Education System Spain

State education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte), although the 17 autonomous regions have some responsibility for their own education system (including higher education).

The Law for the Improvement of Education Quality (Ley Orgánica  para la Mejora de la Calidad  Educativa– LOMCE)covers the main points of the education law in Spain which are as follows:

  • school is compulsory and free of charge for all children from age six to age sixteen
  • the system includes levels of education adapted to suit students with special needs
  • all students receive basic vocational training in secondary education
  • religious instruction is available but optional
  • special systems exist for artistic education and language learning

The law also determines that education authorities must promote the integration of foreign pupils and develop specific programmes in mainstream schools for those that do not have a good grasp of the Spanish language. “Bridge” classes provide facilities for students to study Spanish before joining an ordinary class, however all teaching in mainstream schools is delivered in Spanish.

The law is a modification to the original The Law on the Quality of Education (Ley Orgánica de Calidad de la Educación – LOCE). The modification was controversial and although approved in 2013 it wasn’t introduced until 2015.

State and Private Schools

Spain has privately-owned and state schools. Some of the private schools are funded by the state (concertados). Fees in these schools are generally lower than in other private schools. State school education is free, although in some autonomous regions books and materials must be paid for. Once a child enters primary school (primaria), vouchers (bonos) may be available to help pay for books.

Below is a table with English and Spanish translation of the levels and ages of schooling for children.

The School System

Spanish Guarderia Educación Infantil Educación Primaria ESO Bachillerato
English Nursery Pre-School Education Primary Education Compulsory Secondary Education Post-Compulsory Secondary Education
Ages Ages 0-3 Ages 3-6 Ages 6-12 Ages 12-16 Ages 16-18

The early years in the Spanish education system, find out about the pre-school and primary school system…

Infant education  (educación infantil)

Educación infantil refers to the first six non-compulsory years of education which is split into two cycles of three years each. The first cycle is for children up to three and the second cycle, which is free, is for children aged three to six.

Nursery school (guardería)

Nursery school is normally available for children from the age of three months until the child is in their third year.

Guardería are either state run or private, though private facilities are usually more expensive. Guardería fees are paid monthly. Working mothers may be entitled to financial assistance at state run facilities.

Pre-school education (escuela infantil)

Although education for children under the age of six is not compulsory, many parents choose to enroll their children in pre-school when they are three, or are in their third year (a child born in November could start school at age two years and ten months). Children usually stay in pre-school until they are five or six years old.

The aim of early childhood education is to contribute to the physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of a child.

Pre-schools are often located within the same complex as a primary school. Nursery schools are usually separate (although facilities vary greatly depending on the area).

  • For further information from the Spanish Ministry of Education about pre-school education: Click here (in Spanish)

Primary education (educación primaria)

Compulsory primary education begins at the age of six and lasts for six years. There are three two-year cycles. The first cycle (primer ciclo) is for children from age six to eight years of age. During these two years the child is assessed every term and parents are issued with a report. At the end of this cycle a child may need to repeat a year if they have not reached the education level needed to carry on to the next cycle.

The second cycle (segundo ciclo) is for children aged eight to ten years.

The third cycle (tercer ciclo) is for ten to twelve year olds and serves to prepare them for secondary education. A child may be asked to repeat a year if they have not reached the education level needed to carry on to the next cycle.

Children are graded in the following manner:

  • Insuficiente (IN) – Insufficient
  • Suficiente (SU) – Sufficient
  • Bien (BI) – Good
  • Notable (NT) – Very good
  • Sobresaliente (SB) – Outstanding
  • For further information from the Spanish Ministry of Education about primary school evaluations: Click here (in Spanish)

The primary curriculum includes natural and social sciences (conocimiento del medio natural, social y cultural), the Spanish language (Castellano) and literature, an autonomous language and literature if applicable (lengua cooficial), mathematics, physical education, plastic and visual arts, and a foreign language and optional Catholic religion (when a child starts school the parents will be asked whether they want their child to attend religious classes). Another foreign language may be added in the third cycle.

Spanish education for young teens and youths…

Secondary education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria – ESO)Compulsory secondary education (ESO or “instituto“) (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria – ESO) begins at the age of 12 and lasts for four years. It is divided into two cycles, the first for students from age 12 to 14 and the second for students from 14 to 16.

Types of schools providing this education include: Institutos de Educación Secundaria, Colegios Privados and Colegios Concertados. Pupils receive specialised training at ESO and begin their preparation for the baccalaureate or vocational training.

