About Agora Portals International School
Agora Portals opened in 2008 and is the largest private school on Mallorca, with a capacity for 1,100 students. A part of the NACE schools group, it is a Spanish school but offers a bilingual education and is the first school in the Balearics to offer the International Baccalaureate. The facilities are excellent and parents consistently praise the efficiency of the administration.
Agora takes children from infancy through to age 18 and offers a multi-lingual education from the very beginning. Classes are taught in both English and Spanish, with more emphasis on one or other language, depending on age. The aim is that children will become bilingual in English and Spanish. German, French and Catalan are also taught as additional languages
Secondary school students study for the International Baccalaureate in the three areas of science, social-humanities and the arts, and also have the option of achieving the widely respected International Baccalaureate qualification, which increases their chances of gaining a place at some of the most prestigious universities.
All teachers are bilingual or trilingual and there are children of various nationalities in each class. The school has developed its own teaching methodology to facilitate learning in multiple languages, and non-academic classes are interspersed with academic classes, so as not to overburden students.
Some parents express concern that the teaching method is typically Spanish and focuses on learning by rote rather than encouraging independent thinking and a problem-solving approach. Others feel that teachers may struggle to teach effectively in classes with children of many different nationalities, all with different levels of Spanish, Catalan and English. Children typically gain a very high level of Spanish, that is not always matched by their level of English.
In addition to the three main languages, primary school children learn fun Mandarin Chinese and secondary students choose either French or German as a foreign language.
Music is considered vital for a balanced education so all students study at least one musical instrument. They also have the opportunity to join the school choir or orchestra.
All primary school students also spend one term learning to sail, taking advantage of the location close to Puerto Portals.
Agora provides a great deal of individual attention to students who may be struggling and there is excellent support for children with learning difficulties.
A modern, purpose built school, Agora has some of the best facilities of any school on the island. Bright and spacious classrooms are complemented by three science labs, dedicated art and study rooms, and a library.
Sports facilities include outdoor football and rugby fields, an indoor pool (which is also available for parents to use) and a covered sports hall where students can practice rhythmic gymnastics, basketball and volleyball. Other facilities include the dining room, a school shop and a cafeteria and restaurant for the families of pupils.
Fees start at 645 – 990€ per month, depending on the grade. This includes lunch.
The school day runs from 09:00 to 17:00 hrs with extra curricular activities taking place both during the lunch break and after 17:00 hrs.
Agora is located in Portal Nous, just above glamorous Puerto Portals marina, where there are dozens of bars and restaurants. It is just ten km from Palma and regular buses run from the capital to urbanisations along the south west coast.
Facilities close to the school
A popular area with British residents, there are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants with an international flavour in Portals, and a lovely sandy beach near the port. The Costa d’en Blanes residential area a little further inland is very sought after and there are a handful of boutique hotels in the area.
Former interviews with Agora Portals by Roland Kroiss
The new private school Agora Portals near upmarket Puerto Portals opened in September 2008. It’s currently the biggest private school in Mallorca, with a maximum capacity of 1,700 pupils, and has been declared ‘Spain’s first ecological school’, because of its advanced water-saving technology. Agora Portals is part of Barcelona-based private school group NACE, which runs four schools in Barcelona, two in Madrid and one in Valencia. Agora Portals currently has 500 pupils.
The all-day school offers: Preschool (Escuela Infantil – 0 to 6 years); basic level I (Primaria – 6 to 12 years); and basic level II (Secundaria – 12 to 16 years). The international high school level Bachillerato Internacional (16 to 18 years) will start in 2010.
Maria Pilar González is the NACE group’s education supervising manager for all their schools. A qualified teacher herself, she developed the Agora teaching method with Julio Navarro. Mallorcan Rafael Barea Roig is the director of Agora Portals and previously taught maths, information and technical sciences for 17 years at Balearic University UIB.
Is Agora a luxurious school?
María P. González: In terms of its human resources, it is. Education itself is not a luxury, but a high quality development of young people, instilling confidence in their talents, is an investment. We’re proud of the staff at Agora: all teachers and even gardeners and cleaning staff are bi- or trilingual. Everybody here must be capable of showing values to the pupils.
R. Barea: All the teachers have appropriate state examination degrees and have also been instructed in our teaching system. We laid the foundations of the staff last summer by transferring teachers – who already knew our methods – from other Agora schools to Mallorca. During 2009 more teachers will be employed.
Agora stands for a different, an integral method of education. What does that mean?
María P. González: Integral means that every individual is considered holistically. We want to provide the basis for a child to develop a well-rounded, self-responsible personality, prepared to compete in a global career market. Besides academic subjects like natural science, maths and languages, we place high value on music, art and sports.
How is the timetable arranged?
