Parents looking for a British-style education for their children in Spain are spoilt for choice: the National Association of British Schools in Spain lists 52 member institutions in locations from the country’s Atlantic north coast to the Canary Islands. In Madrid there are many international schools, with a small handfull offering the British Curriculum. British schools are popular with British expats and with local families keen to have their children educated in the English language, and with English more recently taking on such an important role for Spain’s youth, the demand for places in English schools has never been so great.
The British Curriculum
The National Curriculum for England and Wales is divided into four Key Stages.
- Key Stage 1: (Years 1 and 2)
- Key Stage 2: (Years 3, 4, 5, and 6)
- Key Stage 3: (Years 7, 8, and 9)
- Key Stage 4: (Years 10 and 11)
The core subjects of the National Curriculum are: English, Mathematics, and Science. Other subjects include: History; Geography; Design and Technology; ICT; Modern Foreign Languages; Music; Art and Design; Physical Education; Religious Education; and Citizenship. Years 10 and 11 constitute a two-year cycle during which students prepare for the GCSE examinations (General Certificate of Secondary Education). Many students in international schools take IGCSEs (International GCSEs), rather than the standard British GCSEs. These are fully recognised as equal to the standard GCSEs. Following successful results in (I)GCSE examinations students take A Levels A levels constitute another two-year cycle and are highly specialised. Students will normally study 3 to 4 subjects for A Level. The choice of subjects depends upon a student’s likely course at university. Acceptance at a British university will depend upon the results gained at A Level (with some consideration being given GCSE results)
How to find a good English School
- Needless to say. . . do your research. With careful research, parents can at least know that they are sending their children to a high-quality school with rigorous standards at which their children will be given a chance to develop and excel.
- Talk to, the British Embassy, the British Council, local expatriate organisations, parents of children attending the schools that you are considering
- Get in touch with the school of your choice early. Schools are over-subscribed so the sooner you organise a visit the better chance you have of securing a place.
- Look carefully at the curriculum and the qualifications offered. In particular, look at the subjects available for study during GCSE and A’level years.
- Ask to see a summary of the Schols Examination Results. Parents are within their rights to ask. This will help to judge the academic standard. Ask to see a summary of the school’s exit figures (how many students were offered university places, where they went, etc.) is also a useful tool.
- It’s advisable to check whether a school is recognised by the Spanish education authorities and whether it belongs to an accredited organisation.
- Ensure that the school is regulated by an external body such as COBIS or NABSS. These are rigorous systems of inspection.
- Facilities offered: Check the schools facilities, (IT facilities, library, sports equipment and areas, science laboratories, etc.) However, it’s important to point out that small schools with fewer facilities may still be very good schools.
- Get a sense of the teaching staff (their backgrounds, qualifications, etc.). Although it is not always possible, the best way to make a decision about a school is to visit, preferably with your children. Use this opportunity to meet the head teacher or principal, speak to teachers, and get a feel for the atmosphere school.
- Finally – Listen to your heart. You can read all the charts, interview all the neighbours, decide the principal is a saint and still not like one school as much as another. Go with your instincts, not the statistics. You have to be happy with the choice if you are ever to hope that your children will be in a mood to learn.