Relocation to SpainEducation in Spain

December 5, 20200

A Comprehensive Guide About the Education System and International Schools

The Spanish education system has its own peculiarities when it comes to the age of admission and the overall organization of school years. This guide covers all you need to know about the overall education system, with insights into international schools, as well as public and private schools in Spain.

For ex-pats with children, finding the best schools and higher education institutions is a major decision. On the one hand, you want your child to immediately understand the language in which the material is taught and not fall behind on schoolwork. In this case, enrolling them in one of the many international schools would be the more straightforward choice. On the other hand, children are like sponges, they learn and adapt very fast to new environments. Perhaps giving them the opportunity to experience the local school system could be a positive part of the ex-pat experience.

Keeping in mind that your priority is to provide your children with the best education, we have gathered all the information available on the Spanish education system.

Spain’s school system is overall considered to be very good. Spain has public, private (colegios privados), and semi-private (colegios concertados) schools, that enjoy an overall good reputation in terms of education. Spain is even listed among the top ten countries worldwide with the best international schools. The country’s reputation and education system are highly regarded internationally.

When it comes to early childhood education (ECE), only 30% of children under the age of six attend daycare or preschool in Spain. That is due to the shortage of facilities and staff throughout the country. Most parents have no other choice than to opt for private childcare, which is more expensive than public early childhood education facilities.

The Education System in Spain

Are you relocating to Spain with children and wondering what the education system is like? Public education in Spain is free and compulsory for children between the ages of six and 16. Semi-private, private, and international schools require tuition fees, which are imposed by the school and vary between each institution.

What Documents Are Required to Enroll in School in Spain?

Children typically need to be registered with the local city hall (ayuntamiento). To enrol in school, the following documents are usually required: the child’s ID, proof of residence, a medical certificate, and the parents’ ID and NIE.

Spain’s School Levels and Ages

An interesting fact about education in Spain is the school levels and ages. Primary education is until the 6thgrade, not the 4th like in many other European countries. After that, students do not go on to 7th grade. Instead, they start the 1st grade of secondary education.

Below is an overview of the education system in Spain, by school year and age of admission.

School Level School Year Ages
Early Childhood Education 1st Cycle (Guarderias) 0-3
2nd Cycle (Escuela Infantil) 3-6
Primary Education 1st to 6th Grrade 6-11
Compulsory Secondary Education 1st to 3rd Grade 12-15
4th Grade 16
Bachillerato 1st Bachillerato 17
2nd Bachillerato 18
Higher Education Bachelor’s Degree 18+
Master’s Degree 21+

Spain School Hours and Terms

School hours in Spain depend on the school. Some schools run from 9:00 to 17:00, with a two-hour lunch break (from 13:00 to 15:00), while others run from 9:00 to 14:00.

The school year in Spain usually follows a trimester system: September to December, January to March/April, and March/April to June. Summer holidays are typically from late-June to mid-September. Students usually have school breaks around Christmas and Easter.

What is the Grading System in Spain?

The Spanish education system uses a 10-point grading scale:

  • 9 to 10 is outstanding;
  • 7 to 8.9 is notable;
  • 6 to 6.9 is approved;
  • 3 to 4.9 is insufficient (fail);
  • 0 to 2.9 is very insufficient (fail).

What are the Main Differences Between Public and Private Schools?

In addition to public schools, you can find private schools throughout the country. These can be entirely private (colegios privados) or semi-private (colegios concertados), which are state-subsidized schools that follow the national syllabus.

Many colegios concertados are Catholic schools that typically only teach in Spanish. There is a general perception that education in these schools is of a high standard and the curricula on religions tend to be diverse and not necessarily Catholic-focused. If you wish to apply to a semi-private school, you can do so in the same way you apply for a state school: at your local ayuntamiento.

Independent private schools may operate differently from public schools in terms of school hours, syllabus, or even school breaks. There are many choices of private schools: bilingual English-Spanish schools; Catholic schools; international schools; bachillerato schools; or foreign language schools for French, German, or other languages.

Private schools tend to be more expensive in Madrid and Barcelona, but are overall less expensive than private schools in Northern Europe or North America.

Daycare and Kindergarten

Types of Early Childhood Education in Spain

Neither daycare, kindergarten, nor preschool is mandatory in Spain. If you choose to send your child to one of these schooling levels, the cycle in which they enter will depend on their age.

  • First cycle: from 0 to 3 years old, guarderias (or nurseries)
  • Second cycle: from 3 to 6 years old, jardín de la infancia (or junior and senior kindergarten)

Neither cycle corresponds to a formal type of education. Instead, kindergartens generally act as daycares. In this context, the educational approach focuses on teaching children tools for basic communication, movements, and other important milestones for their stage of development. Children start kindergarten at the age of 3 as part of the second early childhood education cycle in Spain.

First Cycle: Nurseries, or Guarderias

There is a shortage of public childcare centres in Spain­. Only 30% of children are in some type of childcare, and only half of those attend public centres. This forces parents to rely on private centres to care for their children, which are more expensive.

Fees for Daycare and Kindergarten

Out of all EU countries, Spain is known for offering the least financial support to parents for early childhood education. Because of this, the majority of children under three years of age are not in childcare in Spain.

The average school cost of full-day childcare in a private centre is 310 EUR  a month.

