Barcelona’s reputation as a fun city is well justified, with the stage of Las Ramblas and sets by Salvador Dali or Joan Miro, all set against the backdrop of Gaudi’s towering (still unfinished) Sagrada Familia - it’s definitely a place to party! However it’s also a great city to live and bring up your children in.
The Catalans are fiercely independent (and prepared to man the barricades), when it comes to diktats from Madrid and the vibe here is entirely different to that, in the sleepier cities of southern Spain, or even the capital, which is three hours away by train and twice as long by car.
Due to its geographical location, Catalonia has always been a trading nation and in the 21st century, its capital, Barcelona, has become the base for both traditional and modern industries as well as a financial hub and tourist destination. This mix of commercial evolution, undemanding weather, beaches and buzzy life-style has drawn expats from all over the world. The area is an autonomous region of Spain with Catalan as the official language, so signs, on the roads or metro, are often only written in Catalan, but worry not about wasted Spanish lessons, Castilian is understood by all the locals, if sometimes a little grudgingly.
When it comes to deciding on where to live, there is the area in the middle of Barcelona, called Eixample which nestles around the fairy-tale architecture of the Sagrada Familia and also boasts Gaudi’s organic Casa Batlló, with its weird façade (a cross between a mad interpretation of Art Nouveau and a Hammer horror film).
If your fancy is for pastures greener, you might well choose to put down roots in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, originally a summer haven for city dwellers and now sometimes described as Barcelona’s idea of London’s Chelsea - a bit of a stretch, as it is in the hills and comes with swimming pools and large gardens. Providing more sea air, as well as actual sea, is up and coming Sant Martí, which has become the home to tech businesses, shopping centres and renovated apartments.
Apart from Agora International School, to the north and the British School of Barcelona to the south, the international schools are mainly grouped fairly close together on the north-western edge of the city. The more central schools are reached within easy reach of any of the three neighbourhoods above. Whilst Sarrià-Sant Gervasi (to the west) is slightly closer to most of them, if you are coming from the east, you are, hopefully, going in the opposite direction to the commuting traffic. Two schools, International School of Catalunya and SEK Internacional – Catalunya, compensate for being further outside the city, by offering boarding as an alternative.
Apart from the Lycée Francais de Barcelona which is nearly a hundred years old, and the other French primary option, the École Francais Ferdinand de Lesseps, which dates back a further 70 years to the mid -19th century, most of the schools were established in the middle of the 20th century with only three, St George's British School (sister school to the one in Madrid), Agora International School and Highlands School opening their doors since the millennium.
A somewhat eccentric name, English Academy Santa Claus, but this nursery to end of primary school has been in existence since 1965 and has a loyal following. It is also a trilingual English/Spanish/Catalan school as is St Paul's School, whose student body (despite its name) is almost entirely Spanish.
The largest number of schools teach a basically English curriculum, leading up to IGCSEs and A Levels, including Kensington School. Only two (American School of Barcelona and Benjamin Franklin International School) provide an American education, together with the alternative qualification of the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
The IB Diploma is less established in Barcelona than some foreign cities, as it is only available at four other schools, Agora International School, SEK International School, Oak House School and St Peter’s School, Barcelona. Schools that only teach International Baccalaureate programmes are SEK International (all three stages) and Princess Margaret School which stops at 16.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Barcelona considered by expats'.
Escuela pública is probably a less popular option for expats (unless Spanish is already part of daily life) as there is no guarantee that the teachers will speak English. Smaller children tend to adapt and become integrated more easily and it is a good solution (particularly at the primary stage) if you intend to stay for a long time and want your child to speak fluent Spanish and it is easier to move from state to private than vice-versa.
Be aware that the standards of these schools can vary dramatically, but will probably be higher if in an area, favoured by expats and wealthier Spaniards. Also, remember that Catalonia is an autonomous region with responsibility for its own education system and that here, all lessons are taught in Catalan.
In addition, and probably more appealing to expats, are private Spanish schools (escuelas privadas), which are usually co-ed day schools, chosen by about one third of Spanish families.
Further information on Catalunya's educational system can be found at https://web.gencat.cat/ca/inici.
The architecture is stunning, the social life can be a joy (certainly if you are a night-owl) and if you have brought the family, the choice of schools is much wider than in many larger cities.