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The current system of education in Spain is known as LOE after the Ley Organica de Educación, or Fundamental Law of Education.  State education in Spain is free but only conducted in Spanish and is compulsory from 6 to 16 years of age.

However, this does not seem to present a problem for young children who tend to pick up the language quickly. Attending a Spanish school is one of the best ways of ensuring that both the child, and in most cases, the family, become integrated into the local Spanish community.

It is often a good idea for the family and especially the children to have some Spanish lessons prior to coming to Spain.

In Spain, children must attend the school closest to where they live, so if you decide to live an area full of British ex-pats, you're likely to find plenty of British children in the local school.

In order to get your child into a Spanish school, you will need all the necessary paperwork, proof of residency (usually in the form of proof of address), the child's full birth certificate, passport, photos, and immunization record etc. For specific information, it is best to contact the school directly, or the appropriate town hall.

If the child is older or in the middle of a GSCE or A level course, it may be advisable to consider an International School. Fees for day students are usually cheaper than in the U.K. and you will have the advantage of having your child privately educated. These schools also tend to offer qualifications better known to UK universities. Some schools offer a system of English and Spanish curricula which enables students to be qualified for either Spain or the UK.

Below Higher Education the system be consisting of four levels:

  • Pre-school (Educación Infantil, segundo ciclo) – three years of schooling - 3 to 5 years of age
  • Primary School (Educación Primaria) six years of schooling – 6 to 11 years of age
  • Compulsory Secondary Education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria) four years of schooling – 12 to 15 years of age
  •  Post-Compulsory Schooling (Bachillerato) two years of schooling – 16 to 17 years of age

Children from 3 to 5 years old in Spain have the option of attending the Pre-school stage (infantil or popularly known as pre-escolar), which is non-compulsory and free for all students. It is regarded as an integral part of the education system with infants’ classes at almost every primary school. There are some separate nursery schools (Colegios Infantiles).

Children (whose parents chose that they should) enter pre-school (Educación Infantil) in the autumn of the calendar year in which they turn three years old. Following this pattern, the ages given here as corresponding to the different phases are the ages turned by children in the calendar year in which the academic year begins. Age ranges are inclusive: 3 to 5 years of age is 3 academic years.

Spanish students aged 6 to 15 undergo primary (colegio) and secondary school (instituto) education, which are compulsory and (like the preceding preschool from age 3) free of charge. Successful students are awarded a Secondary Education Certificate, which is necessary to enter the post-compulsory stage of Schooling (principally the Bachillerato) for their University or Vocational (Formación Profesional) Studies. Once students have finished their Bachillerato, they can take their University Entrance Exam (Pruebas de Acceso a la Universidad, popularly called Selectividad) which differs greatly from region to region. The compulsory stage of secondary education is normally referred to by its initials: ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria).


Structured as two cycles of three years each:

  • Nursery or Kindergarten (Jardín de Infancia) (0–2 years of age)
  • Preschool (Pre-escolar) (3–5 years of age)

The second of these two cycles are included in the general state provision of education and, although not compulsory, is followed by nearly all children. The first ‘cycle’, nursery care, is largely privately provided and funded although there are some subsidies.

Primary school

Structured as three 2-year cycles:

  • First Cycle (6-7 years of age)
  • Second Cycle (8-9 years of age)
  • Third Cycle (10-11 years of age)

Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO)

Compulsory Secondary Education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria or ESO) is structured as two cycles of two academic years each (total 4 years):

  • 1st Cycle (12–13 years of age)
  • 2nd Cycle (14–15 years of age)

Upon finishing ESO the student has several options, including:

  • Spanish Baccalaureate (post-compulsory diploma)
  • Vocational Training.
  • Work (it is only possible to get a job from 16 onwards)

Spanish Baccalaureate

The post-compulsory programme offered by Spanish schools is the Spanish Baccalaureate, or Bachillerato. It encompasses grades 11 and 12 and is the normal option for those wishing to go on to university. There is often a substantial increase in the level of pressure and the workload, as this option is the most demanding. Upon completion, it entitles the student to sit the university-entrance exam (selectividad), or to follow higher vocational training.

The Spanish Baccalaureate is made up of two parts: the core subjects, and the specialist part (chosen out of five branches).

The core curriculum is as follows:

  • Spanish Language and Literature: 1st and 2nd years
  • Co-official language (in case of Catalan, Basque and Galician): 1st and 2nd years
  • First foreign language (English, French, German or Italian): 1st and 2nd years
  • Philosophy: 1st and 2nd years
  • Physical Education: Only 1st year
  • Spanish History: Only 2nd year
  • Optional subject (2nd foreign language, psychology, information technology…): 1st and 2nd year
  • Catholic Religion/Religious Studies: Only 1st year (Optional)

The specialist part has up to four subjects (depending on the branch taken).

  • Arts:
    • History of Art
    • Volume (sculpture)
    • Colours (painting)
  • • Nature and Health Sciences:
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Physics, Earth Sciences or Mathematics
  • • Sciences & Engineering:
    • Physics
    • Maths
    • Chemistry or Technical Drawing
  • • Social Sciences:
    • Applied Maths
    • Economics
    • Geography
    • World History (only 1st year)
  • • Humanities:
    • Latin
    • Greek
    • History of Art/World Literature
    • World History (only 1st year)

At undergraduate level, some degrees have their own branch requirements (such as medicine, engineering degrees, law…) and some courses accept students from any branch, such as Language studies, Social Work, Educational Sciences or Tourism.


On satisfactory completion of compulsory secondary education, a student is awarded the ESO diploma (he/she is a Graduate ESO, formerly Graduate Escolar), and is eligible for the different types of post-compulsory schooling.