Compulsory subjects include natural and social sciences, history and geography, physical education, plastic and visual arts, Spanish and an autonomous community language (if applicable), a foreign language, literature, mathematics, music and technology.

In the second year of the second cycle, pupils choose two of the following four options: natural and social sciences, music, technology, and plastic and visual arts. The Catholic religion is an optional subject for all four years; non-Catholics may choose study periods instead. A second foreign language can be chosen during the second cycle.

As with primary education, a pupil can be required to repeat a year if they do not meet the required standards at the end of the school year. Children may only repeat the year once.

Once pupils have satisfactorily finished four years of ESO they receive a Secondary Education Certificate. (Graduado en Educación Secundaria). This certificate is necessary for those who want to continue to higher secondary education (Bachillerato) studies or intermediate vocational training.

  • For further information from the Spanish Ministry of Education about secondary school evaluations: Click here (in Spanish)

Higher secondary education (bachillerato or formación profesional)

At the end of compulsory education (usually at age 16) pupils can go on to bachillerato studies or vocational training (formación profesional). Their education can usually continue at the same school they have been attending.

Bachillerato: This certificate is required to gain university entrance. Some of the courses studied are taken by all students, such as Spanish, a foreign language, Spanish history and physical education. However, students can choose to specialise in one of five different branches: arts, natural and health sciences, sciences and engineering, social sciences or humanities. At the end of their studies they receive the Título de Bachillerato if they have succeeded in all subjects.

  • For further information from the Spanish Ministry of Education about the bachillerato: Click here (in Spanish)

Vocational training: Students divide their time between school studies and on-the-job training. Students who successfully complete their vocational training are awarded the Certificado de Técnico in the relevant field. This certificate allows them to work in areas related to their training, to pursue further training or to study for a bachillerato.

Higher education and university

To go on to further education, students must sit an entry exam (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad, more commonly known as Selectividad). Higher education is not compulsory and fees are charged. Costs vary depending on the course taken.

Higher education is provided by public and private institutions known as either facultades universitarias, escuelas tecnicas superiores, escuelas universitarias, institutos universitarios, and other centres, notably the colegios universitarios. In addition to Spanish higher education facilities, there are a number of US and British universities with campuses in Spain.

Spain has international schools following various curricula from well known education systems…

There are a large number of international schools in Spain, each following a particular educational curricula. These include the British GCSE and A-Level examinations, the American high school diploma and college entrance examinations (for example ACT, SAT, achievement tests and AP exams), the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the Spanish Bachillerato. They are all private schools and charge fees for attendance.

Some international schools provide primary education only, while others can cater for all ages including pre-school and nursery age children. In many instances children are taught by nationals from their country of origin.

There are some Spanish private schools that provide a wider choice of languages to study (including English and French).

Private international schools usually follow the school holiday calendar and opening times of schools in their “home country”.

  • For information from the European Council for International Schools (ECIS) on the availability of schools and entrance requirements: Click here

It is advisable to check if a school is recognised by the Spanish Education authorities and whether it belongs to an accredited organisation. Many British schools in Spain belong to the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS) whose members are approved by British School inspectors. Information on international schools is also available from the home Embassies in Spain.

Further Information

The Good Schools Guide International lists, selects and independently reviews top international schools in Spain (and worldwide).

There are numerous language options for children in the Spanish education system…

During public primary education, students develop Spanish (Castellano) language skills and learn the official language of the autonomous community, for example Catalan. Once a child reaches the final year of primary school they begin with the basics of a foreign language, usually English.

During public secondary education another language may be added to their studies, usually French or German.

International schools generally teach in a foreign language; some international schools also teach bilingually in Castellano.

If a child in a state school is unable to read or write Castilian Spanish, extra lessons will be provided; the number of hours of instruction varies depending on the school and the region. Most towns have language centers where, for a small fee, a child can receive extra lessons outside of school hours.

How to find a school for your child and complete the enrolment process…

In Spain, children attend a state school (primary or secondary) within a certain distance of their own home. Lists of locals school and their catchment areas can be obtained from town halls and provincial Ministry of Education offices. Those living in some rural areas may have little or no choice of schools, while those living in bigger cities such as Madrid may have a number of possibilities.

  • To find a local Spanish state school (not university): Click here (in Spanish)

On arrival in a region, a family should register on the town hall list, the Padrón Municipal de Habitantes, then visit the Education Department at the Ayuntamiento. A school registration form and a medical certificate form (to be completed by a doctor) are issued. The medical report must include a child’s full medical history and confirm that the vaccinations are all up to date.

