You have made the decision you are relocating to Spain! Now what do you do with your children?
Understanding the education system in Spain can be a daunting task, which can be made more difficult if there’s a language barrier. However, you can choose from a range of Spanish and international schools to enroll your child into education in Spain.
This article is designed to give you has much information as possible.
The standard of education in Spain has greatly improved in the last 25 years through increases in spending and educational reforms.
Religious education in Spain is offered in state schools but it’s optional. Schools are usually co-educational, and wherever possible, children with special needs are integrated into mainstream school.
It is legal, although not popular, to home school children in Spain.
Choosing a school in Spain
Entrance to state schools is generally allocated according to your catchment area (for both primary and secondary education), so this may influence your decision on where to live.
Schools vary considerably in size and sophistication but often provide a strikingly caring and kind environment for small children.
You may want to find a satisfactory school for your children before choosing a property, otherwise your child might not be eligible to go to your preferred school.
Local and international schools in Spain
Most students in Spain attend local schools, which are free. However, foreign families may consider an international school to ease their child’s transition by continuing education in a familiar language and curriculum. Your child’s age and length of time in Spain are just some factors to consider.
Compulsory education in Spain
Based upon the Ley Orgánica de Educación or Fundamental Law of Education, education in Spain is compulsory for all children and young people who are resident between the ages of 6 to 16 years, with primary education (primaria) lasting six years followed by four years of compulsory secondary education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria or ESO), at the end of which a Certificate of Education is received. All students receive basic vocational training at secondary level.
Education authorities have an obligation to help foreign students integrate and must provide specific programs to do this.
State education is free of charge in Spain from preschool to 18 years, although in some regions parents may be asked to pay for books, other materials and extra-curricular activities.
School holidays in Spain
The school year will vary from one region so Costa del Sol will differ to the Costa Blanca and will also be affected by what a child is studying, their level and their particular school. In Spain the school year generally starts in mid-September and runs through to mid-June. There are three terms of roughly 11 weeks.
Spain has among the longest school holidays of anywhere in Europe. Half terms do not really exist, though compensation is in the numerous local festival days which differ from Costa del Sol to Costa Blanca and non-teaching days that give children and teachers more breaks in the school year.
There are usually two weeks of holiday over Christmas, two weeks over Easter and a long summer holiday of around 10–11 weeks. Children moving up from primary to secondary school will sometimes get an extra week or two of summer holiday, which may even include an end-of-school trip abroad.
The school week in Spain
The daily timetable varies depending on the school and region. Generally, most children go to primary schools from 9am to noon, with a long lunch break of up to three hours before going back to school from 3pm to 5pm. Both private and state primary schools normally look after a child from the beginning to the end of the school day (9am–5pm). School lunch may be available, although some children bring a packed lunch or children return home. Lunch is considered the main meal of the Spanish day, and if your children eat the school lunch they will be encouraged to eat the substantial meal alongside other children.
In cities, the school day can end at 2pm, with only a short lunch break or no break at all. Some schools may also opt to open half days in September and June. Schools in large cities may have school activities before and after school.
Secondary school hours tend to be longer, with some schools starting around 8–8.30am and finishing around 5.30pm. In some cases, secondary schools might not provide supervision during the lunch break, and your child will either need to return home, or you will need to collect them. Older pupils can expect homework most nights.
The structure of the Spanish education system
The Spanish education system is divided into four stages, two of which are compulsory:
- Nursery and preschool (educación infantil) – optional
- Primary (educación or escuela primaria) – compulsory
- Compulsory secondary education (educación secundaria obligatoria)
- Upper secondary education (bachillerato) – optional
State universities and polytechnic universities
Those who have passed the Bachillerato with acceptable marks and who want to go on to university take an entrance exam in June. There are state universities throughout Spain that provide ‘degrees’ (diplomaturas) and professional qualifications (licenciaturas) and post degree education.
Languages assistance in Spanish schools
Lessons in Spanish state schools are taught in Spanish or sometimes in the regional language, such as Catalan or Basque. Schools usually assess the children’s ability in Spanish and if they need help with the language, they can be given extra lessons. Schools may put children in the appropriate class for their level of understanding – which could be with younger children – until their language has improved to the point that they can follow lessons with children of their own age. As a rule, the younger the child, the quicker the new language is acquired. Some children may have to repeat a year.
Some schools in areas where there are lot of expats offer intensive language or ‘bridge’ classes for the first few weeks alongside the usual curriculum. If a school does not offer extra help you may have to organise private lessons with a tutor or through a language center in cities.
Special needs schools in Spain
Students with special educational needs may be educated within mainstream state schools, units within mainstream schools or within specialist special needs schools. If you have a child with special needs, get any documentation from any previous school translated into Spanish.
Home schooling in Spain
Not many parents choose to home school their child in Spain but it’s not illegal and there are organisations such as the Association para le Libre Educacion (ALE) to advise and support those who do.