School in Spain: Deciding What’s Right for Your Kids
As the mama bear, this was really all I could think about. I was SO nervous about my kids daily life and the decision around the right school for them. I will tell you now – this was the scariest part of the move that turned out to be (I’m writing this on their 12th day of school) just fine. Not to say I didn’t bawl at drop off on day 1. My kids are newly 7 and 9 years old. I think that each child is different and each age presents unique challenges. You know your kid, your comfort levels, and you’ll pick the right school.
There are 3 types of schools in Valencia – and the whole of Spain: Public, private, and “concertado”. Ultimately, we chose public schools and I’ll tell you why:
THE BAD: They’re expensive!! High enrollment fees and expensive monthly payments. We had the money but we didn’t want to strap ourselves and not be able to travel in Europe. Also, private schools are usually conducted in English and our biggest reason to move here was to have the kids immersed in the language. We knew that they wouldn’t be pushed to learn Spanish as fast in a private school.
Finally, and our last straw – they are all (but one) in the outskirts of town. This means that we would need a car OR they would take a bus, with a hefty price tag, and this would make for a very LONG day. Pick up around 7:30am and drop off around 5:30pm.
THE GOOD: The education and facilities are great! Most public schools – not so much. Also, there are still opportunities for language acquisition as your kids will be with lots of Spaniards, learning Spanish on the playground and in social settings. The quality of education will likely be a bit better. If your child is a superstar or perhaps of middle-school age, already fluent in 2 languages, etc – you’ll want them to keep a high-caliber curriculum. We just wanted our kids to be loved, supported, and immersed so we weren’t really big on a challenging curriculum/tons of homework.
You will probably be with like-minded expats and well-to-do families. This didn’t matter to me much but I think you might want to consider your social scene as it’s a big part of your life.
If you want to have language choices that you select (minimizing Valenciano, maximizing Castellano, etc) you can make those decisions with private schools.
THE GOOD: They are local, so if you enroll early enough (in May) – you’ll be a short walk from school…which is important as you might be going there 4 times a day because of siesta. Although, we choose to keep our kids in school all day – even during the long lunch break/siesta so that they can play with friends.
They will be completely immersed in the Spanish language. Most teachers don’t speak English at all. This seems scary but it will quickly become normal and your child will adapt. I’m watching my kids grow EVERY day and it’s incredible. Also, they’re free! Lunch is around 4 euro a day and you have to buy books, but that’s it.
THE BAD: The facilities are not glamorous – especially compared to US standards. Some don’t have playgrounds, most are old buildings, and there are no frills.
The enrollment process is more involved and it’s hard to get into schools when you first arrive. The Spanish school system is based on points. You get points for being registered with the government (but everyone has those), points for being an alum (that doesn’t help ex-pats!), points for where you live, and points for siblings going to the school. It’s a bit tough to navigate the Spanish bureaucracy and school is no different. We stayed patient and we had help from a friend with this so it wasn’t too bad. If you arrive after May – you better be standing outside the school in early September ready to beg to get your kid in school – IF there’s space. *My kids are in two different schools because there wasn’t room.
THE GOOD: Concertado is the Spanish form of charter schools. They are usually Catholic and there is usually about one concertado per every 2 public schools. There isn’t a huge difference between concertado and public schools – only the religion. It really depends on the one you choose and what’s close to your house.
THE BAD: They are hard to get into, just like public schools. They cost but it’s a very nominal fee. Only 20% of what a private school per year.
The hard part is – you can’t pick a school before you pick a house! It’s frustrating but if you time it right – get your visa by May and have your apartment picked by then as well. May is when the schools open up their extra spaces and they fill up quickly. If you enroll your kids in May you can “relax” and enjoy a LOOONG summer with the kids getting acclimated/traveling. If you’re more adventurous or inexperienced (like us): Arrive in August and the MINUTE that school’s open in September – be standing there with all your paperwork ready to enroll. That landed us in 2 different schools and only a 15 min walk from our apartment, but it was a bit of a gamble.
For our family, the first year is about language acquisition – not stellar instruction. It’s about learning new norms, meeting new friends, and learning to deal with change and a new language. Your kids will do great wherever you send them. They are braver and much more formidable than you. Have faith in them and try not to impose your fears on their malleable little minds. Best of luck and let me know if I can help you in any way.
You got this!
Great list of private schools in Valencia here.
Another super helpful resource for schools/links: Moving2Valencia
Hi! I know there is a gray area for homeschooling in Spain but that is what we are looking to do. I am fluent and have lived in Spain but my kids don’t speak much Spanish due to lack of exposure. Have you met any expats that homeschool? We are wanting to get them into sports and activities rather than school. Thoughts?
Heather – Thanks for reading. Homeschooling is actually against the law in Spain. If you want to get your visa renewed after one year – you’ll have to have a letter stating that they went to school during that year.
Oh wow! I recently read on the following website https://hslda.org/content/hs/international/Spain/default.asp… that people have only had trouble when pulling kids out of school and that it’s a grey area still. I also noticed that its recognized and legal in Catalonia. We plan to use Spain as a base so I’ll definitely contact the consulate beforehand.