The Spanish education system

Public and private schools

The Spanish education system

Although Spain’s reputation regarding education doesn't live up to the standards of many Western European countries, it has developed and improved considerably since the 1980’s. 

The educational system in Spain is based on the Fundamental Law of Education (Ley Orgánica de Educación) which makes education compulsory and free for children between 6 and 16 years old. It includes primary education from ages 6 to 12 and compulsory secondary education going up until age 16 and secondary education phase in which students are required to complete the Spanish School Leaving Certificate (ESO). Above the age of 16, students can choose whether or not to continue with post-compulsory schooling which involves taking the Bachillerato (equivalent to British A-Levels). After completing the Bachillerato, pupils can take entry exams (selectividad) to the universities they wish to apply to.

The Spanish are generally very serious about their education and consider achievements in academia to be an important step in obtaining a successful career in the future. However, to the recent economic crisis which began in 2008, the government has made significant spending cuts which many fear will have an impact on the future quality of Spanish education.  

Public and private schools in Spain

Schools in Spain are generally divided into 3 main categories: state schools (colegios públicos), privately run schools funded by the state (colegios concertados) and purely private schools (colegios privados).  According to the Ministry of Educations, Social Policy and Sport, in 2008/09 state schools educated 67.4% of Spain’s pupils, private but state funded schools educated 26.0%, and fully private schools educated 6.6%.

State schooling is free up to university, but parents are responsible for buying their own children’s school supplies including textbooks and other reading materials which can be expensive. However due to the recent economic crisis, some autonomous regions have set up a system by which pupils can use government tokens in bookshops to purchase school materials.

Private schooling is paid for with a monthly, termly or yearly fee. Most subsidised private schools run on a Spanish curriculum, however some international or bilingual schools are also subsidised on the condition that at least 25% of their pupils are Spanish. Fees at subsidised private schools generally have much cheaper fees than the purely private schools. Also, some schools offer scholarships to help parents pay for fees.

The majority of public and private schools in Spain are co-educational and operate on a Monday to Friday timetable.

Information about Spanish schools

Information about schools in Spain can be provided by Spanish embassies and consulates abroad, and by foreign embassies, educational organisations and government departments in Spain. Town halls (ayuntamientos) offer information on local schools. The Ministry of Education and Science  (Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia) provides general information.

In addition to a detailed look at the Spanish state school system and private schools, this section also contains information about higher education and language schools in Spain. For more information about educating your children in Spain, visit our website devoted to expat kids,  .

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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Other comments

  • casperesqui, 25 July 2009 Reply


    I would like to talk about the system in Spain for the selection of teachers. It is called Oposiciones and it is used to decide who is a good teacher and give him a job forever.

    Firstly I would like to point out that the tribunal is formed by teachers that can have less experience that the people they are testing. A person with four years of experience can test another with twenty! I have found really good teachers tested by his olds students!

    Secondly, the tribunal mostly doesn’t know the topics better than the opositores that they are testing. They have those topics over the table and they have to check it all the time. Those topics mostly have being made by private academies where the people go to prepare the oposiciones and to study it. I suppose some remember a little but nothing else.

    Third. It is compulsory write down a bibliography even when the topics has been made by a private organization and there is nothing made by the students (remembering that the students can be teachers with a lot of experience, with family, kids and obligations). You have to learn the name of the books by heart when practically nobody has read those books in the oposiciones.

    In primary, you have to learn 25 topics by heart and then memorize a program and talk about it for 30 minutes. You have to memorize then a didactic unit with activities and say that in front of the tribunal like a parrot during 45 minutes. Those activities are prepared in advance so the private academy or anybody else can do it and the student only needs to memorize it.

    All this process happens every two years and there are teachers that have been doing that for more than twenty years. The system changes sometimes and the topics too.

    Remembering that tribunal and people that is studying oposiciones studied at the university the exactly same degree and probably a lot of the teachers that want to pass the oposiciones are much better prepared than the tribunal and with much more degrees and experience but they have family, kids, much more things to think about than a 23 years student and of course they can not study 5,6,7 hours per day. With that system the best teachers have the door closed.

