Schools in Spain: what you should know before moving
If you’re thinking of moving to Spain with your family, one of the first issues you need to resolve is the question of schooling for your children. “What is school like in Spain?” This is actually one of the most important things to take into account when moving to Spain: to understand how the Spanish education system works. Not only is it important to comprehend the teaching system, but also all the available options regarding school programmes, teaching languages, choosing private or public education… And even though learning about all these aspects might seem like a complicated task, it is important that you take them into account if you want to make the best choice for your children’s education.
The structure of the Spanish educational system
First of all, it is important to understand how the system works. The education in Spain is regulated by the Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación) but every autonomous community (region) has to administrate the educational centres within their territory. For example, all schools in Andalucía (Southern Spain) are regulated by the Junta de Andalucía, but must comply with the structure and content required by the central government. This general structure includes, among other things, each educational phase that every child must attend. Education is mandatory and free in Spain from ages 6 to 16; it is also free from ages 16 to 18, although it is not mandatory. Many schools also offer education from age 3 to age 6. This is often free of charge, however, some centres require the payment of a school fee. In order to give a clearer idea of how the system is structured, we will describe each level of education from the age of 0 up to university:
1. Nursery (Guardería)
Nurseries in Spain are centres in which qualified staff take care of children between the ages of 0 to 3 for a certain number of hours a day. These are not educational centres, but places where children can develop certain personal aspects such as their communicative and social capabilities.
In Spain you can find both public and private kindergartens. The prices will depend on the autonomous community where you live, but the average price is around 300€ monthly. This price usually includes an eight hour day of child care plus lunch and an afternoon snack. With regards to public day care centres, it is slightly more complex. First of all, although they’re called “public” nurseries, the fact is that they are not entirely free of charge. There is usually a fee, that will vary depending on the family’s income, as the Spanish government partly subsidises this service. To give you an idea, in the Community of Madrid the prices go from 60€ to 197€ a month, depending on the income of the family. So we could say that the main advantage of public day care centres is their price. Private nurseries, on the other hand, have the advantage that there are a much higher number of places available and their schedule is much more flexible.
2. Infant education (Educación Infantil)
This period goes from year 3 to 6, and it is completely free of charge. As a kindergarten, it is not compulsory, but currently almost 100% of the children in Spain attend infant school. The number of daily hours usually goes from 6 to 8, a schedule that encompasses activities that aim for the child’s cognitive, psychomotor and communicative development.
3. Primary education (Educación Primaria)
Spanish primary school encompasses ages 6 to 12. This period is compulsory for every child living in Spanish territory, and during the six one year courses students will receive a basic education with regards to general culture, as well as developing speaking, reading, and writing abilities as well as learning arithmetics. This level of education is also free of charge; however, books and school material are often not free. However, there are many state subsidies to cover these expenses which are granted according to the family’s level of income.
4. Secondary education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria)
This period includes students from age 13 to 16, and it is the last compulsory educational period. It is also free of charge in state schools. The programme is the same for all students except during the last year because, depending on the student’s studies’ interests, they will need to choose certain optional subjects. The focus of this period is to prepare students for higher studies and their future professional life. The schedule may vary depending on the school, but it usually consists of approximately seven hours a day, five days a week (like all the aforementioned levels of education).
5. High school (Bachillerato)
This two-year period prepares 17 and 18 year old students for the next step in their education. It is non-compulsory, and it is also free in state schools. Consisting of an average of 7 hours a day, five days a week, this level of education requires students to choose at the beginning of this high school period what branch they wish to specialise in. The choices are: social sciences, health sciences, technological sciences or the arts. This diploma is necessary in order to go on to university and vocational training studies. The majority of centres offer evening courses for those who cannot attend the courses in the morning.
6. University (Universidad)
Public university in Spain is partially subsidized by the Spanish central government, as well as each regional government and for this reason there may be a great difference in tuition fees depending on where you choose to live. For example, in Andalucía the annual tuition for studying medicine is around 700€; in Cataluña, it is about 2.300€. Private university annual fees can be as high as 9.000€, and the difference in quality between private education and public may not justify the difference in price.
The duration of degree courses at university is generally four years, except for medicine, architecture and veterinary degrees, which are five years long. Once you get your university diploma, you are considered an undergraduate; you can pursue postgraduate studies in most universities, both classroom-based and distance learning modalities.
Concertada schools, international schools and homeschooling
We have talked about public and private centres in Spain, but there is yet another modality of schooling we need to address, which is the “concertada” school system. A “concertada” school is a school that is halfway between public and private: its administration is private, but its funding is mainly public. Public schools must be secular, whereas “concertada” (and private) schools can be religious, given the fact that they usually not only receive money from the state but also from private donors. This results, usually, in better facilities and extracurricular activities, but it also might mean that the education in these centres is imparted in line with a particular ideological orientation, whichever it may be.
Although every single school centre in Spain teaches a second language (usually English), the main programme is carried out in Spanish. However, private schools usually offer an “international” modality; that is, they teach their entire programmes both in Spanish and in the second language (English, French…). These are known as bilingual schools, and there are a great variety of centres offering these programmes across the country.
However, if you feel that none of these modalities suits you and your family and you would prefer to homeschool your child, the bad news is that Spain is not exactly homeschooling-friendly. Homeschooling is not legislated in Spain: it is not expressly forbidden, but there is a law that obligates every child to attend school from years 6 to 16, and according to some, homeschooling could be considered absenteeism. For this reason, homeschooling falls into a legal loophole; you might be lucky and not be prosecuted but you do risk facing judicial and legal problems. So before considering this option, it is advisable to seek legal advice.
School holidays in Spain
Lastly, regarding school holidays, there are several during each educational period. The academic year starts in September and ends between June and the beginning of July; this means a two month summer holiday for students of all ages. Apart from national holidays, for example, the Fiesta Nacional de España on the 12th of October, students also get two weeks off during Christmas, one week off during Easter, and some autonomous communities get one extra week linked to some local festivity.
Hopefully, the above information will help make your move to Spain with your children easier and help you make the best possible choice for their education.