Scribbler in Seville

Shortlisted (again, whoop!), and inside a Spanish school

Here's some I made earlier - baking bread in Parents' Week.

Here’s some I made earlier – baking bread in Parents’ Week.

I’ve written before about how my blog doesn’t fit neatly into any one category: it’s a weird amalgam of mummy blog, expat blog and travel blog, because that’s what I am: an English journalist with two children living in Seville, who tries to explore this part of Andalucia as much as I can, and write about it. So I am delighted to have been shortlisted in the travel section of the Brilliance in Blogging awards, organised by Brit Mums, for the second year. If you feel the urge to vote for me, just click on the badge to the left, or even easier here. Voting closes on 19 May, so there’s a couple of weeks to go. Or why not just get it over with now? You will be rewarded with my undying gratitude – OK, so it’s anonymous, but my loving gratitude will wend its way towards you somehow.

Warhol

My daughter, aged four, with thanks to Mr Warhol – and her fab teacher.

As an English expat mum living in Spain, one of the areas of life I am often asked about is children: what’s it like bringing up kids in Spain? What are the schools in Spain like? Are you happy with your children’s education? So I thought (hoped) it might be interesting to give you a glimpse into the lives of two bilingual Anglo-andalusi niños.

My children attend an Andalucian state primary school – I’ve already written several posts about the school’s Andalucia Day activities and shows, as these are always fascinating to an outsider like me, not to mention of outstanding quality. The school also recently made a video starring every class – if you watch, you’ll see what it’s like inside.

This particular school, which is in the local village, is divided into Infantil (ages 3-5) and Primaria (aged 6-12), both in the same complex of buildings, but with separate playgrounds. It’s a big one, with around 1,000 pupils. At the age of four, my younger child started in Infantil last September – it’s similar to her nursery, with big classrooms, group tables, lots of toys and play time, and a wide variety of activities (during his time in Infantil, my son studied the Romans, including a visit to a major archaeological site nearby and a school exhibition – see below, as well as Monet), all with warm, dedicated teachers.

My elder child moved up into Primaria last September, which involves many hours of sitting behind desks in tightly packed rows, with a couple of gym classes a week for exercise. Six-year-olds aren’t good at staying still for minutes, let alone hours on end, so the jury’s still out on this stage of the Spanish education system. It’s a huge change from one level to the next – from a degree of freedom and fun, to sedentary rote-learning, which many children (unsurprisingly) find hard to adjust to. This year, budgets have been cut further, meaning fewer school trips (and fewer books), which obviously makes the whole school experience less varied, and less rounded too. One of the most successful outings was to the police cuartel, where all the children loved meeting the dogs and horses.

An unfinished version of the Lola presentation.

An unfinished version of the Lola presentation – family, preferred food, colours, characters…

So what sort of activities do the pupils do, and how are the parents involved? Well in our school, they have just introduced “Protagonista de la Semana” – Star of the Week – in Infantil. Each week, a different child takes this role, and my daughter, in her first year of Infantil, was one of the early stars. I had to make up a board with images of her, and about her – photographs with family, drawings, and her favourite things (Peppa Pig figured large). And I had to go into her class to give a little talk about her (pink, chocolate, Peppa Piga, a dog called Pipo).

Lola's teacher with her classmates.

Lola’s teacher keeps her classmates in order with consummate skill.

It was a very enjoyable experience, talking to her 18 classmates, finding out about them – and especially seeing the teacher in action – she’s got the whole kind-but-firm thing taped. There was no mucking about tolerated, but no raising of the voice, either. I take my hat off to all teachers, as commanding respect from children on a continuous basis is very, very hard. But keeping a class of 16 three-year-olds still and quiet is a hugely difficult task, admirably accomplished.

2013-04-08_09-43-23_103

In April, it was Semana de los Padres – Parents’ Week. You can volunteer to do any activity with your child’s class, whether reading, craft, musical or energetic. The slot last around an hour, and many do activities related to their job – in my daughter’s class, a chef brought in a huge bucket of masa (dough) to make bread, and a dentist talked to the kids about the importance of oral hygiene. Until this year I’ve always chickened out, but I decided I had to do my bit.

Children in Lola's class (3-year-olds) doing pasta pictures - a novelty in Spain.

Children in Lola’s class (3-year-olds) doing pasta pictures – a novelty in Spain.

With Lola’s class, I did some English vocabulary – colours – and then pasta pictures. While these are standard practice at English nurseries, they’re not familiar here, so they were intrigued, asking if they could eat the pasta!

With Zac's class, who loved running around playing games for an hour, as they're sitting behind desks for most of the school day.

With Zac’s class, who loved running around playing games for an hour, as they’re sitting behind desks for most of the school day. The wonderful Loli is sitting on the ground in front of me.

