Educating your children in Spain: we take a look at the school system and qualifications from nursery to Baccalaureate

International Schools in Spain

There are two types of international schools: schools that teach in their native language and follow their country’s curriculum with or without Spanish as a second language and schools that teach in their native language and follow the Spanish curriculum.

As well as American and British schools there are also French, German, Swedish and other foreign-language schools in Spain. Under Spanish law, all foreign schools must be approved by their country’s embassy in Spain. Most of the international schools are located in Madrid, Barcelona, Mallorca, the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca. International schools tend to have a more relaxed, less rigid regime and curriculum than state schools and often provide a more varied and international approach to sport, culture and art, as well as a wider choice of academic subjects. Many also provide English-language summer school programmes combining academic lessons with sports, arts and crafts, and other extra-curricular activities.

From the ages of 16 until 18, students can study the Spanish Bachillerato which enables them to enter University in Europe and the US. There are two parts, a core curriculum with the compulsory subjects, and a specialist part with a few pre-selected branches to choose from (see below for the types of Bachillerato available to students). Numerous international schools in Spain now offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), a Diploma Programme for students of 16 to 19 years leading to a qualification that is recognised by leading universities around the world. Since June 2008, the IB has been recognised as the equivalent to Spanish high-school qualification. Because of its international nature, the IB is often favoured by students whose families have relocated or are relocating abroad.

It is worth noting that although some schools are classified as ‘international’, many of the children are Spanish so your child will be exposed to the Spanish language through their classmates if it is not a language of instruction.

For more detailed information on international schools in Spain as well as recommendations from parents please visit the the international schools page in Spain of the MumAbroad website

Spanish State School System

All state schools in Spain have the same regulations and format laid down by the Ministry of Education, but autonomous regions may have slight variations of calendar dates, school timetable and languages studied (where that autonomy speaks one of the recognised official languages of Spain). The period of free obligatory schooling is from 6 – 16 years but the Government also provides free schooling for all children from the age of 3 and also provides some subsidised nurseries from 4 months old.

The state school system can be broken down into the following sections:


Mainly private but some subsidised state nurseries are available. Places are awarded on a points system.


Educación Infantil (Infant school) 3 – 6 years

Education is not compulsory at this age but the Government is obliged to provide you with a place if you want one and if you are registered with the Town Hall. There is a two week application period usually in March/April. Places are limited in each school and awarded on a points system so you may not get in at your first choice school.

Educación Primaría (Primary school) 6 – 12 years 

From 6 years education becomes compulsory in Spain.

Most children have already gained their place by applying in Educación Infantil, so at this stage there are few places available. Application is during a two week window in March/April and awarded on a points system where available. If necessary the Education Department is obliged to form another class in one of the schools to accommodate everyone. At the end of their time in primary school, each child is given a Historial Academico, a copy of which is also forwarded to their secondary school.

Primary education is divided into 3 cycles – Inicial (years 1 and 2), Media (years 3 and 4) and Superior (years 5 and 6). Children considered not to have attained the necessary level of development or maturity to progress to the next cycle have to repeat the final year of the cycle – this can only be applied once in their primary education.


Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO) (Secondary school) 12 – 16 years

At 12 children move onto the Instituto where they study for at least 4 years to obtain Graduado Escolar, a global certificate demonstrating a basic proficiency in 6 core subjects and 3 optional subjects. Students can leave when they turn 16, and if they haven’t obtained a Graduado Escolar, they are awarded a Certificado de Escolaridad which shows the years they have been at school and the subjects studied. Evaluation is internal and continual, and students considered to have not reached the required level in more than two of their subjects are required to repeat the year. The same year cannot be repeated more than once, and students can’t repeat more than twice in their secondary education. Application is during a two week window in March/April and places are awarded on a points system where applicable. As there are fewer Institutos, the number of places available at each school varies each year as the Government is obliged to provide places within the town for everyone.

Educación Secundaria no obligatoria (Bachillerato) 16 – 18 years

Bachillerato consists of two years’ study, at the end of which students receive the title of Bachiller which indicates a proficiency in 7 core subjects plus 7/8 subjects related to their chosen area.

Possible Bachillers (although not always available at every Instituto) are:

  • Art (art, image and design)
  • Performing Arts (music and dance)
  • Science and Technology
  • Humanities and Social Sciences

Evaluation is internal and continuous and the teaching staff decide if each student has reached the required level in all their subjects and has the required maturity to be awarded the Bachiller title. Students considered to have not acquired the necessary level or maturity are required to repeat a year. Students who have been awarded the Bachiller can then apply to University by sitting an external entrance exam set by the University board for that region where they are examined in language and literature, a foreign language, history or philosophy and other subjects of their choice.

Concertadas (Subsidised schools)

A Concertada is a semiprivate school, often religious, that receives public funding. Application is during a two week window in March/April and awarded on a points system where available. The fees are considerably less than those at a fully private school.

For more information on state and international schools please visit the MumAbroad Spain website.