As an educational consultant based in Madrid, I am often asked about the difference between state (público), charter (concertado) and private (privado) schools. However, of the three options available to children aged 3-16, it is the concertado route that most non-Spanish parents are unfamiliar with. As deadlines for school applications once more draw to a close, here are a few pointers about the concertado option for children in the Spanish education system from the age of unbelievably young age of 6 months upwards.
Talking about Spanish concertado schools without courting controversy
That charter schools exist in Spain is a fact. That they are a source of pride to some and a source of envy to others is also something which no parent with school-aged children will be blind to. As someone who advises on education in Spain, I am not impervious to the debates surrounding suspected classism, segregation and social engineering connected to the very existence of a concertado schools in this country. However, in my experience, these schools are as enriching as public and private options. There are as many valid reasons to opt for a concertado education as there are to go private or public.
Why do charter schools exist
Concertado schools are semi-private schools that are run and paid for by the state but are partially financed by an affordable monthly parental contribution. They stem back to the 1980s when Felipe Gonzalez’s government wanted to offer public education to all students but could not finance the investment needed to build and staff the schools the required. Therefore, his government turned to private education services providers and offered funding for students to attend their institutions. This hybrid funding mechanism provided surprisingly successful and thus the charter school route was born. Nowadays new neighbourhoods like Las Tablas or El Ensanche in Madrid are populated with newbuild charter schools that are managed by educational cooperatives with either lay or religious philosophies.
Applying to a charter school
Places at charter schools are offered by the local education authority and applications are processed at the same time as applications to public schools. Parents are allowed to select a combination of concertado and public schools when opting for the school they wish for their child to attend. Some concertado school places are so oversubscribed that families decide to sign their children up to the private nursery linked to the desired charter school from the age of 6 months in order to secure an extra point that will help weigh the decision in their favour.
Different styles of charter schools
All charter schools are subject to certain curriculum requirements and are bound by the same rules, regulations and standards as public schools. Charter schools undergo identical inspection regimes to state schools. Furthermore, many have another layer of reporting to the head of the religious order or lay association that supports the school financially. Where charter schools differ is on their ethos: be it on grounds of faith, philosophy or language.
In Madrid there 467 concertado schools, 313 of which are Catholic and two are Protestant schools, with all other faith schools being privately run. Spain is traditionally Catholic, and parents choose concertado options because they like the fact of a faith-permeated curriculum. That these schools are state-funded through the charter system has proved to be source of discomfort for some voters and this issue is rarely out of the political debate whenever education is discussed.
The rest of the charter schools in Madrid are non-religious although they often offer religious studies as an opt-in where the only faith that is taught is Catholicism, especially at primary level. A large majority of lay charter schools are run by not-for-profit education cooperatives that have been set up by stakeholders with an interest in improving performance in areas such as IT, languages, sciences or sports.
The matter of language is particularly important in Catalunya where the predominant language in concertado schools is Catalan. Those who seek schooling with a higher proportion of English or Spanish find that they must enroll in private or international schools. In Madrid, there is a significant difference between bilingual schools and schools that teach English as a second language. Bilingual schools teach about one third of the curriculum in English, whereas non-bilingual concertado schools offer English as a second language in the syllabus
At the end of the day, where you choose to enroll your child depends on several factors, with the type of education being offered at the school being one consideration, alongside culture, cost, logistics and facilities. Do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like my assistance as you take your steps into Spain.
Sinéad Galvin is an educational consultant and founded Steps into Spain (a boutique educational and relocation consultancy located in Madrid) to help families find the right school for their child in Madrid. She uses her professional and personal experience of Spanish schools, the Spanish education system and the Spanish way of life to ensure that parents are knowledgeable and informed about what to expect and can secure the best school for their child. A happy child is a happy parent!
Steps into Spain will take stock of your children’s educational needs and overall family requirements (housing, paperwork and general settling in). Our trusted and expert service is provided to families who are moving to Madrid from abroad. And also, to families who already live here and need some extra guidance and support.