For Zac’s class (the six-year-olds), I teamed up with another mother, who happens to be an unemployed PE teacher. Result. Talk about striking gold – we got the Monday morning slot, first out of the gates, and Loli had some great ideas for traditional playground games, so I just added a few linguistic elements like counting in English. None of it involved paper or pens – or, indeed, sitting down at all. Get the kids running about, was our idea; this was just after a long period of wet weather, when everyone had cabin fever after weeks of being stuck inside.

Playing blind man's buff with Zac's class (6-year-olds).

Playing blind man’s buff with Zac’s class (6-year-olds).

We sorted the class of 26 into teams, with each child numbered in English (wan, toooo, threee), for panuelito – you hold up a hanky, or scarf, and call a number – the corresponding child from each team has to run a and grab it, and the first to get back safely to their team wins. After that, we played some games like policias y ladrones (cops’n’robbers); then did carreras de relevos (relay races) in teams with variations like hopping; and finally split into two groups for gallinita ciega (blind man’s buff) and 123 pollinita ingles (grandmother’s footsteps). The kids loved competing, as they always do, and were mostly good-natured – I had feared having to adjudicate quarrels, a normal part of daily life as a mum.

Zac enjoying the Roman baths with his classmates -  a project from when they were four.

Zac (yellow toga-skirt) enjoying the Roman baths with his classmates – a project from when they were four years old.

Other activities have included painting themselves in the style of artists – hence the Andy Warhol-esque Lola you can see at the top of this post. Zac’s class did a big project when he was four, on the Romans, which included a visit to nearby Italica, the site which was the first Roman town in Spain. They had swords and watched “gladiators” fight in Italica’s impressive arena, and then produced fantastic collages like the one you can see above.

Apart from occasional visits to my nephews’ outstanding (literally – Ofsted top marks, Beacon Status etc) primary school in Suffolk, some years ago, I have no experience of British educational establishments. So sadly I can’t offer any sort of comparison with equivalent schools, in terms of staff, general experience or activities. Also, I am well aware that this is not any kind of serious examination of the Spanish education system, nor is it intended to be. It is designed merely to give an idea of what children do in schools here.

Are your kids at a Spanish primary school? Is your experience similar to mine, in terms of parent participation? If they’re in an English school, how does this compare?

31 thoughts on “Shortlisted (again, whoop!), and inside a Spanish school

  1. Mad Dog

    I can’t comment on the education system but Spanish people seem to turn out OK. They are getting good art lessons – great pictures and bread making too! 🙂

  2. mike

    We were sitting outside El Huerta (can’t remember the square) and a procession of little girls emerged from what I assumed was primary school. The thing that struck me was the strict adherence to school uniform and the perfect behaviour of the kids. They were all making a huge fuss of one tiny wee lass who looked about four/five years old.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      That’s interesting, Mike. Not all schools have uniforms (my kids’ is optional), and I’m not sure how well behaved they are when coming out of school!! Maybe the wee lass had her cumple (birthday)?

  3. Kaley

    I have seen many different Spanish schools: colegio and instituto, public and concertado … it all depends on the location of the school. The public school I was at was quite good, but this concertado isn’t so good, which is odd considering parents have to pay!

  4. mmtread

    We’ve been agonizing about his for quite some time now. Originally we were going to put the kids (3 and 7) in a private British school, but we decided that we wanted them to integrate more and didn’t want to commit to 13 years of private school. So state school it is, but I’m really concerned about it. Firstly, the language problem is compounded by the fact that instruction is going to be in Catalan, with a side dish of Spanish, so they’ll have to learn 2 languages. Secondly, they go to a very small private school here, all touchy-feely like, and I think the Spanish state school system is going to be a shock.
    We’ve been back and forth endlessly on this. Do you have any thoughts you could share?

    1. Maya

      for mmtread – have you considered the Spanish independent sector? We were facing a similar choice a few years back and found a small Spanish private school that was much more cost effective than international school, and gave us the immersion/integration we wanted – but without the strained resources of the local state schools, and also meant we could choose a castellano focussed school as well in a second language area. Definitely worth investigating what you have available locally before you decide, and do contact me via beyondmanana.com if you’d like to discuss further as I know what a fundamental and difficult decision it is

      1. mmtread

        Thanks, Maya. I’ll definitely look into those options. It sounds like an excellent compromise. And I have no doubt that I will be coming back to you for more advice. Cheers!

      2. Kathy

        Hi
        We are Americans who will be living in Seville for 6 months next year. Don’t know what to do about schools. I have a 7 yr old and 11 yr old. Advise? We don’t speak Spanish but are learning.

    2. Fiona Flores Watson

      Matthew, I would say that the size of the school/classes is key, judging from your kids’ school experience thus far. Obviously state schools vary according to other factors too, but there is currently no evaluation/ranking system, as in the UK for example – you just have to ask around.

      For the time being, your 4yo should be fine as Infantil is warm and fluffy, with varied activities. The 6yo will be doing lots of “fichas” – exercises on sheets of paper, where they fill in the answer. Less interesting and fun.

