The education system in Spain is decentralised. Schools in Barcelona have to adhere to guidelines set out by both the government of Catalonia and the country's Ministry of Education.
Schools in Spain are generally either público (public), privado (private) or concertado (semi-private). Each system has its own unique benefits and shortcomings, and expats will want to evaluate their priorities when finding a school that best suits their children's needs.
Unlike public schooling in much of the rest of the country, the language of instruction in Barcelona is Catalan, which is the official language of the province.
Children in Barcelona are required by law to go to school between the ages of six and 16 years old.
Public schools in Barcelona
The public school system in Barcelona is free, but parents will need to pay for books and materials, although uniforms are not required.
Expat parents who send their younger children to a Barcelona public school can provide them with a fantastic opportunity to learn the language and integrate with local residents. That said, older students will most likely need instruction in their first language, with a slower immersion into Catalan and Spanish.
It can be difficult for expat students to gain admission into certain public schools due to overcrowding, as well as the fact that in some areas a lottery system may be the only means of entrance. Expat parents will also have to fill out the necessary paperwork in either Catalan or Spanish. Alternatively, it may be a good idea to find an individual, such as a gestor, who can help with the process.
Semi-private schools in Barcelona
Semi-private schools are subsidised by the government and are either free or offer low school fees. The standards of these schools differ between districts, but it is generally assumed that schools in more affluent areas are of a better standard.
These schools are a good option for parents who would prefer smaller class sizes for their children, but cannot afford a private international school in Barcelona.
Expats should be aware that these schools generally follow the Spanish curriculum and the primary teaching language will typically be Catalan.
International schools in Barcelona
International schools in Barcelona are private schools that uphold the language of instruction and curriculum of a foreign country, and generally provide an excellent standard of education.
It is common for space in these institutions to be limited, as demand is frequently high, and some schools admit students based on nationality quotas.
International schools offer pupils the benefit of continuing with a language of instruction and curriculum that should be familiar. That said, all international schools have annual tuition fees, which can be rather pricey. It is best to consult schools individually to find out more about these costs.
Special-needs education in Barcelona
It is a government requirement that mainstream Spanish schools attempt to educate special needs children if they have the necessary facilities and teachers. The government offers grants to schools that have specialist teachers available to educate special-needs students, as well as the necessary facilities.
Children with special needs in Barcelona are typically sent to a Center for Special Needs (Centro de Valoración y Orientación de Discapacitados) for assessment to determine the level of support they will require to successfully integrate into mainstream classrooms. Alternatively, there are special needs schools in Barcelona that are equipped to teach children with a range of needs.
Children with special needs may also qualify for a government grant to help pay for treatments, tutoring or the fees for a special-needs school if necessary.
Childcare and nurseries in Barcelona
Similar to primary and secondary schools, there are public, state-assisted and private nursery schools in Barcelona. Children can attend guarderías from four months to three years, and continue to nursery school for children aged between three and six years old. Demand is typically high in public nursery schools, so parents are encouraged to find out how many spots are available in their district and apply in advance to guarantee a placement for their tots.
Expat parents who would prefer for their little ones to get individual attention will also have plenty of childminders to choose from. Childcare is generally expensive, so parents will have to budget accordingly to access this service.
Private nursery schools are usually pricier than state-assisted and public schools, but some offer bilingual instruction and they frequently have excellent facilities.
Tutoring in Barcelona
Private tutoring is available in Barcelona and can be done either at home or in a tutoring studio, provided the tutor has access to a studio. Several companies have registered tutors in Barcelona, and parents can therefore apply for a tutor through one of these. Two such companies in Barcelona are Tutoring Barcelona and Apprentus.
As tutors offer school support, it may be useful for expat children to have a tutor assist them to adjust to the new school and curriculum. Tutors can also help children adapt to learning in Catalan, if they attend one of the public or semi-private schools in the city.