BULGARIA – PUBLIC SCHOOL
Expats have children too. How does the public school system work?
We went out to find out how it works. Read more!
You are an expat enjoying living and working in Bulgaria. One day you meet a wonderful partner and you take the next step in your life: to have children. Many congratulations to you! With that big step comes also the responsibility to see about the education of your child or children. In this article we give a brief introduction on the school system in Bulgaria.
We address the public school, the admission system and some insider information for you. We focus a little bit on the public school system, although we will also look at private schools where relevant. The admission system works nationwide, though in areas with many children and limited schools, the admission system is more important for you. The situation in Sofia is especially difficult.
Bulgaria offers education nationwide. Also most rural areas will offer some or all forms of education. Sometimes children will need to travel somewhat, but overall in every area there are schools. Cities offer more education options, but admission is more difficult. It goes without saying that the admission in these rural areas is not as difficult as in populated areas.
Bulgaria has little under 2000 schools; Sofia has a total of 229 schools (2018). Schools range from kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools and included are also private schools. The number of private schools is increasing, parents with more money appreciate the smaller groups, better education, better facilities and more individual attention. Typically classes in private schools have groups up to 10/12 students. Public schools would have groups of up to 25 children, but group sizes (in cities) often exceed 30 children.
Schools have interesting names such as Dream come true, Chicken Cake, Children’s World or Lobster, or at least this is what our translate made of it.
The quality of schools is regulated. Schools follow rules for the basic needs for structure and program. The state spent around 3,5% of the GPD (2017) for education. This is below the EU average. Budgets of schools are limited with an increase in demand for more and better education.
Teachers in public schools earn around BGN 700-800/month. This is above minimum wage, but we all understand this is still peanuts considering group sizes of 30+ children and the responsibilities and tasks a teacher has. Logically this also affects the quality of the educational system.
This does not mean all schools are bad, on the contrary, Bulgaria has some good schools. Or at least rated well by parents. About 150 years ago a man called Vasil Aprilov reformed the Bulgarian school system to its current form. It is difficult to estimate how this school system compares to other countries. Bulgaria’s education system ranks 47th out of 201 countries – in Europe Bulgaria ranks 28th just before Romania, Moldova and Slovakia – in the International Education Database.
As a parent you wish for your child to be safe at school. In many other EU countries schools totally stopped using social media, in Bulgaria this works different. Normally schools offer a consent form for placing pictures with students on social media. We noticed many schools have public Facebook groups and place pictures of students online. You might find a picture of your child on Facebook with the address of the school displayed next to the picture of your child. Call it ignorance or underestimation of possible risks, we feel schools should always avoid any form of unnecessary social media risks. If this is an issue for you: ask the school what the school policy is and set a clear limit to what you find acceptable.
If you live in a populated area the places in schools are simply not enough. Expats often end up placing their child in more expensive private schools simply because they missed the registration for public schools. Therefore, it is advised to register your child the moment your child/baby receives the EIG (social) number. As a parent you do gain immediate access to the school registration and admission system. This provides you with important information on what to think of and what to do. In recent years the communication with the platform has improved significantly. Questions asked are questions answered in a decent time frame.
To make a new parent/child registration click above. The platform is only in Bulgarian, Google (Chrome) translate will get you through it.
The admission to a school in Sofia is guided by a point system. Once registered in the system you fill out your details and you can see how many points you have. Also you can see where you can score extra points. The point criteria consist of 3 chapters. The criteria are designed to protect vulnerable families/situations and stimulate parents to accept schools in their district.
Some points are added based on your input, some points (auto) are based on input of municipal institutions, eg. the school of your second child.
These criteria are for admission to public schools. Once admitted in the school, your child can stay there.
|3||K1. Permanent or present address on the territory of Sofia Municipality of at least one of the parents / guardians /: for permanent address|
|2||OR K1. Permanent or present address on the territory of Sofia Municipality of at least one of the parents / guardians /: for current address|
|2||K2. Permanent or current address in the nursery / garden / school of one of the parents / guardians|
|Max. 4||K3. Working parent (or parenting leave) – 2 points/parent|
|Max. 4||K4. Parent who is a regular student at HS – 2 points/parent|
|1 (auto)||K5. A child who visits a municipal nursery or private creche registered by the WSIS on the territory of Sofia Municipality at least 6 months before the registration|
|1 (auto)||K6. A brother / sister attending a nursery / kindergarten / school where the two children will simultaneously attend the respective nursery / garden / school (not applicable to twin children and children born up to 2 years old)|
|1 (auto)||K7. Twins|
|1 (auto)||K8. Children born up to 2 years old / not applicable to twin children /|
|6||Child with two deceased parents|
|3||Child with one deceased parent|
|3||A child to whom a family member has permanently reduced working capacity over 70%|
|3||Child with an unknown parent or parent with custody|
|3||A child accommodated in a foster family or family of relatives and relatives under Art. 26 of the Child Protection Act, as well as an adopted child|
|3||Child at risk within the meaning of §1, item 6, b. “B” and b. “C” of the additional provisions of the TDCA / §1, item 11, b. “B” and b. “C” of the Child Protection Act|
|2 (auto)||Child who lives in a family / household with three or more children|
|Additional eligibility criteria|
|7||Children with special educational needs / SOP / – up to three children in a group / only for children over 3 years of age who are assessed by the Regional Team for Supporting the Personal Development of Children and Children with Hearing in the Application for DDM № 35 /|
|3||Children with chronic diseases|
On average children score between 8/12 points. Once you are set up, you have access to the score list of the different schools in Sofia and you can see where you rank and how many children applied for that school. Not as a rule, but schools with longer application lists will probably be considered to offer better education. The more points, the higher you rank, the more chance you have on a placement. Usually the top 25 is automatically placed, after that the schools make a selection.
