spanish bureaucracy). Madrid has an ample selection of school options (Spanish, British, American, French, IB, etc.) that quite often families need additional support with their search either by working closely with an educational consultant or joining online groups like Madrid Education Facebook group.
Whether you choose state (público), semi-private (concertado) schools or private schools (international schools included in this category) careful planning is a must. The first step is to gather information on the different school options available in the capital city to begin to understand how it all works.
This Madrid Education Guide sets out all you need to know about schools in Madrid and how to navigate the different schools’ applications process. It was written by Madrid Education consultant Sinead Galvin who is an expert on schools in Madrid and the founder of Steps into Spain (Madrid-based educational consultancy).
The Madrid Education Guide:
📌 Provides a detailed summary of each school option broken down into the following categories – fees, entrance, timetable, faith, curriculum, exams and languages.
📌 Outlines the five educational stages– Primer and Segundo infantil, Primaria, la ESO (Educación Secundaria Oblig atoria) and el Bachillerato.
📌 Explains the bilingual education programme on offer at each school option in both primary and secondary stages.
📌 Describes the level of SEND support and how to access available resources.
📌 Guides you through the application process (including late applications for families who arrive outside of regular application dates) and admissions in each school option.
After reading this guide you should feel more prepared to make an informed decision about the right school for your child in Madrid.
If you do have further questions or are needing help with assessing the right school for your children, don’t hesitate to contact Sinead at email@example.com
What will happen with back to school 2020 in Spain?
What are your thoughts? How are you feeling? What do you know? What do you wish you knew?
By now, most parents are longing for the “vuelta al cole”, after the seemingly endless (although, these days we wish they were longer) summer holidays we enjoy in Spain. However, this year we are clouded in incertitude. The future is currently clouded by the continuing presence and threat of Coronavirus.
As I write this post, Friday, August 21st 2020, I am anxiously awaiting an email from our children’s school. On Monday this week, we received an email advising, amongst other things, that today we would be explained how “back to school 2020” would be organised.
I must tell you that I am not too concerned about our children going back to school, I am confident that their school will take all the necessary precautions and that our children are old enough and wise enough to take the necessary precautions. However, I am unhappy that our children are returning to school earlier than usual and that there is a possibility they will be expected to attend a school trip at the start of the term. Can you imagine? Around 200 students in a camp together, having been so careful for so long. It is my nightmare!
I am also concerned about the long term health effects, catching the virus may cause our children to suffer.
However, as new measures are currently being imposed across Spain due to a new spike in cases, I am hoping that the school’s plan will be changed. I am hoping that by the time I post my ramblings here that I will be able to tell you the outcome!
And about the spike in cases in Spain … can anybody tell me why Spain is portrayed so badly in newspapers, online portals and TV programmes all around the world? What have they done so wrong? Or is it really a scaremongering tactic? And if so, to what avail?
Yes, there are more cases being detected. Yes, there are lots more tests being carried out. Yes, the track and trace system is tight. Yes, strict measures are put in place in an attempt to slow the spread. And yes there are much fewer hospitalizations and deaths. But how long will this last …
I asked on social media for parent’s thoughts about back to school 2020 in Spain. Here are some comments:
I’ve seen letters being published by some of the local AMPAs with their demands but can’t help hoping that plans are being worked upon and we have to have a little faith in those to whom we entrust our children who also have a vested interest in keeping the children and themselves safe. Either that or my head is well and truly buried in the sand!
Hey Lisa, I’m going back to teaching this year after a 5 year break and in answer to your question – we don’t know what is going on. There are plans for all 3 scenarios – all virtual, semi-presencial and all in person. Our daughter would be starting nursery at the same school as a 2 year old and we are planning to keep her home at least the first few weeks if need be to see if it’s actually safe and how things go. I don’t feel like things are under control – too many questions and variables – if I have a fever (for some other cold or run of the mill illness, does my whole class and their families quarantine? Will the 20 child bubble group I’m meant to teach actually be a bubble – how can that be controlled on weekends with extended families and the inevitable Sunday lunches? Too many questions and lots of anxiety.
Hi here there is no news yet, the mommies I know don’t know either. My kids are in infantil, primaria and ESO. We live in Castilla y Leon. For me, I really hope the kids go back to school as it has been a real struggle to keep up with their homeworks and projects from home, even though they were in contact with their teachers and class online on a daily basis ( the child in primaria ) but most importantly for their social skills and their interactions with school kids and teachers. Of coarse safety is a top priority, and if it is decided that going to school is high risk, then that is that.
