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Education in the Costa del Sol

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The scope of this guide

This guide is about the education system in Spain - state schools, Spanish private schools and international schools. It does not cover tertiary (university) education.

It pays particular attention to the arrangements in the Costa del Sol.

Introduction

Education in Spain is often very good, but can sometimes leave a lot to be desired. Whether your child receives a good education will be, in the main, down to the school you choose for them. Whether you go down the route of private or state education, there is a good selection of schools available on the Costa del Sol.

How to choose the right type of school for your child on the Costa del Sol

You have, in effect, three choices: the standard Spanish state education system, private Spanish schools (many of which will be subsidised by the State) and fully independent private schools. These fully independent private schools would include most international and foreign-language schools.

There is, at least in theory, a fourth choice. This is to educate your child at home. But it is rare that a foreigner will want or be able to do this and the few people that Guides.Global knows who have tried to go down this route have met with considerable resistance and many obstacles.

Pros and cons of state schools on the Costa del Sol

Choosing an ordinary Spanish state school has many advantages and a few - sometimes serious - disadvantages.

The first problem is that, depending upon the catchment area in which you live, you may find that 'your' school is of good, bad or indifferent quality. If you're thinking of going down the road of state education, you need to make sure that you buy or rent a property in an area within the catchment area of a good school. The best way of finding out about the reputation of local schools is to ask people in the area who have young children. Establishing which school your child should attend is one of the main purposes of making sure that you spend some time in Spain before you commit to the purchase of a house and a good reason for starting your time in Spain in property that you've rented temporarily - say, for a period of three months.

The second big problem with sending your child to a local Spanish school arises, mainly, where your children are already well advanced in the educational system. You will find that the curriculum in Spain is totally different from the curriculum in your own country. Your children will not have covered many of the things that children of their age will be expected to have grasped - and, of course, they will have studied many things that the local children will not have studied.

This can mean that your child is allocated to a more junior class - i.e. a class for children younger than its years. This can be demoralising and it can cancel out one of the great advantages of going to a local Spanish school: the ability to quickly make friends with children in the area.

It is quite a challenge for your child to take on learning about life in a new country, a new language and a new curriculum all at the same time.

You will often also find that you will not be able to assist your child nearly as much as you could 'back home'. If they are set homework, it will be in Spanish and - quite possibly - related to a subject about which you know absolutely nothing.

Spanish schools are often something of a social hub. Many offer extensive extracurricular activities - sports, art, drama, music etc - but they do not usually offer nearly as many as you would find in private schools.

Despite all of these drawbacks, there are four overwhelming benefits to attending a good local state school on the Costa del Sol.

  1. Your child will be mixing with 'ordinary' local Spanish children from the area in which you live. He or she will make friends quickly and learn the language in the matter of a few weeks. This is especially true if they are still young - say, eight years old or younger.

  2. They will become totally immersed in Spanish society. Attending a private school, particularly one with lots of international children, can leave them a little on the sidelines as far as Spain is concerned. There is no greater gift to your child than to make them completely and seamlessly bicultural. This is more than just speaking the language. It is understanding about the history and mindset of the people where you live. It is being intimately familiar with the politics and the football and the religion and the local social activities. Being totally bicultural also offers huge range of well-paying job opportunities.

    Remember that, if you want to take advantage of this, you will need to make sure that your children do not lose contact with their own roots. You will want to make sure they spend time speaking their own language, reading about and discussing their own culture and meeting many people from that culture. However, for most people this is not a problem.

  3. Having your child attend a local Spanish school helps you integrate into Spanish society. They will tell you what is going on. They will help you learn the language. They will introduce you to the parents of their friends.

  4. Of course, a final advantage of using a state school is that it is free!

It definitely helps put your child through local Spanish school if you already speak at least a little Spanish but many newcomers manage to do so without understanding a word of the language. Indeed, in places like the Costa del Sol, schools with large numbers of foreign children will often have specially trained teachers with good language skills in the most important languages in their area.

The main reason you might want to rule out a local school is if your children are older. This can make it more difficult to adapt to a new curriculum and can lose them the possibility of taking the exams for which they have been studying 'back home'.

