How to choose the best expat school
Read this article to learn about the different types of schools in Madrid, and get some advice from an expert in the field of expat education on how to choose the best expat school for your child.
How will your child benefit from moving to Madrid?
Moving to Madrid is a great opportunity for children not only to learn a new language, but also to evolve through living new experiences and meeting a new culture. Specifically, moving to a new country at a young age:
- Builds resiliency
- Teaches kids how to make new friends
- Teaches kids to be more flexible
- Fosters open-mindedness
- Builds compassion
It is very important to choose the right school. It will not just be the place where they learn academics. The school s/he attends will be the place where they adapt to their new Spanish environment. Therefore it is of utmost importance to find a school that nurtures the child’s well-being and provides support both for you, your child and your entire family.
The three types of expat schools in Madrid
First, you have to get to know the basics – there are 3 kinds of schools in Madrid:
- State schools: these can be “bilingual” or not
- Privately-run, state-funded schools (“concertados“): These are mostly “bilingual”
- Private bilingual schools
State funded schools (run both privately and by the state)
In bilingual state schools and concertados, about a third of all classes are taught in English. These teachers have specific accreditation allowing the to teach in English.
Keep in mind the curriculum is Spanish, which is different than British or American curricula. Nearly all the other pupils will be Spanish-speaking. Here is the official list of all bilingual state schools in Madrid, both state and privately run.
Private bilingual schools
In private bilingual schools, most classes are taught in English. They usually have a British curriculum, with co-validation of GCSE and A-Levels. Obviously, this is preferred if you want your child to attend university in the UK. If you want your child to attend an American university, The American School, located in the suburb of Pozuelo de Alarcón, is probably your best choice.
Who attends private bilingual schools?
In private bilingual schools, typically half of the students are Spaniards, or binational children. The half is foreigners of different origins, as in the British Council School.
Less commonly, a large majority (two thirds at least) of students in private bilingual schools are Spaniards sprinkled with a small portion of foreigners.
In some rare cases, the majority of the students are foreigners.
To get an overview of expat schools in Madrid, and their locations, we have created this interactive map:
Now, based on this knowledge you have to answer these key questions:
- How long are you planning to live in Spain? If you are planning to stay in Spain only for 1 year, the best expat school will be a private one. If you plan staying longer, then immersion is key for your children to integrate and learn Spanish quickly. In this case, choosing a school with a majority of Spanish-speaking children is a good idea.
- How does your child respond to change? Change is difficult for all of us. Many think children are like sponges, absorbing new languages and social rules faster than adults. This is often true, but keep in mind they will need extra support and caring in the initial stages. That said, think carefully how s/he will initially respond to change. Support has to be available. If you have the luxury to visit the school personally, speak with the Head of School to ensure that ample individual support is availale. If your child has special needs and requires extensive support, a private international school is the obvious choice.
- Are you ready to spend from 4 000 to 10 000 € (even 20 000 € in some cases) a year on tuition fees? If not, then private schools are not the right option. Particularly if you are employeed by a Spanish company, because then your child is entitled to free education. In many cases this is of good quality.
- Do you want your child to have a “religion-free” education? If so, you will have to check closely since most private and concertados are run by religious orders. On the flip side: if you want a religious-run school, you will have plenty to choose from in Madrid.
- Finally, how much Spanish do you want your child to learn? How much do you want him or her to adapt and learn the cultural differences of Spaniards? Private schools, in many ways, protected kids from the “Spanish” world. Likely they will only speak Spanish in the playground, with other students. If your child attends a public school, you are ensured that your child will integrate and adapt to the Spanish culture, even if it will be hard at first. In a private schools, this cultural adaptation and language learning will take more time.
Want to speak with someone personally to learn more about raising your child in Madrid?
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Expert advice on how to choose the best expat school
We spoke with Ms. Senida Kiehl, the Founder of EEE Awards- Excellence in Expat Education. She believes that when you search for the best expat school for your child you don’t want to just find a good school- you want to find a great school. In her words,
“When trying to find the best expat school for our children, we usually rely on information we find online, which is usually based on standardised exam results. However, great schools provide an environment where children are safe and cared for. They have clear policies in place, such as anti-bullying and mindfulness, to promote positive student behaviour and an inclusive environment of respect, compassion and cooperation. Academically, the kids are challenged, encouraged to be creative and reach our of their comfort zones. This makes them happy and fosters self-confidence. Great schools guarantee competent teachers who are up to date with the latest teaching methods and see value in cooperating with parents to maximise their children’s learning potential. While academically driven, great schools do not forget to allow children to play. They have modern playground equipment and facilities which fosters kids’ physical and cognitive development. The school’s culture should also be a decisive factor. There should be a strong sense that children belong to a family, where everyone from admin staff to academic staff to managers work towards a shared purpose. Students should be engaged in the community via student organizations. Parents should be part of the community via PTAs, welcoming groups, and the organization of various school events.”
How do I choose a great school for my child?
Once you have decided the best type of school, you now want to find a great one. The Academic Board of EEE Awards flies around the world, assessing schools on the following four criteria:
- School Management
- Parental Support
The first step is to check their website and see if one of your target schools has received an academic assessment. If it has not, Ms. Kiehl recommends visiting the different expat schools and obtaining answers to the following questions:
- Are students challenged and encouraged to be academically competitive, creative and reach out of their comfort zones?
- Are teachers competent and up to date with the latest professional development standards specific to their subject?
- Are children happy to come to school? It is as simple as that!
- Is learning student-oriented and take into account the diversity of cognitive development in each class? Are teachers prepared to reach out to each child in their class according to their individual needs?
- Is there extra language support for children whose first language is not the language of the school?
- Are facilities monitored in order to keep the school safe and the children cared for?
- Are the classrooms equipped with the latest technology?
- Are there modern and safe indoor and outdoor playground facilities in order to provide both recreation as well as physical and cognitive development?
- What about a first-aid unit?
- What about transportation to and from school? How is that monitored, how is the safety of the children ensured?
- Are there policies in place such as anti-bullying and mindfulness which guarantee an inclusive environment of respect, cooperation and compassion?
- Does the management offer continuous professional development for their academic staff in order to guarantee maximum teacher competence and effectiveness?
- What communication strategies are there in place to keep parents on track regarding their children’s progress?
- What about open-door policies, which guarantee direct access to management?
- Is there a welcoming board to help new parents integrate into ‘the family’?
- What direct communication methods can parents use to reach their child’s teacher and the rest of the school personnel?
- Are there opportunities for parents to be directly involved in the school life?
- How does the school help parents who might not speak the language of the school/country in which they live?
If you need help finding an apartment close to your child’s best expat school, do not hesitate to send us an email