Common problems international families face when choosing a school in Barcelona
Finding the right school for your child is one of the most important, if not the most important, things you can do to ensure a successful move to a new place. It can influence so many aspects of your family´s happiness and well-being and can determine where you live, the languages you and your family are exposed to, the friends you make and the roots you lay down in your new home.
It can be a daunting prospect to make such an important decision and one that is made especially difficult in Barcelona due to certain factors. Below I highlight some of them.
To start with the most obvious challenge is that of LANGUAGE.
Probably the biggest surprise to families from overseas when they are thinking of moving to Barcelona is how important Catalan is within the public education system.
Many people are not aware that it is the main language of instruction in public schools and concertades (semi-public schools) and that Spanish is taught as a foreign language. It’s true that Spanish is often heard in the playground and you will generally be able to use Spanish when communicating with teachers and other school staff, but if you choose a public school or concertada, all open days and the official communications with your child’s school will be in Catalan. This can be frustrating for foreign parents and isolating if you do not have people around you who can help you navigate the system.
For this reason, many international families opt for private or international schools where the main language is not Catalan but another language, such as English, French or German. This is especially true if they only intend to stay in the city for a few years.
Since I moved to the city 9 years ago, there has been a huge increase in the variety of schools on offer for families looking beyond the local Catalan curriculum. There have always been schools which followed a foreign curriculum but, in the last ten years, the number of these schools has increased dramatically. In addition, they have been joined by a wealth of schools offering alternative curriculums such Montessori and Waldorf, to name but two.
There are so many types of schools and curriculums to choose from, which one is the right one for your child?
Before making a decision like this, you need to consider what you want from the schooling experience and what your long-term plans are. If your child is older, will they be able to seamlessly transfer back to your home country should you move back there? If your child is younger, will the curriculum provide a full and balanced educational experience which encourages a love of learning and the building blocks to thrive?
PRACTICAL AND CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
If this is the first time you have moved with your family to a new country, you may be surprised at how different things are here to what you know from home. In regard to schooling, these can sometimes be practical differences but cultural ones, too.
Some of them will be easy to live with but others may influence the kind of school you end up choosing.
One practical difference for parents of younger children might be the length of school day. It is a shock for parents to discover that the school day can last as long as 9 – 17h. This very much depends on the school but is generally seen as a positive thing by local families, who have simply been brought up with it. Some schools will allow you to pick your child up earlier, but this is not generally encouraged.
If you really want a shorter day, you will usually need to be looking at private childcare provision that offers this option.
The length of holidays can also cause difficulty for some families. Did you know that the average length of the summer break is 11 weeks? Schools tend to break up around the 21st of June and will return after the 11th of September. This results in much shorter holidays in the course of the rest of the year and in the case of public schools and concertades, no mid-term breaks!
For parents that are not able to take such a long break in the summer, summer camps (or casals) fill the gaps, often running throughout July and in the first week of September.
And finally, there are cultural differences. When I first moved to Barcelona in 2011, I remember a Catalan friend complaining about all the comments and unsolicited advice she received about her new-born from friends, family, even random people in the street. At the time I couldn’t understand what she was complaining about – I found people’s interest in my baby touching, at worst bemusing. Without family around me, I appreciated the way that my child helped to connect me to my new home and the people in it.
When you have a child here, people will simply give you their opinion on things, even if you don’t ask for it. So, when making such an important decision like choosing a school, you could well find yourself bombarded with advice about the ‘best’ school to send your child to from everyone and anyone.
Needless to say, each child is different, and this is the most important thing to understand when researching schools. A school that is perfect for your neighbours’ child might not be right for yours.
My advice for parents who find themselves in this situation is to always keep in mind that you know your child much better than anyone else. Make choices based on how well the school fits your child’s needs, however much this might go against what others tell you.
What are your thoughts? Have you encountered any other difficulties when choosing a school? Comment below!
Would you like to find out more about me and how came to start My Barcelona School? Find out more.