16 Jan Interview with Steven Gallego, Director of The British College of Gavà
The College is part of a network of British Schools in Spain. Can you tell us something about the history and philosophy of this network?
The founders of the group came together sharing many years of experience of ownership and management of various British Schools in Spain. The concept was to form a new, unique and forward thinking group of schools fit for the children of the future. The general director, Mr Howard Thomas, brainstormed the phrase, “Where British Tradition Meets Innovation.” I think that sums up the intentions of the school nicely.
Which curriulum does the college follow?
The school follows the British National Curriculum. There are many ‘International’ schools in Spain following varied programmes; some with dual-programmes that may appear to be ‘British’ schools, though, are not entirely. Walking into our school is like walking into any school in the UK but with the added dimension of an international mix of students, with diversity of language, culture and tradition.
What percentage of the timetable is taught in Spanish and/or Catalan?
We do not teach any subject through Spanish or Catalan as we follow British Curriculum. As we are in Cataluña we do incorporate Spanish and Catalan classes into the timetable though, be it as a foreign language for non-nationals or following the Spanish National Curriculum for nationals. The amount of time varies from just 2 hours a week in the Nursery up to 6 hours in the Secondary School.
What level of English is required for students to be accepted at the school?
This is changing all the time. We measure the level of English of incoming students against the levels we currently have in the class. If the incoming student fits into our ‘range’, we are pleased to accept them. To accept students outside of the current range would compromise quality of lessons for the existing students. Levels of English are getting higher and higher all the time so entry into the school is in turn becoming more difficult! We won’t accept the entry of a student if we cannot meet their personal needs.
At primary level you offer an ‘integrated curriculum’. What does that mean?
Research shows that the way our brains function make it difficult for us to study concepts in isolation. We naturally look for links in order to make sense of the new things we encounter. Thus, learning subjects in isolation is not the most effective way of learning. In our Primary School we attempt to present units of work which incorporate concepts covering multiple subject areas.
Our Year 2 class at present are completing a unit titled ‘Moving Around in the Dark’. Here there are some obvious science links thinking about physics and light. But we go further than that to read related stories and develop pieces of creative writing using the sensation of the dark as a stimulus. It’s amazing what tension can be built this way! Geography is pulled in looking at dark places such as caves in turn bouncing us back to science and habitats. Art is easy – plenty of dark paint! The teacher rolls it all out by turning the classroom into bear’s cave one weekend with the children walking in eager with anticipation on the Monday!
What do the students study in Years 10 and 11?
We are an Edexcel International Examination Centre and deliver GCSEs throughout Years 10 and 11. Some of these are special ‘International GCSEs’ that present questions in language of B1/C2 level in order to make accessible for students from foreign backgrounds. They also take into account our international environment (using Euros instead of Pounds, focussing on international themes instead of purely British).
Do students in Years 11 and 12 study A levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB)?
Completion of GCSEs prepares students nicely for commencing A Levels. A Levels remain the universal means of entry to universities worldwide and as such provide our students with the tools required to maintain a wide choice of Higher Education options. A Levels are quite flexible in so far as you can take as many or as few as you wish. This way we can tailor each student’s programme of study to meet their individual needs and aspirations.
A student wishing to progress to Oxford or Cambridge can study 5 or 6 A Levels here and with a lot of hard work can achieve their dream. Likewise, we are able to cater for students wishing to study in Spain as A Levels can be convalidated to gain a ‘punctuación‘ and enter the Spanish university system.
What percentage of your students go on to study in Universities outside of Spain?
As our school is so young this is not a question we can answer accurately at present. What I can tell you is that almost all of our students have aspirations to progress to university and with varied options we can provide I have found over my 12 years in Spain that we can always guide a student to a really great place to be post-18.
How do you prepare students who want to attend a Spanish University?
We are in constant liaison with our older students with regards to their future studies. This way we can carefully plan their courses to ensure they have the necessary qualifications to move on to the HE place of their choice. In order to enter UNED, the Spanish University entry system, a student first must have a ‘Certificado de ESO‘. This can be achieved by convalidating 5 GCSEs as well as proving that they have passed ‘Lengua Castellana‘, ‘Lengua Catalana‘ and ‘Conocimiento del Medio‘ during the Spanish and Catalan hours we cover weekly. They then move on to complete A Levels which are easily convalidated into a ‘punctuación‘ provided that the necessary grades are achieved.
What services do you offer to ensure each individual pupil achieves his or her potential?
Our school is all about individuals and tailoring programmes to meet their needs. It’s kind of our trademark. The first step is actually during the admissions process when I interview the incoming student and do a little bit of work with them. I never give them an ‘exam’; partly because I think it must be a frightening experience for a student in a place they’ve never been before but partly because I actually find out an awful lot more by taking the time to actually talk to them and work with them.
During the interview I look at levels of reading, writing and maths as well as consider whether the student has any personal needs such as social, emotional or even a possible special equational need. With this information we plan a smooth entry.
We have many different intervention groups in school providing in-class support or withdrawals for students who need boosting in English language, vocabulary and mathematics as well as those who could be classed as ‘Gifted & Talented’ who also receive interventions to push them to achieve their potentials. We have a wonderful educational psychologist who works with many students with needs ranging from dyslexia or autism, to social or emotional needs. Every student is provided with the means to be successful at our school.
What key qualities do you look for in your teachers?
When I am interviewing prospective teachers I think I know whether they will be joining us pretty quickly. Of course I ask many questions related to teaching and learning methodology, though, so long as they come through that for me the most important aspect is what the teacher is like as a person. We strive to provide an engaging and inspiring learning experience here. Every day should be an exciting journey of discovery. The teachers are key. They need to have drive and personality to make it all work. Their enthusiasm and energy in turn energises the students and creates a special ‘buzz’ which visitors pick up on straight away.
Do you have an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or equivalent?
We have two initiatives that could illustrate our approach here. We first have a ‘Parent Helper’ project coordinated by one of our Primary School teachers. Parents are welcome to help in school but first complete an in-house course in order to bring them up to speed with issues such as child protection, staff protection, data protection, (a lot of protection!). But we also talk about teaching and learning methodology.
Second, we have a ‘Parents’ Events Committee’ that meet periodically in order to help organise our biggest community events in school. Good schools will always carry an enthusiasm from parents to contribute. We wanted to harness this in the most positive way. We felt that these community projects were the best way that the helpful parents could help!
What do you believe is the key to the school’s success?
The school sees itself as a success story. Our numbers doubled inside the first year and we have gained a lot of kudos in the local community. The strategy is simple. We make sure we do a fantastic job in school with the students!
No need for flashy billboards for us. We have always believed that if we invest the money into the facilities in school, into more talented members of staff and a wide range of resources, we would then be able to provide an amazing educational experience for the students.
We have really happy students. That’s the key. They enjoy a wonderful time at school and their parents know it. Most of the new students that arrive in our office come in on the back of a recommendation from an existing parent/family.
The British Collge of Gavà
Carrer Josep Lluís Sert, 32, 08850 Gavà, Barcelona