Guide to Gran Canaria schools for expats
So, you’re moving to Gran Canaria with the kids in tow and wondering about schools. Here’s our Guru guide to Gran Canaria schools and education.
Choosing a Gran Canaria school
The first decision you have to make about Gran Canaria schools is what type of school you want the kids to go to.
If you’re moving to Gran Canaria permanently, it may make sense to put the kids in a school where they meet and interact with local children and learn about Canarian life.
If you are on the island for a work contract, chucking the kids into the State system for a couple of years may not be the way to go.
Another important consideration is budget. The international Gran Canaria schools are expensive, especially if you earn a Canarian salary. But to a certain extent you get what you pay for. Especially if you want your kids to go to a foreign university.
Most of the options beyond local state schools are in and around Las Palmas city.
Here’s a guide to the main schools in Gran Canaria.
Gran Canaria’s big four English-language international schools are the British School, Canterbury, Oakley College and the American School. The first three focus on a British-style education while the last does things Yank-style (and has igloos instead of classrooms).
All have decent reputations and charge like they know it. Expect to pay 600 euros per month per sprog, plus extra for transport, food, uniforms, etc. They provide a decent education and modern teaching methods but don’t be surprised if class sizes are higher than they are in expensive private schools elsewhere.
If teacher happiness is a measure of a school’s quality, then the big four do well as their staff tend to be loyal and to stick around for years.
The big four international Gran Canaria schools are all based on the outskirts of Las Palmas about 15-minutes drive from the centre. The British and Canterbury also have infant schools in the south so the little ones don’t have to slog up the motorway every day.
The Canterbury and Oakley are for-profit schools while the British School is a foundation.
Then there’s the Heidelberg and the Deutsche Schule focusing on German, and the Liceo Francés de Gran Canaria doing French.
Anita Conrad School in Las Palmas goes all-in with a trilingual education in English, Spanish and German.
Since Gran Canaria’s Norwegian colony is based in the south, the Norwegian school is in Patalavaca.
Schools like the Hispano-Ingles and Colegio Arenas offer bilingual education for people who can’t quite make the full international school fees or want their kids to have more of a grounding in the Spanish education system.
While many parents are happy with them, English teacher turnover is higher than it should be. They have a bit of a reputation for asking for long hours and for having large classes.
In south Gran Canaria, Colegio Almas teaches lessons in Spanish, German and Chinese. Colegio Arenas also has a south school.
See this complete list of bilingual schools in the Canary Islands.
A step up from state schools, colegios concertados are funded by the state but run by private organisations (in many cases the Catholic church or orders of nuns). They receive the same amount of money per pupil as a state school and then try and find innovative ways of getting more (everything from fundraising BBQs to extra charges for bilingual classes and online pupil reports).
Most concertados manage to offer a decent education and cost parents about 1000 euros per year in assorted fees, plus extra for uniforms, after-school classes, and food.
Examples of concertado schools in Gran Canaria include Claret, Maria Auxiliadora Salesianas, and Teresianas. They are run by the Catholic church but have to follow the Spanish curriculum when it comes to things like evolution, etc. However, they are religious schools and can be a little heavy on the Jesus stuff.
Spanish state schools vary from the grisly to the decent, depending on location and on how they are run. They offer the Spanish curriculum and most still focus on remembering stuff rather than being creative. To assess the colegios públicos in your area, ask the locals and other foreign residents. And make sure you get your application in on time (see below).
Note that while public schools are free, you do have to pay for school books and equipment. Order the books as early as possible as textbook publishing in Spain is a complete racket and there’s always a slight shortage to panic everyone into not noticing how expensive they are.
Montessori schools in Gran Canaria
The alternative crowd in Gran Canaria clamoured for Montessori schools for years and then a load opened up, at least for young kids. There’s the Montessori Gran Canaria in Vegueta, the Ludus and Escuela Montessori in Tafira, and the Casa de los Niños in Arucas.
Homeschooling is illegal in Spain. All children must attend a school from the age of six. Some foreign residents do ignore the law, but the authorities take a dim view of it.
Nursery schools in Gran Canaria
There are lots of private nursery schools in Gran Canaria but the quality varies. Some sell themselves as early learning centres, some focus on Montessori-style activities, and some are basically daycare barns. The best way to research them is to ask both locals and foreign parents for referrals. Nurseries in Gran Canaria are cheap compared to most European countries.
Applying to Gran Canaria schools
The island’s international and bilingual schools are easy to get into provided you can stump up the cash. It can be harder to get older kids into a particular international school as they are popular and spaces don’t open up that often.
The bilinguals will always find a way to jam an extra kid into a class.
Overall, it’s harder to get kids into popular concertados and públicos than into the private schools. You are competing with lots of budget-conscious local parents who all want the best for their Juans and Marias.
Admission to state schools and concertados is via a points system where your address, financial situation and all sorts of other esoteric details count. You have to choose three schools in order of preference, then hope for the best. The closer you live to your school of choice the better but be careful with putting a relative’s address as popular schools do check.
There’s an official application season for state and concertado schools; it’s called the matrícula. The dates are announced on the Consejeria de Educación website and vary depending on age group.
Miss it at your peril!
In 2016, the matrícula for infantil and primaria (3-12 years olds) was June 10-20. For secundaria and bachillerato, the 2016 matrícula was in May.
There’s a lot of variety with some schools starting at 08.00 and others at 09.00. They break up at 13.00, 14.00 or 15.00. Most state and concertado schools have breakfast clubs and after school food (comedor) and activities (actividades extraescolares) to help parents working split shifts. These are pretty affordable.
The Canarian school year starts around the 10th of September and is divided into three terms.
Christmas holidays don’t start until the 23rd or 24th of December but go on until at least the 7th of January after Reyes. School lasts until June, but the exact break-up date depends on age and the school.
Schools all take off official Spanish and Canarian fiestas and also have a few days a year that they can choose as holidays. Often they use them to make a Tuesday or Thursday fiesta into a long weekend.
Written by Laura Leyshon: Las Palmas’ resident property and relocation Guru.