Moving to a new country is a more complex issue when there are children involved. If you plan to live in Spain then you will be delighted to hear that this is a warm and welcoming country where kids are generally made to feel right at home. However, you will also want to learn more about the Spain education system.
In many parts of the world it is an easy choice for expats to send their kids to a private school, due to the difference in quality and the relatively low cost. In Spain, it is worth starting by considering all of the options.
The first thing you need to know is that education is compulsory for all children in Spain between the ages of 6 and 16. There are 3 different categories of schools. The first covers state schools, which are free. Then there are private schools which are run by the government. Finally, there are completely private schools. There are some boarding schools but most private schools use the same timetable as the public one, with most being Catholic as well.
When it comes to the public education system, Spain was ranked 33rd out of 65 countries in the latest Program for International Student Assessment studies, in 2012. Math, reading and science were presented as the weakest areas in this study. The fact that the curriculum is virtually all in Spanish means that some foreign families consider a state school to be more difficult for their children to settle into quickly.
Of course, the cost of private schools is one of the big issues to take into account. As with anywhere else in the world, the cost varies widely according to the quality and prestige of the school. The location is also important, as Madrid and Barcelona are typically more expensive in this respect.
Private schools in Spain are classed as being generally less expensive than in North America or Northern Europe. For example, the annual cost for a private international school can start as low as maybe $5,000 and go up to well over double that figure. You also need to take into account the extra cost of books, meals and materials, even in state schools.
Don't forget that while private schools usually offer a wider range of subjects and culture, there is also the chance that a foreign student going to one of these schools ends up lacking in some aspect of “normal” Spanish education, culture or even the language.
The large number of foreign families who have decided to relocate to Spain means that there is an excellent selection of international schools in Spain to cater for them. A popular reason given for using this sort of school is that it provides a fantastic way for the student to become completely bilingual in English and Spanish. Among the choice you will find 86 schools in Spain which are authorized in the International Baccalaureate program.
Every year the Spanish newspaper El Mundo lists the best 100 schools in Spain. A name that tends to crop up in their listings is the American School of Barcelona. This institution has a global outlook and prioritizes those students who have already mastered the English language, while Spanish isn't an entry requirement. French and Catalan are also taught here. Annual fees start at about $11,000 for the youngest students and 20% of their students are North American, with another 40 other nationalities also present currently.
Another highly rated international school that appears on El Mundo's list is the Benjamin Franklin International School, also based in Barcelona. It currently has fewer than 700 students, from a number of different countries, with about a third of them from the US. It offers an American High School Diploma among its titles and is an IB world school too. Tuition fees start at around $10,000 per year and a huge range of subjects and languages are taught here.
Europa International School in Seville is another top class learning institution found on the same list of the best Spanish schools. In this case, the students study 2 languages apart from Spanish. This means that they learn English throughout their studies, plus either French or German. The campus is set up in an American style and has lots of space for sports and activities. The cost isn't currently stated on their website.
Runnymede College in the northern suburbs of Madrid is another classy school with a broad mix of nationalities. There is a strong British feel to this school, with around a fifth of the students having a British background and most of the teachers trained in the UK. It currently holds 750 pupils and teaches English, Spanish and Latin. Tuition fees aren't listed on the site but online reports suggest that it starts at $9,000 or so annually for younger children, rising for older students. There is also typically a waiting list for admission here.
An important point to remember when you retire to Spain with kids is that there are some regional differences in the education system across Spain. One of these differences is that the state schools in bilingual areas will often impart much of the curriculum in their local language (Catalan, Galician etc) rather than Spanish. Private schools usually focus less on the local language.
Another regional difference worth taking into account is that the university entrance exam is very different from one part of the country to another.