The three language conundrum…

Julie with her Spanish teacher students

Julie with her Spanish teacher students

Jay Hirons, Julie Staley and their team tutor at the kip McGrath Education Centre in Palma, specialising in teaching maths, English, Catalan, Castilian, business studies, and sciences to the bi and trilingual children in Mallorca. They offer classes outside of regular school hours and have established themselves as an important cornerstone of education for many of the island’s children who are studying at state and private schools. Now Kip McGrath has thrown open its doors to other teachers in order to help them to prepare to teach in English as well as Castilian and Catalan.

The Balearic Government created quite a stir in September 2013 when it initiated TIL, the decree which insists that students of the Balearic Islands’ compulsory education are taught in three languages, Catalan, Castilian and English. The intention is that the introduction of English as the third language will help Balearic students to communicate across Europe and will empower them to succeed internationally which although a noble aim is quite a demand to make.

Kip McGrath Mallorca, tutoring, private lessons Teachers went on strike in protest to this compulsory introduction asking how a Government could expect teachers to learn to teach in a third language in such a short time and with no support or training.  That’s a pretty good question and Jay, Julie and Martyn at Kip McGrath decided that it was time to show solidarity with their colleagues and lend a hand.

At the end of last year Kip McGrath launched a language scholarship programme designed specifically for their fellow school teachers in Mallorca, and the results have been fantastic. “We wanted to give back to our community so we deliberately reached out to the schools to offer our help. We didn’t know how we would be received but we are very pleased to say that we are currently educating a dozen educators” said Julie Staley.

The teachers who come from a mixture of primary and secondary schools are extremely dedicated, coming to lessons after their own school days have finished and settling down with the Kip McGrath teachers for language practice. Catalina Peňafor Valcaperros who teaches Contemporary History and History of Art at San Caetano in Palma is adamant that it’s worth the work: “Learning to teach in another language is a lot of work, but we do it because we love our job.”

It’s not as simple as just learning a language either as methodologies have to change with the language. Cristina Pons Anglada who teaches history at Arcangel Sant Rafel brings up a very good point: “Is the goal that the student learns the subject or the language? That’s the question that we have been wrestling with”.  Whereas Joan Ginard who teaches Technology and Physics at Aula Balear thinks that having to learn how to teach in another language is honing his skills. “I think being made to present my lessons in another language has made me a better teacher”.

All of the teachers who are studying with Kip McGrath are making progress. “We are tutoring them to Cambridge English First Certificate level. Some of them are already ready to take the examination and others will take longer to get there. But they are all improving” said Martyn.  And they are full of praise and gratitude for the generosity of the Kip McGrath tutors for committing time and resources to helping them. “It’s important to us that we participate and we know that children who we teach at Kip will also directly benefit from their school teachers have improved levels of English, so everyone wins in the end”, said Jay Hirons.

The process is not a quick or easy one though as Catalina wanted to point out. “Right now I can go to a class with only a piece of chalk. The transition period for me to teach in Spanish to teaching in English is going to be slow and difficult. We don’t even have the text books in the right language yet”.

You can contact them at

Suzie Black, Dave Vegas, Shambhala Foundacion, Photographer Vicki McLeod

 A fresh coat of paint 

Graffitti art in Palma, Shambhala Foundation, photographer, Vicki McLeod

Young people in Majorca face dismal prospects, in fact many of them have moved abroad to be able to start and further their careers. They are seen as the lucky ones by the contemporaries that they leave behind, at least they have the option to look to other countries for opportunities. What about the youth who have not yet passed their final exams or have such poor school records and low self-esteem that a lifetime on the dole and living with their families. With little education and without basic qualifications, opportunities are limited. In despair many youths turn to a life of drugs or crime as they don’t see any other way of earning a living. The realisation of this sad fact struck one woman so profoundly that she decided to do something about it. Suzie Black, who has teenage kids of her own, couldn’t bear to see these young adults with no prospects and set about organising a project to help them.

“I couldn’t stand the idea that these young people would not have the chance to shine,” so a year ago, Suzie decided to create a project which would intervene and support the young people who were struggling in order that they could finish their exams and develop their self-esteem and find their way in life.  So she gathered together certified trainers and teachers, a psychologist, and a martial arts expert and started to offer sessions with a private tutor who took the young people through their lessons and a martial arts teacher, between them they have instilled a sense of determination and confidence which was previously lacking in these young people who society had left out in the cold. She called it the Shambhala Foundation. “I think that not only do we have a responsibility to our youth, we also have a responsibility to protect the island from any further decline”.