Nothing yet here in Mijas Costa. My son is due to go back to school on the 10th September. It’s pretty shocking that we have had no updates from the school but they got their school fees Definitely would hate to hear home schooling again
Hi! My son’s 4 and due to my start Reception soon after preschool. He needs it and he’s so excited. They’re going to be in preschool for the first two weeks to get them used to being back in school and then onto “big school”! I’m excited for him to go to, he’s an only child and it’s just me, him and my Mom so he’s going to learn so much more being around his friends again.
In Sotogrande on September 8th. We just received today (18 August) a thorough and complete re-opening document with Covid-19 health and safety measures. All parents must read and sign this before children return. How do I feel about it? Cautiously happy. Social interaction is crucial for our students well being. However, the policing of their distance to one another, (no hugging, no touching, no high-fives) is very sad to imagine, but not impossible. I taught in Japan for two years and they all bow to one another and there really isn’t any touching, so we will adapt to other ways of showing our affection. We must make that a key component of returning to school.
Here is an extract from the initial email from our children’s school about back to school 2020 plans:
in spite of everything that is happening, we continue to work with hope instead of fear of the unknown because we know that far beyond the security of certainties, human beings need the security of a community, of belonging to a group linked by bonds of commitment and affection (especially during moments of uncertainty and adversity). This is how we have evolved as a species over time and this is how, this year too, we will give the best of ourselves and create learning conditions in which our children feel that, whatever happens, they will never walk alone.
As a parent, I do value the social interaction going to school provides our children. Mixing with and learning in the presence of children of their age is an integral part of growing up. It is part of what helps them develop. However, we also need to weigh up risks and rewards. It is easier for me to say this as our children are now 13 and almost 16 years old. I do feel that parents of younger children are dealing with a much bigger challenge. How do you cope? What do you feel?
During the initial lockdown in Spain, our children received a minimum of 3 to 4 hours, online classes in the morning each day of the week. Classes were taught by their usual teachers, all students were present and joint tasks and projects were set for later in the day. Despite the expected initial hiccups and technical challenges (by some students and a couple of teachers!) classes ran smoothly and the sense of routine made the whole experience a lot more bearable for us all.
Based on this, I am preparing us for the possibility of returning to online classes. Even if this does not happen initially, I expect it may happen at some point. Some parts of Spain are already preparing for a mix of presential and online classes.
This is our school’s comment on online vs presential classes:
With regards to “Technophobia and Technophilia” which divides, sometimes excessively the state of opinion between those who advocate the advantages of classroom-based and online education, the truth is that during the last months of the previous academic year it became clear that there is good and bad online education, as there is also good and bad classroom-based education. We have been and are, without the slightest doubt, in the first group of both and we firmly believe that the two complement each other and offer advantages.
However, in the current situation it is not a question of arguing in favour or against, but rather being aware that in the circumstance of uncertainty both are necessary as part of a routine or habit that allows a transition to one extreme or the other in the event that the health authorities consider it necessary.
No matter what, a decision needs to be made and soon. Tension is rising in many parts of Spain. Both teachers and parents need to be reassured that the education, health and safety of the children are the priority. Articles like this one published in El Pais in English is not what we all need right now.
Like many times during this pandemic, fingers are pointed, people search for blame. We are all fighting this together. Surely, cohesion and teamwork is better than fragmentation and fighting … or am I still living in my bubble?
UPDATE: At 10 pm we finally received the 29-page document from the school. I am disappointed to say that they are still insisting on taking around 200 children to an activity camp from August 29th. How crazy is that? Or am I crazy for not agreeing with it?
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.”
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.
I’d decided when was the best time to switch to bilingual education in Spain. Or so I thought …
I cannot believe that it is almost two years since I started writing this post. This is what happens when I want to write about something that is so important to me. That something is our children’s bilingual education in Spain.
March is decision time. In Spain, school enrollment starts in March for intake in September of that year (read more here).
Both our children have enjoyed Spanish state education in primary ( infantil) and junior (primaria). And I must say that we have been extremely happy with the education provided at CEIP San Sebastián in Mijas Pueblo. Francesca, in particular, has had a few inspiring teachers who have helped her grow and develop in a beautiful way ( Thank you Ruba, Marie Tere, Encarni and last but in no way least Carolina).
Our decision to switch to a private international school in secondary education (ESO) was made based, almost entirely, on language alone. Despite the fact that our children have always spoken English at home, they have only been educated in Spanish. Hence our decision to opt for a change to bilingual education in Spain.
