Education in Spain

Education in Spain is regulated by the Ley Orgánica 8/2013, de 9 de diciembre, para la mejora de la calidad educativa (LOMCE, Organic Law for the improvement of educational quality) that expands upon Article 27 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978.[1] The Spanish education system is compulsory and free for all children aged between 6 and 16 years and is supported by the national government together with the governments of each of the country's 17 autonomous communities.

Education in Spain
Ministry of Education
MinisterIsabel Celaá
General details
Primary languagesSpanish alongside co-official languages within respective regions, including Catalan, Basque and Galician
System typeDemocratic Constitutional Monarchy (check for accuracy)
Literacy (2016 literacy rank =)
Post secondary767,528 (community college)
Secondary diploma80%
Post-secondary diploma41%

In Spain, elementary school and middle school are considered basic (obligatory) education. These are Primaria (6-12 years old), which is the Spanish equivalent of elementary/primary school, and Secundaria (12-16 years old), which would be a mixture of middle school and the first two years of High school in the United States/secondary school in England and many other countries.

Spain is working towards reforming vocational education and modernizing education to halt and reverse the rising unemployment rates.[2][3]


Preschool education

Preescolar or Educación Infantil is encouraged for children under the age of six. There are two cycles of preschool which are divided by age; 0-3 years old and 3-6 years old. The first cycle is often held in daycare centers or preschools, Escuela Infantil colloquially Guardería, and most of the time it isn't free for students, although some city councils offer scholarships for their public preschool centers with limited places. The second cycle is free for all students enrolled in public schools that offer Educación Infantil (early childhood education), and is often held in Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria, colloquially Colegio.[4] The second cycle of preschool in public schools focus in on emotional development, movement and control of body habits, communication and language, and positive body image. The documents required for public registration include proof of residence, passport or residence card, or child's birth certificate, and, in some areas, proof of the child’s vaccinations and a medical certificate of health.[5][6]

Primary education

Primaria or Educación Primaria, consists of six years, structured as three cycles, from first grade through sixth grade.

  • First Cycle: 1st and 2nd grade
  • Second Cycle: 3rd and 4th grade
  • Third Cycle: 5th and 6th grade

Secondary education

Secundaria or Educación Secundaria (E.S.O.), consists of four years, structured as two cycles, from seventh to tenth grade:

First year of ESO (7th grade) Second year of ESO (8th grade) Third year of ESO (9th grade) Fourth year of ESO (10th grade)
Biology and Geology Biology and Geology. Physics and Chemistry Biology and Geology. Physics and Chemistry Students have to choose 2 of the following subjects: Biology and Geology, Economy, Physics and Chemistry, or Latin
Mathematics Mathematics Mathematics oriented to

the academic teachings or Mathematics oriented to applied teachings

Mathematics oriented to

the academic teachings

Geography and History Geography and History Geography and History Geography and History
Spanish Language and Literature, as well as the co-official language, where applicable Spanish Language and Literature, as well as the co-official language, where applicable Spanish Language and Literature, as well as the co-official language, where applicable Spanish Language and Literature, as well as the co-official language, where applicable
First Foreign Language First Foreign Language First Foreign Language First Foreign Language
Physical Education (P.E.) Physical Education Physical Education Physical Education
Religion or Ethical Values Religion or Ethical Values Religion or Ethical Values Religion or Ethical Values
Some electives courses at some schools are the following:
  1. Classical Culture
  2. Initiation to Entrepreneurial and Entrepreneurial Activity
  3. Music
  4. Technology
  5. Arts
  6. Second Foreign Language
Some electives courses at some schools are the following:
  1. Classical Culture
  2. Initiation to Entrepreneurial and Entrepreneurial Activity
  3. Music
  4. Technology
  5. Arts
  6. Second Foreign Language
Some elective courses are the following:
  1. Classical Culture
  2. Initiation to Entrepreneurial and Entrepreneurial Activity
  3. Music
  4. Technology
  5. Arts
  6. Second Foreign Language
Some elective courses are the following:
  1. Scenic Arts and Dance
  2. Scientific Culture
  3. Classic Culture
  4. Philosophy
  5. Music
  6. ICT (Information and communications technology)
  7. Second Foreign Language
  8. Arts

Post-16 education

Spanish Baccalaureate or Bachillerato consists of two optional additional final years in high school (mandatory education is until students are 16 years old), required if the student wants to attend University. Once students have finished Bachillerato, they can take their University Entrance Exam, Pruebas de Acceso a la Universidad (PAU), popularly called Selectividad. Formación profesional (FP), is an additional vocational education, also provided in specific high schools.

