Public School Open Days – A Guide for Parents
At the end of January, public schools will start offering Open Days for prospective families looking for schools in Barcelona. Known as Portes Obertes or Puertas Abiertas in Catalan and Spanish respectively, these sessions are an opportunity to visit schools before the application period happens at the end of March.
Many of these Open Days are geared towards parents with children starting in P3 but it is still possible to attend them if you have older children. With this in mind I have written this post specifically for families with younger children, but many of the points could also be useful for families with older children, too.
Why are Open Days so important at public schools?
Unlike private schools and most concertades (private schools that are partially subsidised by the government), public schools generally only offer school visits to prospective parents between the months of January and March for entry the following September. Private schools and concertades, on the other hand, will usually offer tours throughout the year. For this reason, it is important to be prepared and make the most of the opportunities available to you when 'school season' comes around.
Before the visit
Since you may only have one chance to visit a school before choosing it for your child, it is important to be fully prepared. First, have a look at the school website. Admittedly, some public school websites are better than others, but at the least they should provide information about the school's educational approach and might give you ideas about what you can expect at the Open Day.
Ask in your neighbourhood or other families on one of the many Facebook groups dedicated to helping families in Barcelona. Other parents can be a great source of feedback for a school you are interested in. However, the information you are given should be accepted with caution – don't let one family's opinion put you off a school (however hard this is). It is much more important to see the school for yourself and form your own opinion.
The Open Day – what to expect
Most Open Days will include a talk by a senior member of staff. Within this talk they will most likely explain the schools' educational project, introduce you to members of staff, discuss facilities and sometimes give an indication of how many spots they expect to be available.
In most cases you will be offered the chance to tour the school and take a look into the classrooms. Sometimes teachers will be on-hand to ask questions and this might be a chance to clarify some of the things raised in the meeting that were not clear to you. Sometimes these tours are led by a member of the AFA (parents association), a member of staff or more commonly now, older students from the school.
Sometimes the schools provide a creche if you intend to bring children, but this is unusual, so check before coming to see if children are welcome.
One important thing for families to realise about Open Days in public schools in Catalunya is that any talks or presentations will be held in Catalan. If you do not understand Catalan it is a good idea to take someone with you who does. However, if this is not possible, you can still get a lot out of an Open Day.
Below are some ideas of what to look out for when visiting a school for the first time.
What does the building look like? Is it light and spacious or small and dark?
If the space is limited, how is the available space used to its full advantage?
If the facilities themselves do not appear to be too promising, what is the school appearing to do to address this?
What does the outside space look like? If there is a lot of cement, has the school tried to add greenery such as plants or trees? Are there any permanent structures such as climbing frames? Are there toys outside or resources to encourage imaginative play? If possible, try to find out how often they have access to the outdoors.
Where do the children eat and is it cooked on the premises or cooked by outside caterers?
How big are the classrooms? Are there lots of tables filling the space or is there space to move around? Are there cosy corners, which are inviting for children?
What resources are there? Books? Role play materials? Art resources? Mark-making materials (pencils, crayons etc.)? Are the resources in good condition and well-looked after? How are the resources organised? Are they accessible to younger children?
Does the school celebrate children’s work on the class walls and in the shared spaces? If children's work is displayed, what is the learning going on? This should give you some indication of the way in which the learning process is viewed at the school. Are there lots of filled-in photocopies or does it appear that children have freedom to create and develop ideas?
Seeing the School ‘in action’
Often, but not always, the tours take place outside of school hours so, while you will get a chance to see and get a feel for the space, it will be harder to get a sense of the teaching and learning that takes place as part of the school day.
If you are fortunate enough that you get to see the school ‘in action’, here are some things to look out for.
When you visit the classrooms, what is happening? Are children sitting at tables and chairs or is there a lot of movement? Do the children looked engaged in what they are doing? Do they look happy? Can you imagine your child fitting in to this environment? If it's possible, ask the children questions. You'll get a good sense of their feelings about the school.
Do the teachers look relaxed and in control or stressed and unhappy? Do you feel that there are enough teaching staff for the number of children?
What is the noise level like?
Things that you might want to ask, if the situation arises:
· What is the school's policy on adaptation for younger children? Many foreigners are surprised by the abrupt nature of the first few days of school. Will children be expected to come in on the first day and stay the full school day or will there be some flexibility, if it is needed? If you are interested in your child initially only coming in for half-days, ask if this will be possible.
· Who will be the teacher for P3 or the year group you are interested in (they may not know this at this point in the year, but still worth asking). Is this the usual P3 teacher or do the teachers move around a lot?
· What does a usual school day look like? Would it be possible to see a timetable?
· Do the children go on trips off-site? What kind of excursions do they do?
· How often will there be parent / teacher conferences in the year?
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. My suggestion would be that you plan what you want to know about the school beforehand, so you have questions about what you consider important at the forefront of your mind when visiting.
Other things to consider
If you get a chance to see the school when the children are being picked up at the end of the day, try to talk to the other families. How do they like the school? Can you see your family fitting into this group of parents? If your child does end up attending the school, you will most likely spend lots of time with these people for parties, playdates, school events etc. Are they approachable and open to answer any questions you have?
If the school is only for children from 3-12 years old, which secondary schools have been assigned as feeder schools (follow-on schools)?
How to find out when the school Open Days are?
The schools themselves are often the best place to look for information about when their Open Days are to be held. However some schools are better at sharing this information than others. You might find the information on their websites, through social media or on billboards outside the school. The Concorsi (the body responsible for the school application process in Barcelona), has put the dates on their website. To search for the school you are interested in, go here.
I hope you have found this post useful. If you want help with any aspect of this process, be it identifying suitable schools in your catchment area, support at Open Days or completing the application process on your behalf, get in touch! You can find out more about the services I offer here.