Pros and cons of private schools on the Costa del Sol

There are a wide range of private schools available on the Costa del Sol. See below for more details. Some of them offer pretty much the same facilities and opportunities as an ordinary Spanish state school but possibly have better teachers, smaller classes or a more ambitious educational programme.

Attending a private school in Spain is very common. Across Spain, nearly half of all pupils attend such a school.

Others - particularly the international schools - cater to a different market. They are aimed squarely at the foreign parents of children living temporarily in the area or the parents of Spanish children who are likely to be travelling and working internationally.

These schools offer a much wider range of study options. You are likely to be able to find a school that can offer or adapt to the curriculum and exam programme that is already being followed by your child.

They will almost always offer less integration into 'normal' Spanish society than you will get in a Spanish state school, but can balance that by giving a very broad understanding of the cultural background in many different countries.

For example, if you attended an English medium (language) international school you may find that the other students in your class came not only from the US, the UK and other English-language countries but also from places such as France, Germany, Russia, the Middle East, Singapore and China. In addition there is likely to be a significant number of Spanish students.

Compulsory education on the Costa del Sol

In Spain it is a legal requirement for children to attend school between the ages of six and 16. This covers primary education and compulsory secondary education.

Before the age of six there is often the opportunity to attend preschool/nursery school (Guarderias). See below.

After the age of 16 there are opportunities for further secondary education, graduate and post-graduate education but this is subject to the child's ability.

School hours on the Costa del Sol

School hours across Spain can vary. Some schools run from 9:00-17:00 (with a two-hour lunch break). Others may begin and end as early as 7:00 and 14:00. Check the school's website or call them up to find out.

School uniforms on the Costa del Sol

School uniforms are not compulsory for schools in Spain. They are uncommon in state schools and far more common in private schools (especially religious schools).

State education on the Costa del Sol

The Spanish curriculum

The Spanish Ministry of Education has details of the Spanish curriculum from pre-school through to the end of secondary school. You can view it here. Use the drop-down list in the top right-hand corner to select your language.

Catchment areas

Your child is unlikely to be able to attend a school outside of their catchment area. You can ask your local town hall for a list of schools within the catchment area. If you're considering a move to the Costa del Sol, this is an important factor when deciding where to buy or rent a house. Check out the local schools before commiting.

You can also use this search tool to find schools in your desired area. Just type in your town name or postcode.

Registering for a state school on the Costa del Sol

To register your child, you may need to show the school your child's passport, proof that they've been vaccinated and proof of your address (a utility bill or rental agreement).

You can find your local state schools on this web page (it's in Spanish - but just enter your postcode).

Every school is limited as to the number of children it can register and applications are taken on a first come, first served basis. It is therefore important that you allow adequate time to arrange your children's education.

The quality of state education in Spain

State education in Spain has improved dramatically in the last couple of decades, although it still sits below the OECD average.

Preschool/guarderias

It's compulsory for children to attend school from the age of six, but most parents in Spain will take advantage of the preschool system available.

Preschool in Spain is split into two cycles: 0-3 years old (which is not free) and 3-6 years old (which is free).

Guarderias are nursery schools for children aged 0-3. It's not unusual for Spanish children to attend these institutions from just a few months old.

Spaces in guarderias can be difficult to secure, so it's advisable to start the process before you move (or before your child is born).

Bi-lingual nurseries have popped up across the Costa del Sol in response to the huge population of expats. Angloinfo has compiled a good list of the English-speaking guarderias available in the region. Most towns and even villages will have a nursery/kindergarden, but not all will have a bilingual institution.

Spanish preschool isn't heavily focused on academia - their main advantages are allowing parents to return to work with minimal childcare costs and, in the case of foreign children, integration into the Spanish culture and language.

The curriculum for pre-school students focuses on:

  • Language and communication

  • Self-knowledge and personal autonomy

  • Knowledge of environment and surroundings

See more details here.

