The Spanish Education System

Schooling in Spain is compulsory between the ages of three and sixteen.

Schooling in Spain is state-funded and compulsory between the ages of three and sixteen. However, parents or legal guardians must pay for books, materials, and sometimes uniforms for their children. Generally speaking, there are three categories of Spanish schools in the Spanish education system: public schools (colegios públicos), which are mostly state-funded; private schools (colegios privados), which are privately funded; and semi-private schools (colegios concertados), which are funded partially by the state and partially by private sources.

Once the required schooling is finished, a student can then opt to continue studying in their secondary school (the last two years are called Bachillerato) or move on to a vocational school for intermediate vocational training (Formación Profesional de grado medio). Only those who finish Bachillerato or higher vocational training (Formación Profesiónal de grado superior) can be admitted to a university.

Let’s look at the different types of schools in Spain.

Spanish Preschool

Preschool education in Spain, called educación infantil, is divided into two cycles. The first cycle is for children 0-3 years old and is optional. Therefore, families have to pay for the first cycle of preschool, although there are aid programs for families in need. The second cycle of preschool education is obligatory in Spain, so students 3-6 can attend public preschool for free.

Spanish Elementary School

In Spain, primary school or colegio is made up of six academic school years; students are between the ages of 6 and 12. The objective is to give Spanish students a common, solid education in culture, oral expression, reading, writing, and math.
In general, the teaching methodology focuses on students’ cognitive and social development.

Spanish school hours depend on the school, but there are two main schedules. Some schools run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a two-hour lunch break from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Other schools begin at 9 a.m. and end at 2 p.m., the typical lunchtime in Spain. When school gets out, everyone is free to go home for the most important meal of the day (according to Spanish eating customs).

Spanish Middle School and Spanish High School

Compulsory Secondary Education 

After colegio, Spanish students enter Educación Secundaria Obligatorio, or ESO. Students in ESO are between 12 and 16 years old, which would be a mixture of middle school and the first two years of high school in the U.S.
By law, Spanish students must finish the four years of ESO, but if they repeat a year and turn 16 before they finish, they are able to leave school if they wish.

The objective of ESO is for students to develop critical thinking skills and other abilities that will help them in their adult lives, such as working as part of a team.

Spanish Baccalaureate

Bachillerato is non-compulsory, free education for students aged 16 to 18, which would be the last two years of high school in the U.S.

Although it’s not required, more and more young people are deciding to stay in secondary school for these last two years. During this time, students acquire more specific knowledge related to an area of study of their choosing: art, science and technology, or humanities and social sciences.

Once students graduate from Bachillerato, they can take the university entrance exam or go on to higher vocational training (Formación Profesiónal de grado superior).

Intermediate and Higher Vocational Training

Vocational Training in Spain, also known as Formación Professional or FP, is job-specific training that prepares students to enter directly into the workforce. In general, the programs last two years and require students to complete an apprenticeship or internship in a company where they can put what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice.

The difference between intermediate (grado medio) and higher (grado superior) vocational training is the amount of theory the student learns and the level of specialization they acquire as a result.

Spanish University and Higher Education

Spanish university degrees usually require four years of study, although certain degrees require additional years. In accordance with the European Commission of Education and Training, Spanish higher education consists of Bachelor or undergraduate degrees (Grado) for four-year programs, Master's degrees (Máster) for two-year post-graduate programs, and Doctorates (Doctorado) for post-master's education.

University studies are not compulsory, so students are responsible for paying for their own higher education. The price of tuition is much lower in public universities than in private universities. There are many internationally recognized public Spanish universities, such as the Autonomous University of Madrid, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Salamanca, and the University of Alcalá de Henares, among many others.