The school registration form should be completed and include the NIE as well as other identifying information of the student’s parent or guardian. This form also allows a parent to select if they want the child to be taught in Spanish or the local dialect, and whether the child should be taught religion or ethics. In state schools, Catholicism is taught, however some schools allow for other religions (Judaism, Islam) to be taught in the ethics classes.

The Education Department at the Ayuntamiento determines which school and class a child will attend and should notify the parents.


Applications to private schools and international schools should be made as far in advance as possible as many schools have waiting lists.

To enrol at a private international school, contact the school directly. Procedures for enrolment at a state school vary from one autonomous region to another. Enrolment usually takes place between February and April, but it is suggested to contact the school directly to confirm enrolment dates as they can vary from region to region.

To enrol a child in a school the following documents are usually required:

  • a Volante de Empadronamiento or Certificado de Empadronamiento (issued by the town hall) which confirms the student is a resident in the school’s catchment area
  • the child’s birth certificate (translated, if applicable) and a photocopy
  • a medical certificate form issued by a doctor
  • three recent passport photos of the child

Children enroling in the second cycle of secondary school or higher must provide proof that the child’s education record has been verified by the Spanish Ministry of Education. The process is known as homologación or convalidación. An official form is provided by the Ministry of Education, and is also available from most Consulates and Embassies. The completed form, the child’s school record book and/or exam qualifications and birth certificate must be sent to the following address for verification:

  • Subdirección General de Títulos, Convalidaciones y Homologaciones
    Paseo del Prado 28, 28071 Madrid

Note: All documents not originally in Spanish must be translated into Spanish.

Understand what kind of assistance is available for children with special needs in the Spanish school system…

From primary school onwards, children experiencing learning difficulties may be able to get special assistance, either from specialist teachers in the school or specialists outside of the school, though not all schools are adapted to help children who need assistance. The Spanish government requires Spanish schools to attempt to educate special-needs children within mainstream schools if the facilities exist and schools are awarded grants if they have integration teachers (PT), speech therapists (Logopedia) and other specialists on the staff. English-language assistance is very uncommon and can be very difficult to find.

If a pupil has been assessed and been found to be in need of assistance, the child and parent may be sent to a Center for Special Needs (Centro de Valoración y Orientación de Discapacitados). At the centre, the child undergoes a variety of tests with a doctor and a social worker to determine the child’s level of need. Once the tests are complete, the professionals evaluate the child and discuss results with the parent.

If a child is determined to have learning deficiencies of 33 percent or more then they are classified disabled. A grant will be given for treatment (including speech therapy, physiotherapy and other specialist assistance), help in school or placement in a special-needs school if the child’s mainstream school is unable to provide the education required.

Re-assessments are made every few years to determine if the child is in need of additional (or less) assistance.

  • For further information from the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education: Click here

Understand the timings of the academic year and the daily schedule for primary and secondary schools in Spain…

The primary school day

The school day in most primary schools in Spain is from 09:00-12:00 and 15:00-17:00. There is a two-and-a-half to three-hour break in the middle of the day for lunch and a siesta. Many children go home for the breaks, though children of working parents may stay and have lunch (the comidor) if this is available.

Schools hours do vary; in large cities the break is shorter and the day usually runs from 09:00-14:00. Some schools offer the option for students to arrive earlier, to have breakfast and lunch at the school and to undertake an extra-curricular activity in the afternoon.

Times may vary in September and June when schools are only operational for half of the day, from 09:00-13:00.

The secondary school day

The school day at secondary schools is normally longer than at primary schools, running from 08:30-15:00 or 09:00-15:00, but as with primary schools times may vary greatly from place to place.

After school hours

Smaller towns seldom have after-school clubs or activities, as children are usually supervised after school by a family member if a parent is working. Larger cities may have before and after school programs for students.

Summer school

During the summer holidays, summer schools operated by independent clubs or the town hall are available. Costs and activities vary, though the schools run by the town hall are usually less expensive.

The School Year

The academic year in Spain runs from mid-September to mid-June and is made up of three terms, each approximately eleven weeks in duration.

The first term runs from September to December with a two week break (vacaciones escolares) for the Christmas holidays. The spring term starts after the 6 January festival of Epiphany and runs until Easter (either March or April) with an Easter/spring break of two weeks. The third term finishes mid-June for the summer holidays which last 10 to 11 weeks

Schools are also closed on public holidays when they fall in term time and local religious days and fiestas (holidays vary between the autonomous communities).

School holiday dates are published by schools and local communities.


Private and state schools often provide a school bus service to and from local towns. The service is usually very low priced, or free for anyone living over 3.5 Km from school. Contact the school for information on bus stops and times.