Advantages and Disadvantages of International Schooling in Spain for Expat Families

International schools Spain

Next in our series about schooling in Spain, we look at international schools.

In this guide, you’ll find a list of the advantages and disadvantages of international schools in Spain.

We’ve also included tips on what to consider when you’re looking at and comparing different schools.

Why send your child to an international school in Spain?

You may choose to send your child to an international school rather than a Spanish state school or private school for the following reasons:

  • Your child’s age when you move to Spain – the older children are, the more difficult they find it to adapt to a new language.
  • Choosing an international school with the curriculum in your child’s mother tongue will make settling in easier and quicker.
  • Your child’s school stage when you move to Spain – if your child is at a crucial stage of his/her education (e.g. half-way through an exam course), it makes sense to choose an international school with a similar curriculum to give your child continuity.
  • Your short to medium-term plans – if you only intend to stay in Spain for a few years before returning to your home country (or moving to another one), an international school will help your child keep pace with the same education system.

Where can you find international schools in Spain?

International schools tend to be located in popular expat areas and in Spain’s larger cities.

You’ll find a good choice on the Costa Blanca (read about international schools on the Costa Blanca) and on the Costa del Sol.

There’s also a selection of international schools in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia plus a more limited choice on the islands.

What kind of international schools are there in Spain?

International schools in Spain tend to fall into two categories: Schools that teach their entire curriculum according to the system of their native country.

For example, British schools in Spain follow the English curriculum and the main teaching language is English. Spanish may or may not be the second language in the school.

In some instances, the school may be authorized to teach the Spanish curriculum as well (useful if your child plans to go into further education in Spain).

Schools that teach the Spanish curriculum but in their native language. For example, a French lycée that teaches in French but follows the Spanish curriculum.

Spanish tends to be the second language in this type of international school.

How do I know if an international school is good?

All international schools in Spain require a licence to operate from the Spanish authorities.

Beware of a school that doesn’t have this or claims that authorisation is pending – a school without the correct licence may be closed down with little or no notice.

Most schools also have some sort of accreditation from their home country.

British schools generally belong to the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS) and/or the global Council of British Independent Schools (COBIS).

These organisations carry out regular checks and inspections on member schools. They also publish a list of schools accredited with them on their website.

To get a feel for a school before you visit, take a long look at its website.

It should provide as much information as possible including full details about fees and extras, and explain the school’s philosophy.

It’s also worthwhile asking for recommendations (or otherwise) on expat forums.

But don’t take all opinions as read unless, of course, they’re unanimously good or bad.

Advantages of international schools in Spain

Easier to adapt to – if your child goes to a school where they speak his/her language, your child will undoubtedly adapt more quickly and easily to your new life in Spain. This is particularly true for older children and children who are naturally shy.

Smaller classes – most international schools in Spain have much a smaller pupil-teacher ratio than state schools. In some international schools, class sizes are very small, particularly for older children.

Good facilities – most schools have good facilities. These may include sports facilities such as swimming pool and football pitch; science laboratories; designated craft spaces; and generous areas for play and recreational. International schools in Spain generally offer better installations than state and private schools.

Curriculum extras – the best international schools go beyond the classroom and provide extras for an all-round education. For example, cultural trips, debating classes and school exchanges that you’re unlikely to find in Spanish state schools.

Special needs – if your child has special needs, these may be better catered for in an international school. Spanish state schools do provide special needs services, although these are often over-stretched and may be limited.

Your choice – you can choose which international school is right for your child. States schools, on the other hand, are designated according to catchment area and you rarely have a choice.

Disadvantages of international schools in Spain

Price – international schools are considerably more expensive than private schools.

Before you commit to one, check the fees and extras carefully to ensure you can afford the school for the length of your child’s education.

Equipment – at international schools you have to pay for everything: uniform (often very specific and lots of it!); textbooks and equipment; and transport and meals.

At state schools, text books are often provided free or at subsidised rates, transport is free and there’s usually no compulsory uniform. Find out more about state schools in Spain.

Location – your children will probably have to travel by car or bus to reach the international school of your choice. State schools, on the other hand, tend to be nearby or provide free bus transport for pupils who live further away.

Expat bubble – the majority of pupils at international schools in Spain are not Spanish so your child will gain little experience of his/her adopted country while at school.

You can compensate for this by joining in with activities in your local community and helping your child learn Spanish. Read 10 tips for helping your child learn Spanish.

Top 10 tips for choosing an international school in Spain

  • Plan as far ahead as you can. International schools tend to be over subscribed and often have waiting lists for places. The sooner you get your child on the list, the more chance you have of getting a place at the school.
  • Gain as much information as you can before you visit any schools. Look at the schools’ websites and ask for recommendations on expat forums.
  • Make a short-list of schools that appeal to you and your child before you visit.
  • Write down the questions you want to ask (and the answers).
  • Prepare your child and yourself for an interview – many international schools interview before offering a place. Older children may have to show proof of their examination results.
  • Try to visit the schools during term time when you’ll be able to see the staff and pupils ‘in action’.
  • Take a note of the state of the school’s facilities – are they well maintained and up-to-date?
  • Find out what sort of staff turnover the school has. If teachers tend to come and go frequently, this may be a sign of poor working conditions at the school.
  • Ask about the school’s academic record. If your child isn’t particularly bright, beware of choosing a school with a strong emphasis on exam results.
  • If there’s a parent-teacher association at the school, get in contact with them and ask any questions.