A few months ago I wrote a blog for Your Girl in Spain, which described how I had just dropped my daughter off at an international school for the first time in her 9 years of full time education. It also described how I had left my son in Spanish state education, I did not know how it would go, what each would find during the first trimester or what I would find.
Please appreciate that these are my findings from two schools, not all international schools will be the same or state ones for that matter, but it is my experience.
So here it is, my summary of the first term, pros and cons of international school vs state.
Firstly, the school my daughter started is American, the first in the area, and brand new, so all the kids were starting at the same time.
My daughter settled in very quickly, making friends with a small group of girls, who came from various countries and backgrounds. My initial concern of Gucci bags and trainers were not realized, everyone was down to earth including the parents. One of my most surprising realizations was that amongst the kids, studying is quite cool, and the drive to succeed seems to be engrained, not in a pushy way but just the general vibe.
My other finding early on, is that the teaching is more personalized, the teachers identified problems and put plans in place. From failing maths, she has now passed every test, suddenly maths has come to life, it is not desk learning but they stand up, working on white boards, she loves it. If she had stayed in state education, there is no doubt she would have failed math’s and left school hating it.
Subjects on the curriculum now include debating, music clubs and creating year books. Creativity is high on the agenda, and celebrated.
There are two therapists on site who are available to speak to the kids at any time, minor problems are ironed out early before they escalate. More serious problems are addressed in regular scheduled therapy sessions.
Are there any downsides? I do not think so yet, maybe she feels a bit more stress that we are paying for her education, and there is no doubt that she will never keep up with some of the kids financially. But in her group, it has not been an issue.
On the other hand, my son stayed in his state school, and he is happy. Is he doing well academically? No, and I am sure he would have fared better in International school. But he is happy, he is with a nice group and growing socially.
His education lacks creativity, he has a curriculum with the core subjects, no art or music, and no creative writing. However, he does art and music outside of school so he is hardly missing out. His day is 2 hours shorter than his sisters, which is probably another reason he will not move! and if you add up all the hours, she does the creative bit when he is doing outside activities, and it balances out.
The teachers at the state school, whilst been really helpful, do not have the time to spend with parents like the International school teachers do. The classes are much larger, and the range of abilities are wider.
Finally, there is the issue of value for money. For free education, the state system is great, not brilliant but my son will be educated. Will he look back and say it was fantastic, I doubt it. But to be fair to the education system, he has not made the most of it. There are other kids in the same system who are thriving, for academic kids I think the Spanish system works, if not, then not so much.
Do I think the international school is worth it? Yes definitely, but 14 was the right time for her to go, at 14 her Spanish language is cemented. She is a native Spaniard in so much as she knows the culture well, her friends are mainly Spanish and the country that she was born in, will always be her home however much she travels.
One of the issues that has always worried me about sending the kids to International school apart from the fees, has been that they will grow up foreigners in their own country. I have seen it happen to friend´s children, once they are old enough they go back to the UK
where they are also strangers. I would recommend anyone to put their kids through the primary state system, unless you are going to choose a Spanish private school or have a Spanish speaking parent at home, your child is unlikely to speak Spanish like a local or even fluently.
For now, we are only one term in, we have the big exams season to get through, with all the stresses and strains that those bring.
But for now, International school wins hands down.