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Registering your child for state education in Spain

- Updated: 04/04/2011
Registering your child for state education in Spain

When relocating to Spain with children, one of the difficult decisions that you have to make concerns their schooling. Any choices that you make will impact on your child's future and may determine a very different outcome to what might have been, had you stayed in the UK. For obvious reasons, the older the child, the more difficult the situation.

As an expat in Spain you have a few options : If you want your child to follow the British education system ( and ultimately take GCSE's and A-levels) than you will be looking for fee paying international schools. These tend to be bilingual, some with less emphasis on the Spanish language than others. With regards to language, they all use different timetables. Some might teach all in English, with one or two hours a day being taught in Spanish, others may do English in the morning and Spanish in the afternoon.

Such schools are increasingly popular with Spanish parents who want their children to learn English to a very good standard. Some international schools are more ‘International’ than others as nationalities generally include English, German, Russian, South American, Dutch and Spanish. Then there are others schools, particularly on the Costas which are almost exclusively English. The age range for international schools depends on the size of the school. Some cover pre-school to sixth form IE 3- 18, whereas other might only be 3 – 7. If at three, you feel that your child is too young for school, there are also international kindergartens that take children from 1 – 6.

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There are also Spanish private schools, where children are taught entirely in Spanish and most of the other children in their class will be Spanish. They follow the Spanish system and are generally cheaper than the British international schools.

Finally, the "free" option is the state system otherwise known as public schools. Again, children will only be taught in Spanish with English taught as a foreign language - just as French usually is in the UK. The older the child, the more difficult it will be for him or her to adapt to a new language, system and culture. The attitude of the parents also plays a part in the adaptation period. It helps if the parents can speak Spanish and have an understanding of the Spanish culture in order to communicate with class teachers etc. Likewise, the ability to speak Spanish will also allow you to support your child with their homework, you will be able to read letters sent home which will not be in English and your child's school life will not be so alien to you. You also need to be prepared for the fact that in many areas schools may also conduct lessons and communicate with Parents in the Regional Language (Like Valenciano, Catalan and so on...)

Many people who send their children to the local state schools are proud that their children become completely bilingual. However, parents must not overlook that speaking English is one thing but reading and writing it is another.

At a Spanish State & Private schools your child will not be taught to read and write in English. It is up to the parents to ensure that the child learns to read and write in English outside of school time, as it is not the responsibility of the school. Private lessons in English are always a good idea to ensure that development of English is kept to a similar standard - your child may wish to attend University in the UK and as such would need to have a good standard of Written English!

Enrolling In A Spanish School

For your child to enrol in a Spanish State school, an interview is required with both the Child and the Parents and occasionally a brief exam will need to be undertaken to assess your childs exact knowledge of the Spanish Language.

As soon as you arrive in Spain you must have your child's education record officially verified through an official process (known as homologation or convalidation). This can be an expensive and lengthy process involving the confirmation of credits and marks for each year of schooling that they have received in the UK. The price depends on the number of years to be convalidated. In some towns there may be only one 'public notary' authorised to carry out the necessary work and consequently he usually charges a considerable amount. Without the necessary paperwork a child won't be accepted at a state school, irrespective of his qualifications (foreign qualifications such as the British GCSE aren't recognised in Spain). If possible, this process should be completed before arriving in Spain as a child may not be accepted at a school until the official papers (confirming convalidation) have been received and stamped by the Spanish Department of Education.

In Spain your child must attend a school that is within a certain distance from where you live, so if you have a preference for a particular school you will need to ensure that you live in it’s catchment area.

To enrol a child in a Spanish school you must provide your town hall with the following documents:

  • Your child's birth certificate or passport with an official Spanish translation (if necessary)
  • Proof of immunisation
  • Empadomiento (Padron, if you have it) or some other proof of residence
  • Proof of convalidation (See above)

You will be pleased to know that the above procedure does not appear to be followed in practice in most areas, but it pays to be aware of the official procedure to be prepared for all eventualities.

