Schools in Spain Explained

If you are a family who wants to relocate to Spain, one of the most important decisions you will need to make is where to educate the children.  Whether to choose state run Spanish schooling or one of the many private international schools is a subject much debated by those intending on moving and those already in Spain.  In this post we will go through the different options available to you.

International Schools in Spain

There are essentially two types of international schools in Spain.  There are schools that teach primarily in English and follow the UK curriculum with Spanish taught as a second language and those that teach in English and follow the Spanish educational curriculum.  Under the Spanish curriculum education is compulsory between the ages of 12 and 16.  Between the ages of 16 and 18, students can study the Bachillerato which then gives the opportunity to go to university in Europe and the USA.  Even though schools are called ‘international’, the majority of students are usually Spanish thereby your child will integrate easily and of course learn Spanish very quickly.

Spanish State School System

Although the school timetable, calendar dates and languages studied can vary depending on region, all state run schools in Spain follow the same format and regulations set by the central Ministry of Education.  School is obligatory from 6 to 16 years, however free schooling is provided for children from the age of 3. There are also a limited number of subsidized state nurseries for children ages 4 months and upwards.

Here are the different elements of the Spanish state school system:

Guardería (nursery) 4 months to 3 years  
The majority of Guardería/Nurseries are privately operated, however there are a very limited number of state nurseries too.  It is best not to depend on a state place for nurseries and they are quite difficult to get and are awarded via a means tested points system.


Centro Educación Infantil y Primaria  (CEIP) 
a) Educación Infantil 3 to 6 years :
Although it is not obligatory to attend school at this age, the government will provide your child if required and you are registered (on the pardon) at the town hall.  Places are allocated during a two week application period in March/April.  We have found that most town halls will still find a place for your child outside the application window.  Like the UK, place are awarded on a points system and your first choice of school is not guaranteed.


b) Educación Primaría 6  to12 years :
Education in Spain is compulsory from the age 6.  Again, places are awarded via the points system during after the march/April application period.  All children are guaranteed a place in a local school although there is no guarantee of a place in your first choice school.  The period of primary education is split in to 3 cycles.  Year 1 & 2 – Inicial, Year 3 & 4 – Media and Year 5 & 6 – Superior.  At the end of students’ time in primary education, each child is given a final report (Historial Academico) and copy is sent to secondary school.

Instituto de Educacion Secundaria (IES)
a) Educacion Secundaria Obligatoria ( ESO ) 12 to 16 years :

From the age of 12 to 16 students study to achieve the ‘Graduado Escolar’ which is a globally recognized certificate that demonstrates proficiency in the 6 core subjects plus three optional subjects.  Students are continually evaluated and those who have not reached the required standard in more than two subjects will be required to repeat the year again.  A particular year can only repeated once and a student cannot ‘repeat’ more than two times during their secondary education.

Like primary place allocation, the town hall is obligated to provide a place for every student and places at particular schools  are awarded a points system during the March/April two week window.  Again,  we have found that most town halls are willing to accept students outside the ‘window’ if you are moving to the area.
b)Educacion Secundaria No obligatoria ( Bachillerato ) 16 to 18 years :
Students study for two years to receive ‘Bachiller’ which demonstrates a proficiency in seven of the core subjects plus and additional seven/eight subjects chosen by the student.

Example bachillers (availability can differ depending on the Instituto) :
Art – art, image and design
Performing arts – music and dance
Science and Technology
Humanities and Social Sciences

Evaluation is internal and continuous and the teaching staff decides if each student has reached the required level in all their subjects and has the required maturity to be awarded the bachiller title. Students considered to have not acquired the necessary level or maturity are required to repeat a year. Students who have been awarded the Bachiller can then apply to University by sitting an external entrance exam set by the University board for that region where they are examined in language and literature, a foreign language, history or philosophy and other subjects of their choice.

Through internal and continual evaluation teachers will decide if the student has achieved the required standard in their subjects.  Those have reached the standard will be awarded title of Bachiller.  If a student has not reached the required level they will be required to repeat the year again. Achieving the Bachiller award means the student can then apply to go to University and sit the entrance examination where the student will be examined in the core and the students chosen subjects.

Formación Profesional 16 years upwards
The Formacion Professional is another type of further education with emphasis on vocational study such as catering, design, fashion, IT etc.  Usually some form of extended work experience/placement is made with a relevant company. This form of further education is available to students who have achieved Graduado Escolar  or Bachiller level.

MASA International offer their customers free advice and assistance with school placement as part of our Spanish relocation service.

About Paul Payne

Paul Payne has been working with MASA International since 1998 having lived in Spain full time for several years he is currently based in our UK Head Office. Paul has helped thousands of people find their home in Spain and continues to provide advice and assistance to anyone looking for a property in Spain whether it be for a full-time move or for a holiday home.
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