Education and Learning webinar 2024

The foundations for future success

Laude San Pedro International College, Phoenix College Málaga, British School of Málaga ·

Headteachers and directors speak with SUR in English about learning and wellbeing at international schools and colleges on the Costa del Sol

SUR in English

Monday, 11 March 2024


Children are the future - there’s no doubt about that - but multiple factors throughout young lives determine just what type of future that will be. While parents, family and society as a whole all have their influence, schools and education form another essential part of a young person’s development.

SUR in English looks further at how international schools and colleges in the south of Spain work to guide young people on the path towards a successful future. In a webinar held earlier this week we spoke to head teachers and directors of three teaching centres based in Malaga and Marbella: Andrew Atkinson, principal at Laude San Pedro International College; Stefan Rumistrzewicz, principal of The British School of Málaga; and James Riley, co-director of Phoenix College Málaga.

The British School of Málaga

The British School of Málaga, located in the Cerrado de Calderón area of the city, covers all levels, from three-year-olds up to 18-year-olds, teaching the British national curriculum. The school also includes all the compulsory Spanish subjects, giving pupils the option of having a dual qualification, enabling them to attend universities in Spain, UK or around the world, explains Stefan Rumistrzewicz. The demographic of the school has changed with the local population, going from a high proportion of Spanish students to almost a 50-50 ratio of Spanish and international, said the principal.

Phoenix College Málaga

Phoenix College Málaga was founded in 2017. Located in Malaga city centre, the school specialises solely in sixth form education, teaching British A levels to the 16 to 19 age group as well as PCE subjects required to access Spanish universities. What makes the college unique, explains James Riley, “is that it is owned and run by teachers”. Growing since 2017, the college now has 45 students doing a wide range of subjects.

Laude San Pedro International College

Laude San Pedro International College in Marbella is, like the British School of Málaga, a member of the International Schools Partnership (ISP), and teaches all ages from three to 18. The school teaches the British national curriculum although pupils have the option of following the Spanish system from the age of 12, according to individual aspirations.

Settling new students in

The international community on the Costa del Sol means that schools have a wide range of nationalities among their pupils and new faces in classrooms throughout the year. Settling in to a new school, especially when that means a new country and even a new language, is a challenge all three schools are expert at dealing with.

Stefan Rumistrzewicz explained that The British School of Málaga has an induction programme at the beginning of the year and new students are invited in to meet the teachers and get to know the school. “We accept students throughout the year in all year groups so we also have a buddy system to make sure they’re not alone,” said the principal, adding that there is also an extensive pastoral care system in place throughout the entire school so there is always someone to go to.

Language can also be a problem for some new pupils who have not studied in English before and all three schools have programmes in place to help with language acquisition.

Help is given with English for non-native speakers and with Spanish for students coming in from other parts of the world, explained JamesRiley of Phoenix College Málaga. “Being a small school, we’re more like a family, he said. “We have tutors assigned to every student and students are able to see teachers all the time, on a day to day basis.” Students are invited to taster days to see whether a sixth form college, which gives young people more independence than a traditional school, is for them.

High achievers - special needs

The three experts discussed how their schools made sure they were able to give the right level of attention to pupils with a range of abilities, from very high achievers to those with special needs.

Andrew Atkinson, principal at Laude San Pedro InternationalCollege, said that better attainment tests meant that teachers were able to assess the potential of students in classes where there is a wide range of academic abilities. “We have a lot of English as an additional language [EAL] learners at the school and so the important thing is training teachers well, to make sure that they take all learners with them regardless of their different levels of English,” he said. He added that the school has a strong special educational needs department that can provide one-to-one interventions when needed.

Meanwhile at the top end, when children are taking official exams the school acts strategically and “looks at tailored interventions to boost their grades so they can get to where they want to be when they graduate” added the principal of Laude San Pedro.

Similarly, The BritishSchool of Málaga offers support to both high achievers and those needing extra help. “Part of the beauty of the British national curriculum is the whole idea of personalised learning,” said the principal. “For high achievers we offer all sorts of opportunities,” he said, explaining that these range from giving them different, more complex work in the classroom to offering clubs to extend their knowledge. “We also have a support department for those with additional learning needs, for example someone with dyslexia might have one-to-one lessons or in small groups with a specialist to help them along. So in a sense the support for high and low achievers is very similar,” added Rumistrzewicz.

In the case of Phoenix College Málaga, co-director James Riley pointed out one of the foundations of teacher training is that “education is for everyone”. He said: “Sometimes we find that students may not have done so well at GCSE and then suddenly through the different approach and teaching styles here, they have blossomed and found that information has clicked. With the small class sizes, teachers are able to give that extra support to the students.”