But this kind of project isn’t cheap. Suzie admits that she has been on a very steep learning curve in the last year as she has faced head on some real and urgent problems in our society here in Majorca and found apathy and paperwork where she hoped she would find real enthusiasm and help. “I need a committee to help me fundraise, I need people who are able to get together and do events which will attract the kind of sponsors we need. I know that I can get orchestras involved for example but I physically don’t have the time to do that as well as keep the project on the go. I am hoping for some funding from the Spanish government or maybe European, but I’m going for private funding as well. We are a registered charity and every penny that is raised goes directly towards the costs that we incur to help to improve the lives of the youths in the programme. I want to expand it this year to include more people.”

You have to have a vision in order to achieve this sort of dream but you have to be tough as well, and sometimes Suzie has had to face some difficult choices. She won’t let a youth continue in the programme if they aren’t respecting it and she has asked a couple to leave.  As the project has developed so it has become apparent that they needed to move from the original gym they were based out of in Santa Ponsa into Palma which is where Kem Vegas comes in. Kem Vegas (or Dave to his mum) has a sister living here in Majorca and that is how the connection was made. Suzie was introduced to him and an idea emerged that perhaps when he was next over visiting his sister Petrina that he may spend a day with the youths working on some graffiti art for the new gym. And so a plan was hatched and on one (very) sunny Sunday they found themselves in the Can Valero industrial estate with quite a lot of paint.

Vicki McLeod, photographer

Kem for his part grew up in the seventies as graffiti art was emerging as a way to protest and to express oneself. Kem was a very shy young boy and there was something about the anonymity of the process of graffiti art which appealed to him. “I started writing (graffiti) after seeing some skinheads and their drawings. It gave me a kick to see other people appreciate my stuff but they didn’t know who had done it. It felt very powerful to be able to do that”. As he got older and more experienced and grew in confidence he slowly began to take credit for his art and eventually went public. As was the way (and still is) graffiti can also be seen as defacement of private property and more or less all of his friends got into trouble with the police but he managed to stay out of trouble (a fact his mum is probably very happy about).

Vicki McLeod, photographer

It seemed fitting that an older, wiser artist visited Majorca and led a day of painting and art for the Shambhala Foundation. “In reality painting a wall is superficial, it’s just a fresh coat of paint, but the process of painting the wall is more profound than that, it’s about staking your claim on something, saying I was here, and we ARE here, still trying to make a difference. I know the project works, we have had good results with the combination of private tutoring and the discipline of martial arts for the young people”.

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But the project won’t be able to continue or to grow without more people helping Suzie to make the difference. “I need help, I can’t do it all on my own, I’ve managed to keep it going for a year on private funds and lots of coffee, but now I have to get other people involved who want to change lives for the better as well.”

You can email her at

Kem is available for private commissions and can be contacted on


After posting this blog post our friends at IbizaSummerVillas reached out to offer their support in raising awareness about Suzie and Kem and have featured them in their monthly news letter. Cheers! What could YOU do to help out?

Photos and text by Vicki McLeod

The Universal Bookshop in Portals Nous celebrates a milestone.

Universal Bookshop, Portals Nous, Mallorca, Kay Halley

Kay Halley

The Universal Bookshop in Portals Nous has been there for about 40 years. It is a lifeline to many residents and tourists who are avid readers. When it changed hands two years ago none of the locals could have been prepared for the incredible warmth and friendliness of the new owner, Kay Halley. Universal Bookshop, Portals Nous, Mallorca, Kay Halley It’s a testament to Kay’s determination and passion that her little bookshop has been going from strength to strength ever since. Kay’s two year business plan has come to fruition through a lot of hard work and support from her contact with local authors, businesses and friends. It has to be said that you have to work hard and be innovative in the current economic climate  so Kay has increased the stock of study books and children´s fiction and also stocks the latest best sellers. She can guarantee delivery of books by tracking her orders from a major UK supplier; if you are buying a present then you can get it gift wrapped for free and she also now offers cash back through the Lyoness scheme. Universal Bookshop, Portals Nous, Mallorca, Kay Halley Kay has gone to great efforts to reach out into the local community and offer her shop as a place for people to get together. Not only does the bookshop sell books but it also  stocks yarns and knitting equipment which has enable Kay to teach school children how to knit. Kay also encourages local volunteers to get busy with their needles and make blankets for Mediterranea NGO. She is always ready to offer advice and help to get you started if you are feeling crafty. Plus the lending library has developed to include books in German, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch and Danish with a small number in other languages. Children can also borrow books. And she has kept the prices competitive making the cost of borrowing a book around €2.50. Universal Bookshop, Portals Nous, Mallorca, Kay Halley Kay however is not resting on her laurels and plans to expand her work in the community, and add one or two more products to her stock. She recently ran a book fair (at their invitation) in a school in Palma and they have made her a ´Friend´ of the school, which will enable her to work more closely with them and offer a substantial commission which is something she is able to do with organisations. Universal Bookshop, Portals Nous, Mallorca, Kay HalleyA nice gathering of well-wishers joined Kay to celebrate her two year anniversary recently with a lovely reception and a delicious cake.  Kay who really is passionate about passing on skills and knowledge and spreading the love of reading said “Thank you for the amazing support that I have been given since coming here, it means so much to me that it moves me to tears”.  Good luck Kay, and The Universal Bookshop, and here’s to many more celebrations!   You can read about the blanket project here:


Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate this day.
DIY Egg heads! 
Wash out egg shell, let dry, place a water soaked cotton ball in the bottom of the egg, add grass/wheat seat, place in a warm sunny spot! Watch grow and trim the hair!!

