Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia

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Today I’ll explain our family’s first-year experience with education in Spain.

Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia school in Valencia orange trees square

EDUCATION IN SPAIN: OUR EXPERIENCE

In this small series posts, I’ve tried to my best to describe different aspects of our first-year saga living in Spain. For more tips on Spain residency and living in Spain, look here:

First off, I should remind you that each area of Spain has their own way of doing things. There are nationwide similarities I’m sure, but our story takes place entirely in Valencia. Keep that in mind. I know next to nothing about how other schools in Spain operate, nor do I claim to. Our friends the Wagoners have their kids in school in the Andalucia region, and it seems different in many ways. So there.

Also, much of what I list up below are the challenges we’ve encountered with education in Spain. This is not to say that there is a “right” way to do this and they’re doing it “wrong.” Hardly. This is just to document our experience with education in Spain. If this sounds like complaining, it isn’t. And wait until next week’s post when I talk about more of the positive results from this little experiment in living overseas.

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Education in Spain: Public, Private and Concertado schools

Overall, there are three main types of schools in Spain: public, private and concertado. There are also international schools of course, but they are yet another completely different system. We’ll just focus on the Spanish school system here.

You probably already know the differences between public and private, but to be clear: education in Spain resembles the USA more than the UK in this regard. In Spain, private schools are the selective (and usually expensive) ones, while public schools are for all and funded by taxes.

Education in Spain is compulsory for ages 6 to 16 years old. If you chose to go to public schools in Spain, you are educated for free for 10 years. Books, however, may not be provided and you may need to buy your own. We were aiming for public schools and had never considered private schools. Nothing to say for nor against private schools, but this post will focus on our experience.

Concertado schools: public or private?

Concertado schools are somewhere in between public and private. The Spanish government subsidizes the school and teacher’s salaries, but everything else comes from students and their families.

Many of these concertado schools are (or were) Catholic schools, and the common perception is that the education received at Concertado schools is better than in public schools. These concertado schools require tuition, but it’s not nearly as much as you would pay for a private school or an international school.

Both of our kids attend Concertado schools. It wasn’t part of our plan, really. It just happened. As I said in the previous post, we just started knocking on the doors of the nearest schools and that’s how it worked out. We happened to live near a Concertado school and that’s where we went (and were accepted) first.

Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia books

Tuition and books

Tuition for our girl’s school is less than 30€ a month, and they have school uniforms (approx. 200€), that our girl is happy to wear. Why happy? Especially for a girl who has her own sense of style and likes to accessorize to the max?

Well, for her, a uniform is new and “cool” because she’s never had one. Also, she was fortunately self-aware enough to realize that a uniform would make her mornings easier. She wouldn’t have to agonize over what to wear at 8 am, as everyone would be wearing the same thing.

Tuition for our boy’s school is less than 100€  a month, and there is no uniform, although you have to buy specific clothes for PE/sports. It seems like the primary level at his school wears uniforms, but that stops at junior high (his school is k-12). Our boy is at secondary school (ESO or Educación Secundaria Obligatoria). 

We had to buy textbooks, and it was substantial: over 350€ per kid. There are additional costs throughout the year as well. We continue to pay for additional supplementary materials such as dictionaries, overnight school trips, costumes for school plays and other items.

For example, the girl’s teacher told us that they would learn rollerblading in February and everyone needed their own set of rollerblades before the month began. Each item is not a massive amount of money (well, school trips are pricey), but it all adds up. Education in Spain isn’t expensive, but it ain’t free, either!

Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia

The religious aspect of Concertado schools

Both the girl’s and the boy’s schools are Catholic: the girl’s school has no emphasis on religious subjects, but the boy has religion classes as part of his school schedule.

Keiko and I are not practitioners of any particular religion, but we are not anti-religion, either. We both grew up in loving, supportive religious families (me: Christian, Keiko: Buddhist). That’s why she and I both have respect for those who walk the walk and actually follow the tenets of their faith — just like our parents do.

There are a number of religions and ethnicities represented in the school, although I would make a confident guess that a wide majority of the families are Catholic — both practicing and not. The boy seems to be learning more about religion as a whole rather than focusing specifically on Catholic practices.

For example, during one term he learned about the core beliefs and per capita numbers of the world’s largest faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. It was interesting to see him learn this in Spanish, as well. Since I grew up in one faith and Keiko in another, this has been one of the subjects that we can help him with.

Memorization and testing

As for the education they receive, I have some issues, but more about the amount the kids are tested than the number of Bible verses they’re taught.

