School in Spain has many differences to the UK. The ‘school year’ for age of the child, determining when they start education or which year they will join, is January to December, e.g. a child who’s 6th birthday is this year, will start school in September this year.
The school year runs from September to June, with a long break for summer. Christmas and Easter holidays are shorter than in the UK. Half terms do not really exist, though compensation is in the numerous local festival days and non-teaching days that give children and teachers more breaks in the school year. That said the school day is longer than in the UK and over the course of a year, Spanish students are at school for more hours.
There are usually 2 weeks of holiday at Christmas, 1 week over Easter and around 11–12 weeks over the summer.
The timetable at public schools is usually 7 hours a day, Monday-Friday, but varies slightly depending on the school, the region and the age of the children. Starting times in the morning vary. Primary school in Spain usually begins at 9am, in secondary school, the norm is 8 am. This works well in the summer, as it is cooler and light but in the winter, children are often going to school in the dark.
In primary school the day usually finishes at 2pm, with the option for children to stay on for the lunch (comedor) with after school club until 5pm – obviously useful for working parents. The secondary school day usually ends around 3pm.
Types of Schools in Spain
Equivalent to a comprehensive in the UK, these are the state funded schools and are free for children from age 3 to 18 years.
These are Spanish private schools which are subsided by the government. They follow the Spanish system of education, and have lower fees due to the subsidies.
These include Spanish and International schools, the latter usually being the most expensive. All schools in Spain have to follow the Spanish system of education, but International Schools run a parallel system, e.g. British GCSE and A levels. Some will also offer the International Baccalaureate.
Read about Choosing a School in Spain
Stages of School in Spain
Nursery School in Spain (Guarderías)
English speaking Guarderías have grown up grew up in response to demand, particularly in the major cities or the Costas and Islands.
Nurseries principally offer supervised low-cost childcare, rather than necessarily focusing on the child’s development.
There are also private, fee-paying nursery schools and these generally cater for children aged 2 to 6. Sometimes these are attached to primary schools, in which case children can just transition into their formal education. There is a reasonable amount of flexibility in terms of hours of attendance and parents can choose mornings, afternoons, full days or just a few days per week. The cost varies.
Infant School in Spain (Educación Infantil)
Although Infant school in Spain is voluntary, most children attend, from age 3 until 6, when compulsory education at Primary school begins.
Primary School in Spain (Educación Primaria)
Children attend Primary School in Spain from the age of 6 to 11.
In Primary School in Spain, children study, Spanish, Mathematics, Science, History, English, Art, Social Studies, Physical Education.
Secondary School in Spain (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria – ESO)
Secondary School in Spain covers the years from 12 to 16. As in the UK, most state secondary schools are completely separate from primary schools, in private schools however, they are often located together. In both there are core compulsory subjects and optional subjects. This forms the National Curriculum that all schools in Spain, whatever status, i.e. private or public, must follow.
On successful completion of Secondary, students gain a Graduate of Secondary Education Certificate, and can then move onto the next level of higher secondary school, which is the gateway to university. Less academic students may be awarded a School Certificate to confirm they have completed compulsory school in Spain, and leave at this point.
Students must pass the year. This means that they can only fail a maximum of two subjects and it is common for pupils to repeat years, even twice in some cases. This is a key difference with the UK, and means that there can often be quite an age difference between students in classes in the later years of secondary school in Spain.
Generally speaking public Secondary institutes do not have a great reputation, but this varies from area to area. It´s also worth noting that there is no uniform in public secondary schools in Spain, whereas there is in private schools.
Upper Secondary School in Spain (optional)
This is the equivalent of UK 6th form and is not compulsory. Students can study for university entrance or enter vocational studies. Some public secondary schools only have students from 6 to 16, so at this stage many go to a different school. Private schools generally cover the full cycle of school in Spain from primary through to the end of upper secondary.
Read more about the system of Education in Spain.
Registering a Child in Public School in Spain
You can register your child with a state public school in Spain once you and your family are registered as residents in the area at the local town hall. (Empadronamineto).
To register a child in a public you will need the following documents.
- Proof of residence in the catchment area (Padron)
- Identification – passport, ID card
- Child’s birth certificate or Libro de familia if born in Spain (some schools also ask for NIE if child was not born in Spain)
- Proof of the child’s vaccinations and a medical certificate of health (usually only at infant and early primary school age)
- Your last tax return – Declarcion de la Renta (not all areas)
Selection is based on a scored points system – the catchment area of the school – i.e the student living in that area, whether they have siblings at the school (more points), come from a large family or lone parent (more points).