Your Guide to Spain’s State Schools


Public Schools in Spain

If you’re moving to Spain with children, one of your first priorities will be to decide what sort of education they should receive.

A popular option is sending them to Spanish state schools, the most common type of school and the only one providing free education for Spanish residents.

In the following blog post, we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of Spanish state schools over private or international schools. We also provide essential information on what to expect if you choose state education.

Advantages of Spanish state schools

They’re free – perhaps the biggest pro of sending your children to Spanish state schools is financial. State education comes free, although you may have to pay for materials (see below).

There are lots of them – wherever you decide to move to in Spain, there will be local schools even if you choose to live in the country.

Best way to learn Spanish – your children have a better chance of learning Spanish at a state school because they’ll be in a totally Spanish environment. Find out more about helping your children learn Spanish.

Best integration into local life – most Spanish children go to local state schools so your children’s classmates will be nearby, which is handy for play dates and parties. State schools also participate much more in local life giving your children (and you too) the chance to integrate more quickly and easily.

Disadvantages of Spanish state schools

Limited choice – your children will be assigned a school in your catchment area and you’ll unlikely to have any choice about where they go.

Large classes – legally, primary school classes can have 25 pupils plus 10% and secondary classes 30 pupils plus 10%. This makes for big classes and there’s only ever one teacher.

Limited special needs – in large towns and cities you’ll find reasonable provision for special needs at state schools. In smaller areas, there may be little or none at all.

Cut backs – education has suffered hard under government cut backs and as a result, many schools are understaffed and overstretched.

For more information on the Spanish education system generally, click here.

About Spanish state schools

Legal school age

In Spain, children must go to school between the ages of 6 and 16. However, the option exists for pre-schooling for children 3 and upwards, and for further education for children aged 16 to 18.

Types of school

Colegio de educación infantil (CEI) – also known as escuela infantil, this school caters for pre-school age children between 3 and 6.

Colegio de educación primaria (CEP) – for children aged between 6 and 12. Sometimes primary and pre-school centres are combined and known as CEIPs.

Instituto de Educación Secundaria (IES) – for children from 12 to 18.

School timetable

The Spanish school timetable is Monday to Friday. Primary schools generally operate between 9am and 2pm, and secondary schools between 8.30am to 3pm.

School uniform

Uniform isn’t compulsory at Spanish state schools. However, some primary schools have optional uniform, sometimes the full outfit, others just a branded sweatshirt or tracksuit for sport.

School materials

For pre-school children, parents must buy all their materials, which can be surprisingly numerous and expensive. Expect a long list of pencils, paints, scissors, tissue paper, cardboard… as well as text books.

At primary school, you still have to pay for materials (although the list is not as long) but text books are either loaned by the school or you receive a voucher from the local authorities to buy them.

At secondary school, a similar system operates until children reach the age of 16. Once children enter the final two years (known as bachillerato), you must buy all their materials and books.

School meals

Pre-school and primary pupils have the option to stay for lunch at many schools. Meals are provided by catering companies and vary in quality. No meals are available at secondary schools.

School activities

Primary schools offer after-school activities such as sport and crafts or simply supervision, until around 5pm. These provisions cater for parents whose working hours make it difficult for them to collect their children earlier.

School holidays

School holidays in Spain are long regardless of the type of school. Prepare yourself for the following:

  • 14 bank holidays a year, several but by no means all, fall within designated holiday time. See more information about public holidays
  • Two weeks’ holiday at Christmas
  • One week’s holiday at Easter
  • Around 12 weeks’ holiday in summer. All Spanish state schools close for July and August, and also take part of June and September. Exact dates depend on the region.