In the year they turn twelve, in Spain, the children move from primary to secondary school. This often means a physical change of school and consequently a division of classes and school friends. An ideal time to make a change without to harsh an impact … or so we thought!
I am writing this post having just been to speak to the director at Joshua’s bilingual school. The meeting was to help me decide whether Francesca’s decision ( yep, you read that correctly!) was the best one.
Mis niños 🙂
Our strong-willed and determined little ten year old had decided, last summer, that starting her new school one year earlier than we had planned was the best idea. Not only did she have her reasoning clear in her head, but she also informed her best friend that that was what was going to happen.
You can imagine my surprise when her best friend’s mum asked me if it was true that Francesa would be changing schools before the end of the course. I am not saying I was disappointed. I was genuinely surprised and very impressed. My little shy girl is growing … in many beautiful ways.
Factors I considered when deciding if bilingual education in Spain was the best option for our children…
“We absolutely loved the school, their ideas and philosophy but we really don’t think that “Jimmy” could deal with the fact that the secondary education totally bilingual. We feel that, it’s too much pressure to put him under. He isn’t good under pressure.”
Right then. Right there.
That was the very moment the penny dropped. The tables turned.
I knew what had to be done. And I was certain it was the right decision. The right decision about our son’s secondary education in Spain. It was time for change.
The Moment I Knew Which Option To Take Regarding Secondary Education In Spain.
I was sat having a coffee in Mijas Pueblo, with a couple of lovely families. We were discussing their plans for moving to Spain. We were talking about the best education options for their children. We were discussing the various options for secondary education options in Spain, in the Malaga region. It is a conversation I have several times a month. But this time, by discussing what was best for their son, I suddenly realised what was best for my own.
Joshua has made so many friends in the pueblo … Now it’s time for a change!
Making informed decisions about education is at the forefront of our minds when moving to Spain with children, and regularly, throughout phases whilst living here too.
As in life, there are many paths our children’s education can follow. As parents, it is our role to discover and research these paths before sending our children along them.
If you have read my book and previous posts on education in Spain you will know that I believe deciding which path is best for your own child is a very personal decision. A decision only you can make. You can research and listen to advice and opinions but only you can make the final decision.
I also recommend researching education options, both primary and secondary education in Spain, before deciding where to live, when planning your move to Spain, or any other country.
When we moved back to the Malaga region, this time with children, I did my research on schools. I spoke to as many people as I could and I researched on the internet. I decided we should live in the catchment area of CEIP San Sebastian in Mijas Pueblo.
Our little “estrella” stealing the show 🙂
On June 17th 2016, as we proudly watched our son co-compare the “baile fin de curso”, in faultless Spanish and clear English, to a crowd of two to three hundred, I knew we had made and were about to make the correct decision.
Or son, a well grounded, confident, friendly, thoughtful and fully integrated 11-year-old regularly makes me pull those proud “Mumbeam” faces.
What’s A Proud “Mumbeam” face?
You know that expression you pull when a beautiful thought enters your head. You try to suppress your smile but as you purse your lips, in an attempt not to grin like a Cheshire cat, the thought causes your smile to stretch across from one ear, across to the other. And, even if you manage to keep your lips tightly pressed together, the proud “mumbeams” shine out of your eyes. Your smiling eyes. Yep. That’s what I call a proud “Mumbeam” face 🙂
I hope you enjoy proud Mumbeam faces too. Do share them with us.
Oh, and what was the big decision?
All will be revealed very soon … the countdown has begun 😉
As I sit here, deliberating what to share with you first, I am torn. Living abroad with children is a whirlwind of life experiences. Sometimes you just need to stop, take a breath and slow down. Otherwise, life simply passes you by.
It has been far too long since our last blog post but we do have an excuse. In fact, we have several fabulous excuses. We have eleven weeks worth of excuses.
I have made a promise to myself that I am going to take the time to relive our amazing summer and share our memories with you, in the form of blog posts and lots of beautiful pictures.
So much has happened and is happening. This coming year is marked by change. Lots of changes. More changes than we’ve had for many years.
The fountains in the new Plaza in Mijas Pueblo
Tomorrow is the first day of back to school for our daughter, Francesca. We were not expecting any changes for Francesca. Our daughter thrives on routine and stability. Unexpected changes can be painful.
It is important to remember that changes are inevitable when living abroad with children. Learning to adapt to change is an essential skill for living abroad.
