Obviously, if you have children and you wish to move to Spain, then the schooling of your children will be your most important priority.
In fact, the overall welfare of your children will probably be the deciding factor as to whether any move to Spain is actually possible and their educational needs may define where you live. Certainly it is true to say that the happiness of your children in Spain will be critical to the success of your relocation. If children are unhappy then this can place tremendous stress upon the adults within a family – to the point at which it can strain a previously good working relationship.
Fortunately, education in Spain is good, albeit that (like the UK) consider care is required if you are able to obtain the best possible results. Of course, the big difference in Spain for a child is that they will be taught in Spanish (and sometimes in a regional dialect, such as Valenciano). As few North European children speak Spanish, it makes them entry into the Spanish schools system sensitive and it can mean that it takes a while for your child to settle. That said, it is extraordinary how fast children pick up a new language and I have only known one child unable to learn Spanish.
Of course, timing has a huge part to play when it comes to placing a child into normal (not international) Spanish schools. Without doubt, the younger a child the easier it is for them to assimilate Spanish and to there get to grips with education in Spain and the academic work itself. A far greater problem is faced by older children and experience has shown that there is an age at which children find it, to all intents and purposes, impossible to both learn a new language and deal with the demands of increasingly complicated academic work. In essence, the danger time for moving a child into Spanish schools (if they speak no Spanish) is when they are around 12 – 13 years old. Early than that and most children will easily learn the language and be able to catch up with the academic work. Older, and it will become difficult (to impossible), for them to keep up with their peers – and not to be able to do so will be demoralizing and damaging during a vulnerable time of their lives.
Education in Spain for children is compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16, with primary education lasting 6 years – followed by four years of compulsory secondary education at the end of which a certificate of Education is received. State Spanish schools are free and normally school uniform is not worn. However, the purchase of school books is the responsibility of parents and can be quite costy (around 300 Euros per child per year). After the age of 16, children can continue with their education in Spain and go to voluntary institutions or study for the academically demanding (and highly regarded) Bachillerato. The litter takes two years and is needed should a child wish to attend university.
State schools tend to be as variable as in the UK and much depends upon the precise intake area. It is therefore always wise to check very carefully the reputation of what may become your local Spanish school. Of course, there are private Spanish schools which can often be a very wise choice. These can provide a superb education in Spain within environments that are controlled, safe and that have high aspirations for their students. They provide terrific value for money compared to the cost of their UK (for example) counterparts and, if you can afford it, are well worth using for your children. Fees (2008) vary significantly but can be around 350 euros per month (10 months).
Equally, Spain has a scattering of international schools which provide, in English, a British curriculum. Oddly enough, these Spanish schools frequently have a high proportion of Spanish children, as the wealthy Spanish have a strong urge to ensure that their children are completely fluent in Spanish. They are particularly pertinant if you wish to move to Spain and your children are over the age of 12. As a parent with two children, I have been very impressed by the standard of education in Spain – and my son now is attending university having gone the Bachillerato. This has been a tremendous success (he started Spanish school when he was 13) and proof that the existing system of education in Spain works for foreigners!