Education in Spain is more or less like many school systems around the world nowadays. Testing and quantifying seems to hold more importance than creativity, critical thinking, leadership, and resourcefulness. I do not like this. At all.

In fact, the education they’re getting right now is almost exactly what we left Japan to avoid. Education in Spain — or rather in the schools we’ve experienced — sees success as how well you memorize, regurgitate and repeat.

I’m simplifying here, of course. I am certain that there’s much more to Education in Spain, and we think that the teacher, parent and student community we’ve discovered more than make up for my disagreements with the method of education in Spain.

The teachers are doing what they think is best (or doing the best they can with what they’re required to teach), and our kids are learning a lot. However, the testing is constant, especially at my son’s school.

A lack of the arts

Another aspect of his school that I find problematic is the lack of the arts. He had a music class last year, but it was more like music history, as he was tested on dates and names more than he actually made music. The same could be said about art — he has learned about a few historically important paintings, but only to be tested on it.

Keiko and I were both elementary school teachers a long time ago (in fact, that’s how we met). We know it can be easier to evaluate kids in a class by quantitative data. Don’t get me wrong: it is not easy to be a teacher. It requires a lot of work. I certainly don’t have a solution for this system, but I just wish our kids were exposed to more than just memorization. I guess that becomes our job at home.

Local language requirements

Both kids are also required to learn Valenciano, which is the local language of Valencia and a derivation of Spanish. It’s also the co-official language of the entire autonomous region of Valencia (approximately five million people). Each of our children has Valenciano class at school each week, and several classes (history, natural science, etc) are taught in the language.

Learning the local language is not uncommon in Spain. For example, kids in Barcelona learn Catalan, and kids in Galicia learn Galician. Our kids have not been pushed to learn Valencian in-depth yet because it is unclear if we are going to stay. If we do stay for another year or longer, they will be required to learn to speak it.

Which means a new level of memorization…

Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia alarm clock school schedule

The split schedule challenge

Daily schedules vary from school to school. However, in Valencia, schools start around 8:30/9 am and end around 5 pm, with a 2.5 hr lunch break in the middle of the day. Thanks to siesta culture, the day is split into a morning session and an afternoon session.

Our girl starts school at 9 am, comes home for lunch at 12:30 pm, and then goes back to school again at 3 pm. Two hours later, she finishes her day at 5 pm. Because she’s in primary school, she must be taken to school, which is a 15-minute walk from our apartment. So in essence, her school commute takes up a collective two hours of hour day (30min for one round trip to school, four times a day). Not ideal.

What makes things more challenging for us is that our boy’s schedule is slightly different from his sister’s. He prefers to walk on his own, but the different schedule makes things more complicated. He leaves for school at 8:00 am, comes home at 1:20 pm, goes back to school at 3:30 pm, and comes home at 5:30 pm. Confused? We were.

Here’s their schedule

TimeGirl's scheduleBoy's schedule
08:00School begins
09:00School begins (Drop off)
11:00Almuerzo & Recess
11:30Almuerzo & Recess
12:30Home for Lunch (Pick up)
13:30Home for Lunch
15:00School resumes (Drop off)
15:30School resumes
17:00School ends (Pick up)
17:30School ends

It feels as if someone is constantly coming and going throughout the day. This can be especially challenging for me when I want to focus on a specific task for several hours undisturbed. The schedules will become even more confusing in the following year. The boy will leave earlier (8 am) and then return home three days a week at varying times.

Almuerzo (morning snack) for a break

As I explained before, many Spanish people eat almost five times a day. After living here for a year, I now kind of understand why. The most common dinner time is somewhere between 9 pm and 10 pm. Many parents tell us that their kids go to bed around 11 pm on school nights. Then they have to get up early to go to school. How can they be hungry in the morning?

Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia almuerzo bocata

For breakfast, our kids usually eat cut fruit and yogurt or toast and eggs. Something small and quick. I’ve heard some kids in the boy’s school only drink a glass of milk before they go to school. Remember lunch is at home after 1:30 pm, so of course, they will be hungry long before that.

This is why kids bring almuerzo, a morning snack, to school. Both of our kids have a 30-minute break at around 11 am to eat their morning snack and have recess. Most kids bring sandwiches.

Ours brought something similar at first, then moved on to whatever we had prepared in the morning. Keiko fixes Japanese onigiri (rice balls) sometimes for them. The kids love it and apparently their friends love trading their own snacks for a taste of “sushi” (ha!).

