The Education System in Spain

Taking children, especially teenagers, away from their environment, friends and school can be a daunting decision for any parent to make. This page provides a little information about the options available, along with a brief comparison of the Spanish and British education systems.

We also list some public and private schools in popular areas of Spain, which are linked to this page from the menu. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please visit us at our forum, where we’d be pleased to help families who intend relocating or are in Spain already. Our forum also provides an opportunity to meet others and discuss education, plus all matters relating to Spain. There’s no charge for this service as we’re not a commercial web site, but as we’ve been publishing articles about education since 2001, we feel that we have a pretty thorough knowledge of the subject!

Choosing a School
International Schools

There is a growing number of international schools in Spain that follow the British curriculum. Fees for day students are usually cheaper than school fees in the U.K. and demand for places can be high. If you and/or your children are intent on returning to the U.K. to live, then choose a school that follows the National Curriculum and offers IGCSE, AS/A Level or the IB.

International schools in Spain that follows a British style of education can optionally belong to the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS), or to the European Council of International Schools (ECIS). There are also international schools that follow other styles of education, e.g. French, German and others, but the language of instruction will usually be in the language of the particular country. Some English speaking private international schools follow the American curriculum, rather than the British one. Whichever style you choose, most international schools are required to teach a small part of the Spanish curriculum in addition to the international one. All schools offering education to children of compulsory school age must be authorised to operate and it is advisable to check this aspect, before deciding upon an international school.

Bilingual Schools

There are a few private schools in Spain with bilingual programmes where children are taught in more than one language. In the state sector in Andalucia, the government recently introduced bilingual programmes into a few public schools, but this is quite unusual in state schools. The European School in Alicante is a bilingual school, so has different language streams. This school was set up mainly to cater for EU staff, but anyone can apply if there are places. Priority does go to children of EU staff, teachers and staff at the school and full fees are payable by anyone not employed by the EU or NATO. An example of a private Spanish bilingual school would be the Colegio Rincon in Rincon De La Victoria in the south of Spain. The British Council provides a Bilingual programme in several state schools in Spain, not in the tourist areas, but in cities and rural areas. 44 state schools participated in what was initially a project operated jointly by the British Council and the Ministry of Education in Spain. In North and North West Spain, a handful of state schools teach the IB programme and one delivers the IB in English. More information from the International Baccaleaureat Organisation.

Spanish Schools

Spanish schools can be state or privately owned. Some private schools are infact subsidised by governments and are called Concertados. Fees are kept low and in some cases there are no tuition fees at this type of school. More often than not, Concertados combine primary and secondary in one school.

Parents aren’t always able to choose a state school as some towns in Spain may have a policy of spreading foreign children between schools, or because there are no available places. Usually, it is best to move within the catchment area of a school, but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee a place at the catchment school. Families who are already living in the area can apply for school places in the Spring before the start of the academic year in September. A points system is applied in the case of there being more applications than places. School places must be found for children of families who arrive during the school year, but the authorities do not have to provide places at the catchment school.

The language of instruction at Spanish private or public schools is usually in Spanish or in a combination of Spanish and if applicable, the co-official language. In the autonomous community of Valencia (Castellon, Valencia, Alicante) there are different programmes from immersion in Valencian to no teaching in this language at all. When considering an area in these regions, it is important to ascertain which language programme is in place at the schools. Catalan is the co-official language of Catalunya and in North West Spain, Galicia and the Basque Country also have a co-official language.

Teachers employed in the state sector (including Concertados) would not necessarily speak English and in any event lessons are not taught in English. If English is taught as a foreign language (which is mostly the case), then there would be an English teacher at the school whose main job is to teach English as a modern foreign language.

The school year runs from about mid September until about the end of June, but dates vary according to age group and region of Spain. There are no half terms as such (except in some British international schools), but there are other holiday days besides Easter and Christmas, which vary according to where one lives in Spain.

There are specialist schools of music, dance and art in the state sector. From the age of 12, entrance is usually selective.

The Spanish Education System
The education system in Spain derives from the LOGSE 1/1970. Under the law, schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16 years. There are 6 years of compulsory primary education and 4 years of compulsory secondary education. Children are usually 12 when they start secondary school, but some would not have reached their 12th birthday when they move up to high school because of having 12th birthdays which fall in the Autumn term. Below the age of 6 years, schooling is optional and provision will depend on what is available in the area where one chooses to live. It is common to send children to school from about the age of 3 years but starting infants school at this age is not compulsory. Although the academic year runs from September until June, the children start compulsory schooling in the September of the calendar year in which they are 6 years old. In England and Wales children whose birthdays fall between September and December are usually the eldest in the class, but in Spain these children could be the youngest. In order to progress from one cycle of education to the next, students in Spanish state schools have to meet teaching and learning objectives, so compulsory schooling could last longer than what is the case in England and Wales where all students progress from one year to the next automatically, although there have been proposals to change this rigidity in England, so that high achieving pupils can progress more quickly than they otherwise would.

A Certificate of Secondary Education is awarded at the end of compulsory secondary education and a student who achieves appropriate grades graduates from compulsory secondary education (ESO) and can apply, depending on subject interest, for a Spanish Bachillerato in one of four subject areas. Th Bachillerato is a national qualification and is different from the IB offered in private and some state schools. Vocational training is also a possibility after ESO. These qualifications replaced the COU and the BUP. Students with appropriate qualifications and wishing to progress to University in Spain must usually take an entrance exam. The School Leaving Certificate is not inferior to a number of GCSE’s. and the Bachillerato is not inferior to ‘A’ levels. Therefore students obtaining the appropriate grades required for entrance into universities in Europe including England are not precluded because they have Spanish qualifications.