Let me take time out for a second, my mind is racing ahead of me already …
Here is a taste of the stories we will be sharing with you over the coming weeks:
Our son’s education story: The end of an era and new beginnings in bilingual education
Making Memories: Summer holidays in Cadiz, Paris, The Dordogne, Archidona, Paxos and London
The Challenges of Living Abroad: I found a Lump and how it affected my relationships.
Integration and Family Time: Padel Tennis
Spanish Bureaucracy: Why we have chosen to live in a building site rather than sell our house in Spain and buy another one
The Language Show Live 2016 : Presenting Cooking With Languages.
But before all that, here we are today:
As I mentioned, tomorrow is the first day of a new school year for infant and primary, state school in Spain. Francesca is heading back to school in the morning.
It was “school as usual”, up until two days ago that is when we were advised of an unexpected change.
For the first time in six years, she is starting the school year in a new class. She is still at the same school in the village but, due to changes made by the Junta, she is now no longer with the same classmates she’s been with for the past six years.The previous three classes have been merged into two. There will be twenty-eight children in each class. Francesca, along with three others from her class have been moved. How they decided this, I have no idea. However, we are grateful that she is still going to be with one of her best friends. Her other best friend, however, has not been moved. We are hoping this will change.
When you’re moving and living abroad with children, stability is an important part of their lives and we have previously been concerned that Francesca’s lack of confidence was due to the fact she’d been moved so many times, from such an early age. The news about her being moved to another class initially shocked and upset me. I was afraid how it would affect her.
Thankfully, so far, this is proving not to be the case. Despite my fears, she does not appear to be scared and is very happy to be returning to school tomorrow, even though there’s going to be a big change in her learning environment. An environment which has been stable for her, for the past six years.
Her strength and ability to adapt just prove how strong children really are. I do believe that provided we pay attention to them and are aware of their feelings and their behaviours and we take the right steps we can help them, they can adapt to almost any environment.
One of the *main reasons we decided that our children should go to the local state school rather than the private international school, was stability. The expat community is generally a very transient community. Friends, with children in international schools, have often told us how their children struggled to maintain good friendships as many expat children, for differing reasons, come and go over the years. Enrolling our children in the local village school has resulted in them, particularly Francesca, developing beautiful bonds and friendships with Spanish children. Children who have grown up in the village and who are here to stay, although we know that nothing is guaranteed.
(*In case you were wondering, the main reason was the desire to learn the language and become bilingual.)
Francesca warming up and stretching before ballet class.
The stability and the lack of change in her class have helped Francesca gain in self-confidence over the years. It has been a slow process but we are getting there. Her school is a place where she is growing in confidence. She knows all her classmates, they go to parties and ferias together. She knows who she sits with during class time. She knows what to expect. She loves the school routine. Or she did …
This is a massive change for her, in the most constant environment. It will be interesting to see how she copes with it and what effect it has on her however in the coming months.
We are hoping that the new found confidence, thanks to her ballet classes, continues to grow and she can enjoy what lies ahead in this new school year. One day our little lady will enjoy the confidence she so deserves.
Thursday marks an even bigger change. Our son Joshua will start a new chapter in his education. A new chapter in a new school. An exciting new chapter in bilingual education.
From my own experiences, when learning Spanish as a second language, far too much emphasis is placed on learning grammatical exercises, rather that oral practice. Fortunately, this appears to be changing and more attention is being given to practical usage.
As our children attend Spanish state school, there is a requirement to study “lengua”, Spanish language. They have the fantastic opportunity to learn Spanish just like native Spanish children do. This may be more challenging at the outset but I truly believe it will be something they will thank us for in the future.
We are in the world of not only new vocabulary but also antónimos, sinónmos, refranes and trabalenguas, amongst others. Have I lost you yet?
There are actually very few questions Mr. Google (as referred to in our house) is unable to help us with.Although, as it is not our native tongue, some Spanish homework can require quite a lot of research.
The following websites are also very useful for language homework:
How many of you have positive memories of learning a foreign language when you were growing up?
I’m guessing that, like me, most of you have memories of uninspiring lessons and textbooks you could literally blow the dust off as you were in no hurry to pick them up for fear of being put to sleep rather than being inspired and motivated to learn from them.
As Brits, perhaps we suffer from the fact that English is so widely spoken in so many countries around the world. However, thankfully, we’re becoming more and more aware of the incredible benefits learning another language has. The UK government, for example, has made language learning compulsory for children at Key Stage 2. One of the main issues though is that it hasn’t provided adequate resources to do so.
You may think we, as a country, a community, we aren’t that keen to learn another language, but a study published late last year showed that 58% of adults regret not knowing another language.