After completing the Spanish Baccalaureate, the Spanish Baccalaureate diploma is awarded to those who pass every subject.

Students with appropriate qualifications and wishing to enrol in Spanish universities must usually take an entrance exam called PAU (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad or University Entrance Examination), that consists of six tests, one for each subject and a test for each history or philosophy, foreign language (commonly English) and Spanish grammar and literature (Autonomous communities that have a co-official language, have also another test about co-official language grammar and literature), after passing their Bachillerato.

Comparative with British Qualifications

The Spanish School Leaving Certificate (ESO) is equivalent to several GCSE's

The Bachillerato is equivalent to A-levels. Therefore, Spanish students obtaining the appropriate grades required for entrance into universities in Europe, including Britain are not precluded.

Vocational Training

The vocational training is also a common possibility after ESO or after the Spanish Baccalaureate. There are two different types of programmes: Middle Grade Training Cycles (Ciclos Formativos de Grado Medio), which have the ESO diploma as a requirement, and Superior-level Training Cycles (Ciclos Formativos de grado Superior), which have the Spanish Baccalaureate as the principal requirement. After completion of the Superior-level Training Cycle, students are entitled to direct entrance to several related University degrees.

Provision and Costs

Schools in Spain can be divided into 3 categories:

  • State schools (Colegios Publicos)
  • Privately run schools funded by the State (Colegios Concertados)
  • Purely private schools (Colegios Privados)

According to summary data for the year 2008-2009 from the ministry, state schools educated 67.4%, private but state funded schools 26.0%, and purely private schools 6.6% of pupils the preceding year.

All non-university state education is free in Spain, but parents must buy all their children’s books and materials. This, nominally at least, also applies to colegios concertados. Many schools are concertados = state funded up to the end of ESO but are purely private for the bachillerato years. This drop in the fraction of pupils in educacion concertado is matched by increases of approximately equal size in the fraction in both state and purely private education for bachillerato.

There are private schools for all the range of compulsory education. At them, parents must pay a monthly/term/annual fee. Most of these schools are run by religious orders and include single-sex schools.

Schools supply a list of what is required at the start of each school year which includes art and craft materials as well as text and exercise books. Expect to spend a minimum of around ninety pounds (GBP) per child, but in some regions, the autonomous government is gives tokens to exchange them in book shops for free. School uniform is not normally worn in state schools but is usually worn in private schools.

Admissions to Publicly Funded Schools

Article 84 of the governing law defines the principles to be applied in the admission of pupils to publicly funded schools. The details of the implementation of these principles vary from one autonomous region to another.

Comunidad de Madrid

In the Comunity de Madrid there is a largely uniform admissions process for state funded schools, both colegios publicos and colegios concertados. Here the main admissions procedures for pupils wishing to join a school in the autumn are carried out in the spring of the year in question.

Parents can choose the school to which they wish to send their child. It is not uncommon that there be insufficient places in a popular school for all the children for whom places are requested. In such cases places are allocated according to rather strictly defined admissions criteria as defined in Annex IX to the order establishing the process.


The royal decree governing the same process in Extremadura includes admissions criteria structured in a very similar way but differing in the number of points allocated, notably for residence near to the school.

School hours

Primary school hours at present are typically from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., or full-time classes from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., depending on each school, except during June and September when they work mornings only, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. There is a move towards a single session day in primary schools which would bring them in line with secondary schools. To achieve this, each school submits to the education authority a programme of extracurricular activities to be offered in the afternoons, and if approved, the proposal to move to a single session day is put to a vote by the parents for their approval.

Some schools have a dining room and provide lunches, but many do not. Many schools offer the possibility for working parents to take their children as early as 7:00 a.m. and in some cases includes breakfast as well as providing sport or leisure activities. Secondary schools (Instituto de Enseñanza Secundaria or commonly Instituto, or IES) work from 8:30 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. throughout the school year. In both cases, there is a break that normally lasts half an hour, starting at about 11:00 a.m. At some secondary schools there are 2 breaks of 15 minutes. (2009)

School terms

Broadly like the English three term system, but with slightly shorter holidays at Christmas (December 23-January 7) and Easter (one week), and longer in the summer. The English half-term holiday does not exist in Spain, but there are frequent odd days and long weekends relating mainly to religious holidays, and regional and national holidays.

Spanish Baccalaureate Awards

Each year, there are several awards for excellent students:

  • Extraordinary Spanish Baccalaureate Awards: At the end of the Spanish Baccalaureate, students who have an average of more than 87.5%, are entitled to sit for a special examination, where only one out of 30 students who take that examination, gets the Extraordinary Award.
  • National Spanish Baccalaureate Awards: Every student who gets the Extraordinary Award, is entitled to sit another examination, where only 15 students nationally are given the National Award, which includes a 1200€ student grant.

Higher education


The normal duration for University courses is 4 years, except medicine and some others which are 6. University studies have “ECTS credits” as a measure for the lessons, and normally, 60 ECTS are taken each year, so, each course comprises 240 ECTS credits. Passing every subject, and getting the 240 ECTS credits, gives the right to obtaining an academic degree (Grado), architecture or engineering qualification.

Postgraduate courses are Master’s degrees (Máster), and Doctoral degrees (Doctorado). The access is regulated by the university itself, through the Doctorate Commission. It is necessary to have the degree course, architecture or engineering.

Own degrees are not regulated studies leading to an unofficial degree, recognized only by the granting university. These courses have the same structure as the regulated studies.

The universities regulate access to their own degrees, and they fix the academic fees. They can also offer unofficial postgraduate degrees. Spain has many internationally recognized universities.