When considering what to write about in this months column, I was mindful of the closure of the summer season in Spain. As halcyon days, turn into the autumn fall, so to, the local children began their drift back to school. As someone who doesn’t have children, I wanted to speak to some Mothers who live in Gran Alacant, about their experiences, with the Spanish school system. The only experience I have of the classroom , is my time spent in full time education in the UK, and work with youngsters at Action for Children, a fantastic charity, primarily dealing with disadvantaged kids. I am always interested to observe and learn about the differences in all aspects of Spanish life. The local Gran Alacant School, is just down the hill from me, I hear the children in the playground, every morning. Family is very important to the Spanish; the differences between Britain and Spain in that respect are stark but does the Spanish education system, live up to their fine example of parentage and progeny?

This October I have obtained a position at a School in Elche, teaching English at a fantastic seminary, after their compulsory school day ends. Quality care, expert tuition from dedicated teachers and staff; most importantly, at an affordable price. This general impression of the system here, was something reinforced by the Mothers, who took time out of their busy schedule, to talk to me.

Let me first talk about child care. In the UK, statistics show, that on average, the cost of childcare is 40.9% of the average wage. Personally I had friends who would pay up to five hundred pounds a week, for good quality care. In Spain, things are very different. The average percentage of ones wage, that is used to pay for child minding supervision is approximately 8.2%. Gran Alacant has an excellent pre school, for children six months to three years old. The standards offered are well over and above anything comparable in Britain and at an average cost of 217€ a month.

I was lucky enough to speak to Julie, who works at Bar Sioux, in Gran Alacant, about her experiences, sending her three year old son to Gran Alacant School. This institution caters for children up to primary age, after which all the enrolled pupils, move on to a senior school in Santa Pola. Children start school in Spain at age 3, which is a good two years earlier than their British counterparts. Initially, I thought it was far too young for a child to begin formal education, but after conversing with parents, listening to their points of view and taking notice of their needs, as well as that of their family , I was amazed at their positive response. Classes begin at 9am, as they do in The UK. There is a morning break at 11.30am; parents are asked to provide a snack for their child, from a daily list provided by the school; this ensures that the children all eat the same thing daily and no child feels left out or at a disadvantage. At 2pm, school is concluded.

For some children, especially those who’s parents work, there is a scheme within schools, called ‘Comedor’. After 2pm parents pay 4.25€ a day; for lunch, sleep and play time, expertly overseen by qualified teachers, who care for the children wonderfully. Now here is the big difference, the one thing Britain should learn from, the food, the choice on offer and the amazing quality. All of us remember school dinners in the UK. As a child growing up in the 1970s, I actually felt, we were given a relatively balanced diet, especially compared to UK schools today. I quite liked school dinners; to be honest it is akin to comfort food now for me; however Spanish menu’s are completely different, in every respect. The well-adjusted sensible 1970s diet, could not even compare to that of the selection offered in local schools here:

Children are offered salad every day. Not just a piece of lettuce and tomato either. They are also offered other hot choices, to suit every child’s pallet. After looking at a menu, I could see meals, including, stew, paella and tenderloin and potatoes, as well as fajitas and less heavy meals. There is always fresh fruit and everything is cooked daily from scratch. The meals themselves are three courses long; all for such a reasonable price. For those parents who can not afford the costs involved, there is also a grant available from the local communidad. There are many hardships in Spain, especially involving the cost of living compared to wages, so to ensure your child has a good, balanced, fresh and healthy meal every day is a priority and they certainly do it well.

Families are expected to pay between 70 – 80€ a year for books and stationery. This once again, depends on an individuals circumstances and there is a school bus that travels around Gran Alacant, which takes children to their local primary. The only downside I could see, was the lack of places in Gran Alacant School, due to the increase in child numbers. Sadly this does mean some parents having to travel further, to take their children to Santa Pola. From what Julie at Bar Sioux told me, she understands that may change next year.

I was curious to discover, whether or not the language barrier, also made any difference, when sending an English speaking child to school in the local vicinity. Julie said she had no problems; most teachers grasp of English, was not particularly great, but they were all attentive and perfectly helpful. There were times when an interpreter was needed, although, the Spanish are always happy to help when they can. To be honest, it wont take a lifetime before their children, are able to understand Spanish for themselves. As a child, the processing of information tends to be absorbed that much better, at 3 years old, it wont take long for a British child to catch up to the standards of their Spanish peers!

Education, standards and approach are very different, depending on which Country you live in. I am no expert on the education system here or back in The UK. I have seen the local school in Santa Pola, when going with a friend to pick up her child. It was modern, well staffed and on the surface at least, well appointed. Of course in Britain one only tends to hear of the downside of education; falling standards, crumbling buildings and lack of Teachers. Spain also has its own problems, with many Spanish students preferring to go to the UK to complete their education. Personally I believe, the Primary level of education in Spain, is superior in all respects to the British equivalent. Teachers here tend to command respect and are duly given it. If a child in Spain doesn’t reach the required standards, they are held back a year, until they successfully complete the expected values.

Schools do seem to have more discipline in Spain. The Teachers do not take the kind of abuse apportioned by some students in the UK. Whether or not this shows in better qualifications, I am unsure. For me the jury is out on this at the moment. One thing I am sure about, is when Spanish children become young adults and leave compulsory education, they do leave with a higher level of respect for others and society in general. I am fortunate to look at Spain from an independent perspective, for that reason, I don’t judge. I see great standards and good teaching, Spanish parents should be proud of what their children achieve. I hope to play a small part in that process!