We live in an ever growing global society where we are constantly communicating with people from so many different backgrounds and nationalities. It is natural that we desire to understand and communicate with other cultures. For those of you who travel or move abroad this desire will, or should be, much greater.
As in previous posts, we’d like to highlight the importance of learning Spanish, or any language, before you travel or move, especially when you have children. Language knowledge facilitates integration and makes the transition to a new country a lot easier and allows children to communicate with their peers.
Our Cooking With Languages project
I recently came across One Third Stories, which, like our Cooking With languages project, looks to help parents and children learn Spanish and other languages, together. The reason it caught my eye is because they also support language learning at home, as well as schools, and engage parents and their kids using stories.
One Third Stories was founded by two young guys with contrasting language learning experiences. Jonny, part of the 58% and very much the product of a British language learning system, and Alex who grew up bilingual Spanish and English in Paraguay.
They create stories that start in English and end in a different lengua, by gradually introducing foreign words. The way they do this is through their innovative Clockwork Methodology ®. The first story, app, and hardback will be available on Kickstarter on the 17th of May where they will look for people passionate about learning languages to help bring the project to life.
So far they have produced an audiobook of The Three Little Pigs to learn Spanish using this methodology and also a puppet show (see video below)! The beauty is that the contexts are so clear that children learn without realising it, and adults become involved too.
You can follow their progress on social media (Facebook and Twitter) or download a free audiobook HERE to check it out.
It’s a great idea, don’t you agree? Here’s to finding more innovative ideas for Making Language Learning Fun For Children!
One of the most important decisions you have to make, when moving to Spain with children, is choosing a school to send your children to. Whether to enrol your children in a Spanish state school or a private international school.
The availability of state schools and international schools in Spain varies by region. Hence, it is advisable to carefully research the schools in the area you plan to make your new home, before you plan your move to Spain.
When choosing a school in Spain for your children, the following factors should be considered:
The age of your child: From experience, (this is only my personal opinion and to be taken or left as you choose), I would highly recommend enrolling any child aged 6 years or below in a Spanish state or Spanish speaking private school, whether it be a nursery or primary school. At this age they are sponges and you may be amazed at how quickly they integrate and pick up the language. I clearly remember our son´s first word after only a few days … “mío”!
Your knowledge of the Spanish language: I am lucky to have a pretty high level of Spanish and my husband has a good conversational level. However, we often have to use Google in order to complete our 7 year old’s homework assignments. I truly believe that many expat children struggle in school due to the lack of available support at home, as a result of a lack of language ability. My advice would be that once you are unable to help your children with their Spanish homework then you should consider either moving them to a private/international school or, as a more economical alternative, source a home tutor.
Financial commitments: Private schools are not cheap. State education is a much cheaper option. This school year we have seen quite a sharp increase in foreign students joining our children´s state school. Unfortunately, these are not children that have just relocated, these are older children that were previously in private international schools who, due to the downturn in their parents economic position, have been forced to end their private education. Needless to say, they do not find it easy. This is not to say that any child older that 6 or 7 will not adapt. Children are amazing and they never cease to amaze us.
Your desired level of integration in Spanish life: This may seem like a strange consideration, however, we have met many people that have no interest whatsoever in integrating with the local Spaniards. Their children have attended private schools and have picked up the language randomly, as children do, by chatting with other Spanish children. As a result, their children have integrated in a minor way in their town/village yet the parents continue to mix in their own circles.
I am in no way stating that if your children do not attend Spanish state school that you will not integrate. Nor am I saying that by putting your children in the local school will you be accepted as part of the local community. In our village, everyone seems to know our children and I have worked hard at always being involved in meetings, school trips and activities in order to be accepted by the local mums. Now, after almost 3 years, we seem to be considered as part of the community … As a parent, you need to decide what you want and what you think is best for your child and your family.
School Timetables: In Andalucia, the State school timetable for lessons is 9am until 2pm. In most schools, there is a canteen option (at extra cost) and extra curricula activities (at extra cost) and an early morning drop off option (at extra cost). In other parts of Spain the schools close for a 2 hour lunch and continue lessons in the afternoon. Private/International schools tend to follow the traditional UK timetables of 9am until 4pm or 5pm.
Whichever type of school you chose, do consider the implications of the timetable and transportation options. It is very easy to soon get fed up of spending half your time as a school taxi.
These are only 5 of many considerations when selecting a school for your child. We look forward to hearing your suggestions and ideas …
Read more of our experiences of Education in Spain here.