The Spanish educational system

Basic schooling

You are looking for the house of your dreams in Spain. You can already visualize yourself enjoying the good weather, leisure time, nature, or working on that project that you so desire under a magnificent blue sky next to the sea.

And suddenly you say, “Yes, that would be perfect. But what about my school-aged children?”

At present, the differing educational systems of the European Union are trying to direct their efforts so that there are fewer differences between countries. Their goal is to have students’ grades be as versatile as possible within the E.U.

Basic schooling lasts for ten years which take place when the student is between ages six and sixteen, at which time the student achieves the legal age in Spain to be part of the job market.

These ten years are divided into compulsory primary school and compulsory secondary school. Every child, regardless of their nationality, has access to public education. The process for reserving a place in a public school varies by autonomous community.

Generally, the following documentation is requested:

  • Original and photocopies of the national ID card (DNI), passport, or an equivalent document belonging to the student’s mother, father, or legal guardians.

  • A census certificate (Certificado de empadronamiento) for the family unit at the family address.

  • If the student will be attending school from a work address, a document should be provided that sufficiently accredits the employment relationship and address of the work center with one of the student’s parents or legal guardians.

  • Original and photocopy of the family book (Libro de Familia), passport, or an equivalent document that shows the student’s parentage and date of birth.

  • If the student is coming from inside the Spanish educational system, a document will be requested that accredits the last educational center and course where the student was enrolled. If the student has never formed part of the Spanish educational system, they will be enrolled according to their age.

Public school

  • Public school is free for all students who attend school in Spain. But, parents must pay the cost of materials, books, uniforms, or other school supplies.

  • Foreign students are accepted. If they have not mastered the Spanish language, they will be assigned a support tutor during the school period.

  • Extracurricular activities are offered at very reduced rates.

  • Primary education applies to those from age six to age twelve.

  • The second part of compulsory education is secondary school. It is made up of four years divided into two phases, lasting until the student reaches sixteen years of age. Once their studies are completed, students obtain their exit certificate (Certificado de Salida) which will allow them to study at high school (Bachillerato) or go on to a professional job training center.

  • If the student goes on to study in high school (Bachillerato), they will be provided a specialized education over two years. The student will choose whether to study arts, health sciences, social sciences, technological sciences, or humanities. If successful, the student will obtain their high school certificate (Certificado de Bachiller) and prepare for an exam to allow them to enter university.

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Private education

Some Spanish and foreign parents prefer their children to have a private education, even if private schools complete the same curriculum as the public schools do.

This predilection for private education is sometimes motivated by the schools being of a religious tradition more in line with the parents’ faith. Keep in mind that public education in Spain is secular. At other times, the parents are looking for bilingual education, even though this is increasingly common in public education as well.

They might prefer a center that follows an educational system that is more in line with that of their country of origin.

That is how we find throughout Spain French lycées, English schools, German schools, or those of other nationalities, depending on the different communities residing within an area.

Finally, there are others that prefer private education because of the prestige, fame, or good reputation that certain private centers have.

Here is some data to keep in mind:

  • The average cost of private education is €500 per student per month, depending on the city, the educational system accredited abroad, the prestige, and the number of family members studying in the same center.

  • The extracurricular activities are more varied than in the public system: tennis, theater, cooking, swimming, etc. are offered with more advanced facilities, equipment, and teaching aids.

  • The private option could be the most suitable for those students who wish to continue their higher education outside of Spain since many of these bilingual centers offer the certificates required to do so. In some cases, foreign students will have to take a preparatory course if the foreign university so requires.

How to reserve a place in a private school

These schools each have their own criteria for accepting or not accepting students, but in general, they tend to be as follows:

  • Parental interview.

  • Review of the student’s academic record.

  • Level test for the non-Spanish language taught in the center.

  • A deposit that, depending on the center, will be refundable or not.

  • Documentation according to what each center considers appropriate.

  • Whether or not there are already other siblings at the center, or if the parents are former students.

  • Letters of recommendation or references in general.

  • It is recommended that students apply months up to a year or more in advance.

Between the public schools (secular and government funded), charter schools (private but subsidized by the government), and private schools (financed exclusively by the parents), Spain offers a great variety of educational centers that can respond to all needs and budgets.

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