Education in Spain

Education in Spain: State or private schools?

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Many expat parents in Spain struggle to choose between Spanish state schools, private schools or private international schools in Spain.

When looking at education in Spain, one problem many expat parents wrestle with is whether to enrol their children in a Spanish state school or one of the many options of private schools in Spain. Which Spanish education system should you choose?

Choosing a school in Spain

School is mandatory in Spain for children between the ages of six and 16. But should parents need to hand their children over earlier, there are nursery schools for children from as young as nine months, and most children attend preschool between the ages of three and six.

The first choice to make is whether you want your child to go to a Spanish state school or a private school, which includes bilingual and international schools. Figures show that the majority of expats send their children to state schools in Spain, an experience that allows the child to integrate fully in local life and (depending on how young they are when they start) be speaking the language fluently within a year.

But immersing a child in a foreign language from day one may put pressure on them, beyond all the ordinary strains associated with starting a new school. The difficulty increases as a child gets older, and the education level more difficult.

In contrast, an international school enables your child to ease their way into school in a foreign country yet in familiar surroundings, with smaller classes taught in their language. But their level of Spanish may not be any better than if they had studied it as a second language back home, and they may integrate less into Spanish culture.

State schools in Spain

Spain's public schools have improved considerably in past years and the qualifications gained are valid if your child wants to study at a university elsewhere, such as the UK. However, in areas with large foreign communities such as the Costa del Sol, there can be a problem of foreign pupils flooding schools (in Andalucia, the number of foreign pupils in Spanish schools quadrupled between 1997 and 2001). The result is disrupted classes, inadequate teaching and worse exam results as teachers are unable to deal with so many non-Spanish speaking pupils.

Bear in mind, too, that if you send your child to a public school in Barcelona, most teaching will be in Catalan, and in the Valencia province, a proportion of classes may be in Valencian. The same can apply to Galicia and the Basque country, where some schools may opt to teach in Gallego or Basque (respectively).

Another important thing to note is that the schools won’t be bilingual. You child will be completely taught in Spanish (or a regional language), with the exception of an English class as a second language for a few hours a week.

While the state school system in Spain has vastly improved, schools may still not be up to par with some private institutions and classes tend to be larger in the state system (up to around 30 children). However, that does not mean they aren’t any good. On the plus side, as they are non-fee paying, they are also considerably cheaper than private schools. Parents only have to pay for school supplies, books (although they might be expensive), extra curricular activities (such as sport, music and art ), or a small yearly fee (be sure to enquire about this as there are no set prices).

Since schooling is compulsory, within the state school system a lot more accommodations are made for non-Spanish speakers. For example, your child could be placed in a special, low enrolment classroom where he or she is then taught Spanish for non-native speakers.

Thus state schools can considerably aid a child's leanguage learning, however, parents should note that complete immersion may not be for everyone, especially if the child is a lot older. A student will be made to repeat a year of school if they do not pass the standardised tests that are required at the end of every year.

There are no restrictions for foreign pupils to attend Spanish state schools. The first step is to register at your local town hall to get the document known as the empadronamiento, which shows you are a registered residence in that area. Check what your region's exact requirements are, but you will generally need to take originals and photocopies of your passport, proof of address (utility bills etc.) and a rental contract or deed.

If you do choose to enrol your child in a public school get ready for a long and arduous trip into Spanish bureaucracy. You or your child may be required to:

  • be interviewed by the school.
  • provide a copy of your child’s convalidation record (the equivalent of an academic transcript). You’ll need to start this process before you leave your home country. Call the school well in advance to find out exactly what you need because it may differ or change over time, and consult the Spanish consulate or embassy in your country for details on the process;
  • take a Spanish proficiency exam at the school.
  • provide a birth certificate, passport, immunisation records, proof of residence, and proof of convalidation.
  • ensure your child is enrolled in the right district, close enough to where you live.
Parents usually need to register their children for the September intake between February and May, usually via the local town hall otherwise directly at the school.  

Private schools in Spain

There are many varieties of Spanish private schools, including those which teach entirely in Spanish and are subsidised by the state if they have a certain percentage of Spanish students (around a quarter). Others are bilingual schools (also sometimes state-subsidised), or indepedent international schools which place a strong emphasis on English or another native language. Many private schools are day Catholic schools and co-educational, with classes from Monday to Friday.

Besides language, the curriculum also differs depending on the private school. Subsidised private schools must follow the Spanish syllabus (leading to the Spanish bachillerato certificate), while an independent international school may follow the British (GCSE, A-levels, etc.) or American systems, or another country's curriculum.

Fees are generally lower than private schools in the UK and US. Schools in Madrid and Barcelona tend to be the most expensive. Fees vary greatly, but as an example, fees at subsidised Spanish schools can start from around EUR 700 a year, whereas fees at independent foreign schools can range from around EUR 4,000–6,000 a year to more than EUR 8,000 a year at senior schools. This is besides uniform fees and other fees that may pop up, such as school supplies or trips.

In the Spanish private school system, there have been complaints that the institutions are not as accommodating of non-Spanish speakers, so check what provisions are made for children who need to learn Spanish.

