Pros and cons of British schools in Madrid

Schools in Madrid

Today I want to talk about British schools in Madrid. Well, international schools as well, because some points relate to both kind of schools.

In my last article, I talked about the education system and how it is divided in Public, Concertados and Private Schools.

British and international schools fall into this last category and as such, they are regarded as having an excellent academic record and offering their students an international and bilingual environment. Thus, many Spanish parents choose these schools for their children: to give them the best possible education.

Not surprisingly, many British expats (and other nationalities, too) choose these schools for their children for many reasons, but two come to mind as the most important ones:

  1. Continuing with their education with the same system as back home and so making sure the academic level remains the same.
  2. Ability to access British universities when they finish school, because they will have kept the British curriculum.

Yet, many parents discover that there are some aspects that they hadn’t considered before.

Let’s talk these aspects of British and International schools in Madrid, for you to make the best decision for your children before coming to live here as an expat.

Aspects to consider when choosing a British or international school

English as the teaching language

It’s obvious that if you choose one of these schools, your kid will learn in English. Furthermore, most of the curriculum will be taught in English, except for the subjects that are mandatory to be taught in Spanish, like Lengua (Spanish) and maybe History (Spanish History).

This is a mandate from the Spanish Ministry of Education and there’s no way around it. But if you think about it, it makes sense. However, all kids are expected to learn these subjects and, here comes the gist of the matter: not every school helps kids with learnign Spanish to pass these subjects.

Yes, they will say they will support your kid in learning Spanish and they may do so the first year your kid attends school. But a time will come when they will be left on their own. And that’s when the extra Spanish classes will come into play, if they haven’t learned enough of it to tackle these subjects.

Which brings me to the next point.

Limited language instruction in Spanish

If the main instruction language is English, kids have a limited exposure to the local language: Spanish. Because they learn in English, they speak English at home and most likely, their friends in school will also be English speakers. Nothing wrong or unusual here, but bear in mind that, at some point, you -and they- will want to mix and interact more with locals and the language barrier will be real.

I have talked to many expats, whose kids haven’t learned enough Spanish to have Spanish friends and thus feel like they are not fully integrated into society… after having lived here for one or two years. Sometimes more. And, this is another point: most of the kids that go to British and International Schools in Madrid are Spanish.

Which is normal, and if your kid makes Spanish friends, more likely than not, he or she will learn Spanish in a natural way by just hanging out with Spaniards. That’s the ideal scenario. But it doesn’t turn out that way many times.

This brings me to the next point:

British curriculum in Spain does not equal British curriculum in the UK

I was in class a few months ago with two of my students, whose children attend a British school here. Moreover, one of them has a child who is starting university soon; she had just graduated after getting her A-Levels. My student was telling me that her daughter had got a place at a Spanish university, because she wanted to stay here, but her friends were having a hard time being accepted in British universities.

“Why is that?” I asked.

She basically said that the academic level here is just not the same as that of the UK. That if you as parent, are thinking of going back at some point, or send your kids to unversity there, you have to put them on extra classes, like Maths, Science, etc. to keep up the level.

And these extra classes are expensive, because they are specialised. Not only do they have to be taught in English, but they have to be taught by someone who knows the British system and curriculum, too. In turn, this constitutes an important extra expenditure for parents that nobody talks about.

Why is the level not the same here than that to the UK?

I can only guess, and please take this with a pinch of salt, because this is my personal opinion. But it may have something to do with the fact that most of the students are Spanish and their level of English, albeit very good or even excellent, cannot be compared -academically- to that of somebody who is a native speaker. So the level has to be somewhat lower.

In words of my student: these extra classes are an extra expenditure that parents like them need to take into consideration when choosing a school in Madrid.

And this brings me to the next point:

Tuition is high

Yes, it is.

Private schools, especially British or international schools, are expensive, although some are more expensive than others. True.

Some reasons are:

  1. Facilities tend to be amazing and modern.
  2. The staff is usually foreign and they have tons of experience teaching the British curriculum or international baccalaureate curriculum.
  3. They have to pay for the fees to offer British standardised testing, plus the accrediations to being official partners of Cambridge exams, and such other institutions.
  4. Status.

Extracurricular activities

Private schools offer a wide variety of activities for kids -or parentes- to choose from to keep learning other things that are not necessarily academic. Sports are a big part of the offer and many schools have their own sports team, which compete against other schools and the level is pretty good.

However, not all schools have a wide variety of them or put too much emphasis on academic subjects.

This is a topic that you will have to ask each school directly and decide for yourself if these actvities are a crucial factor for you to choose a school or another.

And nope, they are not included in the monthly fee. Unfortunately.

Conclusion

I think I’ve covered many points that you will not find in many places about private schools that teach in English.

May aim was to give you another view to make the best decission for your child or children, and above all, to know what to truly expect. Because, by experience, schools will tell you one thing, but reality will hit you in the face sooner or later. Reality that can be positive or somewhat negative.

So, if you think of any point that I should’ve covered or want to me talk about, let me know in the comments.

And if you want more information on schools in Madrid, you can read this article here from Sinead Galvin from Steps into Spain.

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