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Q+A: Sotogrande International School, Spain

Q+A: Sotogrande International School, Spain

Sotogrande International School, an International Baccalaureate day and boarding school in Spain, answers our questions and takes us on a virtual tour...

What happens when parents visit the school?

When new families come to visit Sotogrande International School they are initially welcomed by our admissions team, who show them around the school and give them the opportunity to see classes in action, as well as seeing our excellent facilities.

Children are encouraged to join their prospective class for the day and experience school life first hand, while parents have the opportunity to talk and ask questions with the admissions team. We also have a team of Parent Ambassadors who are happy to talk to new families about the area, the school and general life in Sotogrande.

How old is the school?

The International School at Sotogrande (SIS) was founded in 1978 by a group of residents of Sotogrande who wanted to offer to the local and growing international community, a British-style education with a Spanish influence. By 1990 the school had developed into a successful and popular primary school with over 250 students, and included a high-quality secondary school, offering UK O-level and A-level courses. For 20 years the school grew steadily and established itself as a leading British-style school in Spain. In 2001, under a new education foundation, lead by Paul Templeton, the school relocated to a purpose-built campus with the new name, Sotogrande International School, with a roll of 500.

SIS is now a leading international school in the region, offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programmes (MYP) and the IB Diploma examinations. Our student body is culturally diverse with approximately one-third British and one-third Spanish, with the remainder consisting of more than 40 other nationalities.

What accreditations do you have?

SIS is authorised as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School and we are fully accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

We offer a British-style international education through the National Association of British Schools in Spain, and are approved annually as a validated school through the Spanish authorities. This provides independent, external validation of the quality of education at SIS. It also allows us to offer a wide range of accredited International, British, American and Spanish programmes to our diverse student population.

We are also members of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), the Mediterranean Association of International Schools (MAIS), the National Association of International Schools (NAIS), Asociacion De Centros Autonomos De Ensenanza Privada (ACADE) and Ministerio de Educación.

What curriculum do you follow?

SIS is an IB World School, offering the PYP, the MYP and the IB Diploma, providing a seamless path through the student's education from the age of three to eighteen. The IB aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who use their education as a force for good, helping to create a more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Our teaching philosophy is focused on experiential learning. We aim to provide our students with the opportunity to 'learn by doing' rather than just reading about it in a book, and support this with frequent experiential learning trips. This fits in with our goal of helping students explore their interests and develop their unique talents.

We use Connected Learning as a driver, developing effective people, effective learners, compassionate global citizens, who are IT literate, and who have some choice over what, where and how they study. Giving students choice, enables them to be empowered, happy and more successful learners.

What is the background of your teaching staff?

Our teaching community is diverse, with teachers bringing experience and ideas from many national and international schools around the world. They are all fully qualified, passionate about their respective subjects and committed to providing an academically rigorous, inspiring and fun international education.

The main body of our teachers have English as a first language as this is the language of instruction in the school, although they also speak a level of Spanish. All additional languages are taught by mother-tongue teachers.  

Do you do much work in the community?

Absolutely! Thanks to our student-led NGO, The Kindred Project, SIS benefits from long-lasting partnerships with local and global organisations, where our students not only have the opportunity to learn about different realities and/or cultures but also get the chance to do hands-on service, enhancing their learning through community action.

How do you support pupils who are struggling?

Valuing diversity and difference is a key aspect of becoming more internationally minded, and is an important goal of all IB programmes. At SIS we understand and recognise that all students are unique. Students with a range of learning difficulties and disabilities are supported in school, ensuring that each young person is given every opportunity to access a full and varied curriculum across all programmes.

Our aim is to give each young person the coping strategies and tools to develop a pathway of lifelong learning, celebrating difference and empowering change; seeing difference as a gift and an opportunity rather than a barrier to their future. Support is bespoke to each individual, depending on their specific learning needs. We offer a combination of in-class support, small group work and one-to-one specialist teaching.

How are pupils with English as an additional language supported?

The English Language Development (ELD) programme at SIS supports the learning of students who do not have English as a first language, from their tentative first days to their preparation for higher education. The aim of the ELD Department is to focus on improving the English skill sets of those students who study within it, whilst always maintaining and celebrating their own cultural diversity. 

We aim to develop and extend the students’ use of English for academic purposes, which will allow them to access and interpret more challenging subject-specific reading materials, and achieve academic success in the full range of written assessment tasks demanded by the IB curriculum.

All ELD students work towards individual language development targets and are carefully tracked and monitored, allowing them to develop their academic language proficiency and exit the programme when appropriate. Students follow a programme of sheltered instruction, which aims to develop language proficiency while allowing them to access the mainstream curriculum where possible. This includes a flexible combination of intensive English sessions, small-group work and in-class support.

What languages do you offer?

Our language of instruction is English, but from the age of three, all children receive daily Spanish lessons as part of the curriculum. Once students enter Secondary School they have the option to study Spanish, French, German and Russian.

How do you actively support students in maintaining their mother tongue?

Our aim is to develop multi-literate global citizens. Our philosophy supports additive bilingualism, i.e.: English is intended not as a replacement for the first language but as an additional language for the student.

We encourage parents to keep up their children's mother tongue, offering guides on how to achieve this. We have a bilingual programme in early childhood (children age three to five), which transitions to English language of instruction from primary, with Spanish as a first and second language. In the middle school we offer French, Spanish, German and Russian.