In international private schools you’ll tend to find a more bilingual education process or an English-language based education, although the extent to which differs from school to school. One of the major problems of these international schools is that children may miss out on the authentic Spanish experience and may leave without ever fully grasping the language or the culture.

If this is important to you, it is important to research: What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects? Are intensive English or Spanish lessons provided for children who don’t meet the required standard? 

International private schools in Spain


Address: Apto. 80, 28080 Madrid
Tel (34) 91 740 1900

Prado de Somosaguas,
C/ Solano, 3, 5, 7,
Pozuelo de Alarcón,
28223 Madrid
Telephone +34 91 337 3612
Fax +34 91 337 3634

Calle La Manda 47
Camarma de Esteruelas
(Madrid) Spain
Telephone 34 91 886 5003
Fax: 34 91 886 6419


Nursery and Infants School
Pso de la Habana, 204
28036 Madrid
Tel. 91 359 06 21
Fax: 91 359 35 21

Junior and Secondary School
C/ Azulinas, 8
28036 Madrid
Tel. 91 359 99 13
Fax. 91 359 35 21

C/Vereda Norte, 3
28109 La Moraleja,
Phone: (34) 91 650 2398
Fax: (34) 91 650 1035

Primary School
Rosa Jardón, 3 28016, Madrid

Secondary School
Serrano Galvache, 13, 28033, Madrid
Tel.: (34) 91 302 3080
(34) 91 302 4473
Fax: (34) 91.302.66.53

RUNNYMEDE COLLEGE (primary and secondary school)
Calle Salvia 30
28109 La Moraleja
Voice: (+34) 916 508 302


Carrer dels Cavallers, 31-33 Pedralbes. 08034 Barcelona
Tel: 93 203 54 57 - 93 204 15 79
Fax:  93 280 50 67

Calle Ginesta, 26
08860 Castelldefels,
Barcelona, Spain.
Tel: 93 665 15 84
Fax: 93 664 14 44

C/ Jaume Balmes 7
08950 Esplugues De Llobregat, Spain
Tel: 34 934 733 430

Martorell i Peña, 9 - 08017
 Barcelona, Spain –
Tel: 34 93 434 23 80

Sant Pere Claver 12-18
08017 Barcelona
Tel: (+34) 932.524.020 / (+34) 932.524.021
Fax: (+34) 932.524.022

Other locations

Juan de Saridakis 64,
Palma de Mallorca
Phone. 971 401 011
Fax: 971 400 513

Autovía del Mediterráneo, salida 1B
Carretera de Barcelona, s/n
46530 Puçol (Valencia)
Phone: 96 142 4500
Fax : 96 142 09 30

ES - 48080402, Soparda Bidea 10, 48640 Berango, Vizcaya
Tel: (+34) 94 668 0860/61
Fax: (+34) 94 668 0452

Calle Cabo Mateu Coch, 17
07015 San Agustin,
Palma de Mallorca,
Tel: (34) 971 40 31 61
Fax: (34) 971 70 03 19

Calle Jose Costa Ferrer Nº5 
Marivent 07015
Palma de Mallorca
Telephone: 971401679
Fax: 971401762

Carretera de los Hoyos, km 1.7
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Telephone: 928 430 023

Crta. Tafira a Marzagán s/n,
El Sabinal,
35017 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Tel: (34) 928 351167
Fax: (34) 928 351065

Calle Mar de Azor 3, El Hornillo,
35100 San Bartolomé de Tirajana,
Gran Canaria.
Tel: (34) 928 142494

Avda Dr. Peset, 4
La Eliana, Valencia
Tel: 962 740 272
Fax: 962 744 150

Av. Ricardo Elías Aparicio 240. La Molina
Phone: (511) 479-0460
Fax: (511) 479-0430

Apdo. 239
30850 Totana, Murcia
Tel.: 34 968 424386
Fax: 34 968 424902



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Updated 2015


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3 Comments To This Article

  • robin posted:

    on 6th March 2014, 00:39:54 - Reply

    Hi Rachel - I cant help but am researching the same thing...loooking to move to gran canaria or fuerteventura, got a nearly 8 year old daughter who has bit of holiday spanish / familiarity with the language from bolivian nanny but not much more. Can i send her to a state school in the canarias or will that just be a nightmare? She's v bright and likes to learn, but social interactions are important at this age.

    Also, trying to figure out where the best state or british schools are in GC and Fuerteventura. Any ideas?

    Hope your relocation is going well/1

  • Nuria posted:

    on 24th February 2014, 08:37:55 - Reply

    EL mejor colegio bilingüe en Madrid es el colegio Brains.
  • Rachel mercer posted:

    on 2nd September 2013, 11:58:36 - Reply

    Hi there in moving to gran canaria with my partner and our soon to be 8 year old daughter.. We are struggling with what state schools in the south are best do you have any tips please? She is attending a catholic primary school in the UK at the moment and learns Spanish there once a week she is doing really well I am going to put us both in an extra Spanish class aswel ASAP.. Any help would be appreciated
    Thanx : )