The Spanish state schools system is of a generally high standard and is free for all children living in Spain. It is mandatory from age six to 16, but most parents will send their children to preschool and kindergarten once they are three years old.
Spanish schooling begins with primary school (primaria) from age six to 12 and secondary school (E.S.O.) from 12 to 16. At the end of E.S.O., students receive their Certificate of Education. This is followed by the bachillerato, although this is no longer compulsory.
Timings vary from one region to another, and will be affected by what the student is studying. However, generally the school year is divided into three terms, with a long summer holiday break. Winter term runs from September to December, spring term runs from January to Easter, and summer term runs from Easter to June. Primary school days will usually run 0900-1200 and 1500-1700, and secondary school days will usually run from 0800-1500 or 0800-1400 and 1530 to 1700.
There is likely to be a primary school in every town in Spain, and these will vary considerably in size and sophistication. Most will take children from the age of three although there are some exceptions. Entry also depends on the catchment area in which they live – so it is really important to think about the school for your child before you buy a property.
Some state primary schools will only teach in the dialect of the given region, rather than in Spanish. For expats this is important, as it will mean your children learns the regional dialect before they learn Spanish. That said most children will master both as part of their general schooling.
All towns and cities will have at least one secondary school. The standard of teaching is generally good and the school curriculum impressively rigorous. As with the primary schools – many schools will teach subjects in the regional dialect, rather than in Spanish. This can create problems as it will mean your child will have to learn two languages simultaneously, whilst also undertaking increasingly difficult academic work.
It’s really important to research secondary schools to the best of your ability, as this can be a complicated process. One of the best ways to find out which is the best school is through personal recommendations, but estate agents will be able to provide you with information – especially if they also have children of school age. As with primary schooling, entry to a school will depend on the catchment area.
At the end of secondary school – E.S.O. – students will receive a Certificate of Completion of Secondary Education (Titulo de Graduado en Educacióm Secundaria) if they have successfully passed examinations. If they have not been successful, they will receive a Certificado de Escolarización.
If they achieve their completion certification, they have a number of options. They can leave school or continue their education by studying for the Bachillerato or a vocational course.
The Bachillerato takes two years and is roughly equivalent to the UK A Levels – although it is seen as more rigorous. Students can take a Bachillerato toward an area of study such as arts or sciences. Generally around 9 subjects are studied, with each subject contributing to the final mark. Upon passing the Bachillerato, the student will be able to take university entrance exams and along with the actual Bachillerato result, this will define what they can study at university.
The vocational course, or ciclose fomativos, is intended to provide practical training for a working skills such plumbing, electrical, hairdressing etc. Each course last four years and a qualification gained here is universally recognised across Spain. The first two years of this course provides basic training, whilst the second level can only be started at the age of 18.
State universities provide a degree or diplomatura and professional qualifications. Polytechnic universities tend to be biased towards sciences. This system is in the process of being harmonised with the rest of Europe, likely to result in three-four year degrees and two year Master’s qualifications.
Some expats in Spain may consider sending their children to an international school, to study the international baccalaureate. These are very expensive and cost between €300-1000 per semester. Spain’s international schools are very highly regarded, and there will be American, British, German and French schools available.