To support the many languages spoken at SIS we have a library of multilingual books, with parents encouraged to come and read with children in their native languages, a mentoring programme run by diploma students, a community language school, UN day celebrations and much more. But the heart of our philosophy is evident on a daily basis in the classroom, as students are constantly encouraged to share and explore their own cultural and linguistic perspectives.

How can parents get involved?

We are really lucky to have a very active Parent Teacher Association at SIS, and lots of parents get involved. We put on large-scale events, such as the Autumn and Christmas Fairs. We also support school events such as the triathlon and sports days, so there are many varied ways that parents can help. Getting parents involved helps them feel a valued part of the school.

Do you offer parent workshops relating to what the children are doing? (such as EAL, Grade 5 exhibition)

SIS regularly holds parent workshops, covering a wide range of topics, from how our children's brains work to how to support your child as they learn to read. We also provide workshops designed to support parents to develop a deeper understanding of how our IB programmes work. We believe parents play an important part in supporting the education of their children, and by helping them to understand what and how their children learn at school they can then go on and support them at home. 

What opportunities exist for parents to speak to their child's teachers should they have any worries or concerns?

We believe strongly in the three-way relationship between the student, parent and teacher. Parents play an important part in their children's education, and we value and encourage their feedback and facilitate this in different ways. During the year we schedule parent/teacher meetings, three-way meetings and student-led conferences. In addition, we encourage parents to keep open communication between home and school, and provide the opportunity to touch base with a teacher before or after school to give a quick message or to organise a time to meet.

What extra-curricular activities do you offer in the school?

We offer a wide variety of extra-curricular activities at SIS, as we aim to help our students discover their unique talents and passions. From sports and art clubs to Model United Nations and chess clubs and Taekwondo, Scuba Diving, Golf and Yoga, we aim to provide opportunities for our students to experience and develop their skills and interests, both in and out of the classroom.

What performing arts opportunities do students have?

Our students receive timetabled curriculum time with specialists in music, arts and drama from M1 to D2, with opportunities to develop subject-specific knowledge and skills. There is a wealth of ongoing experiential opportunities offered to all Arts students in all Arts areas, which range from large whole-school productions and exploratory workshops to tuition for Arts examinations and community showcases.

How important is music and the arts in your school?

Music and the Arts is core to the school curriculum and whole-school ethos. The school believes that the Arts play an essential role in building the holistic learner, and can be an essential tool in becoming an effective individual.


Do you offer the Duke of Edinburgh Awards?

The Duke Of Edinburgh's International Award is offered to students in M4 and above. The award brings learning outside the classroom, and allows our students to push their personal boundaries and gain new skills. It's great for encouraging students to be independent and resourceful, and pushes them to be the best they can be. As well as being great fun for everyone involved, the Duke of Edinburgh Award supports our school values of facilitating self-discovery and developing students’ unique interests, gifts and talents.

Do students have the opportunity to participate in Model United Nations (MUN)?

Model United Nations is an extra-curricular activity open to all senior students at SIS. The MUN club meets weekly to discuss and to hold debates about current world news and issues. At least once a year students also have the opportunity to participate in a MUN conference in another country. Through travelling to other countries, meeting students from many other schools with different cultures, collaborating and working with them during the day and socializing with them in the evenings, students expand their knowledge and experience of different cultures, leading to a greater awareness of diversity and an increase in global mindedness.

Do you arrange for guest speakers, such as authors and experts to come to the school?

We often host guest speakers who, we believe, enhance our students' educational experience by sharing their real-world experiences in a broad range of subjects. Linked to the students' current unit of enquiry, guest speakers provide an insight into a particular field, helping our students make connections between what they are learning and the real world.

What leisure opportunities are available for children who are boarding?

As a boarding environment, we really look to push the boundaries of the activity provision. The philosophy of the school and boarding house is to provide real, memory-making experiential learning opportunities. In the past six months, we have been helicopter piloting, scuba diving, kitesurfing, rock climbing and much more – we even have plans to go skydiving next term! On top of this, Sotogrande offers an outstanding quality of life and opportunities that many places simply cannot. The provision of outdoor sports and water sports is incredible, and the proximity to different activities on our doorstep is excellent.

All images: Sotogrande International School.

Please click here to view the Winter's profile for Sotogrande International School.

The contributors to this Q+A are:

  • James Kearney, Head of Sotogrande International School
  • Kevin Stone, Head of Sotogrande International Middle School
  • Emma Butler, Head of Primary Sotogrande International School
  • Elisabeth Halter, Head of Admissions and Marketing, Sotogrande International School
  • Valentina Stirling, The Kindred Project Coordinator, Sotogrande International School
  • Sue Davies, Leader of Learning in Learning Support, Sotogrande International School
  • Lisa Mungles, English Language Development and Mother-Tongue Coordinator, Sotogrande International School
  • Barbara Peacock, Chair of the PTA
  • Andrea Bennett Cáceres, Primary Years Programme Coordinator, Sotogrande International School
  • Alastair Gibson, Leader of Learning Physical Education & Activities Coordinator, Sotogrande International School
  • Christine Barling, Theatre & Leader of Learning, The Arts, Sotogrande International School
  • Anne Adamson, Librarian & MUN Coordinator, Sotogrande International School
  • Charles Debenham, Head of Sotogrande International Boarding House.

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