If there aren't enough free places in a pre-school, priority for admission can be boosted by the following criteria:

  • Previous enrollment of siblings in the school, or a parent or guardian working in the school

  • Close proximity of the home or workplace of a parent or guardian

  • A low annual income for the family (calculated keeping the size of the family in mind)

  • Disability (in the case of the student or a parent or guardian)

Primary school

Primary school, from the age of six to twelve years old, is where compulsory education in Spain begins. A child will start school in the calendar year in which they turn six years old.

Students will get a grounding in Spanish, mathematics, foreign languages, culture and physical education.

See more details on the Spanish primary school curriculum here.

Students will be continuously evaluated so that poorly performing children can be given additional support.

The grades are as follows:

  • Infufficient (Insuficiente) - IN

  • Sufficient (Suficiente) - SU

  • Good (Bien) - BI

  • Excellent (Notable ) - NT

  • Outstanding (Sobresaliente) - SB

Learning disabilities or other mitigating factors are taken into account.

At the end of the third year and the end of the sixth year of primary school, students will be more formally assessed and graded. Only an Insuficiente grade will mean that your child will have to repeat a year at school. This is not a common outcome.

When your child graduates primary school, their school records (including evaluation grades, average scores in individual subjects etc) will be passed on to the school they are graduating to. You can request a copy of these records.

If there aren't enough places available in a primary school, priority for admission can be boosted by the following criteria:

  • Previous enrollment of siblings in the school, or a parent or guardian working in the school

  • Close proximity of the home or workplace of a parent or guardian

  • A low annual income for the family (calculated keeping the size of the family in mind)

  • Disability (in the case of the student or a parent or guardian)

  • Coming from a preschool that is attached to the primary school

  • If the family has moved to the catchment area as a result of 'forced movement' or domestic violence

Secondary school

Secondary school (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria) is for children between the ages of 12-16. It is divided into two 'cycles' - from 12-14 and 14-16.

Throughout compulsory secondary education, students will study the 'core' subjects - Spanish language and literature, physical education, mathematics, history, geography and a foreign language. There are also optional subjects such as natural science, technology and religious education. See this page for a more detailed look at the curriculum.

Students in secondary education are also regularly tested and assessed and may find themselves repeating a school year if they are not deemed up to standards - this means failing three or more subjects, or failing both Spanish and mathematics.

After these four years, compulsory education ends. Students are awarded either a graduate certificate of secondary education, (Graduado en Educación Secundaria), or ESO, which allows them to continue onto their bachillerato from 16-18 and then onto university; or a school certificate (certificado de escolaridad/escolarización), which allows students to carry on into vocational studies.

If there aren't enough places available in a secondary school, priority for admission can be boosted by the following criteria:

  • Previous enrollment of siblings in the school, or a parent or guardian working in the school

  • Close proximity of the home or workplace of a parent or guardian

  • A low annual income for the family (calculated keeping the size of the family in mind)

  • Disability (in the case of the student or a parent or guardian)

  • Coming from a preschool that is attached to the primary school

  • If the family has moved to the catchment area as a result of 'forced movement' or domestic violence

High school/bachillerato

Education from 16-18 is not compulsory, but is necessary if your child wants to go to university. A bachillerato course will continue teaching 'core' subjects, but focus on one of three areas:

  • Arts

  • Science & technology

  • Humanities and social sciences

You can see more details here.

Vocational studies

You can view some options for vocational studies here (page in Spanish but translates well through Google Translate).

Private education on the Costa del Sol

As in most countries, Spanish private schools hold advantages: smaller class sizes, better support for special needs, a better reputation (and therefore an easier ride getting into the university of your choice).

Spanish private schools are state-subsidised and can thus be much cheaper than international private schools (see below). They can cost less than €1,000 a year. However, remember that these fees will have to be supplemented by meal costs and school supplies, which can quickly mount up.

They will teach the Spanish curriculum, entirely in Spanish. They are therefore perhaps not the best idea for older children - but can be a fantastic learning environment for younger children, who will soak up the language relatively quickly and easily.

Many private schools are Catholic, though most will be mixed-gender (unlike in, for example, England - where religious private schools are often separated by sex). Most are day-schools, though you will find some that accept boarders.