Second Cycle: Preschool, or Jardin de la Infancia

When your child reaches three years of age, they can attend preschool (Jardín de la infancia). These centres are free as they are part of the public education system. They can either be specific centres for preschoolers or integrated with primary schools, known as CEIPS (Centros de Educación Infantil y Primaria).

Fees for Preschool

Preschool is free of charge in Spain because it is part of the public education system.

Primary and Secondary Schools

When looking into schools, parents usually want their children to attend the best primary and secondary schools. Spain offers a variety of public, semi-private, and private schools for both elementary and secondary school, and bachillerato. The last two are equal to UK Schools. The school costs vary heavily depending on the type of school, you choose for your child. Public schools are free, whereas private schools have large tuition fees.

Public School Costs in Spain

Both primary and secondary education is mandatory and free in Spain. However, books and other supplies are not subsidized and must be paid for by each student.

Primary School in Spain

Primary school, or primaria, starts at six years of age and goes up to eleven. At this stage, children learn Social Sciences, Math, Language Arts and Physical education, among other basic subjects.

Secondary School in Spain

Secondary education, or ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria), typically starts at 12 years of age. There are compulsory subjects, which are the same for all students, as well as optional subjects chosen by each student. Both the compulsory and optional subjects may vary by autonomous region.

Bachillerato and Vocational Training

Secondary education in Spain is only compulsory for the first three years, meaning after reaching 16 years of age, children are not obligated to go to school anymore. The remaining two years of secondary school is called Bachillerato. Although it is not mandatory, it is free for all students. Most students choose to continue with these two additional school years after the first three years of compulsory secondary education. This type of education covers subjects more in-depth and typically corresponds to the traditional high school level.

After Bachillerato, students can either take the university entrance exam and attend university, or go on to study higher vocational training, known as Formación Profesiónal de Grado Superior. 

International Schools

When looking for the best international schools, Spain is listed among the top ten countries in the world to choose from.

International schools have a reputation of offering higher quality education. These usually allow kids to follow the national curriculum from their home country or an internationally recognized curriculum. Going to an international school in Spain does not mean your child will not integrate with the local language or culture because many Spanish children also attend these schools.

The majority of international schools in Spain use English as the primary teaching language. British schools are the most popular, but you can also find French schools and German schools. Swedish and Italian schools are rare, but can still be found in Madrid and Barcelona. If you are looking into catholic schools, you will find plenty. These range from semi-private, private, and international. 

Tuition Fees for International Schools

You can expect international schools to be more expensive than in other private schools. Overall tuition fees for international schools in major Spanish cities are not much higher than in other popular cities around the world.

Requirements for Admission to International Schools in Spain

International school requirements vary greatly by school. When it comes to the age of admission, it is more common for schools to admit students from three to 18 years old, although some may take in children as young as eight months.

Different documents are required depending on the child’s age. In general, you must provide school reports and other qualifying exams, such as one covering ESL (English as a Second Language), from the last two years to prove your child has sufficient knowledge of the primary language. Your child may also be informally interviewed by the teachers or asked to take an entrance test.

Other requirements and admission rules may differ from school to school, so check with your preferred schools individually. In general, expect to have these documents ready:

  • photocopy of the birth certificate, the family registry, identity card or passport of the child;
  • photocopy of the parents’ identity documents;
  • medical certificate indicating the child has no contagious or infectious diseases;
  • school certificates from previous schools;
  • passport-sized photograph of the child;
  • application form from the school (if applicable).

Higher Education

Some of the best universities in Spain welcome both Spanish and international students. In fact, Spain is among the top destinations for foreign students worldwide.

Higher education in Spain follows the traditional system of a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. or Doctorate. Some courses like Music, Plastic Arts, or Sports may follow a different education system. Bachelor’s degrees may last for three years or four years (180 ECTS or 240 ECTS).

There are at least 80 courses in Spain taught entirely in English, with some 160 courses taught at least 50% in English. You can check a complete list of bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees to see which courses are taught in English.

The Best Universities in Spain for International Students

You can also find a complete list of schools by region in the Ministry of Education’s website.

University Tuition Fees in Spain

How much does it cost for international students to study in Spain? Tuition fees for universities in Spain are set by each regional government, so they may differ depending on where you plan to study.

In general, students in Spain pay relatively low tuition fees in public schools. Undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) tuition fees are around 680 to 1,400 EUR  per year, while the fees for postgraduate(master’s or Ph.D. degrees) are typically between 1,350 to 1,500 EUR  per year.

Tuitions fees for private universities are higher. Bachelor’s courses in private universities cost between 5,000 and 12,000 EUR. Master’s and Ph.D. degrees vary from 1,320 to 2,160 EUR a year. These fees apply to both national and international students.

Language Schools

No matter if you need to improve your Spanish or learn it from scratch, there are many language schools in the country that cater to every level and need. Generally, relocation is the main reason why people want to learn a language. According to Babbel, a language learning tool, Spanish ranks third out of nine languages as one of the easiest languages for English speakers to study.


Language Schools Fees

Language Schools are private and their courses aim to achieve a language proficiency level in accordance with the European Standards. It is not uncommon to find courses named Spanish A1 or Spanish B2.

The number of hours of each course varies, depending on the proficiency level that has to be met at the end of the course.

Prices tend to range from 160 EUR  per Week for a 5 to 11 weeks course, to 640 EUR  for an intensive four-week programme.

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