In the dull and dreary days after World War II, adventurous British types (mainly from the privileged classes) fell upon the cheap living and fabulous climate of the Costa del Sol, as an escape from the grey skies of northern Europe. However, it’s not just a bolthole for pensioners, families move here too and the choice of international schools is fairly wide.
This piece of southern Spanish coast is sometimes compared to southern California which it resembles in terms of weather and geography, but it has a much longer and more varied history than its American counterpart. After being invaded by Romans, Visigoths and Muslims, it became part of Catholic Spain in the early 16th century and remains so, apart from the anomaly (and source of irritation, to the Spanish), that is Gibraltar.
The bougainvillea and jasmine clad peace of the fishing villages on the coast or the pueblos blancas (white villages), on the hills behind, has slowly vanished and now, ribbon development has sprung up to meet the demands of mass tourism. This is interspersed by occasional enclaves, inhabited by the rich, famous and sometimes distinctly dodgy from all over the world. This transformation has rendered the original coastline almost unrecognisable – still, the sun continues to shine and not all the charm has been lost.
When it comes to international schools, the stretch of the Costa that houses them is fairly short, running from Malaga, west to Sotogrande. There are only two schools in Malaga itself, the British School of Malaga formerly St George’s School, now operated by the global group, International Schools Partnership and the Lycée Francais de Malaga, one of the longest established schools (1968) teaching in a foreign language. St Anthony’s College outside Fuengirola dates from the same year .
Realising the potential, several schools arrived here in the 1970’s, including Swans International School, started in central Marbella but now with a secondary department, further out beyond the motorway, leaving the primary on the original site. The aptly named Sunny View School has also grown from one to two sites above Torremolinos.
The two other schools, started in the 1970’s, are at opposite ends of the spectrum in educational terms but are both highly spoken of. The first, is the small primary, Calpe School, one of two schools, ten kilometres west of glitzy Marbella, in San Pedro de Alcantara (also home to the Mayfair International Academy) Calpe specialises in ensuring that children can slip easily back into the British system and Mayfair is opening a large new campus at Atalaya Park.
The second school, on the verge of its half century, is the glamorous Sotogrande International School. This is a full bells and whistles international school that not only provides rigorous and successful academics but also offers an elite sporting programme, specialising in golf and tennis. The former helped by the school’s close proximity to the extraordinarily lush and glamorous Real Club Valderrama, often considered the best golf course in Spain and one of the best in the world.
The disadvantage of living in or around Sotogrande (unless your children go to Sotogrande International), is the fairly long drive to any of the alternatives further east. Estepona, roughly half an hour’s drive from both Sotogrande and Marbella, offers the nearest alternatives, being home to the bilingual, primary International School of Estepona and to the latest international arrival, Queen’s British Grammar School, about which we are waiting to hear more.
On the other hand, if you live in or around Marbella, your choice is wider. Laude San Pedro International College is another of the Spanish schools run by the International Schools Partnership and on the eastern side of the city is the English International College, where over three quarters of the students speak English as their first language. A newish entrant is the British International School of Marbella, which only teaches up to 12 at present but has plans to expand and there is also the all-through Aloha College, which has been operating here for nearly 40 years.
Heading east from Marbella towards Malaga, Benalmadena is the location for two international schools with somewhat similar names, Benalmadena International College and British College Benalmadena. To add to the confusion, the British College has a Spanish curriculum as well as an English one, whereas Benalmadena International only teaches the full English curriculum.
All the above schools are, more or less, on the coast and the only inland alternative, teaching partly in English, is bilingual Nova School Sunland International, in the hills behind Marbella.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools on the Costa del Sol 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. However, smaller children tend to adapt and become integrated more easily and it is a good solution if you intend to stay for a long time and want your child to speak fluent Spanish. Also, it is easier for a child to move from state to private than vice-versa.
Responsibility for the educational system lies with the Junta de Andalucia, who publish a list of all the state schools in Andalucia at www.andalucia.com and also provide a great basic guide to their system: https://www.juntadeandalucia.es/educacion/portals/delegate/content.
In addition, and probably more appealing to expats, are private Spanish schools (escuelas privadas), which are mainly co-ed, day schools used by about one Spanish family in three.
Most of the international schools are found in the central stretch of this coast, so if you choose to live at either end, your choice will be fairly limited. Also, probably due to those original British escapees, almost all of the schools teach an English curriculum, only offering A Levels (plus the Spanish Bachillerato in several cases) as a final qualification.