International schools on the Costa del Sol

International schools will teach the curriculum of the country they cater to.

The international schools on the Costa del Sol are numerous, of a high standard and very popular with expats on the Costa del Sol. They may be a particularly good choice for your child if they are already a while into their education (and may therefore struggle with an entirely new environment in a new language).

They are, however, pretty expensive - although still cheap compared to international schools in Northern Europe. Fees can range from around €4,000 per year to closer to €10,000 per year.

Applying for a private or international school

Do this as far in advance as possible. Most good private schools will have waiting lists.

You will probably have to provide previous grades and school reports, as well as identification and proof of residence.

Expats' Tips

It can be hit and miss in the standard Spanish state schools. You try to enrol your child into School A or School B, because you certainly don't want them going to School Z. The standard of education there is not what you would want. That would appear to me to be less common in Ireland, where the standard doesn't vary tremendously.

Gerry O Brien, Dublin, Ireland

Expats' Tips

Have you got experience with education in Spain? Tell us about it by emailing office@guides.global.

Conclusion

You've got a lot of choice when it comes to educating your children on the Costa del Sol. Whether you decide to send your child to state, private or an international school, it's imperitive that you do your research before deciding. Have a look on expat forums, ask any friends you may have in the area and, if possible, visit several schools before making a decision.

Other guides of interest

 DescriptionLink 
Regional Guide to the Costa del Sol
The basics of the Costa del Sol: facts and figures, tourism and culture.
Learning the Language in the Costa del Sol
The best ways to learn Spanish on the COsta del Sol
Cultural Differences on the Costa del Sol
The main differences you're likely to notice in day-to-day life.

You may also want to read:

 DescriptionLink 
Ministry of Education
The education system in Spain - qualifications, curriculum and what you need to apply to a Spanish state school.
Expatica
Education in Spain - an overview of the Spanish education system.

Readers' Comments

 

Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel 02 June 2016


 

This guide was co-authored by John Howell (Email: John.Howell@Guides.Global or John@jhco.org. Web: www.jhco.org or www.Guides.Global)

Guides.Global

+44 1284 719964

office@guides.global


 

Email or call us to find out how we can work together.

Education Law:

Education for children in Spain is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16, with primary education (primaria) lasting six years, followed by four years of compulsory secondary education (E.S.O.), at the end of which a Certificate of Education is received. 

The main points of the education law in Spain are as follows:

  • School is compulsory and free of charge for all children from age six to age sixteen.
  • The system includes levels of education adapted to suit students with special needs.
  • All students receive basic vocational training in secondary education.
  • Religious instruction is available but optional.
  • Special systems exist for artistic education and language learning.

The law also determines that education authorities must promote the integration of foreign pupils and develop specific programs in mainstream schools for those that do not have a good grasp of the Spanish language. "Bridge" classes provide facilities for students to study Spanish before joining an ordinary class, however all teaching in mainstream schools is delivered in Spanish.

School Timings:

Timings will vary from one region to another and will be affected also by what a child is studying, their level and their particular school. So, the following should be treated as a guideline that needs checking carefully when you investigate a particular school:

  • The school year is divided into three terms with a long summer holiday break of almost three months:

- Winter term (September to December)

- Spring term (January to Easter).

- Summer term (After Easter to late June).

  • The school day for primary schools can vary but is normally from 09.00 – 14.00 and 15.00 – 17.00.

  • For ESO or Bachillerato, the school day is usually from 08.00 – 15.00 or 08.30 – 14.00 and 15.30 - 17.30 (1-2 days a week).

 

Ages in the Spanish School System:

Kindergarten(0-3 years)
Pre-Scholar/infantil(3-6 years)
Primary( 6 -12 years)
E.S.O(12 - 16 years)

Bachillerato/

Ciclos formativos de Grado Medio

(16 - 18 years)

University (Diplomatura 3 years)

Ciclos Formativos de Grado Superior

( 18 - 21 + years)

University (Licenciatura 4 years)

University Post Degree ( 2 years)

( 18 - 21 + years)

 

State, Private and International Schools:

Spain has privately-owned and state schools. Some of the private schools are funded by the state (concertados). Fees in state schools are lower than in private schools. State school education is free, although in some autonomous regions books and materials must be paid for. Once a child enters primary school (primaria), vouchers (bonos) may be available to help pay for books.

