The Spanish education system

Public and private schools

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, Expat-Kids.com .

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