First year of Baccalaureate (11th grade) Second year of Baccalaureate (12th grade)
Spanish Language and Literature, as well as the co-official language, where applicable Spanish Language and Literature, as well as the co-official language, where applicable
First Foreign Language (English) First Foreign Language (English)
Philosophy History of Spain
Physical Education
Science: Mathematics I 
Social science:Mathematics oriented to social sciences I Humanities: Latin I Arts: Basics of Art I
Science: Mathematics II 
Social science:Mathematics oriented to social sciences II Humanities: Latin II
Arts: Basics of Art II
Students have to choose 2 of the following subjects: Students have to choose 2 of the following subjects:

Science: Biology, Geology, Technical Drawing, Physics, Chemistry and Industrial Technology.

Science: Biology, Technical Drawing, Geology, Physics, Chemistry or Industrial Technology.

Social Science or Humanities:Economy, Greek, Contemporany World History or Universal Literature.

Social Science or Humanities: Business Economics, Greek, Art History, Georgraphy.

Arts: Audiovisual Culture, Contemporany World History or Universal Literature.

Arts: Audiovisual Culture, Scenic Arts or Design.
Some elective courses are the following:
  1. Musical Analysis
  2. Second Foreign Language
  3. Applied Anatomy
  4. ICT (Information and communications technology)
  5. Artistic Drawing
  6. Volume
  7. Musical Language and Practice
  8. Religion
Some elective courses are the following:
  1. Musical Analysis
  2. Artistic Drawing
  3. Fundamentals of Administration and Management
  4. Religion
  5. History of Music and Dance
  6. Image and Sound
  7. Psychology
  8. Sociology
  9. Graphics and Plastics Arts
  10. Second Foreign Language
  11. ICT (Information and communications technology)
  12. History of Philosophy


Schools in Spain can be divided into 3 categories:

  • State schools (colegios públicos)
  • Privately run schools funded by the State (colegios concertados)
  • Purely private schools (colegios privados)

According to summary data for the year 2008-2009[7] 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. Usually, Primaria is studied in a colegio and ESO and Bachillerato are studied in an instituto. However, some schools only teach elementary school (K-6). Also, K-12 schools also exist, although they are private schools or privately run schools funded by the State (colegios concertados). There are private schools for all the range of compulsory education. At them, parents must pay a monthly/termly/yearly fee. Most of these schools are run by religious orders, and also include single-sex schools.

All non-university state education is free in Spain, but parents have to buy (or make a contribution towards) their children's books and materials. (Subsidies, loans or second hand book sales are offered by Spain's Autonomous Regions (Comunidades), in some schools and by some local councils.) This, nominally at least, also applies to colegios concertados. Many schools are concertados, state funded up to the end of Primaria but purely private for the high school years. This drop in the proportion of pupils in educación concertada is matched by increases of approximately equal size in the proportion in both state and purely private education for ESO and Bachillerato.[7]

Schools supply a list of what is required at the start of each school year and which will include art and craft materials as well as text and exercise books. From 2009, this figure was around £300 and in 2011 was nearer £500; as of 2011, the cost of books averaged 170 euros for preschool and 300 euros for elementary school students.[8] In some regions, the autonomous government is giving tokens to exchange them in book shops for free. This was adapted in 2006 in regions such as Andalusia, where pupils from 3 to 10 years old will get the books for free, and in subsequent years it is expected for all compulsory years. School uniform is not normally worn in state schools but is usually worn in private schools.

There is a largely uniform admissions process for state funded schools, both colegios públicos and colegios concertados. 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 for there to 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.

Public schools

Schools run directly by the public authorities or privately with public assistance (concertada) provide education free of charge, but (depending on the family's financial status), parents may be required to supply consumables such as textbooks and school uniforms as well as contributing to after school activities.

Primaria public schools (6-12 years old), are named Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria (CEIP), colloquially Colegio or cole, and Secundaria public schools (12-16 years old), are called Instituto de Enseñanza Secundaria (IES), colloquially Instituto. Public (state) schools in Spain are free.

Private schools

Private schools in Spain vary:some of the schools teach entirely in Spanish; some are run as Catholic schools; some are private and bilingual or trilingual and some are international schools which place emphasis on a second language, generally English.[9] Private schools that are state subsidized (educación concertada) are required to follow the Spanish syllabus, while international schools are free to follow other curriculums typically from other countries such as the US or UK. Private schools tend to be more costly especially in Barcelona or Madrid. Fees include tuition as well as school supplies and uniform.[10]

School terms

Broadly similar to the English three term system, but with slightly shorter holidays at Christmas (22 December – 7 January) and Easter (one week - 40 days after Ash Wednesday), and longer in the summer (normally from 23 June to 15 September). In 2005, the summer holiday ran from 22 June until 1–15 September, depending on the regions. The English half-term holiday does not exist, but there are frequent odd days and long weekends relating mainly to religious holidays and regional and national holidays. Schools use the trimester system (September to December, January to March/April, March/April to June).

