Education system in Spain

Education system in Spain

31st May 2011, Comments10 comments

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.

The law
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.

School timings
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

Semi–private schools
•    Primary – E.S.O. – Bachillerato

Private schools
•    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.

Ciclos Formativos

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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10 Comments To This Article

  • Eva posted:

    on 20th February 2014, 17:33:54 - Reply

    Hi, i was wondering if there was a Spanish equivalent to OFSTED?
  • Natalie posted:

    on 25th March 2014, 14:39:31 - Reply

    The local education board in andalucia comes under junta de andalucia schools need to be registered with the junta and follow the curriculum guidelines. I would imagine that other regions have something similar.
  • Cynthia posted:

    on 31st March 2014, 06:10:02 - Reply

    I wondering is how is Spain's education system work like be specific
  • Walter Rudzinski posted:

    on 4th April 2014, 21:30:54 - Reply

    I enjoyed the article but would like to know how to proceed to find a "sink" school near Malaga for my daughter who will be 13 next January. She does not speak Spanish. My family would like to live in Spain from January to June
  • Natalie posted:

    on 11th April 2014, 04:51:09 - Reply

    What is the average class size at the primary level?
  • Bob posted:

    on 20th May 2014, 20:53:12 - Reply

    What language do the teachers teach in?
  • Mariana Ferreira Albuquerque posted:

    on 15th July 2014, 12:24:06 - Reply

    I am a student who just finished 1º de Bachillerato and heading to 2º de Bachillerato (Going to be 17 years old in a month). I am Portuguese but I came to study to Spain in 2º de Primaria (2nd grade).

    @Eva: There is something similar to OFSTED in Spain. As a student -from what I've seen-, an inspector will come to your class while you and your classmates along with your teacher do a normal class like you normally would; meanwhile the inspector writes down relevant things - not sure of what it is, but I think it's material and students' behaviour.

    @Natalie: It also happens in Catalonia. Not sure of the other Comunidades Autónomas.

    @Cynthia: Do you mean how the system works overall for students or what you need to study to be a teacher ? To be a teacher in Primaria you need to course Magisterio, where you study Psychological Development of children along with basic subjects overall like Maths, Spanish and English since you're dealing with children. Those teachers are called Maestros (Masters). If you want to be a teacher in ESO, Bachillerato or Ciclos Formativos you need to specialize in an area (For example, a Science teacher will most likely be a Biologist, Chemist, etc.). What happened with the renovation of the system in the 80s? was that until then, Primary school was up to 8th grade and not 6th. 8th grade was included in the ESO and that forced the transfer of some teachers with Magisterio title to the ESO. Most of those teachers began working before the education system renovation and can only offer classes to 7th and 8th grade. To be a teacher in University you need to do specialization plus masters if I'm not wrong.

    @Walter: You can go to the Ayuntamiento (Council of Municipality) and ask for Institutos Públicos of the zone. Most Institutos offer free transportation and cantine (lunch only) in case your child doesn't live in the municipality you live at. That will most likely happen between different districts of a same city or between differents towns of a rural area.

    @Natalie: In 6th grade (year 2008-2009 for me), we were only 8 kids in my class. But I live in a rural area (Cerdanya comarca in northern Catalonia, in the border with France). In big cities it will most likely go from 20 children up to 30 and have several classes for the same year, for example 1stA, 1stB, 1stC, etc.

    @Bob: It depends. If you live in an area where Spanish is the only language, like Andalucía, all subjects except the ones about foreign languages (like English) will be given in Spanish. However, in the bilingual areas like Catalonia (Where I live), Galícia or País Basco, all subjects except foreign languages and Spanish will most likely only be given in that second language. Here in Catalonia all subjects are in Catalan except for Spanish and foreign languages that can be (depending on the area, German and Italian tend to only be available at big cities such as Barcelona or Tarragona): English (compulsory only in ESO, Bachillerato and Ciclos Formativos), French, German and Italian (Those last three are optional).
  • Mariana Ferreira Albuquerque posted:

    on 15th July 2014, 12:25:57 - Reply

    @Walter: I meant if your child doesn't study where he/she lives at, sorry for the typo.
  • Tina posted:

    on 15th October 2014, 12:42:25 - Reply

    How many schools in Spanish? ( I mean Primary schools)
  • AG posted:

    on 20th March 2015, 20:26:03 - Reply

    I have many years of experience teaching in the UK and now teach in the Spanish system up to the second year of the Bachillerato here in Madrid. I think it is important to say that the Bachillerato is certainly nothing like as rigorous as the UK A-levels, quite the contrary. The teachers internally assess the students and the curriculum is fact based with virtually no development of skills such as critical thinking. Coming from the UK into the Spanish education system is quite shocking. The pedagogy is about 20 years (some would say 50 years) behind. This becomes very clear when students are asked to do any application or analysis. Don't get me wrong, I love it here and I really enjoy teaching the Spanish children, but there is absolutely no doubt that the education system in Spain is not moving forward in the way it is in the UK. There are no inspections here, teachers elect their own head, teachers never change schools (the labour market is very rigid) and it is common to read from a text book. Having observed numerous lessons delivered by Spanish colleagues, I can honestly say that I have yet to see one that OFSTED would classify as good. If your children are learning well in the UK, I would be cautious about pulling them out to go into the Spanish system, unless they like rote learning in rows. Good luck to all.