The original plan for our time in Europe was to homeschool/roadschool M, giving us flexibility to travel and because we couldn’t afford international school fees. However the first month in Spain convinced us that enrolling her in a local school would provide more opportunities to meet other kids, as well as being a much cheaper option for learning Spanish (private tutors wanted €30+ per hour!). We also discovered enrolling her in school would help me obtain my non-EEA family member residency card.
So we found ourselves seeking a school…
First of all, let me explain Nerja is small, mostly populated by elderly expats (friends of ours in their 50s tell me they feel like ‘yoofs’ here), and east of Malaga. This means there is very little info online for parents. Additionally, searching in English produces limited results – we struggled to even locate some schools on Google maps. Posting to the local expat Facebook group received a handful of vague replies as expat/migrant families who are here are either old, or long-term Spanish residents, i.e. they moved to Nerja after living elsewhere in Spain.*
So we had to search for a school ‘on foot’. We started at the school where a work colleague’s child attended, but they had no vacancy. Across the road at Nueva Nerja it was the same story. Here, fate intervened in a bad way, as they kept telling us to try a school with a name we could not understand (it sounded like Whack Him Her Error), but as we already had 2 other schools on our list, we thought we’d try them first before searching for a school we couldn’t even say the name of. We’ve since discovered this (Joaquin Herrera) is the best of an or’nery bunch, and the only school in Nerja offering any form of Spanish language support.**
M ended up at the next school we came across, the local Catholic school. They were initially very receptive, seemed cleaner and friendlier than the state schools (although for an Aussie parent the sporting and playground facilities are abysmal compared to home. But that’s for another post), and most importantly had space for her. The Director spoke no English, so the 3rd grade teacher left her class (unsupervised!) to talk to us. We came back the next day to complete the paperwork. It took over an hour, and again she was asked to leave her class (2 storeys above the admin office) to translate the forms for us. I cannot imagine this occurring anywhere I’ve worked – including China.
The school is the only one in Nerja with a uniform, and the frustrating process of trying to obtain the uniform should have been an omen. M missed half an hour of her first class while we waited for the parent who coordinated it to finish chatting, only to be told she had only 1 pair of shorts & a shirt available, and we’d have to order the rest in, and it would probably take a few months to arrive (from Malaga?? It’s an hour’s drive!). We did manage to find some 2nd-hand uniforms, and met a lovely family in the process, so things were looking up.***
I spent the first day in agony, waiting for the 2 o’clock finish, because we simply had no idea what to expect. Fortunately M came home over the moon, having made a lovely friend who spoke English/Spanish on the first day. This little girl pretty much carried M through her 3 months at the school. On days when her friend was away, M pretty much just sat there, wondering what was going on and was ignored by the teacher.
Right, time to shift my little homeschooler off her laptop. More about the joys of the Spanish (actually, I should say “Andalucian”) education system to come…
*I would not recommend Nerja for first-time expats unless you or your children are already fluent in Spanish.
**Nb: we didn’t move to Spain expecting the government to bend over backwards for us. Also, we did not plan to move to Spain – we are supposed to be in Germany. So we did not have as much time as other expats to research and prepare. Saying that (and I will rant at length in another post), as an education professional who knows firsthand the expectations placed on classroom teachers and schools to provide language support for migrant children in English speaking countries, I am fairly disgusted with Andalucia.
***This family had recently moved their daughter to Joaquin Herrera after some serious bullying incidents at our school. We panicked a bit, but at this point figured we had already organised everything so we would wait and see. Again, fate! We may have been able to switch schools at this early stage 😦