The admission system is an attempt to cope with the many children in overpopulated areas. This cannot go without friction. Some recent examples.
In 2019 parents receive more points for placing children in a school in their district. First not all districts offer all grades, secondly not all schools are equally good. You understand, this new rule sparked a dispute on violations of the rights of a child to receive education of choice. This disadvantage feels unfair to many. The only solution for now: if you wish for your child to be in the school of your choice, make sure to move in that district three years in before your child will attend that school.
In 2017 the staff of the mayor of Sofia came under scrutiny for bypassing the admission system. The director went public and this caused a big scandal. This behavior was fiercely criticized in a school district with 600 children for 150 places. We can only hope this method has since been abandoned.
There are stories of parents paying sums of money to directors to have their child placed outside the admission system. We can neither confirm or deny these rumors.
The education system faces a shortage of teachers in the near future. Around 60% of the teachers will retire in the next 10 years. Estimations are that by 2020 the shortage will reach 10.000 and by 2028 39.000 teachers. With the low salaries and pressure of the job, not many people are eager to take their place. The Ministry of Education is still looking for a solution.
Especially in Sofia single family houses rapidly make way for large apartment buildings. This leads to an obvious increase of residents and most likely these people will also have children. In itself this is good, but we do not see new schools being built or existing schools expanded. Demand for tuition can only increase in these areas and this will certainly cause extra problems once these new buildings are inhabited.
Public schools are subsidized but not for free, parents contribute. Public schools have very limited budgets, and it is amazing what the teachers still manage to do (!). But at the beginning of the school year you may be asked to bring paint or toilet paper. Often you can see the limited funds schools have by buildings in dire need of maintenance or limited availability of learning tools or toys in classrooms. In spite of this, the school programs are always pretty well filled.
The fee for public schools is not much. Think of around BGN 60-80 depending on the school. Private school fees range from BGN 600/month to BGN 1200/month or even more. In both systems a discount is applicable for a second (or more) child in the same school.
For this money you receive basic tuition and 3/4 meals a day. If a school requires traveling, school bus services are offered, possibly for an extra fee. Be aware that buses, roads and bus drivers are not the most reliable, so it does not hurt to let the school know you will be attentive to the quality of your child’s transportation.
Usually schools offer additional activities for students. These activities are not included in the tuition fee. An additional amount can be asked from you. School have discounted prices, so the fees are fair. depending on the grade, there are different activities.
Examples of additional activities:
Depending on your wishes your child can participate for one or all activities. prices range from BGN 20/month to BGN 40/month or incidentally more, eg. for a week skiing in the winter.
All public schools provide meals. The meals are included in the tuition fee. Typically children start with breakfast, a 11 o’clock snack, warm lunch and something bite around 3 o’ clock. Overall the meals are balanced for the age group to address all food nutrition groups. All schools are obliged to display the weekly menu for parents to see. The food is generally good. As an expat you might wish for your child to familiarize also with the foods from your home country. These foods will not be offered at school.
Your children will have a pretty heavy school schedule. Drop of is between 7:30 and 8:30. Pick up is between 15:30 and 18:30. This depends a bit on the school.
The teachers in public schools deserve all our respect. With limited means teachers still manage to present a fairly decent school program to their students.
It is custom in Bulgaria to celebrate the teachers. On special days, for example Women’s day (March 8th) or Christmas, people give flowers (always odd number) or chocolate to the teachers.
In case your child requires special or extra attention for disability or behavior, there are schools, but mainly in larger cities. In such case your GP will most likely advise for a school. Admission and fees may vary. For information we advise to contact the school directly.
Apart from these types of special education, Sofia also has some Montessori schools.
Many countries have international schools in Bulgaria. In Sofia we find already Spanish, French, German, American, Dutch and British schools. Most schools offer programs for all age groups. These schools are private, so fees may surprise you. If you are interested
Once your child comes to the age of 13, your child can do special exams to determine what the strong points and interests of the child are. In the profile choice children will move to schools of interest: learn a trade or profession, economics, languages, art, music, mathematics etc. Especially in Sofia many choices are available. The admission criteria for these schools vary. The exam results are key for admission. Of course if you have a certain school in mind, it is good to talk to the school directly and see to get a training for the exam.
We hope you enjoyed our article Bulgaria: Public School. Hopefully you gathered some information. We might have missed items or otherwise, just let us know so we can improve the information. If you have any questions, just write us or comment on our Facebook page.