State Spanish Schools:

Spanish state education is open to all EU citizens and is free from pre-school to 18.

You'll beexpected to pay for books, stationery, extra-curricular activities, and in general for food.

Villages and suburbs have their own nursery and primary schools, but secondary schools have a larger catchment area.

The catchment area is all-important - if you're set on a particular school, make sure you look for a home in the right area.

Around 30% of Spain's school children go to a private school. These are fee paying and offer a lower student/teacher ratio than state schools.

International Schools:

  • The most popular choice for expats, with several in the area to choose from.
  • Some teach exclusively in English, others in English and Spanish.
  • Most are members of the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS).
  • British schools usually follow the UK curriculum and offer GCSEs, A/S and A levels. Many also now offer the internationally - recognized International Baccalaureate Diploma as an alternative to A levels.
  • Class sizes are small and the atmosphere is relaxed.
  • In this type of school is often given great importance to the development of students' creativity.
  • Normally provide a greater number of extracurricular activities.
  • All international schools are fee paying. Fees vary from school to school.

There are around 20 private international schools on the Costa del Sol. While a large proportion (around two-thirds) are British, there are also Finnish, French, German, Norwegian and Swedish schools and many teach children throughout their schooling from 3-18 years.

BILINGUAL NURSERY SCHOOLS:

ARROYO DE LA MIEL

Peter Pan Nursery

C/ El Olivar 5, Arroyo de la Miel (Benalmádena). Tel: (+34) 952 562 103. Also now in Marbella: C/Los Naranjos s/n, Urb. Linda Vista, San Pedro de Alcántara, 29670 Marbella. (+34) 952 782 051; Bilingual education: 0 - 3 years. Also offering after school activities club, excursions and baby-sitting service.

BENALMÁDENA PUEBLO

Costa Kinder Care

(Next to the Buddhist Stupa), Benalmádena Pueblo. Tel: (+34) 952 448 007; www.costakindercare.com Bilingual education: 0 - 6 years. Offering also activities / homework club and language classes for adults after school.

MARBELLA

St. Javier's International School, Marbella. Tel: (+34) 952 823 457; Email: schoolstjavier@wanadoo.es Bilingual education: 1 - 7 years. Optional: after school classes and nighttime babysitting service.

 

PRIMARY SCHOOLS:

 

ESTEPONA

The International School of Estepona

Centro Comercial La Zarza Camino de Cortes, Urbanization El Paraíso, Estepona. Tel: (+34) 952 884 789; www.marbellaschool.com. Bilingual: 2-12 years.

MARBELLA

Swan's International Primary School

Urb. El Capricho, Marbella. Tel: (+34) 952 773 248; www.swansschool.net. 3 - 11 years. (Swan's have recently opened a secondary school - see relevant section for details).

SAN PEDRO DE ALCÁNTARA

Calpe School

C/. Los Eucaliptos 60, Urb. Linda Vista Baja, San Pedro de Alcántara. Tel: (+34) 952 786 029; www.calpeschool.com. Bilingual: 3 - 9 years.

Saint George's School

Urb. Cortijo Blanco s/n, 29670, San Pedro de Alcántara. Tel: (+34) 952 786 606. 2 - 8 years.

 

COMBINED PRIMARY & SECONDARY SCHOOLS:

 

BENALMÁDENA

Benalmádena International College

C/. Catamarán s/n, Urb. Nueva Torrequebrada, Benalmádena Costa. Tel: (+34) 952 561 666; www.bic-benalmadena.webs.com/ 3 - 14 years. In addition to the usual curriculum, BIC also offers vocational studies for less-academic students.

The British College

C/. Guadalmedina, Urb. Torremuelle, Benalmádena Costa. Tel: (+34) 952 442 215; www.thebritishcollege.com Buses from Churriana and Riviera del Sol.

