One of the most problematic issues facing international families when relocating is where to educate our children. Whether to follow the state system or opt for one of the numerous international schools, or in Catalonia, whether to follow the Spanish or Catalan system. Whatever your choice, the following sections aim to give an insight into the options available to parents here in Spain and the complex lottery of applying for a state placement. In the Educational Services you will find information about homeschooling, an increasingly popular choice among expat families, as well as some options for children with special needs developmental issues.

Spanish School System



International Schools

There are two types of International Schools in Spain: schools that teach in their native language and follow their country’s curriculum with or without Spanish as a second language and schools that teach in their native language and follow the Spanish curriculum. In the latter scenario, secondary education is from 12 to 16 and is obligatory. Students can then study the Bachillerato from 16-18 years which enables them to enter University in Europe and the US. Although these schools are classified as international many of the children are Spanish so your child will be exposed to the Spanish language through their classmates.


Spanish School System

All State Schools in Spain have the same regulations and format laid down by the Ministry of Education, but autonomous regions may have slight variations of calendar dates, school timetable and languages studied (where that autonomy speaks one of the recognised official languages of Spain). The period of free obligatory schooling is from 6–16 years but the Government also provides free schooling for all children from the age of 3 and also provides some subsidised nurseries from 4 months old. The state school system can be broken down into the following sections.

Guardería (4 months–3 years)

Mainly private but some subsidised state nurseries available. Places awarded on a points system so quite difficult to get a place.

Centro Educación Infantil y Primaria (CEIP)

Infantil (3–6 years)

Education is not compulsory at this age but the Government is obliged to provide you with a place if you want one and are registered with your local Town Hall. There is a two week application period usually in March/April. Places are limited in each school and awarded on a points system so you may not get in at your first choice school.


Primaria (6–12 years)

From 6 years education becomes compulsory in Spain. Most children have already gained their place by applying in Educacion Infantil – so at this stage there are few places available. Application is during the two week window in March/April and awarded on a points system where available. If necessary the Education Deptartment is obliged to form another class in one of the schools to accommodate everyone. At the end of their time in Primary, each child is given a “Historial academico” a copy of which is also forwarded to their Secondary School. Primary education is divided into 3 cycles – Inicial (year 1 & 2), Media (year 3 & 4) and Superior (year 5 & 6). Children considered not to have attained the necessary level of development or maturity to progress to the next cycle have to repeat the final year of the cycle – this can only be applied once in their primary education.


Instituto de Educacion Secundaria (IES)
Educacion Secundaria Obligatoria – ESO (12–16 years)

At 12 children move onto the “Instituto” where they study for at least 4 years to obtain “Graduado Escolar” a global certificate demonstrating a basic proficiency in 6 core subjects and 3 optional subjects. Students can leave when they turn 16. If they haven’t obtained Graduado Escolar, they are awarded a “Certificado de Escolaridad” which shows the years they have been at school and subjects studied. Evaluation is internal and continual. Application is during the two week window in March/April and places are awarded on a points system where applicable. As there are fewer Institutos, the number of places available at each school varies each year
as the Government is obliged to provide places within the town for everyone.


Bachillerato (16–18 years)

Bachillerato consists of two years at the end of which students receive the title of Bachiller which indicates a proficiency in 7 core subjects plus 7/8 subjects related to their chosen area. Possible Bachillers (although not always available in every institute) are: Art – art, image and design, Performing arts – music and dance, Science & Technology and Humanities & Social Sciences.


Evaluation is internal and continuous and the teaching staff decide if each student has reached the required level in all their subjects and has the required maturity to be awarded the Bachiller title. Students considered to have not acquired the necessary level or maturity are required to repeat a year. Students who have been awarded the Bachiller can then apply to University by sitting an external entrance exam set by the University board for that region where they are examined in language and literature, a foreign language, history or philosophy and other subjects of their choice.


Formación Profesional (16 years +)

Another form of further education available in Spain is Formacion Profesional which includes more practical courses such as catering, IT, graphic design, agricultural studies, fashion design, laboratory skills etc. and often involves working within a company for some time. Applicants need to have obtained either Graduado Escolar or Bachiller and can take either the first level of courses (medium grade) or second (superior grade).


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