The eduation system in Spain explained

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If you are moving to Spain as a family, you might be wondering about one of the most important aspects – the education system. Understanding the schooling system in Spain can be a stressful and daunting task, with lots to plan and the thoughts and feelings of your child to consider.

That’s why the Euro Weekly News has put together this explainer about the education system in Spain, including fees, financial help and support for expats, and even homeschooling.

Enrolling your child or children in a new school can be really stressful, particularly when making sure your little one is happy is the most important thing. You will need to consider the location of the school, and the number of pupils, in addition to making sure the school has a great reputation.

Our explainer article will tell you everything you need to know about the education system in Spain to make your decision that little bit easier.

Education in Spain

The great news is that education in Spain is of very high quality, scoring over the OECD average in maths, literacy, and sciences.

The Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (Ministerio de Educacion y Formacion Profesional) governs schools in Spain. They do, however, collaborate more closely with the local autonomous communities (comunidades autonomas), who distribute financing, advise on curricula, and supervise education standards.

Spanish schools are classified into three types – public (colegios publicos), private (colegios concertados), and privately-funded (colegios privados), which include international schools.

Spain’s educational system is divided into four stages:

  • Infant school (escuela infantil) for children aged 0 to 6.
  • Primary education (educacion primaria) is for children aged 6 to 12.
  • Secondary compulsory schooling (educacion secundaria obligatoria) for ages 12 to 16.
  • Ages 15 to 18 for university preparation (bachillerato) or vocational training (formacion professional).

School is only obligatory in Spain between the ages of 6 and 16 (educacion primaria and ESO). Following that, students might opt to continue their education at a university or a vocational school. In recent years, Spanish authorities have improved vocational courses in order to alleviate the country’s high unemployment rate.

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Preschool education in Spain

Although preschool education is not mandatory in Spain, nearly all children in Spain attend it.

Preschool is divided into two ‘cycles’ – the first cycle (primer ciclo) for children under the age of three, and the second cycle (segundo ciclo) for children between the ages of three and five. The first cycle is taught in nursery schools (guarderas), whereas the second cycle is taught in preschools (escuelas infantiles). These schools are overseen by the educational department of the local autonomous community.

In Spain, children as young as a few months old can attend guarderias. These primarily serve as a low-cost alternative to childcare in the daytime. Families with low incomes or children may also be eligible for financial assistance with guarderia enrollment. However, after the age of three, attendance at public preschools is free.

Primary school education in Spain

In Spain, primary education begins at the age of six and continues until the age of 12. The local government is in charge of primary education and works to guarantee that every child has a free seat in a primary school in their locality.

Children are subjected to formative and summative evaluations in school in order to measure their progress. Parents receive monthly updates and, at the end of the year, they receive a record that details their child’s performance in each subject.

Children complete a maths and language evaluation at the end of their third year, as well as evaluations in science and technology at the end of their sixth year. Years can be repeated, but only once at each stage and only when there are no other options.

Public primary schools

Although public primary schools in Spain are free to attend, parents may still be required to pay for books and other materials needed for learning. Schools have a lot of leeway in how they teach the curriculum, so it’s a good idea to look into the statistics of the local schools you’re interested in.

Natural sciences, social sciences, Spanish literature and language, mathematics, and a first foreign language are required in all primary schools in Spain. At least half of the teaching time is devoted to these main subjects, allowing time for other subjects such as second languages like Galician, Catalan, Basque, or Valencian. While the various autonomous communities can provide guidance, schools and teachers typically make their own judgements on teaching techniques.

Parents can pick which school their child attends, but only to a certain extent. Children typically attend the school closest to their home, however, when schools are full, extra spots are assigned using a points-based system. This takes into account any siblings who currently attend the school, the distance from the child’s home or parents’ employment, the family’s finances, and any disabilities the child may have.

Private primary schools

Most children in Spain go to public schools, however, around 32 per cent will attend a private or semi-private school. Private schools will charge a fee for each child, and this amount will vary depending on the type of school and the child’s age.

The types of private schools in Spain include:

  • Colegios concertados – These are partially sponsored by the Spanish government and must adhere to the requirements set by the Spanish authorities. A minimum of 25 per cent of the student body must be Spanish. Before registering, double-check to see whether there is a charge.
  • Colegios privados – These wholly private schools are entirely funded by fees. Some charge roughly €300 every year, others charge €10,000 or €30,000 if the child is boarding. Some institutions provide alternate courses, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB).
  • Montessori, Waldorf-Steiner, and Reggio Emilia schools that provide alternative teaching techniques.
  • Religious international schools that are predominantly Christian, although some are Jewish as well.
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Secondary education and schools in Spain

In Spain, secondary education is divided into two levels – Educacion Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO) and Bachillerato (or professional training). ESO is compulsory.

Compulsory secondary education (ESO)

All children in Spain must attend school until the age of 16. Most children between the ages of 12 and 16 attend an instituto, which is a secondary school.

The four required secondary years (cursos) are separated into two phases (ciclos) – the first through third curso and the fourth curso. Students can repeat two years in the first ciclo, but they can only repeat the fourth year if they have not repeated any of the previous years.

Students will get a certificate at the end of the compulsory stage confirming that they have completed lower secondary school (Titulo de Graduado en Educacion Secundaria Obligatoria). If students do not pass their courses, they will receive a report detailing how long they have studied as well as their scores for each topic.

Public secondary schools

Although public secondary education in Spain is free of charge, students may be required to pay for textbooks and other instructional materials. Secondary education in Spain doesn’t rank as highly as primary education, however, the pass rate for upper secondary education has imporoved recently.