Rafael Barea: We mix the subjects, in order to avoid overloading the child’s mind or body. The Primaria school day, for example, begins with an English lesson, followed by music, sports and then maths. Even the most difficult parts of a subject seem interesting after taking exercise. The children have a lunch break from 1.30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Every Agora pupil is said to learn an instrument
R. Barea: The basic course is obligatory for everybody. Every child has the chance to discover any musical talent – which might even lead to them making a living from it later. A few months after our opening in 2008, we’d noticed one girl with an outstanding talent and recommended to her parents that it should be nurtured.
Music therapy is an alternative instrument in medicine
María P. González: It has wonderful side effects: it can calm people, it furthers concentration and logical thinking. Pupils who suffer from ADS syndrome, hyperactivity or dyslexia – who are normally integrated in our school – particularly benefit from music.
And the active sailing lessons for every pupil – too good to be true?
R. Barea: All the classes with kids aged seven and eight take a basic sailing course (with no extra costs) during one three-month term – which sets us apart in educational terms. We take advantage of the proximity of Puerto Portals marina. It´s a unique experience for everybody and strengthens social competence.
Which kinds of sports are available?
Rafael Barea: In each term (the Spanish school year comprises of three terms, each of three months), one sport is practised thoroughly – as part of the process of learning a wide range of sports: swimming, handball, judo, badminton, basketball, volleyball, football, tennis, and even golf (we have a business agreement with the Bendinat golf club). If anybody has a natural talent or wants more practice, extra hours can be arranged with our selected training staff.
What about Agora´s sports facilities?
Rafael Barea: On a plot of almost 20,000 square metres we have basketball and football pitches, a gymnasium and professional indoor swimming pool. Swimming is a core activity for all pupils. Soon we´ll open a bistro zone for the parents, who can enjoy non-alcoholic drinks while watching their kids swimming below.
What’s the pre-school concept?
Rafael Barea: Children aged up to 3 years are completely integrated in daily school life. Babies aged a few months learn to swim and educators address them in English and Spanish. Two- and three-year-old kids take part in the school festivities; at our Christmas party 2008 they sang in different languages in the choir; currently they’re making masks for carnival.
Has infant education at home become out of fashion?
R. Barea: No, but society and the work situation have changed. Nowadays schools make a considerable contribution to the conveying of values to children, especially at Escuela Infantil and Primaria. Furthermore, early learning in a social environment of children of the same age provides a useful start to life in times of globalization.
How many students are likely to join Agora Portals in 2009?
R. Barea: Difficult to estimate. There´s already a long waiting list for certain age groups. Parents on the island are very interested in what we offer.
The method is based on three languages of instruction?
María P. González: Every pupil should quickly gain conversational ability in Spanish, English and Catalan. The Agora concept pays special attention to English, because it´s less spoken in this country. Catalan is obligatory for the Balearics´ autonomy policy and advances integration.
How does this work in class?
María Pilar González: Every subject is taught throughout each school year in one of the three languages. Every teacher always uses the same language for the individual subject; thus the children associate each teacher with a particular language. As with the children of bi-national couples, they’re able to switch automatically between languages.
Do German and French children have the possibility to practise their native tongues?
R. Barea: Besides our three official languages, every child must choose a second foreign language – e.g German or French – which won´t be a language of instruction. The level of linguistic competence in these languages also depends on the amount of extra lessons the kids want to take at our language academy. The academic level of our international A-levels (Bachillerato internacional), in principle, opens the door to study at any university – worldwide.
Are there more languages to learn?
R. Barea: From the age of 5, there are fun Chinese lessons given by a native speaker; this subject is an outstanding success.
Some criticize multilingual education for the lack of time to perfect the native tongue
María Pilar González: 30 years ago this was a valid theory – because it was the only one. Nowadays a broad knowledge of education techniques, psychology and medicine proves that children´s brains quickly build neural networks when they are constantly stimulated. However, it takes longer to develop fluency in some of the parallel languages.
Are the pupils in danger of being overburdened?
R. Barea: It is arduous to take in so many languages and subjects simultaneously. But it’s a core aspect of our method to foster the attitudes of effort and perseverance, necessary to succeed in life.
Which style of teaching is applied?
María Pilar González: Every teacher tries to work as individually as possible with each student, to bring out the best in them. There´s always enough time to repeat difficult sections of the subject matter. Periodic tests alert us early to problems of comprehension and to find solutions. Nobody at Agora will ever hear that he is stupid.
Why are private schools widespread in Spain?
R. Barea: The Spanish public school system lacks quality. For various reasons, Spain was far behind in the OECD´s PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) surveys comparing education within Europe. In comparison with other European nations, Spanish pupils speak English badly. Instead of improving the didactic methods, the ministry of education tends to lower the standards, for a better PISA performance. Changing governments worsen the confusion – a vicious circle.
María Pilar González: The Spanish association of private schools campaigns for tax reductions for parents of average incomes, who decide to register their children at private schools. Currently they still have to pay for the public school system, even without taking advantage of it. This would be a message that the quality of education needs to be raised across the board.