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Education and SchoolsBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Spain - Education and Schools
The academic year begins midway through September and finishes midway through June. There are 3 terms divided into 11 week blocks. The first term starts in September and breaks for two weeks for the Christmas holidays in December. The next term starts shortly after the festival of Epiphany on the 6th of January breaking for two weeks in March or April for the Easter holidays and the final term finishes midway through june for the long summer holidays which span 10-11 weeks. On public holidays and religious days schools will close if these dates coincide with term time. As dependant on the comunidad autonoma fiestas may result in school closures.
Nursery school (guarderias) 0-2 years
Working parents often use nurseries for low cost day care when they go to work. There are state run local nurseries and English speaking nurseries some of which are private. Spanish nurseries can help expat children get a head start with learning the language. Hours are fairly flexible, AM, PM sessions are common a few or all weekdays are possible. Private schools may have nurseries next to primary schools so the child will progress to the new school stage easily. These nurseries look after children from 2-6 years.
Pre School/ Kindergarten (escuela infantil) 3-5 years
Kindergarten offers a more structured routine with an emphasis on basic learning with some lessons in art, music and individual and teamwork. Teachings centre on understanding road safety and other life subjects. Self esteem and relationships with other children are taught. Whilst kindergarten is voluntary, many parents still enroll their children during these formative years. Hours vary per pre school.
Primary school (educación or escuela primaria) 6-12 years
Primary education is compulsory. The average primary school day begins at 9am with a structured table of learning until 12pm then a 2.5-3 hour break for lunch, a siesta then starting up again at 3pm-5pm. Extra curricular activities take up the afternoon. Children are often given a snack at 5pm. The primary school system is structured in blocks of 2 years each where they have one class teacher for 2 years. Children study a second language, science, maths, general knowledge, geography and other subjects for a rounded knowledge of life and academia. The teaching focuses on the needs and abilities of each child and lessons are therefore structured around this.
Secondary school (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria or ESO) 12-16 years
After finishing primary school students move onto secondary school. School days start at 8.30/9am and finish at 3pm but this ranges per region. Lessons consist of wide selection of subjects with both core subjects and the studying of visual arts, technology, music and natural and social sciences. Also included is the language of the autonomous community the school is in, if available. Those that achieve the academic standards to pass secondary school after 4 years get a graduado en educación secundaria certificate and are able to go to upper secondary education and those that do not are given a (certificado de escolaridad) so that if they choose to they can attend vocational school (formación professional) to specialise in a career. Students can also enter work at this age as compulsory education finishes.
Vocational school (formación profesional) 16-19 years
State funded schools for 16-18 year olds. The schooling runs in two streams, the first is called grado medio is available to students who received their graduado en educación secundaria certificate and are choosing to undertake vocational training.The second is known as grado superior and is specific to students who passed the baccalaureate. There is an emphasis on studying languages, IT and telecommunication where three quarters of the students time is spent studying their topic and the rest of the time is hands on training in the industry. Also common are hairdressing, electrician and plumbing courses.
Upper secondary school (Bachillerato/ Ciclos Formativos de Grado Medio) 16-18 years
After secondary school students can carry on with their education for 2 more years for the Bachillerato certificate, a necessary certificate to attend University. Students have core subjects and a specialist area. 9 subjects are studied with exams each year culminating in al mark up to 10. Once the Bachillerato is passed, the examination of university can be sat. (Selectivo). The student over the process of 3 days undertakes 7-8 exams and will again be graded up to 10. Both scores combined will decide what they can study for degree level.
Bachelors degrees (Carrera (Diplomatura 3 years Ciclos Formativos de Grado Superior) ) 3-4 years
Bachelors degrees come in many fields including engineering, sciences, arts and humanities and law. Students can live in campus or stay in other accommodation. Universities can issue non official degrees or degrees. They are valid for inside the EHEA. Students undertake exams throughout their study.
Masters degrees (Posgrado) 1-2 years
Students who undertake a postgraduate study must have a bachelor's degree for example in archeology or journalism must create a thesis and defend it in their final year of study.
Doctoral degree or PhD (Doctorado) 3-4 years
After the student has achieved a masters degree they may undertake a doctoral degree. Divided into two parts, one which involves research and the other which requires 60 credits the student defends their doctoral thesis in the final stages of study.
State schools (colegios públicos)
State funded schools with sometimes large classes often 30. Limited extracurricular activities which are paid for as are books for study. Spanish is the main language of teaching (depending on autonomous region) whilst some in areas with a high population of foreigners may be bilingual.
Privately run schools funded by the State (colegios concertados)
If one quarter of students are Spanish then these private schools receive subsidised rates and fees from the state. They are otherwise mostly fee paying schools. Such schools can be bilingual, co-educational or Catholic (which received funding from the church). These schools generally have school uniforms, smaller classes and a good reputation in academic results.
International schools (colegios internationales)
International schools are fee paying schools which offer multi language teaching, internationally recognised homework, various curriculums a grading system based on North American or British standards. A popular choice for expats, international schools can meet the needs of non native students with a high standard of education and easier integration as they continue their studies without the disruption of a new curriculum.
When it comes to grading systems for primary and secondary schools, Spain uses a 10 point scale with certificates for top grades. The US system sees a letter grading system from F-A and UK schools using various combinations of letters and number grading. UK students always wear uniforms. It would only be in state sixth form colleges where their own clothes could be worn. In Spain most children do not wear uniforms though in international and private schools they would. In America it would only be private institutions where uniforms are worn. The educational system in Spain is based on the Fundamental Law of Education (Ley Orgánica de Educación) which sees compulsory education from 6 years to 16 years. Comparatively in the England compulsory schooling starts at 4-5 years (depending on birthday) to 16 years with the student needing to be either in vocational training, volunteering and education or working an apprenticeship until they are 18. In the US compulsory education it depends on which state the student lives in. It can range from 5-8 years and end from 16-18 years.
State schools have a set quota for students so places are awarded depending on those who apply first. For some state schools in populated areas it can mean competition as there is a problem of overcrowding and large class sizes in places such as Costa Del Sol which can be problematic. Competition also lies mostly in international schools where academic excellence is strived for as the student enters a world famous institute. Many international schools have a waiting list so apply early.
For state school applications the period begins from May until September where parents can register at the school directly, or sometimes town hall( empadronamiento). Each region has different requirements so do check and you’ll need to call the school you want to enrol in advance to ensure you can gather all the information required. The school can inform you if you need to get any documents translated. Make sure you have to hand originals of the child's birth certificate, immunisation records, proof of address, rental contract/deed and your passport. Next comes an interview from the school where you’ll hand over a copy of your child's academic transcript. It may be that the child needs to take a Spanish proficiency exam at the school too.
Applying to international schools sees you contact them directly and to continue with the application process which may mean forms sent you in person to be filled out or an online application form. School reports, exam results and other necessary documents will be requested and the school will contact you for an interview.
After school clubs and extracurricular activities vary according to the location of the school and whether it is a state run, private or international institution. If it is a state school in a town then after school clubs or activities wouldn’t generally occur, sports and other activities would be undertaken outside of the school in the many indoor or outdoor sports clubs and organisation which run throughout Spain. Popular sports played are volleyball, football, tennis and table tennis. If the state school is in a city like Barcelona or Madrid then there are a higher range of activities with a variety of sports plus ajedrez (chess) canto (singing) danza (ballet) and I.T. Private and international schools also offer extra curricular activities of this nature as well as music, drama and more specialist activities. Children are often active outside of school be it joining social clubs or sports clubs and as a result after school activities and extracurricular activities aren’t so common as in the rest of Europe.
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