      If you can manage the fees of an independent/concertado school, then that would probably be ideal as the facilities will be better, classes smaller etc, especially in Primaria. As for the language issue, I can put you in touch with English-speaking expat parents living in Catalonia, so they can tell you their experiences on this.

  5. Cassandra

    Really interesting read! I love how your children’s school offered the opportunity for parents to come inside the classroom and help out.

    Like Kaley, I’ve been to both public and concertado schools in Spain. There have been things I’ve liked and disliked about each type; for example, concertados have more money and resources such as access to smart boards, however, teachers have longer work days and are more rushed and stressed. In public school the teachers aren’t as stressed due to fewer hours, thus the overall atmosphere is more relaxed. In each case I believe it boils down to the passion and interest that each individual teacher has–indeed, you can encounter great educators in both the public and the private sector.

    One thing I’ve noticed–in both primary and secondary–is the way displays of student work are treated. At the concertado, the teachers put up a TON of student samples immediately before Open House (“puertas abiertas”) day for the parents. And then, they take it immediately after! This strikes me as negative–shouldn’t the kids be encouraged to take pride in their works all year round, and not simply to put it on display for parents (who, by the way, are only allowed specific days to visit)?

    I’m glad you get to be a part of your children’s education. Also, thanks for giving us a peek inside your school–as your post shows, each school is different and so it’s important for parents to choose carefully when deciding which school to go with.

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Thanks for your comment, Cassandra – very interesting, as a parent, to hear the inside view of the differences between state and concertado schools. I hope Matthew reads your comment! I’ve seen around a local concertado here, which was where I wanted to send my kids – they had a veg garden and animals and it wasn’t all about fichas – much more imaginative and lateral-thinking!! Very popular, though – we didn’t have enough points, sadly.

      1. Cassandra

        That´s great–I do imagine that all schools vary immensely! It´d be interesting to see how schools vary from region to region…!

  6. ebostick1212

    I completely understand what you are saying about moving from infantil to primaria, and the shock to the system children have. I work in a public school in Mairena del Aljarafe, and I can definitely see the difficulty children in primero have with settling down. They come from a pretty ‘free’ environment, and now they are stuck at desks all day. From my experience, it takes them about a year to adjust to this type of teaching, and then they seem to get used to it. It interesting to see this kind of adaptation!

  7. Laura Jimenez

    Hi. I have3 kids and we are looking to move to sevilla, spain, in la ciudad de la imagen. I want to know more, what I need to help my kids to adjust to this big move. Thx Iif you guys know more about schools. I dont know where to start

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Hi Laura, I don’t know Ciudad de la Imagen, whereabouts in Seville is it? There are lots of great general expat websites and forums with advice about moving your family abroad – expatica.com, expatforum.com, spain.angloinfo.com, spainexpat.com Do you want a normal government school, or a private one?

      1. Laura Jimenez

        I think at the south of hormigueron, next to san jeronimo, and pino montano. Its located where the Costco is going to open soon. I was thinking in a bilingual school, my kids only know english. They understand it, but they dont speak it. I did my research and I found this school call st. George and had amazing reviews. Thank you for your help.

  8. mike

    Slightly off topic..my daughter has just returned from an au pair job with a family in Cartagena. She loved the family and the three children but was quite shocked by how freely the parents smacked the little ones.Is this common in Spain?

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      Yes, it’s much more common than in the UK – I remember once standing next to a woman who was getting annoyed with her daughter, and she raised her hand to hit her. Then she stopped herself, and caught my eye – she looked pretty embarrassed (not a common occurrence here). Who knows what goes on in the privacy of people’s homes?

  9. mike

    It’s odd because in all fairness they were a very kind and generous family and my daughter adored them and is going back next year…

  10. Pingback: The E-X-P-A-T of moving abroad | Scribbler in Seville

  11. Kathy

    We are most interested in public schools. Mostly up keep cost down. Only from January 2015-June 2015. Do we register before moving or after depending on which neighborhood we live in?

    1. Fiona Flores Watson

      When you’re here, as you need to get a Certificado de Empadronamiento (registering as local resident) from your ayuntamiento (town hall) before you can register you kids for school. That’s assuming they have space in the class, as some schools have fewer, larger classes this year. The max is supposed to be 27 I believe, but that can be stretched up to 30.

  12. Petra

    Hi there!
    I would need some advice on bilingual schools in/close to Seville, too. We’ve got two boys (15 and 10y) and they prefer science to art and sports…We’re considering the Colegio Britanico Seville in Bollullos and San Francisco de Paula in the centre. Which one would you recomend or have you got experience with some other school?
    I’d realy like to know how the stories of previous participants went on!

    1. fionafloreswatson Post author

      Hi Petra, my children don’t go to private school, so I don’t know either of these schools personally, but I’ve heard good things about both of them. Both have native English teachers, and Bollullos has a lovely country setting, in woodland, with a swimming pool, while San Francisco de Paula is right in the centre. There’s also St George’s in Sanlucar, which has an excellent reputation and follows the British curricululum.

%d bloggers like this: