Education in Spain | MumAbroad

International schools in Catalonia, International schools in Madrid
International schools in Catalonia



One of the key questions 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, is a subject of much debate. 


Whether you are searching for an international school, a particular national curriculum from your home nation or a local state school with a good language or international department, there are a plethora of options for expat families living in Spain. 


From multilingual nurseries and early years options that integrate numerous languages from a young age to the big exams of the teenage years, parents have access to so many different options. Spanish schools might offer either the Bachillerato or a Formación Profesional, while many private schools offer international qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate, British A-Levels, American High School Diploma or SATs (or indeed a combination of the above). 

Read more

Whatever your choice, the following sections aim to give an insight into the various choices available to parents here in Spain and the at times complex lottery of applying for a state placement. This is the guide to the best international and multilingual schools in Catalonia, Madrid, The Balearic Islands, Andalucia and the Costa Blanca, as recommended by local parents based in each of these regions.


In the Educational Services section below you will also find a breakdown of the different stages of Spanish state system as well information about homeschooling and some options for children with different special needs and developmental issues.


Do please add comments of your own to a school your child is attending to help other parents make this important decision for their own families.

International schools in Catalonia
living in Spain, International schools in Madrid
International schools in Catalonia
International schools in Catalonia
living in Spain, International schools in Madrid

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).


Useful Links

Follow us on Instagram

Latest from Blog

Choosing the IB – Certainty in Uncertain Times

Choosing the IB – Certainty in Uncertain Times

Morag and Pete Makey are the Directors of IB Pathways, providing support to International Baccalaureate (IB) students, families and schools.  This includes IB preparation, teaching, tutoring and mentoring to ensure IB success.  The university ...
Nasia Burnet, helping to preserve traditional rug making with Sukhi Rugs

Nasia Burnet, helping to preserve traditional rug making with Sukhi Rugs

Producing the highest quality handcrafted rugs, preserving age-old rug making traditions, and treating artisans with dignity and respect: these are the foundations on which Nasia Burnet co-founded her business and remain central to the business ...
Square Vanilla, Sitges and SEO

Square Vanilla, Sitges and SEO

In July 2018 Katie Thomas took a leap of faith and moved to Sitges, just south of Barcelona, with her husband and 2 young daughters. Her girls have settled into school, she has found a like minded community of locals and internationals and her ...

  • Subscribe to our Newsletter

    MumAbroad meets the growing demand from English-speaking parents living in Spain, Italy, France and Germany for credible, up-to-date and trustworthy information – from international education and birthing options to family activities and relocation services.

    * indicates required