Photo from Green Renaissance

Photo from Green Renaissance

Wakey Wakey

Jesus, Mari Carmen and Celia, ready for action

Jesus, Mari Carmen and Celia, ready for action

The island is waking. Can you feel it? We’re coming out of hibernation, the almond blossom is out, the little yellow flowers are springing up in pastures, and the weather is perking up. My events work has started for the year, I’m preparing for networking events, charity fundraisers, International Women’s Day, a brand new comedy club, the Crew Show and that’s just the start. At Mood Beach in Costa D’en Blanes where I do the majority of my events the staff team is back from their winter holidays and the kitchens are open again for Sunday lunch, Menu del Dias and Menu de la Noches.

It all happened on the same day. Mood reopened, world famous cyclists belted up and down the Paseo Maritimo in Palma (every year it’s a really exciting event and doesn’t seem to be promoted properly why aren’t there loads of people there?), and my little girl did us proud in the Pauline Quirke Academy production of Bugsy Malone. She’d been rehearsing for months: learning her lines, singing the same songs over and over again, fretting about her gangster outfit. It was great fun for her to be involved and quite a big commitment from us. Every Saturday morning from last September we’ve been doing the hour long round trip to get her to rehearsals.  The immense feeling of pride that I had as I watched her onstage last Sunday made all the hours we’d put in to make it happen worth it. I like PQA, its main aim is not to produce a bunch of Bonnie Langfords. No, it’s about encouraging presentation skills, team work, listening, concentration and confidence. The teachers at PQA should be delighted with their achievements: organising a show with forty ish kids in it is very much like herding cats. Now try to get the cats to remember to sing and dance. Yep, you get the picture.

Photo by Philip Rogan  Our gangster is the one on the far right.

Photo by Philip Rogan
Our gangster is the one on the far right.

The kids did two shows, and of course I had to go to both shows. I didn’t want her to feel that she was performing on her own. Well, she wasn’t as both performances were packed out. What a thrill for them. I was an emotional wreck by the end of it: too much whooping and teary eye pride-filled moments. The final one being when Gidg was presented with the “Most Improved Student” certificate.  I was a mess.

Tired and proud.

Tired and proud.

The next day was a school day; we all struggled to wake up on time.

What do points mean?




“I’ll do it later. Do I have to? I don’t want to!”

Sound familiar? My daughter and I have been fighting like cats recently. It takes a regular pattern. Saturday afternoon we get in from activities or shopping or whatever other business we have had to do. Lunch is done and then it’s time for the weekly clear up. And door-slamming, roof-raising all-out fight.

Did cavewoman fight with their children about putting their mammoth furs away? Do the tribeswomen from the Amazon have to badger their offspring to put their reeds and beads back in the right place? No, because they didn’t have extra stuff that needed anywhere to be put. They didn’t have eight different versions of the same t-shirt. They didn’t have attachments to pink plastic or a collection of summer clothes which should be put in a bag or given to charity. It’s a high maintenance occupation having too many possessions. And mostly it’s not myself or my husband or even Gidg which are responsible for the incoming and ongoing “Stuff” problem.  At Christmas time when we were visiting our relatives in the UK we had to drag two enormous laundry bags back across the country and on to Easyjet. And they were filled with pink things and miscellaneous stocking fillers and other cack.

So although I want to lose my temper with Gidg about her inability to keep her room tidy, it’s not exactly her fault. But the problem remains, and I refuse to tidy it up for her either. It’s time for her to take on some level of interest in her own surroundings. And hence the rows. That was at least until it was suggested to me by Julie Staley and Jay Hirons, the good people at the Kip McGrath Education Centre in Palma and my friend Pete Branch who is a teacher in Brazil that I use a points system.

“Right then chick, I am going to give you a points for doing things which are helpful. So you can get a point for helping to do the washing up, you will get a point for clearing up your bedroom, and when you have twenty of those points you can have a treat”. Her eyes shone and her brain started ticking. Suddenly my little girl went from being a grumpy tweenie to a motivated strategist. An interesting shift that’s for sure.  We haven’t had a row in two weeks, her bedroom is more or less tidy, I can see the floor anyway, and she’s seeing opportunities to be helpful. She’s not had any points removed for being lippy, but that would be the case.  We’re currently at 17 points, we’re three away from a horse riding lesson. Oh, and that’s another proviso, the points win her experiences, not prizes.