    I have friends in different countries. They don’t want to go back to Spain because they are 40 or more years old and they have no time to study such a hard and nosense exam that doesn’t show they real skillfulness. In Spain people doesn’t speak English and the level of English of the teachers in the Primaries schools can be terrible but the system can reject real bilingual ones

    In fact people living in London for example and with a terrific level of English can be tested by teachers that practically never went abroad or only in summers ….and they don´t understand what they are talking about.I don’t know if I should smile or cry…

    Teachers that have to study oposiciones can stay without any permanent job for the rest of their lifes. They are hired for two years and then they are fired to be hired again (or not) depending on the oposiciones. In that way they never adquire any right

    This is the shameful system in Spain. One of the worst educative systems on the developed world and one of the systems with more failures in Europe

    If you have any doubt or have any question write me to

    • Casperesquy 29 Aug 2009, 01:58

      Spanish educative system

      I will give a clear example. Two friends study to be foreign language Elementary teachers. The friend A decides to study Oposiciones, the friend B decides to goes to London to study a prestigous Master in English as foreign language for two years, a Master recognized all over the world. The friend A is lucky, he studied 10 topics from the 25 and one of the topics that he studied is choosen by random( one opositor pick up 3 balls from a bag and opositores chose one and write about it (private organisations has usually made those topics in advance what is a big bussiness because opositores usually go to those places to study oposiciones, of course paying an amount of money per month).I dont deny that many opositores make the topics by themselves. The rest of oposiciones, practice exercices and everything has been given to them from another person that`passed oposiciones two years ago. He pasS and have a job for the rest of his life although his level of English it is not good. The friend B goes back to Spain after two years but in spite of the incredible Master he needs to pass the oposiciones. Teachers like Friend A will be in charge of evaluate frien B.If friend B is not lucky with the topics probably he won´t pass the oposiciones.
      I don´t want to forget to say that the teachers that evaluate the opositores has the exactly same universitary degree and they can have worst grades and curriculum vitae (CV) than the people that they are testing. What is from my point of view worst, they don´t have any preparation in testing!!
      On the other side opositores that ar4e working in a school as interin teachers don´t have enough time to prepare their classes well because of the big amount of time thatthey need to spend to study Oposiciones
      This reallity should be known

    • yas 30 Aug 2009, 02:42


      The tribunales in Oposiciones in charge of testing doesn´t have any qualification in testing. They are just teachers like the people they are testing

  • Matthew Rathmell, 06 September 2009 Reply

    Spanish Education System

    I am a British student who has lived in Spain since the age of 9, I´m now 18 years old and I´m applying to go to University in the UK.

    I went to a Spanish state school and I´ve experienced primary, secondary (ESO) and post-obligatory education (Bachiller) in the Spanish education system.
    The Spanish education system is said to be one of the worst and I have to say I agree. I graduated in the top three students of my school with very good grades, but I´ll be very lucky to get into any university outside of Spain, the Spanish education system´s reputation amongst international universities is very bad.

    I think the main problem with the education out here lies within the last two years of schooling, "Bachiller", it´s basically the equivalent of the A-level, but in Spain the coursework you do at school, most importantly the continuous exams, is more important than the actual A-level style exams you take at the end of your 2nd year. I must have taken more than 100 exams across 9 different subjects over the last academic year. These exams are done at your school and evaluate your current knowledge of the coursework, your exams are graded then the scores are averaged out to give you your final qualification at the end of the year which is used to get into uni. The biggest setback is that the education system forces you to take 5 mandatory subjects along with 4 subjects of your own choice. So in Spain you are effectively taking 9 "A-levels", and as I said you´re are forced to take 5 "A-levels" which usually have no use for you whatsoever in your future uni course. For example I want to study Mechanical Engineering, so I chose Maths, Physics, Technical Drawing and Earth Science as my four choices, but I was also forced to take a-levels in spanish language, catalan language, philosophy, Spanish History and English language, which are pretty useless for my shosen uni course.
    The consequence of this system is that I´m less specialised in maths and physics (necessary for engineering) than my counterparts in the UK, but I do know a lot about philosophy. (which is obviously useless for engineering)
    So foreign universities are asking me for ridiculous grades which nobody could achieve.

    The article also states that 55% of students stay in education until they´re 18. I´d say it was more like 25% (and I´m being very generous here)
    Out of the 175 students I started secondary education with at the age of 12, around 25 stayed in school till the last year.

    Finally, out of the 60 or 70 British ex pats who I´ve known over the last 5 or 6 years at my school, only two have graduated from the State school system, and one of them is me.

    • guy p 27 Aug 2012, 11:31

      very low level

      Most of universities in Belgium have stopped or are considering to stop all Erasmus programs with spanish universities because the spanish students don't reach a minimum level. Besides the fact that almost none of them speak any other language than spanish... The other way around, students who spent some months 'studying' in spain come back with grades that are generally corrected with a factor 0.6 to be credible in a normal university.