Independent learning

Both The British School of Málaga and Laude San Pedro International College have classes of very young children in the Early Years Foundation Stage. The principals explain that free flow teaching styles are used, providing independence to move between indoors and outdoors and make other choices. Education then becomes gradually more formalised. “We continue free flow in years 1 and 2 and further up the school there is still an element of free flow in the sense that students are encouraged to look things up, to try something new,” said Stefan Rumistrzewicz.

“The early years are the most important in any child’s education as without those foundations you’re not going to get anywhere, but whether they can continue with those skills depends on us and the education we provide,” added the British School of Málaga Principal.

Meanwhile James Riley explained how the independent, flexible learning approach continues at the sixth form college. Research studies and field work help prepare the students for university, he said, adding that the science teachers at Phoenix College “believe passionately that the students should learn through experiments”.

Dealing with bullying

When talking about student well-being, the issue of bullying inevitably comes up, especially in its 21st-century form, linked to mobile phones and social media.

“A constant challenge for any head teacher and senior leaders in a school is how we manage the digital environment when it comes to bullying,” said Andrew Atkinson of Laude San Pedro. “ISP schools have anti-bullying protocols based on Spanish law and we also have our internal policies about nipping things in the bud,” said the principal. “Students are aware they can come forward to our safeguarding staff if they’re feeling threatened. The digital environment is where it is hidden; we encourage parents to monitor use of digital devices,” said Atkinson.

“The digital environment is always a danger and the important thing is educating students and educating parents. Parents are blissfully unaware sometimes about what their children are up to, especially in those early teens,” agreed Stefan Rumistrzewicz.

“When we find [bullying], even if it doesn’t take place inside school, when it’s between our students we confront it,” said Atkinson. “As schools, we’re trained to respond to these things effectively. Parents are appreciative when we resolve issues quickly.”

“I’m not sure mobile-free schools are the answer; I think it’s about educating children about when to use it and to make them realise that what they write online is the same as saying it out loud; they think it’s not as serious,” the Laude principal said.

James Riley of Phoenix College Málaga agreed that educating parents, students and teachers about the use of mobile devices and technology is essential. When there are issues, he said, “we try to respond quickly and effectively, talking to students and parents”. “Because we’re a small school it does come to us quite quickly and it’s evident to us, so we make sure our doors are always open so students can talk about any problems going on.”

Riley also pointed out the importance of students understanding the emotional harm they can cause to others through what they write on social media. Phoenix College’s PSC (Personal, Social and Cultural) programme helps with this, he added.

Parents’ participation

The extent to which parents take part in school life varies according to the age group.

In the case of very young children, the principal of Laude San Pedro said parents are encouraged to get involved in their child’s learning and one way is to drop into the classroom with the child in the morning, sit with them for a few minutes and chat to the teacher. “It works really well,” he said, adding that it is harder to get parents involved at secondary level.

In terms of parents doing things together as a community, the Laude principal highlighted the parents association. “They just add positive things to the school,” he said, listing activities, such as bake sales and social events.

Similarly, Stefan Rumistrzewicz said that at The BritishSchool of Málaga parental involvement is part of the school’s motto ‘Growing our future together’ and parents organise charity and social events. “Parents come from all over the world so it’s good for them to meet each other,” he said.

At Phoenix College Málaga, doors are always open, explained James Riley, saying that parents are always able to get in touch and speak to teachers.

Class sizes

The three experts agreed on the importance of students getting the attention they need, which is provided by the smaller classes, especially at more specialist A level. However the quality of the teaching is just as, if not more, important.

“The important thing is training of teachers - how they manage the differentiation and support all the students, irrespective of class size, so it doesn’t affect academic achievement,” said the principal at The BritishSchool of Málaga, where no class has more than 25 students and A level classes have a maximum of 12 or 13.

“We have one adult for every nine children and one teacher for every 12 children across the school,” said the principal of Laude San Pedro, pointing out, though, that academic achievement depends more on how they are taught.

“The teachers need to enthuse the students and get them interested in the subjects,” said James Riley of Phoenix College Málaga. “We’re privileged as we have very small class sizes, but it’s the teaching and education that is fundamental.”

Values and relationships

To conclude the discussion, Stefan Rumistrzewicz stressed the core values that run through the British School of Málaga: “We try to make sure that students leave with creativity, aspiration, resilience and empathy as they go into the world.”

James Riley encouraged parents and students to consider the sixth form college option for A levels offered by Phoenix College Málaga. “The difference is that we are run and owned by teachers who have lived in Malaga for a number of years and invested in the region, who enjoy education and want to get the best out of our students.”

Andrew Atkinson of Laude San Pedro concluded that “successful schools are those that, apart from the academic side, get the relationships right”, between students, teachers and parents.

“Managing relationships is not an easy task in an international environment with changing families, but it’s a fun challenge,” he said.

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