Students at public secondary schools learn fundamental subjects such as mathematics, science, Spanish, and a first foreign language, as well as a variety of additional specialised and elective disciplines. Business, culture, music, religion or ethics, physical education, and a second foreign language are examples. Schools in territories of Spain with a co-official language, such as Catalonia, Galicia, Valencia, and the Basque Country, may also teach or offer it as an optional subject.

In Spain, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MEFP) establishes the basic curriculum, which is then completed by regional educational authorities. Each school may then adjust it to match the requirements of its students, and instructors can choose how to teach it.

Private secondary schools

In addition to having solely private schools, Spain has a variety of other schools, including the following:

  • Colegios concertados: These state-subsidised schools follow the same curriculum as public schools and must fulfil the same criteria and inspections.
  • International schools – If you are only in Spain for a short period, it may be worthwhile to check out the international schools in your area. There are bilingual international schools as well as those that educate in the language of another country. In Spain, there are schools that teach English, French, German, Italian, and Swedish.
  • Method schools: If you want your child to experience an alternative style of learning, Montessori, Waldorf-Steiner, and Reggio-Emilia schools are available in Spain. Some schools also provide ESO and the Bachillerato.
  • Religious schools: Catholicism is the main religion in Spain, and 15 per cent of schools are Catholic, accounting for 58 per cent of funded private schools.
  • Boarding schools are an excellent alternative for youngsters who live a long distance away from their preferred school. However, while boarding schools in Spain are of great quality, fees can be very expensive. Boarding spots at foreign schools, for example, may cost more than €30,000 per year.
schools in spain
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International schools in Spain

In Spain, many expats send their children to international schools. These can provide a worldwide education, with certifications such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) gaining international acclaim. Depending on your circumstances, an international school may be a good choice for your child.

There are 281 foreign schools in Spain, spread over 28 cities, with the bulk concentrated in Madrid (56) and Barcelona (47). International schools are popular among expat families with short-term postings in a new country, such as embassy officials and non-governmental organisation workers. Some foreign schools in Spain also provide boarding and special educational needs (SEN) support, which is appealing for many families.

The language is the most noticeable distinction between local and foreign schools in Spain. International schools frequently follow another country’s curriculum, such as that of the UK, the US, or France. English and French are the primary languages in many international schools, however, Spain also has multilingual international schools. These schools provide both Spanish and international students the Spanish curriculum (primary, secondary, and bachillerato). The bachillerato is the academic certification required for students to attend university.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) in Spain

In recent years, the International Baccalaureate (IB) has grown in popularity in Spain. While it is mostly taught in private and foreign institutions, it is increasingly being taught in public and state-subsidised private schools. When applying to universities nowadays, the IB is regarded the same as Spanish high school diplomas and it’s also well-known around the world.

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Graduating in Spain

Students who have completed their Bachillerato are eligible to take the Spanish University Admission Tests (Evaluacion de Acceso a la Universidad – EvAU/EBAU). These tests, known as Selectividad in Spanish, are set by Spanish public universities and are based on Bachillerato topics.

Students who have completed basic vocational training can go to intermediate vocational training and earn a technician certificate. Following that, individuals might pursue further vocational training or the Bachillerato.

Financial help and scholarships

The Ministry of Education in Spain provides a variety of financial assistance to families with children under 18 years of age. This might take the form of direct financial assistance, subsidies for travel and school supplies, or tax breaks.

Families earning less than €12,313 per year, for example, might get €341 per child per year. Birth and adoption benefits are also available for big families or multiple births. Financial assistance is also accessible to single-parent households and parents suffering from chronic diseases and illnesses.

Other direct financial assistance is provided to families with disabled children, and it is determined by the degree of disability. Specific expenditures like fees, transportation, and food are also covered. Children with disabilities, behavioural issues, and autism may be eligible for these services. To apply, children must be over the age of two and have a certificate stating that they require assistance. This is accessible from a Special Needs Centre (Centro de Valoracion y Orientacion de Disabled).

Support for expats

Spain has boosted its support for youngsters learning Spanish as a second language in recent years. Schools may also offer classes in Spanish or the local language in a separate language classroom (Aula Temporal de Adapcion Lingüstica – ATAL) in addition to giving extra help in the classroom. Some schools also encourage and help students to learn their original language outside of school hours.

In addition, the following organisations and activities work to promote bilingual education in Spain:

  • The British Council developed the Bilingual Education Programme (PEB), which promotes bilingual and bicultural schools in Spain.
  • Bachibac – The French and Spanish education ministries work together to assist students in obtaining both the French Baccalaureat and the Spanish Bachillerato.
  • The International Baccalaureate Organization provides assistance to students enrolled in the IB curriculum.
  • Instituto Cames – This institution provides the Portuguese Language and Culture Programme, which teaches Portuguese culture while also providing assistance to students.
  • Arabic Language and Moroccan Culture Programme – established by the Spanish and Moroccan governments, assists students of Moroccan nationality in assimilating into Spanish culture while also teaching Arabic language and Moroccan culture. Spanish students can also use it.

Aside from these programmes, Spain offers a number of organisations that help foreigners learn the language. For example, the Instituto Cervantes promotes and teaches Spanish to individuals of all ages all over the world.

Homeschooling in Spain

You may be considering homeschooling in Spain and, while it is legal, it’s far from straightforward.

The legislation requires all children between the ages of 6 and 16 to attend school and parents who do not send their children to school may face fines from the Ministry of Education. If you are committed to this option, you can contact the Association for Free Education (Asociacion per la liber educación – ALE) for further information.

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Written by

Laura Kemp

Originally from UK, Laura is based in Axarquia and is a writer for the Euro Weekly News covering news and features. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at