We went “en famille” to our local music school’s piano recitals this week. We went to watch our little girl La Gidg who was playing along with all of the other piano pupils. She was number eight on the programme, eight of forty two. Gidg was feeling quite nervy, despite practicing a lot at home on the piano that Facebook gave us : thanks to a Facebook friend we had our baby grand donated to us three years ago, and then thanks again to other Facebook friends it was transported to our house for free! We have to live up to this; we have a promise to keep. We have been quite strict with her, I have insisted that she learn to play the piano and go to her weekly lessons which she grumbles about constantly, and music isn’t easy to learn, it’s another language really, with all of its rules and regulations. I know, I know: and the pushy parent award goes to…

Gidg managed to get through her piece, more or less. She stumbled over a couple of parts, but she didn’t give up, throw her hands in the air and storm off or cry. So, given that all of those things had happened during home rehearsals over the preceding week we decided to mark this one down as “a win” for the team.

Gidg was in amongst a mixed group of kids and teenagers, some of them also stumbling, and losing their way in the music, and some of them skipping merrily through the lot without a glance at the music or even their fingers, playing all sorts from “I’m a little teapot” to pieces from Swan Lake, and everything in between. Although it was quite tempting to just slip out the back of the auditorium after Gidg had done her bit, we stayed put. It’s not the “done thing” anyway is it? I think it’s important to show the same respect for the other young musicians as they had for Gidg. At least I thought so, unlike some of the other parents who, as soon as their little darling had tickled the ivories were bundled off back into the night. A shame really as there was some serious talent playing that night at the Andratx municipal music school. Yes you read that correctly, our local music school is run by the council. It’s strange isn’t it? The priorities that our local council have: they can’t afford to put traffic calming on the main road in our village, but they can afford to run a music college.

Despite that I’m glad that we have the school, it is fantastic opportunity to be able to study there, and it’s extremely cheap. 20€ a month gets Gidg a thirty minute piano lesson every week. If she can reach the standard of some of the other pupils then it would be amazing, having the ability to play an instrument is a gift that I would hope would stay with her for all of her life and that she may eventually appreciate. As we sat there in the darkened auditorium, with Gidg leaning her head against my shoulder finally enjoying listening to some sensitive, mournful and elegant piano playing I realised that not everything should be taught: some things should be felt to be understood, and that’s just as important as following the rules.

Written by Vicki McLeod 

The true cost of living

Photo by Oliver Neilson, Phoenix Media Mallorca. Cloud PR We’ve been away, back to the UK for Christmas. The trip was okay, we made my parents in law happy because we were with them for the big day. But the weather sucked: floods, storms, more floods.  The trains were packed and delayed. And boy was it expensive. We met up with some old friends who also have kids; they work in the City doing the 9 to 5 (or more like the 8 to 7). In order to afford their lifestyle (okay house in a suburb, childcare for their two kids, a beach holiday every year) they have to take their children to something called a “Breakfast club” at 7am, which means they have to get out of bed at 5am. Then they go to work and do twelve hour days. Their kids are fed breakfast, lunch and dinner by other people, and then they go home and see their parents for an hour before bed. The only time they are together is at the weekend.

Well, we argued to ourselves, it’s not so cheap to live in Mallorca either these days. Did you hear this one? The autonomos charges are going up from between 2% and 20% depending on the size of your business. Or what about this one? That the price of bottle gas is rising again, and rumoured to be going to 23€ a bottle! The Government is clueless, they haven’t done enough to address the economic crisis that we teeter on the brink of. We earn less here than we would if were in the UK. My husband gave up a promising career in banking to move with me to Mallorca, we’d both probably be at a senior level somewhere in some organisation or other toeing the lines, wearing suits rather than jeans, never seeing our child, or each other. But, we counter argued, the lifestyle we have here we couldn’t afford in the UK.

This morning I woke my little girl up at 7.30am, we all had breakfast together in the kitchen then at 8.45am my husband made the ten minute journey to school and dropped her at the gates. Then I had a coffee with my husband before sitting down to work in our home office. I don’t earn the same sort of cash that our friends can scoop up in the UK, even though I probably do a similar amount of hours in albeit a different order (I do more work later into the night than they do, but then I don’t have to get up at 5am every morning), but I have things that money can’t ever buy. I have time with my daughter and my husband, and I do what I love.

So in the end, you have to weigh up what is going to cost you more. “Time is money” but lost time can never be found again, and as my husband is very fond of reminding me, there’s always the lottery.