Parent stories: Ibiza
Luke and Michelle arrived in Ibiza in 2002 when their sons, Tom and Dan, were eight and one. Originally only planning to stay for a year or two, they quickly fell in love with the island and decided to stay permanently. They had another child, Rose, in 2006, and returned to the UK for a couple of years from 2012–2014. Read all about their experiences…
Hi Luke, Michelle – thanks for taking the time to talk to Winter’s. So what was the choice of schools like in Ibiza when you first arrived in 2002?
There wasn’t much of a choice back then. There was really only Morna International College, a French school, or the Ibizan state schools, which teach in Catalan (the official language of Ibiza), as well as Castilian. We felt that two new languages would be too much for the children. Morna offered education in English plus the British curriculum, so it was a simple decision. A good friend had also recently moved to Ibiza and sent her son to Morna and had told us good things about it. Her son was a friend of Tom’s so it was very natural we would send our son to the same school.
Did you go and visit the school before making a decision?
Yes, and we got a very good feeling. Back then, the school was located in an old country house and the setting was idyllic – very relaxed and lovely – and perfect for an 8 year old. When they’re young there’s not so much risk as a parent. Tom was a junior and there were still a few years before he would reach secondary so we felt able to try it out. That also meant there was time for us to learn about the island and decide if we wanted to stay. It was clear that putting Tom in Morna wasn’t going to cause any problems if we needed to go back to the UK and transition him into the British education system.
So was the quality of the school part of your decision to stay longer term?
Yes, all our kids have been very happy at the school. We have three very different children with different needs and Morna has dealt with all of them very well. Tom was the guinea pig and he started at the school when it was still very new, and even more laid-back than it is now! But this environment suited Tom and he left with great grades. Dan’s year was more structured. He’s a high achiever and needs to be challenged, and the more formal approach suited him. Rose is very creative and loves singing, and Morna is very encouraging of the Arts. The school is keen to recognise and nurture talent, which has been a boost to Rose’s confidence. The most important thing, however – the thing that places Morna above all other schools – is the happy and relaxed environment, which pupils love. Some might say too relaxed, but if a student is self-motivated and has the support of encouraging parents, they will do just as well as in any UK school.
"...every year there’s a bigger range of subjects on offer..."
Have there been concerns along the way?
Because it’s a small school with low student numbers, children of the same age range are all in the same class, meaning a mixture of nationalities, culture and languages. Furthermore, there are no entrance exams and this can lead to a mix of ability in the classroom. But the school and the teachers are very adept at managing this difficult situation and it hasn’t had a negative impact on our kids, although I suppose it might do so on less-motivated children. Dan could perhaps be more challenged but the important thing to us is that he’s happy and that he’s achieving a very high standard. The low numbers also restrict subject choice. To offer a GCSE, at least three pupils need to want to do it – it’s a numbers game. At A Level there are never more than three or four students in a class, which is great in terms of attention from the teacher, but the downside is less choice. However, the school is growing rapidly and every year there’s a bigger range of subjects on offer. The year below Dan, for example, has four more GCSE subject options than he had.
You’ve had children at school at Morna for quite a few years now. Have you seen many changes in that time?
Yes, we’ve watched the school grow and develop as our children have grown. When we arrived in 2002, there were only 90 pupils, which had risen to 293 by the time we went back to the UK in 2012 and is now around the 490 mark – a big leap in the space of a few years. This growth reflects the growing expat population in Ibiza as well as the demand for good education on the island. Ibizan families now send their children to Morna, not just expats. Everything’s getting better all the time. There are more students, which means bigger classes and more choice. The quality of teaching, and of teachers, has improved and there’s more structure, but without sacrificing that special, friendly atmosphere that both parents and children love.
What was the transition into the British education system like for the children when you went back to the UK for a couple of years in 2012?
We waited for Tom to complete his A levels before going back. Obviously A levels are a vulnerable and important time and we’d considered going back beforehand so he could complete them in the UK, but Tom wanted to stay in Ibiza. We put all three children into St Bede’s (in Sussex) and were concerned they would be behind their British peers, but actually they were completely on track, despite Morna being a much more laid-back school.
And what about the transition back to Ibiza?
It was a bit of a worry as Dan was thriving at St Bede’s; the standard of education in Britain suited him. But he’s very self-motivated so his education hasn’t suffered at all and, if anything, his grades have improved since he’s been back. At St Bede’s, he felt he was living, eating, breathing school, so he was very happy to come back to Morna and the lifestyle of Ibiza. Another thing to mention is that schools in Spain don’t provide sport in the same way as schools in the UK.
"...In Spain, sport education is made available through local villages and towns..."
In Spain, sport education is made available through local villages and towns. There are no inter-school sport competitions. The downside is more pressure on parents, who have to take their child somewhere after school to do sport. It can be tricky to fit it all in, particularly as Morna finishes at 4pm (unlike Spanish state schools that finish at 2pm). However, the upside is that if your child is really good at sport, he or she is not restricted to what’s available at their school. Many private schools in the UK, for example, won’t release pupils to play sport at a national level and they’re confined by the standard of their school. This can hold back potential, which is why there are more sports stars in Spain!
Many thanks for your time. Do you have any final words of advice for parents?
We’d advise parents to look very carefully at the choices available at a particular school, especially in subject areas. This is particularly important if you have a bright child and they’re at a crucial stage. Often it’s not until you go into the school and talk to teachers that you find out what exactly is on offer. Overall though, the main concerns for our children’s education have always been that they’re happy, that they get good results, and that they have the opportunity to bloom in subjects they love – and we’ve been very lucky on all counts.
Thanks again, and all the best for the future.