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Choosing a school for your children in Barcelona: an expat’s guide to school applications

When emigrating, one of the most important decisions families face is where to send their children. Trying to understand a new education system, especially in another language, can be daunting for parents.

Fortunately, the process in Barcelona isn’t overly complicated, but it does require that you understand the process and stick to the key dates to avoid disappointment.

This article serves as an easy-to-understand guide for how to choose a school in Barcelona and secure a place for your child.

How does the schooling system in Barcelona work?

Before beginning the application process, it is important to understand the key fundamentals of the Barcelona education system, regarding the different fee structures, school models, curriculum, and stages.

Three different school systems

The first step in this process is deciding which type of school you would like your child to attend. Schools in Barcelona fall under one of three categories: public, semi-private (known as concertadas), and private.

The primary difference being that public schools are fully state-subsidized, semi-private schools are partially state-subsidised; and the burden of private school fees falls entirely onto the family.

The first two, being state funded, are subject to government decisions and follow the system outlined for them, whereas private schools have increased autonomy and follow independent enrollment processes and curriculums.

Public school:

  • Tuition: Free
  • Materials/books: School dependant
  • Languages: Catalan and Spanish with integration of foreign languages
  • Typical class size: Largest (<30)
  • Uniforms: None
  • Method of Enrolment: Education Consortium (Consorci d’Educació)

Semi-private school (concertada):

  • Tuition: Subsidised
  • Materials/books: School dependant
  • Languages: Catalan and Spanish with integration of foreign languages
  • Typical class size: Middle (<25)
  • Uniforms: Sometimes required
  • Method of Enrolment: Education Consortium (Consorci d’Educació)

Private school:

  • Tuition: Paid
  • Materials/books: Provided
  • Languages: Varies by school – Catalan and Spanish options available
  • Typical class size: Smallest (<20)
  • Uniforms: Sometimes required
  • Method of Enrolment: Education Consortium (Consorci d’Educació)

The four key stages in the Catalan educational system

All three types share the same four educational stages. Often, preschools and primary schools are included within the same institution. The same being true for secondary and upper Secondary.

  • Age 3-6: Preschool (optional)
  • Age 6-12: Primary (mandatory)
  • Age 13-16: Secondary (mandatory)
  • Age 16+: Upper Secondary (optional)

*Whilst preschool is not mandatory, it is common for children in Barcelona to begin at 3. Separate schooling options, called Escoles Bessols, are available from birth until 3 years old. We won’t be covering these in this article, but for more information, please feel free to visit the City Council official page on Escoles Bressol.

How to enrol for a public or semi-private school

When seeking to enrol in state-subsidised schools, it is crucial that you remain aware of dates and deadlines, understand the points system, and follow the official application process. Late submission of applications or incorrectly following the latter two may result in disappointment as places are not guaranteed and students are often competing for limited spaces.

Key dates when choosing a public or semi-private school

These are the key dates for the 2022/23 academic year application process. These are subject to change each year.

  • Initial information released: February – March
  • Submission of application: March 7th – 21st
  • Handling of applications: April-June
  • Enrolment (confirmation of child’s place): June 21st – 29th
  • Academic year begins: September

Application process for public and semi-private schools

The application process essentially involves three primary stages and provided you understand and follow the process correctly, can be relatively straightforward.

1) Make your decision and prioritise schools in order of preference

Having researched which schools you would be interested in, you will have to place them in order of preference, considering the criteria outlined in the points system. If the number of applicants to a school exceed the places available, students will be awarded places depending on the following criteria:

Priority criteria

  • Siblings enrolled in school: 50 points
  • Proximity of parent/guardian’s home or work address: 10-30 points
  • Per capita household income: 15 points
  • Academic record (in case of baccalaureate): 10 points

Complimentary criteria

  • Parent or guardian works in the school:40 points
  • Large family status: 10 points
  • Children of multiple birth (twins, triplets, etc.): 10 points
  • Single-parent family: 15 points
  • Student in foster care: 10 points
  • Parents or siblings with disability: 15 points
  • Victim of gender violence or terrorism: 10 points

2) Submission of pre-enrolment application form (March 7th to 21st for city schools):

Fill in the application form with your top four (up to a maximum of ten) public and semi-private schools in order of preference. Whilst most children secure a place in at least one school on their list, there is no guarantee. Therefore, we suggest listing more schools to prevent disappointment.

