The British Expat’s Guide to the Spanish Education System

Spanish schooling information for expats

If you’re moving to Spain with your family, you’ll need to find suitable schools for your children.

In this post, we look at how the Spanish education system works and its rules.

General pointers on the Spanish education system

Who runs Spanish schools?

Education in Spain is run by regional governments who are responsible for managing all the schools in their area. The actual education system (i.e. what children learn) is decided at national level.

All children in Spanish schools receive the same education throughout Spain except in regions with autonomous languages (Cataluña, Balearics, Valencia, Basque Country and Galicia) where provision is made for teaching in the local language as well as Spanish.

What’s the compulsory school age?

Children in Spain must go to school from 6 to 16 years old. However, free state schooling is available from 3 until 18. In practice, most Spanish children start school at 3.

What kinds of schools are there?

The Spanish education system is made up of three pillars: state schools, state-subsidised schools and private schools. The private sector includes international schools.

How do states schools in Spain work?

State schools provide free education for everyone in their catchment area as follows:

  • Escuela de Educación Infantil (EEI) – for children aged between 3 and 6 years old.
  • Colegio de Educación Primaria (CEP or CEIP) – for children aged between 6 and 12. Many primary schools incorporate educación infantil on the same premises.
  • Instituto de Educación Secundaria (IES) – for children aged between 12 and 18.

Secondary school consists of Educación Secundaria Obligaria (ESO), 4 years of study for students aged 12 to 16, and 2 years of optional Bachillerato study for students aged 16 to 18.

Some secondary schools also have further education facilities onsite.

What do you pay for at state schools?

Education itself is free, but parents are expected to buy materials (e.g. stationery).

In some regions you may also have to pay for books, although most schools provide text books through a loan system or give vouchers for their purchase for students aged 6 to 16.

Students doing Bachiller have to buy all their own books and materials.

You also have to pay for extras such as breakfast clubs, lunch, after-school activities and school trips.

Do state schools have a uniform?

Wearing a uniform isn’t compulsory at state schools in Spain. In recent years, some primary schools have introduced a uniform, usually very casual and optional.

Students at state secondary schools don’t wear uniform.

What’s the timetable at state schools?

Most state primary schools have a teaching timetable from 9am to 2pm.

This includes a short break in the middle of the morning. Many open earlier in the morning for breakfast clubs and stay open after 2pm for lunch and after-school activities in the afternoon.

State secondary schools tend to start between 8 and 8.30am, and finish between 2.30 and 3pm. This also includes a short break in the morning. Breakfast clubs, lunches and after-school activities are not available.

What is a state-subsidised school?

Some schools in Spain are partly subsidised by the state with the rest of their expenses paid by monthly fees. These are usually low, e.g. €100 per child per month.

In many cases, they are cheaper and there are often discounts for families with more than two children at the school.

State-subsided schools are known as colegios concertados and take children from 3 to 16 (18 in some cases).

They’re generally run by a religious order and you may find some of the staff are priests or nuns.

You usually have to pay for all books (unless the school runs its own loan scheme) and materials. You also have to pay for uniform (compulsory at state-subsidised schools until 16), school lunches and after-school activities.

The timetable at these schools is usually from 9am to 5pm, although some don’t provide lunch facilities and run between 9am and 2pm.

What about private schools?

Most large towns and cities have a choice of private schools (colegios privados).

They receive no public funding and are financed by fees. Expect to pay from €250 a month per child and fees increase as students get older.

You have to pay for all materials, books, lunch and after-school activities. Uniform is compulsory.

Many private schools have a religious component or adhere to a particular educational philosophy such as the Montessori system.

All international schools in Spain form part of the private education sector and most of them are run according to the education system in their country of origin.

British schools are the most popular, particularly on the Costas, but there are also French, German and Scandinavian options.