The vast majority of schools in Barcelona follow the Spanish national curriculum, adapted for Catalonia (the language of instruction is Catalan, plus a few other adaptations).
All public schools, most Concertada schools and some private schools follow this system, under which secondary school students complete the ESO at 16 before going on to complete the Bachillerato at 18.
Some private “international” schools offer alternative curriculums, based on the British, American or International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. Families may choose this option for various reasons; if they arrive in Barcelona when their children are already part-way through their schooling, or plan to return to their home country within a few years, it can be the least disruptive option. Many families, including local families, prefer their children to be educated in English.
This post looks at the various curriculums and exams offered in English-language international schools in Barcelona, hopefully giving you the information you need to figure out which system makes sense for your child.
The websites of private and international schools are full of inspirational but mostly meaningless marketing spiel about how they create global citizens with emotional intelligence and excellent academic results (etc) but it’s important to understand what is actually on offer. In the English-speaking sector, it’s going to be one or a combination of four possible systems:
- The International Baccalaureate (IB)
- The Cambridge international Exams (IGSEs and A-levels)
- The American High School Diploma
- The Spanish ESO and Bachillerato
Some schools offer more than one programme. When you visit a school’s website it may not be immediately obvious which system they follow, but it is crucial information for you to consider when you make your choice.
Here’s a rough guide to the stages of the four main curriculums throughout school years:
Let’s take a look at each curriculum in turn:
The Spanish Curriculum: ESO, Bachillerato and Selectividad
Just like in the public system, many international schools will be organised around the Spanish curriculum. Private schools are not obliged to follow it, but many do, even those who teach mostly in English.
Students will complete the Spanish Secondary Leaving Certificate (known as ESO) at 16, then the Advanced School Certificate (Bachillerato) at 18. They may also sit the Spanish University Entrance Exams (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad, or PAU, commonly known as Selectividad) which take place just after the Bachillerato exams, at 18.
Other schools, such as St Peter’s International School and Europa Sant Cugat, offer some international qualifications alongside the Spanish curriculum. It’s worth checking whether a school actually follows a foreign curriculum or just offers the option to take some international qualifications alongside the Spanish exams.
The American Curriculum: The American High School Diploma
There are several American Schools in Barcelona offering an American based curriculum (1st to 12th grade) leading to the American High School Diploma, which is valid for entrance into US universities, some British universities and some private universities around the world.
The main schools offering the American curriculum are The American School of Barcelona and Benjamin Franklin International School, which both also offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in the final two years (see below).
The ES International School in Castelldefels offers a purely American Curriculum with a specific emphasis on sports, assisting pupils seeking a sports scholarship to an American university. They also offer students Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
You can read more details about these three American Schools in this post.
The International British Qualifications: IGCSEs, AS-levels and A-Levels
The British qualifications the IGCSE, AS-levels and A-levels are among the most popular international school qualifications offered at international schools around the world. They are based on the British Curriculum and are widely recognised and accepted by universities around the world.
There are two exam boards: Cambridge Assessment International Education and Edexcel, but from the point of view of students, it makes little difference as the qualification received is the same. Students take IGCSEs at 16 (Year 11 in the UK system, or 4th ESO in the Spanish system) giving them the International General Certificate of Secondary Education, which is recognised by many countries as equivalent to their compulsory secondary school requirements. In Spain, IGCSEs are recognised as equivalent to the ESO, and students can formally validate their qualifications with the Spanish system if they need to (for example, if they wanted to enter a public school).
Students then go on to take Advanced Stage (AS-levels), usually a one-year course, or Advanced (A-levels), usually a two-year course at 18 (Year 13 in the UK system) to qualify them for University Entrance.
Quite a few international schools in Barcelona offer IGCSEs and A-levels, but it’s worth noting that not all offer the full British curriculum. A few schools, such as the British School of Barcelona and Kensington School, offer a full British curriculum which closely mirrors schools in the UK, so IGCSE subjects are delivered with the exam in mind. Other schools may teach the Spanish curriculum in English but adapt it so that at least some of their students can take the IGCSE in the subject, in addition to completing the ESO.
The International Baccalaureate
The International Baccalaureate has become the main alternative to the British international qualifications for international schools.
By far the most popular programme is the Diploma Programme (IBDP) which is a two-year course from 16-18. However, there is also a Primary Years Programme (PYP) and a Middle Years Programme (MYP). The only school near Barcelona which does the full IB programme from primary is SEK Catalunya, but many offer the diploma programme in the final two years of secondary. Some schools who offer the IB Diploma are starting to introduce either the PYP or the MYP, working towards offering the full programme in the future (Hamelin Laie and Agora Sant Cugat are two of these).
The main selling point of the IBDP is its rigour and claim to prepare students for university-level study through its emphasis on independent learning and critical thinking. Some schools offer the IBDP in English only, some in Spanish only. At SEK Catalunya and Hamelin Laie students can choose Spanish or English.
Recognition of qualifications by universities
Spanish students have to pass the PAU (Selectividad) exams to enter Spanish universities.
Students from EU countries can apply to Spanish universities with their Cambridge or IB (or other EU country school qualifications), although they may be asked to have them accredited by the Ministerio de Educación.
The Spanish Bachillerato is accepted by universities throughout the EU (sometimes with accreditation requirements).
The IB and Cambridge qualifications are generally accepted by universities around the world.