Starting Public School in Barcelona; the firsthand experience of a British family

Education for your kids is always an emotive subject. Any parent I’m sure feels the same, wherever you live. You just want the best schooling for your child, whatever that means to you. When you have the added pressure of your child’s schooling not being in your native language, in potentially a new city, it’s understandably something that can feel a little daunting.

My daughter was just 2 when we arrived in Barcelona and I had a new baby on the way. I had to get my head very quickly around the public school system (as that was our choice for her education) and I was lucky to have a friend who guided me through it. I hope this will help you if you are planning to use the Catalan Public School system.

There are three types of schools:

1. Public Schools, where the majority of communication and teaching is in Catalan. Free. However you do pay for some extras such as books and materials and of course excursions and food at lunchtime.
2. Concertados, part state and part private funded schools. My understanding is that these are a kind of half-way house. You pay fees but it’s vastly reduced from those of private schools.
3. Private International Schools, fee paying. There a wide range which all follow different education syllabuses, schooling methods and languages.

There is fantastically comprehensive list of international and public schools and nurseries/ guaderias in Catalunya from MumAbroad Spain here.

Education in Spain is compulsory between the ages of six and 16. I repeat! Kids do not have to start school until the age of six. However, most children, in the public school system start school in the September of the year they turn three. It can be hard to get a place for your child at the school of your choice if they start later than P3 as most schools tend to be oversubscribed. The Education Board are required to find you a place if this is the case, but it will probably not be at a school of your choice, just one that has available places

So my daughter, whose birthday is in October started school when she was two. To me this seemed very young! However, my experience was positive and my daughter took to it well. The schooling in Educacion Infantil (infant) years is just like pre-school in my home country of the UK, lots of play and fun! My daughter teachers showered her with kindness and support, particularly as she spoke little Catalan when she started. However, please note that all schools have different systems and approaches and there is no one size fits all.
The whole application process begins the year before in the middle of February before the September they are due to start. The schools have Open Days or Portes Obertes which give parents the opportunity to visit and hear about their ideology and teaching methods. It’s great if you can go to as many as possible of these as they really give you a flavor for what the school is like. You can find out which schools are in your catchment area here.

These usually take place at around 5 or 6pm and are understandably in Catalan and tend to consist of a talk by the Director/a, an explanation of the school’s philosophy and approach to education and a tour of the facilities.

There are usually two classes per year and each class has approximately 25 children in it, so there’s around 50 places per school in total. There’s also something called a ‘Bolet’. In Barcelona there are not enough school places to match demand so every year the schools take it in turns to have an extra year group in P3. So rather than the typical two classes or ‘lines’ each year one school in each district has three. They publish which school these will be early on in the process as this of course may influence your decision as there is more chance of getting into the school.

Having decided on your favourite schools (you can nominate up to 10 in preference order) you complete the pre-inscription form, which is usually given out at the Open Doors events. Then you must submit the pre-inscription form at the school that is your first choice, by a specific date.

You also need to present relevant documents at this time, passport, libro de familia, Empadronamiento, NIE if you have one for you and your child. As always take several photocopies of all of these. The Empadronamiento (padron) is particularly important and needs to be have been issued within the last 3 months. This will show your address, which helps determine how many points you have within the process and it’s important that the address on your padron matches that on your NIE.

If you live within the same district/ the catchment area of your first option school you are awarded 30 points. If you meet other criteria you are given extra points i.e. if your child has a disability, you’re from a large family with 3 or more children, you are a single parent, you work in the area too or you have a sibling already at the school.
The points system is then used to award the school places; those with the highest amount of points get priority on the amount of places. The remaining places are the allocated via a lottery system and it is totally dependent on the luck of the draw! The full results are published in early May.

This is quite a complicated system to explain and I struggled to get my head around it at first.

It is best explained here on the websites for the Department of Education in Barcelona and the Government Education website of the Generalitat although of course they are in Spanish/ Catalan.

The Department of Education in Barcelona www.edubcn.cat
The Government Education website of the Generalitat www20.gencat.cat

My other suggestion is to talk as much as you can to other parents who are going or have been through this process. This is the biggest support you can get! Good Luck!

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