The application form consists of eight sections, which are filled out according to your individual situation:

  1. Student’s data
  2. School’s data
  3. Place applied for
  4. Specific criteria
  5. General criteria
  6. Supplementary criteria
  7. Voluntary choice on religion
  8. Signed declaration

Whilst you would usually submit this in person at your first-choice school, priority has been given to online applications due to the Covid-19 crisis. Under exceptional circumstances, anyone who is unable to submit the application online is still able to submit it in person by arranging an appointment. When submitting your application in person, we recommend requesting a dated and stamped copy of the application to retain in your records.

3) Results

Places are allocated according to points and in the event of a draw (equal sum of priority and complementary criteria), a public draw will decide successful candidates, except in cases of students with specific educational requirements. The list of successful applicants is then published online or at the school. If you are not successful with your first choice, you must wait until the final lists are published in early May.

At this stage, once the pre-enrolment process has ended, you will confirm registration through enrolling your child at the allocated school within the period allowed. Late confirmation will be considered a rejection of the offered place.

Where to find information for public and semi-private schools?

  • Barcelona Education Consortium (edubcn.cat)
  • Department of Education (preinscripcio.gencat.cat)
  • Open day activities, websites, social media of centres, AFA
  • Schooling support offices (by appointment only)
    ◦ Ciutat Vella (placeta del Pi, 2)
    ◦ Eixample (carrer de Roger de Llúria, 1-3)
    ◦ Gràcia-Horta (carrer de la Mare de Déu de la Salut, 87)
    ◦ Nou Barris (carrer de Nil, 27 i carrer de Vallcivera, 14)
    ◦ Sant Andreu (carrer de Sant Adrià, 20. Recinte de Can Fabra)
    ◦ Sant Martí (carrer de Cristòbal de Moura, 223)
    ◦ Sants-Montjuïc (carrer de Muntadas, 5)
    ◦ Oficina d’Atenció del Consorci d’Educació de Barcelona
    ◦ Carrer de Roger de Llúria, 1-3

These appointments run from March 1st and are bookable for those requiring support:

  • By phone: 012 or 935 511 0 00
  • By internet: www.edubcn.cat

How to enrol in private/international schools?

Once you have chosen your top three or four private schools, you should contact the admissions officers, who will advise you on available spaces. You should then take your child to the school for an open day to better understand their core values and can get a better feel for the school environment. Your child may have to attend a taster day, or complete entrance exams, depending on the school’s individual criteria.

We would advise investing time into researching the numerous private schools and in checking out their websites so that you fully understand where you are paying to send your child to. You may find it useful to look at the Barcelona International Schools Association (BISA) website. The association represents 12 private schools of different origins, providing an array of different qualifications, for both international and domestic students. The numerous options relating to qualifications, languages and teaching methods make private schools an attractive prospect. It will be down to you to decide whether the extra cost is worth it compared to what is offered by public and semi-private schools.

Some key factors that you should consider when choosing international schools include, but are not limited to:

  • Principle language to be taught in and other languages provided.
  • How Spanish and Catalan are integrated into students’ learning.
  • Entry requirements.
  • Curriculum followed and its impact on your child’s options for further education.
  • Size of the school and teacher to student ratio
  • Location.
  • Facilities and extra-curricular opportunities.
  • Average student examination achievement.

Planning ahead and onsite visits are the key for a smarter choice

The best thing you can do to ensure success and obtain a place in the best school possible, is to begin this process early and follow the directions we have outlined.

If you choose public and semi-private schools, you must stick to the dates and plan ahead to be on track with document submission deadlines.

When applying to private schools, you will have to pay attention to each school’s criteria and application process, but these tend to be more lenient and flexible.

Beyond online research, it is useful to attend onsite visits, or ‘jornadas de puertas abiertas’, to gain a stronger insight into the school’s methodology and key principles.

In the event you require further assistance with obtaining a school place for your child, don’t hesitate to contact us for legal or advisory assistance.

Written in collaboration with James C.S. Barnes

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Anna Klevtsova

Anna holds an LLM in International Human Rights Law, and is a Certified Lawyer with the Bar Association of Barcelona. With more than 20 years of legal practice in International Law, Anna specialises in business set-up, investment transactions, and immigration strategies.

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