So not only do we have to fix breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we also have to prepare a sandwich for them to take to school in the morning,

Limited play spaces

When we took our kids to schools, we didn’t see large playgrounds for kids to have PE or recess. In fact, some concertado schools in Valencia are located in buildings just like regular apartment blocks. Our girl’s class walks around the corner to a nearby courtyard for PE and recess. Our boy has a small PE space, but for many activities, they walk into Turia park nearby, which is a fantastic place to run around.

I often see school groups in PE clothes, holding sports equipment and walking down the street with a teacher. It seems common here but was totally new and interesting to me. A school without a playground? Kids certainly get some outside time, but not like what I grew up with. Perhaps it’s a city thing. When you have plenty of land in a rural area, they may have a larger space for a playground. Ideas, anyone?

First-name culture

When our kids started sharing their school experiences over dinner, Keiko and I didn’t know who was a teacher and who was a classmate. That’s when we learned that at their schools, students address their teachers by their first names.

Keiko and I kept correcting the kids (“You mean Mrs. Gomez?”) which annoyed them. Keiko and I both found it hard to believe that teachers went by their given name at Catholic schools in Spain. However, this was certainly the case.

This was even more shocking for Keiko. Because of her Japanese upbringing, she still can’t call even my parents by their first names because of their elder status in Japanese culture. It’s just not the way she grew up.

Teachers in Spain are still treated with respect and authority of course, but first names are the way things are done in Spain…at least in Valencia, anyway.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION IN SPAIN

Our experience with education in Spain has been an overall great experience, but that’s all because of the people. In my opinion, education in Spain — or perhaps I should say education in Valencia — takes an overly conventional approach that values rote memorization over real-life skills.

However, when we take everything into account, our experience with education in Spain is overwhelmingly positive. The kids, teachers, and parents have all been kind and supportive to us, and our kids love going to school. More on this later.

I would think about pulling them out of schools more if they didn’t love it so much, and if they weren’t doing so damn well with it. This has left me in an awkward position, but one that I’m willing to remain in as long as they are happy and improving themselves.

It has also put the onus on Keiko and me to try to find ways to compensate for this lack of creativity and critical thinking in the classroom. We’re working on it, and are completely open to suggestions if you have any.

How do you help your kids utilize creativity and critical thinking?

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Education in Spain: Our School Experience in Valencia

Comments

  1. Hi Jason
    Just in general terms, how do you compare Galicia with Valencia? Pros & Cons for each, however, for long-term considerations, I’d be interested? I will rely on the internet, backed up with private english tuition.

    • Hey Suzanna. Hmm, please take this advice with a grain of salt because I lived in Valencia for 2 years and have only visited a few places in Galicia in the summer. The main consideration for us is the weather: Galicia is BEAUTIFUL in the summer but cold and rainy much of the winter. Valencia has sun year-round. I love the shoreline of Galicia much more: dramatic, rocky, crashing waves. Valencia has a nice mellow, sunny beach and boardwalk. Not the most beautiful on the Mediterranean, but still nice, but we’re not “beach people” and burn easily. Nature opportunities are abundant in Galicia I think: hiking, canyoning, water sports, etc, but only in the summer for us. As far as the people, I have had the impression that people in the north are more reserved and take longer to get to know, but that is something that was told to me — not my own experience. As you’ve read here, our kids were welcomed warmly in Valencia, but as this is the only place I have lived that’s all I can say. Hope this helps!

  2. Thank you Jason. This was a very useful post for us, as we’re trying to find schools for our two kids aged 10 and 7 starting September 2018. I’m pulling my hair with the private schools and their various testing requirements (before we can send an application), coming from Finland that sounds like the opposite system. We’re now thinking maybe we should start looking for public schools as well. How can I find out about the concertas nearby our house (which we don’t have yet..)? It seems that we have to have a house rented before we can have a place in a public school. In your experience, do you think there is any chance to organize this before we actually move there? The only thing / location we have fixed is my job, which will be in Paterna (Parque Technologico)

    • Hi Kaisu,

      When the education department of the city office helped us, they searched schools near our address, so I am not sure how they can help you without a house/apartment first. Besides, you may need to live in that district (and have residence registration) to be considered for public (concertado) schools. In Spain, school registration generally begins mid-March so by now every school (theoretically) knows who is coming to their school for Sep 2018 school year. That said, we landed in Spain and had our address on the last week of August, and found great schools for both kids so there’s still a chance for you to do the same. Since you have a job waiting for you, it might be best to ask your co-worker (or HR at the employer/company) how best to proceed. Good luck!

  3. We are planning to move to Spain in a year with legal residency. It will be my son’s senior year of high school. He will have already completed his SATs and college applications but will need to get a diploma from a Spanish high school (Bachillerato?). Do you have any idea how that could work? So much info. out there is for families with younger children so I was glad to hear your experience with your older son.

