The education system in Spain: what you need to know

Back to school.

IF you have recently moved to Spain and you are feeling a little confused about schooling for your children, here is some information about the education system in Spain.

In Spain, education is compulsory between the ages of six and 16.

This is the period between Primary (Primaria) (six to 12) and Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO) (from 12 to 16).

Chidlren can also attend nurseries and pre-schools from the ages of 0 to six.

At all levels, there is private and state education.

At the age of 16, students must pass exams to obtain a qualification known as “Graduado en Educacion Secundaria Obligatoria”, which is the equivalent to GCSEs in the UK.

This is required to access two of the options which come next. One of these is Bachillerato, two years in which students take subjects more specific to the type of career they wish to pursue. The options are Arts, Science and Technology, Humanities and Social Sciences and Health and Natural Sciences.

Another is Formacion Profesional, which is vocational training to prepare them for directly entering the job market.

After either of these, further education options include University and higher level Formacion Professonal, amongst others.

The school year

The school year, from Primary to Bachillerato, generally runs from the beginning of September to the end of June. Throughout the holidays, a wide variety of clubs and summer schools (Campamentos) are available. Many schools arrange summer camps to help children catch up for the following term if they need it, or just for fun activities to keep them entertained while their parents are working.

Hours depend on the school and the age of the pupils, with State Primary Schools spending five hours in school Monday to Friday and six to seven hours per day in higher levels.

Most schools also offer Aula Matinal (Breakfast Club) for parents who need to go to work before the official start time. They also offer school lunches and a wide variety of extracurricular activities, meaning that even at primary levels, the school day can last until around 6pm. Many schools also offer transport by bus to and from school for students living beyond a certain radius.

Applying for a place

It is useful to know that the application process for the following academic year (from September) starts the previous March and that schools are assigned based on a points system. This is based on proximity to the home or parents’ workplace, whether the child has siblings in the school, whether a parent works there, and several other factors.

Despite the procedure beginning in March, if you arrive in Spain when the term has already started and wish to enrol your children, head to the nearest school and speak to them about the procedure.

Report cards and books

Also note that results are given at the end of every term, and that in State schools, they are very simple grades, whereas private schools will offer more detailed explanations about how your child is progressing.

From age six (first year of primary –and mandatory- education) in state schools in most regions of Spain, the books are free with what is known as the ‘cheque libro’. You are given this at the end of term and hand it in at your local supplier to get the books. During the first years, the books are kept by the students, as they need to be filled in, but later on, instead of the abovementioned process, the books are handed down from one year to the next within the school.


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Written by

Jennifer Leighfield

Jennifer Leighfield, born in Salisbury, UK; resident in Malaga, Spain since 1989. Degree in Translation and Interpreting in Spanish, French and English from Malaga University (2005), specialising in Crime, Forensic Medicine and Genetics. Published translations include three books by Richard Handscombe. Worked with Euro Weekly News since November 2006. Well-travelled throughout Spain and the rest of the world, fan of Harry Potter and most things ‘geek’.

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