Educating Your Child in Barcelona - What you Need to Know
Barcelona is a wonderful place to bring up children and when it comes to finding a good school for your child, you will find a wealth of different options to choose from.
Before embarking on the journey of selecting a preschool or school, it is useful to know how the education system here works and to recognize what makes educating your child in Barcelona unique.
The public education system in Catalonia is overseen by the Generalitat, but in
Barcelona, the main point of contact for public education is what is commonly known as The Consorsi. They have various offices in Barcelona, but the main one can be found on Plaça Urquinaona.
In addition to public schools, there are also many private and international schooling options in Barcelona as well as the so-called concertades, which are state-subsidised private schools. To run a school in Catalonia requires authorization from the Catalan Department of Education to ensure quality standards are met and the curriculum must also be approved by the education authority in accordance with the Spanish Education Act.
Compulsory education in Catalonia spans the 10 years between when a child turns 6 years old to when they turn 16 years old. Public education in Catalonia is divided up in the following ways:
0 – 3 years: Escola Bressol (P0, P1 & P2)
3 – 6 years: Educació Infantil (P3, P4 & P5)
6 – 12 years: Educació Primària (1st - 6th of Primaria)
12 – 16 years: Educació Secondaria Obligatoria - often referred to as ESO (1 - 4th of ESO)
16 – 18 years: Batxillerat / Cicles formatius de grau mitjà (Baccalaureate / Vocational Training).
Some of the international schools may have slightly different ways of dividing up or naming the different age-groups but is roughly similar to the local system. It is best to check the specific schools to find out what year group your child would go into.
What options are there for the different stages?
The 0-3 age group
There are many different educational and childcare options in Barcelona for the 0 – 3 age group.
To start off there are over 100 Escoles Bressols run by the Barcelona City Council and a handful of Llar d’infants run by the Generalitat. These are public nurseries but are not tuition-free. How much you pay for these public nurseries depends on your household income. Your child is not guaranteed a place at a public nursery and for this reason, many families opt for other sorts of childcare such as private nurseries, nannies, grupos de criança or look after their children themselves.
The 3 – 6 stage is called Educació Infantil and although not compulsory, many families choose to send their children to school at this age, often feeling that if they are to wait until their child is older, they will miss out on a place at their preferred school. All but very few schools have an Infantíl department as part of the school.
At 6 – 12 years old, children enter the stage that is known as Educació Primària.
This is the beginning of compulsory education.
The stage for 12- 16-year-olds is called Educación Secondaria Obligatoria (ESO) and schools are called Institutos. This is the final stage of compulsory education.
From the age of 16 years old, students who wish to continue their studies either complete the baccalaureate (batxillerat) or alternatively complete vocational training (Cicles Formatius de Grau Mitjà). Students who wish to study at university need to complete this period of schooling.
The Three Types of Schooling
When people talk about schools in Barcelona, they generally refer to three different types of schools:
Public Schools (Escoles Publiques), state-funded
Concertades (Escoles Concertades), privately owned and managed schools, which receive a portion of their fees from the state
Private Schools (Escoles Privades), fee-paying schools
Public schools, Concertades and Private Schools – how do they differ?
Probably the most import difference between these school types is the way in which they are funded.
Public Schools are fully state-funded and secular. Families may, however, need to pay a small contribution towards materials and trips, for example.
Concertades are privately owned and managed but receive a portion of their funding from the Catalan Government for complying with certain requirements. This means that while parents are asked to pay a contribution to cover the expenses beyond the scope of compulsory education, what they pay is generally much lower than fully private schools. There may be extras attached to concertades, for example a uniform and school trips. Parents are sometimes asked to pay a voluntary registration fee when their child starts at the school. Many, but not all, concertades were founded by or are run by religious orders.
Private schools do not receive subsidies from the Catalan government, so the cost of tuition and extras is mainly covered by families. Sometimes these fees are subsidized by foreign governments who prioritize entry for families from a specific country but also religious orders or foundations.
The fees and costs for each specific private school can usually be found on the schools’ website but not always. When researching schools, it is important to calculate all the extra costs such as any application or registration fees, insurance, materials, exams etc.
Curriculum and Qualifications
All schools must follow a curriculum that is approved by the Catalan Department of Education in accordance with the Spanish Education Act. This may be the local Spanish curriculum that is modified for Catalonia and approved by the department of education, or one that is recognized in another country in the case of many private schools. You will also find schools in Barcelona that follow the International Baccalaureate Primary or Middle Years Programmes (IB PYP or MYP) or the Cambridge International Curriculum.
At the end of 6th grade of primary, all children in public schools and concertades (but also some private schools) do what is known as the competencés basiques or basic competencies. The results of these tests are made public on a like-for-like basis with other schools of a similar type.
In public institutos or concertades students gain a certificate of completion after the 4 compulsory years of secondary schooling. This allows them to move onto the next stage of their education: the baccalaureate or into vocational training. Most private schools also offer the possibility of gaining this certificate of completion, on top of perhaps a different qualification such as iGCSEs, as long as they have completed certain subjects. To be able to do this requires a certain level of Catalan proficiency.
The local schools that offer post-compulsory education will offer one or more of the local baccalaureate options or occasionally the Batxibac, which combines the local baccalaureate with the French version of the qualification. There are also a handful of public schools and concertades that offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (often called the IBDP).
Private schools may offer the local baccalaureate, ‘A’ Levels or in increasingly more cases, the IBDP.
One of the biggest decisions families have to make when they enroll their children at a school in Barcelona is what language they wish their child to be educated in.
The main language of instruction in public schools and most concertades is Catalan with Spanish and English taught as foreign languages. There are some schools – most often concertades - that have a more equal distribution between Spanish, English, and Catalan, and are considered ‘trilingual’ schools. However, when you visit schools, it is important to find out as far as possible the distribution of the languages in the different age groups, if this is important to you.
In Barcelona there are fee-paying schools with English, German, French, Italian, Japanese or Hebrew as one of their main languages of instruction. Spanish is usually the 1st foreign language taught at these schools. There are also private schools which follow the local curriculum but in English. Something that overseas families often don’t realise is that there are no public schools, concertades or private schools that use Spanish as the main language of instruction in Barcelona or Catalonia as a whole.
Depending on what type of school you are interested in, there are different ways to apply for a school in Barcelona. Both the public schools and concertades follow the same application process. You need to go through process called preinscripció, which takes place around March for a September entry.
Admission is granted via a points system and living in the catchment area or area de influencia or having a sibling at the school is the main way you get points. Additional points are given for a variety of different criteria.
Even if you do not get a place at any of the schools on the schools you have put down as your preferred schools, your child is guaranteed a place at a public school or concertada from the age of 3 years old.
If you arrive in Barcelona outside of the usual application period and you are interested in a public school or concertada, your first port of call is The Consorci, or alternatively contact me and I will help through the process.
Private schools on the other hand have their own application processes and admissions criteria. They accept applications throughout the year. If you are interested in your child attending a private or international school, you should contact the specific school you are interested in to find out what their admissions requirements are.
This article was originally written for Barcelona Expat Life, a resource for Expats living in or moving to Barcelona.