    • Hi RT

      We left Spain before our son started Bachillerato courses so I can’t really tell you how it works. Assuming from the information on the Ministry of Education in Spain website, my understanding is that you are supposed to finish a two-year course and pass a test at the end to obtain the diploma. He completely misses the first year, but there may be some way to be credited for his prior study. It’s best to ask the school district where he’s planning to attend to see if that is at all possible to do, and/or find out how best proceed for him to obtain Bachillerato diploma.

      Assuming you’re based in the US (you mentioned the SAT), it might be best to see if you can work things out through the school he currently attends in the US since your son has only one year left. Hope things work out!

  4. farkas beatrix says:

    hi i would like to move in Valencia in june i have a 3 years old boy and a 6 years girls i would like to ask you ti tell me the names of the schools wich i can find in Valanecia thank you for your ecperience

    • I am not sure of your situation (EU citizen? Visa holder? Visitor?), but assuming you have a legal residence permit, it’s best for you to decide where you want to live first and then look for schools in the area. There are many schools to choose from. However, the registration for the next school year (starting September) usually begins in March, and most schools have few openings for new kids. (which we didn’t know this before we moved there)

      What we did was to start walking into different schools near our apartment asking if there are any openings for our kids. Fortunately, we found the one for our boy after just a short trial-an-error. However, it’s very inefficient and would have been impossible for us to find the one for our girl with that method.

      The best for you to do is to go to Concejalía de Educación (Dept of Education: located at Edificio Tabacalera, Amadeo de Saboya, 11) and ask for schools with openings. That is how we found our girl’s school.

      Good luck!

  5. Hi Jason, We’re moving to Valencia in December and will be doing our best to enroll our 2 kids in local school ASAP. In case the residency permit required for local school takes too long to arrange we were wondering if concertado or private schools require proof of residency? Thanks and I’ve loved learning so much from your blog today, what a find!

    • Hi Christa. In my limited understanding, any school in Valencia would require for you to have proof of residency (Certificado de Empadronamiento), which is issued at the city hall once you register yourself with the new address you will move into — with the signed contract of the lease. We know we had to get that for concertado schools for our children. I am not sure about private schools, but I would assume the same. It is best to contact the specific schools if you know any to see if your children can be enrolled or not. And if they can, what paperwork is needed. Best of luck!

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience, Jason! We’ve been living an hour from Valencia in a rural area for 9 years now and my 5 year old goes to the local school. For this year, I’m happy as she loves it but as a primary educator myself, I can’t bear the idea that she will go into this testing and memorisation culture of learning. I was considering moving to the city of Valencia (I’m ready to leave the countryside here as a permanent home anyway!) to have more options but reading what you wrote makes me think that I won’t find it anywhere in Valencia. I always thought I would homeschool but moved here without thinking through the consequences of not being able to do that here. Do you know anything about what the process is to be allowed to do it? What’s involved – money and mental resolve?! Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated – our friends here just don’t ‘get’ homeschooling and think I’m weird. TIA!

    • We didn’t pursue homeschooling in Valencia, so there’s not much I can share on that front. We wanted to try schools in Spain, and we had so much other paperwork/runaround at the time (visa, schools, FIFA, etc) that we didn’t want to add another bureaucratic process on top. Wish I could help more!

  7. Natasha Matichuk says:

    Hi,

    My husband and I are living in Valencia with our 3 boys, from Canada. We moved here last August, and we love it. Our boys are also on Concertado and I appreciate and agree with everything that you said about your experience! Are you still in Valencia? We live in Benicalap nd are always open to meeting like minded people! Thanks again for your blog!

    • Hi Natasha! And dang! We would have loved to meet you but we’ve left Spain for the time being. We had a great experience in Valencia and may be back. Our kids loved their schools and our son loved his soccer/futbol teams. He had some games in that area, as well! We lived near Russafa/Gulliver park. Great place. Nice to hear you know where I’m coming from, school-wise, too!

  8. deirdre spratt says:

    Hi, enjoyed reading your posts on your experience in Valencia. We were there as a family the same time as you and enjoyed the adventure. The education is the main reason why we didn’t set up a permanent basis. Best of luck wirh your next chapter. Deirdre

    • Thanks for chiming in, Deirdre. Sounds like you had a similar experience? I had difficulty writing this because I did *NOT* want to come across too harshly on Valencia or its schools. They were just what we needed for our time there, but longer-term we would have wanted to explore other education options. We’ve left Valencia for now, and may return in the future but might look at (legal) homeschooling options if we did.

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