Comment on this Article

 
The process will vary from town to town and depending on the age of the child in question : the younger the child the easier the process ( usually). In the first instance you (or your Gestor) should contact your preferred school and ask their requirements from the admissions dept.
Jo Green - Sun 10th Jun 2012
I have read in several places, "convalidation should be completed before arriving in Spain", where would one get that done in the USA or outside of Spain?
Heidi - Sat 9th Jun 2012
Jackie, your best bet might be contacting your language school or host family directly to see if they have any experience of this. Also, please be aware that many areas of Spain finish school at 1.00pm in June, and as such just work 'half days'. This could be a good or bad thing for you, because many parents then send their children to after school language classes in the afternoons and as such the kind of exchange that you are describing may be of interest. Good Luck !
Tumbit - Admin - Thu 23rd Feb 2012
I need to know where in Pamploma to put my 8 year old son Darius. We are due to come to Pamplona May18-June 24. I would like for him to be an exchange student. We need a family that will host mother and child. I am attending Pamploma institute through the University of Alabama from the U.S.
Jackie Buck - Thu 23rd Feb 2012
Certainly as far as my daughter's pre-school is concerned, convalidation isn't an issue as much as knowledge / familiarity of the language is.
Jo Green - Mon 17th Oct 2011
Hi, Does anyone know if you need proof of convalidation if schildren are entering pre-school rather than compulsary schooling for age 6 ?
Iain - Mon 17th Oct 2011
Emma : After a few months of research we have finally managed to find out what the Homeschooling situation is here in Spain - You can read the article by clicking HERE .
Tumbit - Admin - Thu 12th May 2011
wij willen mijn vrouw haar zoon adopteren naar spanje uit ecuador we zijn getrouwd heb iemand informatie en eventuele procedure dank. [Tumbit Translate : we want to adopt my wife's son from Ecuador to Spain we were married and need someone to procedural information thanks.]
Jp - Wed 9th Mar 2011
Thanks for the tip there on Home Ed. I asked the NAS a couple of months ago about support for autism abroad and received an email saying they don't know because they only deal with the UK.
Emma - Fri 25th Feb 2011

The Home Schooling issue is a very grey area here in Spain and is generally disapproved of. Officially, it is illegal, but there is 'a chance' you may sneak under the radar if you are not officially resident and do not draw too much attention to yourselves. The website home-education.org.uk may be able to point you in the right direction.

Support networks for issues surrounding Autism are also not as developed as the UK, however there are a few charities that may be able to help you with advice - The website Autism.org.uk has a good section concerning help for families living outside of the UK that you could try.

Tumbit - Admin - Fri 25th Feb 2011
Just wondering, is it possible to home tutor my children via the British education system from Spain? Also, what is Spain like for recognising autism - re education?
Emma - Thu 24th Feb 2011
this article is very useful, very enlightening and educative. where else would i have got these information with my muy muy poco spanish? - especially living with people who do not volunteer information!
Dzifa - Mon 8th Mar 2010
Thanks Penny ! - Yes, we fully accept your comment. I think the point that we are trying to put across is for newcomers not to simply expect the Spanish state to provide education of the English language to a standard that would be expected in the UK. Your input is appreciated !
Tumbit - Wed 27th Jan 2010
Useful article, but I would correct one point, which could be misleading - "...your child will not be taught to read and write in English," I think you mean - "They will not be taught in lessons through the medium of English, and their English lessons form a small part of the curriculum. As a result, children will be slower to learn to read and write in English, than in their English state school equivalent." I point this out because my children attend a state Spanish school and are of a comparable standard in English, Valenciano & Castellano - they can read & Write fluidly in all 3. I have backed up their class English lessons with extra reading & fun activities in English at home. My 11 year old read & enjoyed the Twilight books, my 8 year old has finished all the Roald Dahls & my 6 year old is able to read the Gruffalo by herself now. All 3 have to be reminded on their spelling too because otherwise they spell English phonetically. Native Spanish English teachers may have a strong accent & the class may be slower than you would like in English as the teachers will not expect fluency from other non-English children. But with work at home & good communications with the school, your children can be tri-lingual before secondary school age.
Penny Lapenna - Wed 27th Jan 2010