While an international school might be the right choice for some, many international families choose to take advantage of the state-funded education system here in Barcelona.
It can be daunting getting to grips with the education system in a foreign country and language, so here are some things you need to know and a step-by-step guide to getting a place.
If you would like to read a more personal take on the experience of starting school in Barcelona, here’s something I wrote for MumAbroad Life.
An overview of the stages of publicly-funded childhood education for children under 6 years old:
Educación Infantil is the non-compulsory education for the under-sixes. There are two distinct stages:
- Guardería (0-3 years old). Nursery schools, referred to as Escoles bressol or llars d’infants.
- Segon cicle d’educació infantil: (3-6 years old). P3, P4, and P5. Technically part of infant education, but takes place at the el cole (primary school). This post deals with how to apply for this stage.
A few things you need to know about public education in Catalunya:
Education is one of the functions of government which is partially devolved to the Catalan government; the Generalitat. In practice, this means that schools follow the Spanish curriculum but the language of instruction is Catalan, with Spanish and English taught as foreign languages.
The public education system is made up of both fully public schools and the concertadas, which are privately-run schools funded by a combination of state grants and fees. Concertada schools are obliged to comply with certain requirements with regard to the application process, class sizes, and curriculum but are otherwise free to manage themselves independently. Most concertadas in Barcelona are run by religious organisations.
The overwhelming majority of children start school in the September of the year they turn three. It’s not compulsory but provision is universal so all children who apply will get a place. However, in some areas schools are over-subscribed, and some unlucky families end up with an offer only at the very last minute or in an inconvenient location. Starting later than P3 may mean you have less choice of school, as popular schools will fill up in P3.
How to apply for Segon cicle d’educació infantil (3-6 years old):
- Apply at the right time.
Cohorts of children start together when the school year starts in September. This means all children born in a particular year start at the same time, despite varying in age by almost a year (eg; children born in 2014 will start P3 in September 2017). Starting at other times of the year is possible in some circumstances but more complicated. For a detailed explanation of this, see here (in Spanish).
The application process starts early in the year, with Portes Obertes de l’Escola (school open days) taking place from mid-February, so make sure you are aware of the deadlines well in advance. You can check the calendar for your year here.
- Select your schools (February/March)
Enter your address here to generate a list of schools for which you will be eligible. The list will include both public and concertada schools (see above). If your list is long, do your research (online, ask locals/neighbours etc) to decide which schools are worth a visit.
Find out when the open day is here and call the school to check details. Some schools require you to register in advance and may not allow you to bring your children. If you don’t speak Catalan it is highly advisable to rope in a friend who does to attend with you.
- Submit your application (late March/early April)
Fill in your application form in which you rank your four top choices of school in order of preference.
Applications are weighted according to a points system, whereby you get points for meeting particular criteria. For example, you get 30 points for living in the school’s catchment area, 40 additional points if your child has a sibling already enrolled at the school, and 10 additional points if your child has a disability (among other criteria – for a full explanation, see here). Places are allocated according to points – the more points you have, the higher priority your application gets. If there are more applications than places available, the remaining places are allocated by lottery.
You submit your application in person at your preferred school along with all the required documentation (it is sometimes also possible to do it at the Ajuntament). There will be a specific window of time for submissions (in 2017 it was 23 March to 4 April). Depending on the school, you may be able to just turn up to submit your application (between certain hours) or you may have to make an appointment. Once the submission period is over, there may be a few extra days granted to come up with any documentation that was missing from your application.
You need to present the following documentation with your application (original and photocopy of everything):
- The libro de familia (family book). This requirement proves your relationship to the child, so if you don’t have it you will need equivalent documentation from your country (birth certificates etc). Bear in mind any foreign documents will have to be officially translated.
- The ID of the applicant (that’s you, the parent, not your child). For foreigners, this is your NIE. If you are from the EU you have to produce your NIE along with your National ID document from your country (usually your passport). If you are non-EU you should have the NIE with the photo which counts as your official ID, so that is sufficient. VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure your address on your NIE matches the address on your application form. If you have moved you will have to get it changed.
- The ID of the child if they have one (it’s not compulsory till 14 years old).
- The Tarjeta Sanitaria (public health system card) if they have it.
- Documentation relating to any additional points applied to the application (for example disability/allergy).
Before you go, it is worth double checking with the school that you have all the documentation required, especially if you have foreign documents or extra things relating to allergies etc.
- Wait for results (end of April till early June)
Now comes series of publications of draft lists, time for amendments, and final decisions – that is, applications are shuffled and places allocated, first according to points, then a lottery. The lists are put up on the noticeboard outside the school and you can usually also check them online (ask when you submit your application).
First, towards the end of April, the school publishes a list of applications received with how many points each have. It’s likely that it will be clear at this point whether you have got your preferred school or not (for example, if there are fewer applications than places) but if not, you will have to wait for the definitive list after the lottery (around the 8th of May). The process is not formally closed until the final list of places assigned is posted around the 2nd of June.
- Register at your assigned school (matrícula).
Sometime in mid-June there is a short window for the matrícula (in 2017 it was 12-16 June) which is when you go to the school and register to confirm you are taking up your place. You will need to provide all the same documentation that you provided when you submitted your original application. This time you will also need the carnet de vacunacions to prove that your child has received all the appropriate vaccinations for their age. A similar foreign document will be accepted (translated). Non-vaccinated children need a document proving a medical exemption.
Once this is done, you’re finally in, congratulations!
Before starting school
Find out the dates for the pre-school meeting and attend (with a Catalan speaking friend if you need one). Here you will get quite an overwhelming amount of information about things you need to buy and provide, book fees to pay, rules and procedures etc. Keep a look out for friendly local or expat parents who might be able to help you find your feet – often there are parents with an older child in the school who already know the ropes.
You’re now as ready as you can be as a new chapter of adventures opens for you and your child. Good luck!