Get to know the Spanish education system for children

Learn the education system, public schools, international schools, required documents, and everything else about the Spanish education system in our guide.


7 minute read
Updated on 10 May 2024

If you’ve decided to relocate to Spain with your children, you might have questions about the education system. We can happily tell you that Spain has a high-quality and free education system.

But figuring out the educational system in Spain can be overwhelming for expat families. To guide you through this, we’ve outlined the Spanish education system for you: from levels of education to top public and private schools in Spain.

What's the education system like in Spain?

The Spanish education system consists of 5 levels – preschool, primary (elementary), secondary, higher education preparation and higher education (university). This guide will focus more on children’s education between ages 6 to 16.

In Spain, only primary and secondary education is mandatory. So compulsory education starts at the age of 6 and lasts until 16. After 16, it’s up to students if they want to pursue higher education or not.

The mandatory stage of education's free for everyone at public schools. There’re also many private and international schools in Spain. But most private schools are costly. Expect to pay as high as €10,000 annually for private schools in Spain.

Preschool education in Spain

The first stage of education is preschool. Children may attend them from as early as a few months old to 6 years old, but it’s not mandatory. Nonetheless, preschool attendance in Spain's very high as parents return to work after 16 weeks of maternity and paternity leave. Besides, sending children to preschool not only helps their social and motor skills but also prepares them for primary education.

Primary education in Spain (elementary school)

In Spain, mandatory education starts with primary education (educación primaria or colegio ). Children attend primary schools from age 6 to 12. Primary education consists of 3 cycles, with each lasting 2 years. At the end of the 2nd cycle, students take assessment exams.

Students learn core subjects such as mathematics, science, and social subjects, alongside physical education, artistic education, and a secondary language. The new laws passed in 2020 made the religion classes voluntary and introduced a civic and ethical education course into the curriculum.

To pass to the next stage, students receive an evaluation of their progress in each subject. If students fail, they’re only allowed to repeat the school year once.

Secondary Education in Spain

From the age of 12 to 16, students start their last phase of compulsory education – ESO (or Educación Secundaria Obligatorio). During these 4 years, they take many elective courses (music, technology, art, additional languages) alongside their core subjects. During the 2nd year of ESO, students take exams to assess their learnings.

In their last year of ESO, students can form their own curriculum to specialise in certain subjects. After they successfully finish this stage, they receive certification for the compilation of their secondary education.

Non-compulsory higher education preparation in Spain

Compulsory education ends at 16 and students get to decide if they want to proceed to higher education. After this, they can attend a Baccalaureate to go to a university or vocational school.

Spanish baccalaureate

The Spanish baccalaureate's (baccalaurete or bachillerato ) an optional 2-year program for students who want to pursue a university degree.

The baccalaureate curriculum's designed to prepare students for their future university degrees. As of 2023, there’re 4 baccalaureate curriculums:

  1. Arts
  2. Social science
  3. Science and humanities
  4. General curriculum

After finishing the baccalaureate, students may take university entrance exams (selectividad). To gain university admission, universities will look at both your baccalaureate scores and the selectividad scores – these account for 60% and 40%, respectively.

Vocational schools

Vocational schools (formación professional) give more job-specific training and prepare students for the workforce.

There’re 3 types of vocational schools in Spain:

  1. Basic-level (formación profesional básica)

  2. Medium-level (ciclo formativo de grado medio)

  3. Higher level (ciclo formativo de grado superior) - students must finish baccalaureate to attend the higher vocational schools.

    Public schools in Spain

Public schools (colegios públicos) are regulated and funded by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MEFP) and local autonomous education authorities. This way, education in public schools is free for children.

Although compulsory public education's free, students still have to pay for school materials such as school uniforms and books.

Public schools follow a curriculum created by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MEFP) and the regional educational authorities. The teaching language of public schools is Spanish. But in autonomous communities with official languages, some schools teach Basque, Catalan and Galician alongside Spanish.

Even though all public schools are in Spanish, they also teach English as a secondary language from age 6.

If you plan to stay in Spain for a long time, it’s better to enrol your child at a public school. This will allow your child to learn Spanish quickly, integrate into the culture faster, and attend free public universities in the future.

Top public schools in Spain

There're more than 20,000 public schools in Spain. Choosing the right one can be challenging.

The main thing you need to consider's how close the school is to your home because, in Spain, children must enrol in schools in their neighborhood. This often makes getting admission to your preferred school very challenging in crowded cities like Barcelona as there's a high demand for good schools.

Gràcia and Les Corts neighborhoods in Barcelona have many good schools. If you’re moving to Málaga, check the schools in La Malagueta and El Palo neighborhoods. In Valencia, most schools are located within a 15-30 mins drive from the center:La Eliana and La Patraix are the most popular ones.

Students usually attend secondary education and baccalaureate at the same public school.

For your convenience, we’ve gathered the top 5 public schools in Barcelona, Málaga and Valencia based on 1) the number of requests by families, 2) the number of times parents favourited it and 3) an average rating in reviews.

Top 5 public schools in Barcelona

  • Top 5 pre-schools and primary schools: Colegio Arts, Jungfrau, Pere Vila, Sagrada Família, Can Llobet.