Eurydice publishes reports and one in particular gives extensive information about the Spanish curriculum, subjects and how the curriculum has been implemented in the different Autonomous Communities.

School Uniform, Books, Extra Curricular Activities
Parents must pay for books (although free books have been introduced in some areas), materials and any extra-curricular activities. Low income families may or may not be able to get a grant for these, but this depends on the laws in place at the time of making an application. School uniform is not always a pre-requisite. In general, uniform is worn in private schools.

Comparison of systems at 14+
There is not as much external testing in Spanish schools that follow Spain’s national curriculum. Much is still teacher assessed. Students in Spain do not take a number of GCSE’s (unless attending an international school where IGSCE’s can be offered). Instead, a range of subjects is offered, which can lead to the school leaving certificate and graduating from ESO. Graduates of ESO can progress to the one of four academic Bachilleratos, equivalent to 2 ‘A’ levels in the English system. Students who’ve not been successful in graduating from ESO can study for a technical certificate at medium level or (new) for a range of vocational modules. In the state system these courses are taught in Spanish. Training can be organised by the employment service in Spain and there are many private providers of short training courses, either face to face or online, but the language of instruction is usually usually in Spanish (or if applicable, in a regional language).

Students study their optional subjects after completing the First Cycle of secondary (normally 2 years, but can be more due to the possibility of having to repeat a year). In the 2nd Cycle (again, normally 2 years), students are working towards the school leaving qualification and if successful, can progress to a Bachillerato or to a technical qualification in a vocational subject area. In England and Wales, students can progress at 16 after GCSE’s or Applied GCSE’s to AS/A Levels or to combination of AS/A levels and vocational qualifications, or can opt for a vocational course leading to qualifications equivalent to ‘A’ levels. A BTEC National Diploma is an example of a vocational qualification that is offered in a range of subject areas in England and Wales. Students in England without requisite GCSE grades to progress to ‘A’ level (or equivalent level 3 qualifications) study can choose to study for a BTEC qualification, for example, a First Certificate, but in reality, there are plenty of options in England, such as work-based learning or apprenticeships.

The concept of vocational education is comparatively new in Spain. Students who are studying Applied GCSE’s or vocational qualifications at schools or colleges in England may well have a hard job finding an international school that offers the same vocational qualifications in Spain, even though the examining bodies make international versions available. This is because the ‘A’ level is still held in high regard in Spain, particularly by fee paying Spanish parents and is seen as a route to University in England. This thinking is somewhat misguided for those who want to send their children to university in Britain, as there can be just as many places for students who have achieved appropriate grades in the highly respected BTEC National Diploma as there are for those who have achieved at ‘A’ level, and a combination of vocational and academic qualifications can also be acceptable. For further information about entrance to British universities, refer to UCAS, their tariff and individual University web sites for details of their admission requirements, or discuss with others in ourĀ forum.

Students with Spanish qualifications equivalent to A levels at the appropriate grades have the same chance of going to universities in England and Wales as home students. There is usually an entrance test {in Spanish) for admission to Spanish Universities, whereas an entrance test isn’t generally needed for students wishing to study at a British University, unless wishing to study law or medicine. Students with foreign qualifications such as ‘A’ Levels, wishing to study at a Spanish University, can take a different University entrance test (in Spanish), offered by UNED, Spain’s open university.

Specialist schools
In England and Wales there are specialist secondary schools (e.g. Sports Colleges, Language Colleges, etc.), aswell as generalist schools. In Spain there are specialist music, dance and art schools. Some rural areas have state residential (boarding) schools, to facilitate compulsory education in such areas.

Special Needs
Regions in Spain and counties in England and Wales have integration (inclusive learning) policies where possible.

Enrolment and Admission
To apply for a place at an International School or private school, contact the school directly. To apply for a place at a state school in Spain, be aware that each autonomous community will set the procedures each year. For parents and guardians who can’t adhere to the application dates and procedures because they are moving into a new area, then generally application can be made to the school directly at any time during the academic year. For those already living in one of the regions of Spain and who are applying to a school for a place for the first time, there are set dates for applications but these dates vary according to the regulations and orders made annually by each Autonomous Community.

In general, to apply for a place at a Spanish school which is publically funded, you need passports to prove nationality (or D.N.I. if Spanish citizen), the child’s FULL birth certificate and if applicable, other documentation which shows who the parent/s or guardian/s are, marriage papers if relevant, (or The Family Book if Spanish citizen), documentary evidence of domicile in Spain – i.e home address in Spain, or if applicable, work place. In some regions, child’s vaccination certificates. If applicable, evidence of any disability.

Families with teenagers age 15+, intending their children to continue their education in Spain after GCSE’s or equivalent qualification gained outside of Spain, should get in touch with the Spanish Ministry of Education to start the process of having the foreign qualification/s validated against the Spanish equivalent.

Home Education
It is possible to home educate in Spain, although there is resistance in some areas from the authorities.

Online Education
For those staying temporarily in Spain it is possible to study for GCSE’s, AS/A Levels (generally without coursework) online through organisations such as the National Extension College. If you require more information about this, please contact us or leave a message in our forum.