Bilingual teaching models

In Spain Spanish coexists with Basque, Catalan and Galician as the medium of instruction. Aranese (Aranés) is official in a small area of Catalonia and primary education is offered in this language. The linguistic model chosen by the regions with their own language varies per community.[11]

Basque regions

Basque Country historically provided three teaching models: A, B or D.[12] Model D, with education entirely in Basque, and Spanish as a compulsory subject, is the most widely chosen model by parents.[13] In addition, Navarre offers the G model, with education entirely in Spanish, without a Basque language subject option.[14] Model A offers Spanish as tuition language and Basque is learnt as a language subject. Model B offers 50% of the classes in Spanish and Basque.

The Basque Country approved its bilingual model in a decree of 1983.[12] Navarre enacted its corresponding decree in 1988.[14]

Catalan regions

Catalonia and the Balearic Islands employ language immersion in Catalan.

After the 1970s, when Spain became a democracy, Catalonia was given rights over its own education system. A law passed in 1983, "Llei de Normalització Lingüística", defined the language immersion system of Catalonia. By 1986 the entire region the whole country was already switched to it.[15][16]

The Balearic Islands took more time to make language immersion effective. A decree enacted in 1997 established that Catalan must be used in at least 50% of lessons. Schools have freedom to add more lessons, and usually they do.[17]

Valencian Community offers different levels of immersion in Catalan (also known as Valencian in this region),[18] with the highest level having the widest adoption.[19] Before implementing that model, the community offered two paths. One path taught Catalan in the Catalan language subject and used it as tuition language in either Social or Natural Science. The other path provided immersion in Catalan, approaching the level of the newer advanced immersion.[18]

The immersion models have faced strong opposition by Spanish nationalists. They allege that schools are used as indoctrination centres and that this imposes barriers which worsens academic performance.[16][17][20][21][22]

Galician regions

In Galicia Galician is used as tuition language in 50% of classes, except in preschool education which uses the majority mother tongue. This model approved by the People's Party has received criticism from the European Council.[11]

International education

As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC)[23] listed Spain as having 210 international schools.[24] ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation."[24] This definition is used by publications including The Economist.[25] In 1977 the International Baccalaureate authorized the first school in Spain to teach the Diploma Programme.[26] There are now 86 IB World Schools in Spain, of which 71 deliver an international education but in Spanish.[27][28]

See also


  1. Text (in Spanish) of the Ley Orgánica de Educación
  2. "Education and Training Monitor 2016" (PDF). 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  3. "Education Policy Outlook" (PDF). April 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  4. donQuijote (2018). "The Spanish Education System". Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  5. Expat. "Preschool in Spain". Expatica. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
  6. "State schools". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  7. Data and Numbers for the year 2008-2009 p4, retrieved 25 February 2009, Ministry of Education, Social Policy and Sport
  8. Ambrosoli, Carlos (30 August 2011). "¿Cuánto le va a costar la vuelta al cole?" (TV news report (video)) (in Spanish). Canary Islands, Spain: Antena 3 Canarias. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  9. "Education in Spain State or Private". Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  10. "Private and international schools in Spain". 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  11. Ormazabal, Mikel; Vizoso, Sonia; Zafra, Ignacio; Bohórquez, Lucía (18 February 2018). "Cuatro modelos educativos para la España plurilingüe". El País (in Spanish). ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  12. "Decreto 138/1983, de 11 de julio, del Departamento de Educación y Cultura, por el que se regula el uso de las lenguas oficiales en la enseñanza no universitaria en el País Vasco". Noticias Jurídicas. Departamento de Educación y Cultura.
  13. Eustat. "Alumnado matriculado en enseñanzas de régimen general no universitarias en la C.A. de Euskadi por territorio histórico y nivel de enseñanza, según titularidad del centro y modelo lingüístico. Avance de datos 2018-19". Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  15. Arnau, Joaquim (1997), "Immersion Education in Catalonia", Bilingual Education, Springer Netherlands, pp. 297–303, doi:10.1007/978-94-011-4531-2_30, ISBN 9780792349327
  16. Benítez, Enrique (11 July 2017). "Catalonia's Language Immersion Education". Enrique Benítez. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  17. Educación. "Catalunya, Balears y Comunitat Valenciana: tres modelos lingüísticos escolares en el punto de mira". (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  18. Beltran, Adolf. "Marzà sustituye las líneas educativas por un programa de seis niveles con certificaciones oficiales de idiomas". (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  19. S.L, EDICIONES PLAZA. "Los colegios castellanoparlantes abrazan los niveles más altos de plurilingüismo". Valencia Plaza (in Spanish). Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  20. "In Catalonia, language and identity go hand in hand | DW | 21.10.2017". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  21. Wong, Alia (3 November 2017). "Is Catalonia Using Schools as a Political Weapon?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  22. Quintáns, Jessica Mouzo; Álvarez, Pilar (23 February 2018). "What level of Spanish do Catalan children have?". El País. ISSN 1134-6582. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  24. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 20 July 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. Clark, Nick (8 July 2014). "The Major International School Curriculums". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
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