  • Top 5 secondary schools and baccalaureate schools: Jaume Balmes, Viladomat, Guadalpín, Ernest Lluch, Les Corts

Top 5 public schools in Málaga

  • Top 5 pre-schools and primary schools: Isdabe Del Mar, Colegio Sohail, Rosa De Gálvez, Doctor Fléming, Colegio Andalucía

  • Top 5 secondary schools and baccalaureate schools:Vicente Espinel, Instituto El Chaparral, Instituto Guadalpín, Ben Gabirol, Instituto Mediterráneo

Top 5 public schools in Valencia

  • Top 5 pre-schools and primary schools: Federico García Lorca, Colegio Les Terretes, Jaime Balmes Valencia, Campanar, Botànic Cavanilles

  • Top 5 secondary schools and baccalaureate schools: María Carbonell I Sánchez, Instituto Patraix, Vicenta Ferrer Escrivá, Luis Vives, Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, Instituto Benlliure

Private schools in Spain

There are more than 9,000 private schools in Spain, of which approximately 3,500 of entirely private schools. These schools vary depending on their teaching style, language, curriculum, and other characteristics.

Private schools in Spain are either 1) publicly funded (colegios concertados) or 2) privately funded (colegios privados). Most private schools are publicly financed until secondary education and students attending such private schools usually don’t have to pay any fees until secondary education.

These're the types of private schools:

  • Publicly funded private schools: Private schools financed by the public have to follow the Spanish curriculum and have more room to offer different courses.

  • Private schools: These schools still follow Spanish education but offer more flexibility in their curriculum. Some of them teach other countries' curriculum alongside Spanish one.

  • Catholic schools: More than 15% of the schools in Spain are Catholic schools as it’s the most prominent religious group in the country.

  • International schools: International schools can be bilingual or trilingual. Most of the time, they also offer Spanish. International schools teach the curriculum of foreign countries. The most popular ones are UK, US, and French schools.

  • IB schools: There’re 175 IB schools in Spain. IB is equivalent to bachillerato. Hence, IB students have access to universities in Spain without restrictions.

International schools are especially a great fit for families that reside for short periods in Spain or plan to send their children abroad to pursue higher education.

Cost of attending a private school in Spain

Private schools in Spain are cheaper than in other countries and cost around €2,000+ per year depending on the school. Private schools in Barcelona and Madrid have higher fees than in the rest of Spain.

Compared to other private schools, religious schools usually have lower fees. Catholic schools require uniforms, but this's included in the fees alongside the necessary school materials.

Usually, publicly funded schools are free of charge. But in some cases, they may require very low fees or contributions. So it’s wise to double-check before enrolment.

Top 5 International Schools in Spain

  1. British Council School Madrid: This school defines itself as a bilingual and bicultural school. British Council School's the only school in Spain to receive the highest ratings by British Schools Overseas 3 years in a row.

  2. Benjamin Franklin International School Barcelona: Benjamin Franklin's one of the most prestigious and competitive schools in Spain. BFIS students can get 3 diplomas: American High School Diploma, International Baccalaureate Diploma, and Spanish Bachillerato Certificate. It’s very difficult to enrol at this school since it has a long waiting list.

  3. The Swedish School in Majorca: It’s a trilingual international school located in Mallorca. This school offers Swedish, English, and Spanish education.

  4. Lycée Française: Based in Barcelona, it’s the best French school in Spain.

  5. Escuela Suiza: It’s a Swiss international school located in Barcelona. Escuela Suiza is one of the most prestigious schools in Spain. This school provides education in 4 languages (German, English, French, and Italian)

5 Pros and cons of international schools in Spain

  • Pros: Attending an international school will give your child a global perspective.

  • Cons: It’ll also make it challenging to integrate into Spanish culture.

  • Pros: International schools provide high-quality education.

  • Cons: It’s never free and often expensive.

  • Pros: With an international diploma, your children can pursue higher education in any country.

  • Cons: Unless they obtain an IB diploma, they can’t attend Spanish Universities.

  • Pros: You can enrol your child in any international school you like. You don’t have to stick to nearby schools.

  • Cons: But not every neighborhood has an international school. Your child may have to travel more distance to go to school.

  • Pros: International schools teach in major languages such as English or French.

  • Cons: Becoming fluent in the local language's less likely. This can also impact making friends locally.

Documents required to enrol at schools in Spain

Almost all schools in Spain require the same paperwork for enrolment. As the bureaucratic processes can be pretty uncertain in Spain, we advise you to translate all the documents to Spanish even if they weren't requested.

These are the required documents for school admissions:

  1. The student’s birth certificate or passport (copy and original)
  2. Parents’ passports (original and copy)
  3. Health certificate of the child (including vaccinations)
  4. A residence registration certificate (certificado de empadronamiento) or rental contract
  5. 3 passport-sized photos
  6. Filled enrolment form

If your child's enrolling for secondary education, you need to obtain validation (homologación or convalidación) for the previous education level from the Ministry of Education. For convalidación, you’ll need the student's record book and birth certificate.

If you’re not yet in Spain, you can get the validation document at the Spanish embassy in your country. If you’re already in Spain, you can do this at the registry offices of the Ministry of Education or the registry offices of the local autonomous community you live in.

If you decide to send your child to an international school, your child may be required to take a language exam depending on which language the school’s curriculum is in.

This article is for informational purposes only.

Please reach out to if you have any suggestions or questions about the content on this page.

Share this article
Read more about renting in Spain
Browse other articles about the renting experience in Spain