Gill, Lorna, Marta, Eunice and Will spent the week from 27th February to 3rd March in Madrid. During the trip we wanted to learn about the Spanish curriculum and how it is implemented. In particular, we were looking at how Spanish schools challenge more able pupils, as well as the provision for lower achieving children. As part of this visit, we had the opportunity to visit a range of schools, including two bilingual primary schools, a 6th form college and a teacher training establishment.
On our first day we visited IES San Mateo, a secondary school where we were warmly welcomed by Horatio Silvestre Landrobe, the head teacher, along with Grace, Will and Victoria (other member of staff in the language department) who showed us around the school, which is based in the centre of Madrid. As a highly subscribed and sought-after ‘centre for excellence’, we learned that pupil engagement and attainment are of an excellent standard. Their high-tech facilities (including computers hidden in the desks) mean that children are able to make great progress in their chosen subjects.
That afternoon we visited the suburb of Palomeras, where Dolores Villalba Mansilla, a head teacher who had worked at her bilingual school Doctor Tolosa Latour for 27 years, not only opened her school to us, but showed us around her local neighbourhood, the park, the market and a local café where we were well looked after. Gema and Patricia, who are members of the leadership team, talked us through the bilingual programme, the assessment stages and life in the school generally.
According to the Head, the school is located in a privileged environment next to an extensive green park in a quiet and pleasant area far from the hustle and bustle of the city, although the district has historically been a welcome place for immigrant populations. The population of Puente de Vallecas is composed almost entirely of working families, sometimes with a shortage of resources, and economic and labour instability. As such, one of the most important concerns for its population is unemployment, followed by the scarcity of resources and school failure.
We had the chance to meet the very excited children from Infantil (EYFS) to Primario (KS1&2) as well as a mixed SEN class. The classes are slightly smaller than ours, but without teaching assistants. A centralised curriculum, which allows for regional differences, is implemented and teachers use programmes of work to deliver the curriculum. Our in-depth discussion with Dolores and her staff highlighted the differences in teaching practices between the two countries. The head teacher shared her frustrations at not being able to choose her teachers, as this is done by the authority (Comunidad de Madrid), which limits her scope for advancing projects.
She also shared her vision of an open future for children with two languages, who might have otherwise been limited by their economic backgrounds. We were bowled over by their welcome and noticed how sociable the staff were with each other, sharing lunch at a leisurely pace and having daily quality time with each other. Lunchtime for children lasts 2 hours!
In all the schools we visited, we also noticed that lesson changes were marked by musical interludes, rather than a school bell, which made for a nice change! We also remarked upon a lack of whole school assemblies – the reason given for this being lack of space.
We visited another bilingual primary school called CEIP Eugenio Maria De Hostos in Valdebarnes, a suburb of Madrid. CEIP stands for Colegio de Educación Infantil y Primaria (Early Childhood and Primary Education School). The school has been a bilingual school for 11 years. The head teacher, Florentina Ramos Vicente, welcomed us with her deputy, Anna, and her two enthusiastic teachers, David and Sergio. We had a short meeting before experiencing a lesson with Sergio and David and having a tour of the school. The children were confident speaking English and engaging with us. The school has 30 staff and 475 pupils from mainly middle-class families. There are no teaching assistants, but they have a special needs teacher and a language teacher.
Science, English, Arts and Crafts are taught in English and the remaining subjects are taught in Spanish. The main concern of teachers is the children’s understanding of science in Spanish, as all key terms are taught in English.
The teachers explained how they are all given textbooks, lesson plans and whiteboard resources to follow. However, they try to inject their own personality and ideas to go ‘off piste’ in their lessons.
David was proud of his project-based learning approach, incorporating wider aspects of the children’s lives into their work. We were told that there are very few behavioural problems or attendance problems in the school. Like all the schools we visited, we saw that they employed English-speaking staff to enrich the English curriculum.
On Wednesday we visited the CRIF (Centro Regional de Innovacion y Formacion) ‘Las Acacias’ – a training centre in an impressive complex that was once a girls’ orphanage – where we were given a presentation on the Spanish Education system by Luisa and Jose.
We found out that Spain has an older teacher population and in general children enter education earlier, despite it being compulsory a year later than in UK. Also maternity leave is limited to 4 months, so parents have to return to work sooner than in the UK.
We discussed work-life balance with the teachers and most felt they had a good balance. There was more focus on the preparation of lessons than marking and observations of lessons and there was no scrutiny of books.
We were fortunate to meet two teachers from Tres Olivos, a partly parent-funded school that offers provision for deaf as well as hearing students. Their message was clear, that the whole school benefited from the inclusion of deaf students since the strategies and methodologies employed by these committed teachers helped all children regardless of their ability and hearing level.
In addition to the school and institute visits we were also fortunate to enjoy some cultural activities in this beautiful city. These included:
• A GoCar tour around the streets to see the sights of Madrid
• Visits to Del Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza art galleries
• An evening of Flamenco dancing
• A visit to the Natural Sciences Museum
• A visit to La Latina district where we experienced the El Rastro open-air market
• A visit to the ancient city of Toledo
We enjoyed our trip enormously and learned much from comparing and contrasting the two countries’ education systems and seeing how teachers apply their curriculum. It was invaluable time out of the classroom for reflection on our practice as well as a chance to get to know our colleagues in a context outside of work. Our key learning points were:
• The benefits of bilingualism were clear and showed us how strategies for supporting our children with EAL or who are less able, will reinforce learning for more able students
• The importance of a good work/life balance
• Staff sharing quality time together and the collaborative, community spirit in the schools we visited, which we will appreciate more in our own working environment.
Thank you to Erasmus+ for funding our European project. We would not hesitate to undertake another similar visit to see what else we can learn and experience.