Education system in Spain
If you're living in Spain, here's a guide to education in Spain to help enrol your child in the Spanish education system.
Understanding the education system in Spain can be a daunting task, and can be made worse by a language barrier. However, you can choose from a range of Spanish and international schools in Spain to enrol your child into the education system in Spain.
Education in Spain for children is compulsory from the ages of six to 16, with primary education (primaria) lasting six years followed by four years of compulsory secondary education (E.S.O.) at the end of which a Certificate of Education is received.
Timings will vary from one region to another and will be affected also by what a child is studying, their level and their particular school. So, the following should be treated as a guideline that needs checking carefully when you investigate a particular school:
• The school year is divided into three terms with a long summer holiday break of almost three months
- Winter term (September to December).
- Spring term (January to Easter).
- Summer term (After Easter to late June).
• The school day for primary schools can vary but is normally from 09.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 17.00.
• For ESO or Bachillerato, the school day is usually from 08.00 – 15.00 or 08.30 – 14.00 and 15.30 - 17.30 (1/2 days a week).
Both private and state primary schools normally look after a child from the beginning to the end of the school day (09.00 until 17.00). However, secondary schools usually do not look after children during the siesta break. This can be a vitally important factor should your child be undergoing secondary education and be unable to return safely and easily to your home. If this is the case then you will have to arrange to collect and drop off your child before and after siesta - which can impose a significant interruption on your weekdays!
Like most countries, there is a wide range of schools in Spain. Here’s a list of type of schools and what they offer:
Primary state schools
• Primary education
Secondary state schools
• E.S.O. – Bachillerato – Ciclos Formativos
• Primary – E.S.O. – Bachillerato
• Primary – E.S.O. - Bachillerato
Sometimes private and semi-private schools offer some Ciclos Formativos
• State primary schools (six years to 12 years)
These are known as escuelas or colegios (although the latter term is applied sometimes to semi-private and private schools that take pupils from primary to Bachillerato/Ciclos Formativo).
Virtually every village of any size will have a primary school together with all towns. These vary considerably in size and sophistication but often provide a strikingly caring and kindly environment for small children. Most will take children from the age of three although there are some exceptions. Children younger than three (preescolar or infantil) are not usually catered for by the state and are looked after only by private kindergartens.
Some state schools in some areas of Spain only teach in the dialect of the given region - as opposed to in Spanish. So, in Catalonia, Galicia, Valencia or the Basque country subjects are taught in respectively Valencian, Gallego, Catalan or Basque. This is not always the case but is something to investigate carefully - as it will mean that your child will be taught in the regional dialect before learning Spanish. That said most children master both the local dialect and Castellano (Spanish) as part of their general schooling.
Entry to a primary school depends upon the catchment area in which you live. So, make sure you find a satisfactory school for your children before buying a property - otherwise you may find that your child is not eligible to go to the school of your preferred choice.
• State secondary schools (12 years to 18 years)
All towns and cities have secondary schools which are generally known as Institutos.
There are excellent state schools and others that are ‘sink’ schools with a proportion (for example) of recently arrived immigrants where Spanish is a second language. This can place considerable stress upon a school (particularly in the big cities) and can result in the normal academic progress of classes being held back. However, the standard of teachers is generally good, the school curriculum impressively rigorous and all state teachers highly qualified.
Like primary schools, some secondary schools teach subjects in the regional dialect rather than in Spanish. This can create problems as it will mean that your child will have to learn two languages simultaneously whilst also undertaking increasingly difficult academic work.
Obviously, you must research secondary schooling with the same rigour that you would apply in the UK or your own country. At the best of times, this can be a difficult process with personal recommendations being the best way of finding out the real truth about a given school. Local estate agents tend to be sensitive to local schools particularly if they have children of their own in the educational system. Indeed, there is probably no better proof than another parent of your own nationality being happy with the local schooling of their own child.
Entry to a secondary school also depends upon the catchment area in which you live.
Secondary education up until Bachillerato/Ciclo Formativo level (see below) is known as E.S.O. So, a child of 13 (who has not failed a year) will be in Second E.S.O. and a child of 15 will be in fourth E.S.O. and so on.
At the age of 16 a child should attain a Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education (Titulo de Graduado en Educación Secundaria) if they have successfully passed (aprobado) his examinations (examen or control). If they have not been successful then they will leave school with a Certificado de Escolarización. If a child has achieved their Titulo de Graduado en Educacion Secundaria then they can decide to:
• Leave school
• Continue their education by studying for the Bachillerato (essential for university)
• Continue to attend their school by taking a vocational course (Ciclo Formativo)
The academically-demanding Bachillerato takes two years and is roughly equivalent to UK ‘A’ Levels although it is considered to be more rigorous and is certainly more highly-regarded. There are several computations of Bachillerato each one of which is biased towards a given area, for example, the arts or the sciences. Some nine subjects are studied with the yearly exam results of each subject aggregated to provide an overall mark up to 10.
So a student on their first year may (across all their subjects) achieve a medium grade of 7.4 and then on the following year a medium grade of 8.2. In this case, their final Bachillerato grading will be a very creditable 7.8 (7.4 + 8.2 = 15.6 ÷ 2 = 7.8).
A pass at Bachillerato will allow a student to take university entrance examinations (Selectivo). However, the overall grade gained at Bachillerato is important and, subject to how well a student does in their Selectivo examinations, will define what they can study at university.
Selectivo is attended after the completion of Bachillerato and is supervised by the state. The student will take 7/8 examinations over three days that mimic their Bachillerato examinations. They will be provided then with an aggregate score up to 10 (like the Bachillerato system). This will be combined with their Bachillerato score to provide the overall university grade - although their school Bachillerato exam results will account for 60 percent of their final aggregate mark and their Selectivo 40 percent.
The vocational courses provided by the Institutos are intended to provide practical training for a working skill such as plumbing, electrical work, hairdressing etc. The vocational courses last four years and result in qualifications universally recognised across Spain. There are two parts to the Ciclos Formativos:
• Grado Medio – this lasts two years and provides a basic level of training.
• Grado Superior – this lasts a further two years and can only be started when a student is 18 years old. If a student passes his Grado Superior he obtains access to the university system. Grado Superior is open also to direct entry from students who have passed their Bachillerato.
State universities and polytechnic universities
There are state universities throughout Spain that provide ‘degree’ (diplomatura) and professional qualifications (licenciatura) and post degree education. Confusingly some universities are called polytechnic universities which can indicate that they are biased towards the sciences. However, this is not always the case and there is no difference in the respective status of either a polytechnic university or university.
Currently, the Spanish system is being harmonised with the rest of Europe. This is likely to result in a system similar to that of the UK with three- to four-year-degrees and 2-year-Master’s qualifications.
Grants are available and are means tested.
Nick Snelling / Expatica
This article is updated by Nick Snelling author of How to Buy Spanish Property and Move to Spain – Safely.
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