The Spanish Education System

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Spanish education system

Spain is a country that boasts a high-quality education system, with many top-tier schools and universities around the country.

For those new to the country, figuring out the varying levels of the Spanish education system may feel overwhelming.

Are certain grade levels compulsory? What about tuition? Is Spanish proficiency a requirement?

You’ve likely asked these questions as you begin looking into schooling in Spain.

That’s why we’ve created a guide complete with all you need to know about the education system in Spain!

We’ll briefly explore each level of the education system so that you are able to understand the differences in options like curriculum, structure, and educational outcomes.

Taking Attendance with the Spanish Education System

The Spanish education system as a whole is made up of five different levels. These levels include:

  • Preschool: ages 0 to 6
  • Primary Education: ages 6 to 12
  • Secondary Education: ages 12 to 16
  • Baccalaureate/Vocational School: ages 16 to 18
  • University Education: From 18 years old

Some of these levels are compulsory, while others are not.

For example, schools in Spain require students between 6 to 16 years of age to attend school regularly.

This includes primary and secondary school levels. Therefore, preschool (escuela infantil) and Baccalaureate (bachillerato) levels are not compulsory.

In addition to grade levels, Spain also has a few different types of schools available for students.

These types include public, private, semi-private, and international.

Full-time schooling is compulsory for students whether they attend a state-funded public school (Colegio Público), or a privately-funded school (Colegio Privado).

Spanish education system


The Spanish Education System is regulated by the Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional (Ministry of Education and Vocational Training).

This means that the central government determines curriculum like teaching methods, assessment criteria, objectives, and more.

However, regional education authorities have also developed separate state regulations with the local autonomous communities.

This means that each of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain can make the majority of decisions regarding their own education systems.

For example, public schools in Spain use the Spanish teaching language. But for other autonomous communities, the teaching language might be Galician, Basque, or Catalan.

Spanish Education System Costs

Public education in Spain is free for students to attend until the age of 18, however parents usually have to pay for books, materials, transportation, meals, and uniforms.

Spain does offer a range of financial aid for those who are unable to meet certain costs associated with schooling.

For example, various grants, tax relief programs, and direct financing options are available via the Ministry of Education.

These costs are relevant to expats as well – as long as they’ve registered for an empadronamiento (this is the process of registering yourself as a resident!)

For expat families who move to Spain, enrolling children in the local school system allows kids to become part of the community, as well as being able to work on Spanish fluency.

For private schooling, costs will depend on the school itself, as well as the location of the school.

Bigger cities like Madrid or Barcelona will generally have higher tuition costs.

Private schools in Spain may cost around €4,000 per year.

Basic Education in Spain (Pre-school and Primary Education)

Education in Spain usually begins around the age of 3 when the majority of children start Educación Infantil (preschool).

This is known as early childhood education, which lasts until 6 years of age. Keep in mind, this level of schooling is not compulsory in Spain.

However, it is provided for free at publicly funded institutions – most children do complete this level of schooling.

Preschool guarderías (nurseries) are available prior to the age of 3. However, unlike schooling for 3- to 6-year-olds, this level of schooling is not free.

Local autonomous communities (Comunidades Autónomas) are responsible for preschool curriculum and learning.

From the age of 6 until the age of 12, it is compulsory for children to begin primary school education (Educación Primaria).

Primary school focuses more on reading, writing, mathematics, oral expression, and language.

Similar to preschools, local autonomous communities are responsible for the primary education school curriculum. However, teachers and schools can also craft their own teaching decisions at this level.

During primary schooling, Spain’s primary schools must provide core material for subjects such as:

  • Social sciences
  • Spanish literature and language
  • Natural sciences
  • Foreign language

50% of time taught in classrooms must be dedicated to the above core subjects.

In Spain, children typically attend primary school closest to their home.

Spanish education system

Secondary Education in Spain

The next phase of compulsory schooling in Spain is known as Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO).

Spanish secondary school education begins around the age of 12 and lasts until age 16.

It is compulsory for all Spanish students to complete four years of Educación Secundaria Obligatoria.

During these schooling years, students are able to take elective courses alongside their core subjects.

Baccalaureate or Vocational School in Spain

After compulsory education has been completed, students can then choose to continue studying in their secondary school for a Bachillerato (an optional 2-year program) or move to a vocational school to study for a Formación Profesional.

These programs are sometimes referred to as upper secondary education.

For students who decide to prepare for future university degrees, 4 baccalaureate curriculum paths exist:

  • Social science
  • Science and humanities
  • Arts
  • General curriculum

Students can only consider studying at a university if they have completed a Bachillerato or Formación Profesional.

Bachilleratos are also free, though they are non-compulsory.

Bachilleratos give students the opportunity to study more specific subject areas in their secondary school.

For students hoping to take the Formación Profesional route, vocational schooling usually lasts two years.

Spain has three different types of vocational schools including:

  • Basic-level
  • Medium-level
  • Higher level

Students gain job-specific education and complete an apprenticeship in a relevant organization during time at a vocational school.

University in Spain

The Spanish Education System continues into the university level where students can study for a Grado (Bachelor’s Degree), a Máster (Master’s Degree), or a Doctorado (Post-Master’s Degree).

University education in Spain is non-compulsory. While it is not free, it is generally more affordable than other higher education locations.

There are public and private universities in Spain, with courses significantly more economical at public universities.

In Spain, many universities are funded by the state.

Higher education in Spain is known for attracting local and international talent.

In fact, Spain has 55 universities that land on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2024.

These universities are spread across the country from Barcelona to Seville.

Spanish Education System – Documents for Admission

Many schools throughout Spain require similar enrollment paperwork, no matter the level of schooling.

Basic admission documentation will generally include:

  • Birth certificate or passport
  • Parent(s) passport
  • Vaccination and health certificates
  • Residence certificate
  • 3 passport-sized photos
  • Completed enrollment form

It is recommended that all documentation be provided in Spanish.

For expats or international students, finding a sworn Spanish translator might be helpful for those submitting sworn Spanish translation document copies.

Spanish education system

Spain Education – Roll Call

When finding a school for yourself, or for a family member, we hope you are able to refer to this guide for help.

For additional assistance, please get in touch if you require help with anything related to the Spanish Education System.

Go! Go! España can help recommend many excellent Spanish universities, and is here to help anyone who is interested in coming to study in Spain.

We’re also here to provide help with various schooling necessities like accommodation, visa applications, and more.

We look forward to helping you begin your exciting journey within the Spanish education system!


How many levels is the Spanish education system made up of?

The Spanish education system is made up of five levels. Two of these levels are compulsory, while the other three are not required.

What are some common classes students in Spain are required to take?

While curriculum may vary slightly, many primary school students will study the Spanish language, as well as biology, history, geography, and mathematics.

What is the length of a school day in Spain?

It depends on the school, but schools generally begin at 8 or 9 AM and run through 5 PM. Other schools may end earlier around 3 PM.

What age do you finish required schooling in Spain?

In Spain, students are required to attend school from 6 until 16 years of age.

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