Education is a major concern for all parents, no matter where they live. Finding the right school for your child is always challenging, but particularly when you relocate overseas.
Luckily for those moving to Mallorca, there is a number of great educational options available, meaning that your choice may be a lot less limited than you think.
Schooling is compulsory for all children resident in Spain from age 6 to 16. Many children are enrolled in pre-school from age 3 or 4 however, and most stay on until 18.
In the Balearics education system the majority of classes are taught in Catalan, rather than Castellano.
The options: State, subsidized or private schools
There are three main options when it comes to schools in Mallorca: state schools, subsidized private schools, and fully independent private schools (of which some are Spanish and some international).
Children can be enrolled in the Spanish state school system and will usually be put in the school closest to their home.
The quality of local state-run schools in Mallorca varies, although on the whole, the standard of education has improved significantly in the past decade.
There are several factors to consider before opting to enrol your child in one. Obvious advantages include that your child will learn Spanish rapidly, especially if s/he begins at a young age, and will become integrated in to Spanish life quickly. Secondly, these schools are free – parents do not have to pay fees or uniform costs, although textbooks must be purchased, which can prove quite costly at the start of each academic year. Finally, there are schools in almost every village across the island. It should therefore be easy to find a school that is convenient for your child to travel to each day.
It is important to note, however, that state-run schools in Mallorca teach the majority of classes in Catalan not Castellano, which many non-Mallorquin parents feel will put their child at a disadvantage later in life, as it can result in them failing to become totally fluent in Castellano.
It is also worth bearing in mind that the Spanish method of teaching is different from the teaching northern European countries. It tends to focus more on memorization and learning by rote than on critical thinking, and pupils are tested regularly, repeating a year if they do not perform well in tests. Some parents consider this approach too rigid.
Concertados are state-subsidised semi-private schools, often run by a religious order. These schools tend to offer a higher quality of education and better discipline than state schools, and are much in demand.
Concertado schools are usually big – up to 2,800 students – which some parents may find off-putting. However, fees are nothing like as high as at private schools and can be means-tested, with some parents paying as little as €18 a month. As is the case with state-run schools, this is only really a viable option if your child is quite young when he/ she starts and is able to pick up Spanish quickly.
Private schools, including international schools, tend to have the best reputation, although this obviously comes at a premium – expect to pay between € 300 a month at a Spanish school and up to € 900 a month at an international school, depending on the school and the child’s age.
Spanish private schools offer the same courses as state schools. International schools follow the curriculum of their own country and will offer exams such as IGCSE, A Level or International Baccalaureate. Or some schools such as Nau Escola will provide an alternative approach to teaching and will design their own curriculums. At Nau Escola, children are taught based on ’emotional accompaniment’ which focuses on the child learning through their own experiences. Their curriculum is made-up of ‘environments’ which encourages autonomy, responsibility and interaction.
Private schools often have better facilities and a greater choice of after school activities.
An English private sixth form college located in the centre of Palma de Mallorca offering internationally recognised qualifications for entry to universities world-wide. […] Palma College
Nau encourages children to map their own education, embrace their creativity and work on their emotional growth as they learn. […] Nau Escola
In Mallorca there are international schools that follow the British, French, German and Scandinavian systems, although not all the schools offer nursery to university education. Most are quite small and have very good academic records.
There are usually students of many different nationalities at international schools, which creates a multi-cultural environment and exposes children to multiple languages from an early age. Many Spanish parents like to send their children to international schools to give them a good grounding in foreign languages.
Some parents feel, however, the international schools can form something of a ‘ghetto’ where students do not master Spanish to a high level, and do not integrate with the local community.
How much weight is given to Spanish language varies from one school to another. In some international schools the main teaching language is still Spanish, while in others, more emphasis is placed on English, German or French. This will inevitably affect how well children learn not only to speak, but also to read and write in each language. The mix of nationalities of students is also influential: in schools with a high proportion of Spanish students, Spanish may rule the playground, even if it is not the main teaching language.
For some parents, the priority will be for their children to become fully bi- or trilingual. For others, it is more important that they can read and write well enough in their native language to be able to integrate into the education system or workplace in their native country at a later date. The emphasis on different languages in different school is therefore an essential consideration.
Enrolment in the state system
If you have chosen to enrol your child in the Spanish system, you’ll need to brace yourself for the red tape well in advance of the new term. The best course of action is to visit the local Town Hall to make initial enquiries as early as possible. The process can take up to six months.
You will need to have your child’s previous studies assessed by the Department of Education (a process known as convalidación). To do this you will need to present:
- A copy of his or her school records plus any examination certificates.
- Your child’s immunisation record.
- His/her birth certificate or passport.
- Proof of residence in the form of a Certificado de Empadronamiento.
Staff at the island’s Town Halls are accustomed to these kinds of applications and should be able to guide you in completing the necessary forms.
Which school you send your child to will be narrowed down for you by the Town Hall: your child will almost certainly be given a place at the school nearest to your home.
If you’re opting for a concertado (and bear in mind competition is fierce for places) Luis Vives and Sant Josep Obrer in Palma feature in El Mundo’s well-respected list of Spain’s top 100 schools for 2015. San Cayetano, a Spanish private school in Palma is also on the list.
Enrolment in a private school
Private schools have different admission policies, so you will need to contact each school individually. It’s worth noting that some schools have long waiting lists, especially for their primary classes, so the sooner you begin to make enquiries, the better.
Expect to provide a copy of your child’s school records as well as a reference from his/ her previous head teacher. Some schools also set entrance exams in the core subjects (usually the language of instruction and maths) in order to assess which class would be most suitable for the child. Finally, you will usually have to pay a deposit and enrolment fee.
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Looking ahead to university
Which school you choose to send your child to will depend on where you live, your financial situation, your child’s personality – and also the children’s aspirations for the future. If they wish to attend a Spanish university, a school that offers the Spanish system may be better, whereas if they may return to their parent’s home country then qualifications that are recognised there may serve them better.
There’s no substitute for a personal inspection, so make an appointment to see the head of the school and ask for a tour. Not only will you be able to see the classrooms and facilities for yourself but you will be able to meet some of the staff and experience the atmosphere for yourself.
Some things to enquire about:
- Sports facilities (schools located in the city often do not have much outdoor space or sports grounds, so find out if children are bussed to local sports centres each week)
- Extra curricular activities (what is available and when do these take place)
- Teaching resources (are there science labs, art rooms, library, etc)
- Are classrooms equipped with white boards or iPads? Do children learn coding and programming?
- The school’s academic record and exam results
- How much contact parents and teachers have
- Provision for children with learning difficulties or special needs
Do also use connections. Ask other parents about the different schools. Or even ask students you meet what their opinion is – you may get a more balanced picture!
Do your Homework
Whether you choose the state system or a private school, a Spanish or an international education, you’re going to have to do some legwork to find the perfect school.
It can be useful to see which regulatory bodies each school is registered with in the case of international schools and to ask in the Town Hall if there is any information available on recent Department of Education inspections if you are considering the Spanish system. You can also ask for recommendations from the Embassy of your country of origin.
International schools should be registered with the Spanish Department of Education and, if they offer courses in Spanish, will be inspected regularly. Schools could be members of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and British schools are regulated by NABSS (National Association of British Schools in Spain).
All international schools should be registered with and approved by the Department of Education in the country of their language of instruction and should be inspected at regular intervals.
More about Living on Mallorca
Living in Mallorca means a relaxed cosmopolitan lifestyle but it helps to know as much as possible about making a new life here. Find out more here!