CARTAMA/ PIZARRA

Sunland International School

Ctra. Cártama - Pizarra, Nueva Aljaima, Cártama Estación. Tel: (+34) 902 502 250; sunland.novaschool.es/ Ages 3-18. Sunland has recently expanded with the introduction of Years 12 and 13 and offers AS and A Level examinations with the Cambridge examination board.

ESTEPONA

Mayfair Academy

C.C. Costa Sol 31, Urb. Bel Air, Estepona. Tel: (+34) 952 784 923; www.mayfairacademy.com 10 - 18 years.

FUENGIROLA

St Anthony's College

Camino de Coín, Km. 5.25, Mijas Costa. Tel: (+34) 952 473 166; www.stanthonyscollege.com
5 - 18 years. Buses from Torreblanca and Fuengirola.

MÁLAGA

St. George's International School of Málaga

Avda. de la Centaurea 8, Urb. Cerrado de Calderón. Tel: (+34) 952 204 810;www.stgeorge.es/en/malaga/home British education from three to 18.

MARBELLA

English International College

Urb. Ricmar s/n, N-340/A7, Km. 189.5, Marbella. Tel: (+34) 952 831 058; www.eicmarbella.org/ 3 - 18 years. Buses from Fuengirola and Marbella.

Swan's International, Sierra Blanca (Swan's Secondary School)

C/Lago de los Cisnes s/n, Urb. Sierra Blanca, 29602 Marbella. Tel. (34) 952 902 755; www.swanschool.net.

NUEVA ANDALUCÍA

Aloha College

Urb. El Angel, Nueva Andalucía. Tel: (+34) 952 814 133; www.aloha-college.com 3 - 18 years. Buses from Fuengirola and Puerto Banús.

SAN PEDRO DE ALCÁNTARA

Laude San Pedro International College (previously King's College)

C/. G, Urb. Nueva Alcántara. Tel: (+34) 902 400 028; www.laudesanpedro.com 3 - 18 years.

SOTOGRANDE

Sotogrande International School

Apdo. 15, 11310 Sotogrande, San Roque, Cádiz. Tel: (+34) 956 795 902; www.sis.ac
Buses from Nueva Andalucía; boarding facilities for students over 10 years.

TORREMOLINOS

Sunnyview

C/. Teruel 32, Urb. Cerro del Toril, Torremolinos. Tel: (+34) 952 383 164. Buses from Torremolinos and Fuengirola. www.sunnyviewschool.com. 3-18 years.

 

OTHER SCHOOLS & COURSES - COSTA DEL SOL:

 

The Marbella Design Academy
All tuition is in English, with courses including Interior architecture, furniture design and graphic design. Camino Hoyanca, 29110 Monda.. Tel: (+34) 952 459 677/609 594 885; www.designschool.com

The Tutorial Learning Centre
Tuition in a variety of GCSE and A Level subjects.
N340/A7, Km. 197, Calahonda, Mijas Costa. Tel: (+34) 952 838 078

Málaga Business College

Provides tuition for the University of London/LSE, undergraduate degree in business and diploma for graduates in Management. Melior Building, C/ Palma del Río 19, 29004 Málaga. Tel: (+34) 951 164 923; www.malagabusinesscollege.es

 

FOREIGN PRIVATE SCHOOLS - COSTA DEL SOL:

 

FINNISH

Escuela Finlandesa

C/. José Salik 4, Urb. Los Pacos, Fuengirola. Tel: (+34) 952 476 193;www.suomalainenkoulu.net

GERMAN

German College (Colegio Alemán Juan Hoffman)

Urb. Elviria, La Mairena, Plaza de Alemania s/n, Marbella, Tel: (+34) 952 831 417;www.deutsche-schule-malaga.com

NORWEGIAN

Norwegian School (Colegio Noruego/Den Norske skolen Costa del Sol)

Avenida Cerro Del Viento s/n, Arroyo De La Miel, Benalmadena. Tel: 952 577 380; www.norskeskolen.net

SWEDISH

Swedish School (Colegio Sueco/ Svenska Skolan)

Avda. Acapulco 11, Fuengirola. Tel: 952 475 076; www.svenskaskolan

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