Public Schools in Spain vs. the US
I have two words for Spanish schools: no frills. This includes…BYOTP. Yep. Bring your own toilet paper because there’s not always school provided paper. I can’t believe how little they seem to spend on school buildings and materials. It’s a glaring difference but one that sends a loud message: PEOPLE truly make school special.
There’s no school nurses nor school resource officers – schools are just too small. I’ve included a picture of my daughters “playground” to give you an idea of just how minimal the infrastructure is. She jumps rope, makes up dances, and uses her imagination a lot;)
In general, classrooms are basic. Blackboards and chalk are in some rooms but so are smart boards. Every school is a bit different but you won’t find fancy bulletin boards and rooms full of cute colored carpets and bookshelves full of extra supplies.
In fact, children are encouraged to bring ink pen refills, not a new pen. My kids have had the same 4 pens for almost 1.5 years.
As a US high school teacher for 10 years, I foolishly, habitually, and begrudgingly passed out probably 5 pens on average to students each day. Why? Because I’d rather the student write than sit there all class without a pen. What is this reinforcing?!
It’s common for the highest grade in the class to be a 7 out of 10. For most US schools, the idea that a 70% is the best is unheard of. This means that grades in Spain are generally not as inflated and also sets realistic expectations. Achieving a 10 should be difficult, not commonplace and for new American students here, this might take some getting used to for both kids and parents.
It’s not a thing in Spain. Either because teachers are entrusted to do their job or because that type of data collection and school comparison is not point of contention/interest.
Special education departments do not exist in public schools. There is a cap of 1 student with identified learning challenges per classroom in Spanish public schools and this means that child will reduce the class size overall to 23 students vs. 25.
Inclusion in Spain means that everyone in the school gets to understand, include, and help each other. It’s truly a beautiful thing. For those that require more advanced help, equipment, or care there are special schools to accommodate their needs.
Teachers in Spain are paid basic wages much like in the US. However, in line with Spanish culture, teachers are much more relaxed. They can be found walking up to school while the kids arrive, wearing jeans, and freely kissing and hugging children without fear of litigious parents, districts, and lots of unnecessary administrative duties/regulations.
Teachers are not expected to send emails home on progress, submit mountains of paperwork for field trips, administer/proctor/prep students for standardized tests, etc. They are trusted to differentiate when needed, call parent/teacher conference at their discretion, etc.
Teachers also can tell you to “shut up” and won’t hesitate to get in your face and tell you to get it together!! This is partially just Spaniards and it’s partially honest and tough love. On that same note, they will hug and kiss your kid like their own so it goes both ways.
Not in Spain. Walk, public transport or bike.
NOT a thing in Spain. While it’s not illegal entirely, it’s highly discouraged and very difficult to home school your child in Spain.
According to this article 3.3% of US students are homeschooled.
This is where Spain takes a big back seat to US systems. Spanish schools are very much into rote memorization. Creativity, teamwork, and ingenuity are not as revered. Taking specific notes, pasting them “just so” in the notebook, and copying word for word from the textbook is commonplace. Unless you go to a private school in Spain, most classrooms will feel a bit like the 1960s.
English, Spanish, and the local language is taught from age 3 in Spain. For Valencia, this is Valenciano and schools are legally required to have 33/33/33% language split during the day.
For our first year in Spain, I didn’t mind Valenciano and my kids were given a grace period from grades in the 3 subjects taught in Valenciano. However, in year 2, I’m starting to feel a bit of frustration with 33% of my kid’s day and bandwidth being consumed by a language they will never use outside of this city. While I am proud of the local culture and history here – it’s also politics and I feel a bit conflicted between: having a say in my child’s learning vs. respecting a culture of which I’m a guest.
This is my experience as a mom of a 3rd and 5th grader in Spanish public schools in Valencia, Spain. I am happy with the quality of education and relationships that my kids have here. Our goal was for them to learn Spanish and a different way of life. So far, both of those goals have been achieved! To read more about language acquisition and transitioning to a new school, click on my post titled “Starting Public School in Spain: Overcoming Fear and Our 1st Trimester”