Up to the age of 16, education in Spanish schools is free for all children who are resident in Spain.
School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, though children often attend state pre-school before the age of 6.
The exact guidelines under the most recent education system reform that began in 1991 and was gradually introduced until 2000 are as follows:
- Basic education is compulsory and free of charge, and is extended to the age of 16, the legal age for entering the work force.
- The educational system includes special education as well as general education, so that different modes of education are adapted to suit students with special needs.
- All students must have basic vocational training, which is provided in secondary schools. Vocational training is organized at two levels: the first at the end of compulsory secondary education, and the higher level following the bachillerato.
- Improvement in the quality of teaching must be achieved via renewal of course content, improvement in human resources and material resources and better use of the educational system.
- Religious instruction must be available and voluntary at all schools.
- Special educational systems are set up for the arts and language learning.
State schools in Spain are almost exclusively co-educational and entirely free, from nursery school through to university (and includes the children of foreign residents).
Over 90 percent of children aged four or five attend nursery school and over 55 percent of students remain in full-time education until they’re 18, with around 25 percent going on to vocational training and 30 percent to university.
School attendance is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16, though children often attend state pre-school before the age of 6. The families of children in state education are expected to pay the costs of books, which are only free in exceptional cases.
Critics of the Spanish education system complain that its teaching methods are too traditional and unimaginative, with the emphasis on learning by memorizing. It has also been plagued by poor teacher training, badly motivated and poorly paid teachers, and a high student failure rate, although all have improved in the last decade.
The private Spanish school education system is not as expensive as in other countries as it is partially subsidised by the state. A large proportion of the private system is run by the Catholic Church.
In 2006, during the general election campaign, the Socialist candidate Zapatero, promised that all students would be given the opportunity to become fluent in English by the age of 16. The socialist government does now seem to be delivering on this promise and has come up with a fairly radical plan to use English to teach parts of the primary and secondary school curriculum. They seem to be determined to raise the standard of English proficiency in Spain and there are now 1,000 infant, primary and secondary state schools in Spain that teach bilingually. Teaching in English has also become a priority for higher education in Spain. Although there have been many pioneering business schools and Universities that teach in English since a long time, many public institutions are now catching up and also offering courses taught in English.
Details on all aspects of schools in Spain (state and private) can be obtained from the Spanish Embassy Education Office in London or the Ministerio de Educacion in Madrid.
Pre-school education or Educación Infantil is available up to the age of 6 years and is divided into 2 groups, up to 3 years and from 3 to 6 years.
From 3 – 6 years the education starts to become more structured and takes place during normal school hours, although it is not a part of any curriculum.
This stage is not compulsory, although the central government will guarantee the existence of a sufficient number of places to ensure schooling for those who request it.
For those moving to Spain and with children of a suitable age, this is an excellent opportunity to give them a head start with their new language.
Primary School Education
Primary education or Educación Primaria is compulsory and free, for children aged 6 to 12 years. It consists of 3 cycles of 2 years each:
- first cycle: 6-8 years
- second cycle: 8–10 years
- third cycle: 10-12 years
The average number of students per classroom is approximately 25 in Spanish schools. The purpose of this level of education is to provide all children with a common education that makes it possible for them to acquire the basic cultural elements, learning oral expression, writing and arithmetic, as well as a progressive autonomy of action in their environment.
Teaching of foreign languages begins fully in the first year of the second cycle (8 years). Although, as is becoming common in most countries, languages are a key focus within education and a second language (English) may be taught at all age levels.
Secondary School Education
Secondary School education or Educación Secundaria Obligatoria is compulsory and also free. It comprises of 4 courses divided into 2 cycles of 2 years each. The first cycle is for pupils from 12 to 14 years and the second from 14 to 16 years.
There are approximately 30 students to a classroom in Spanish Schools. On successfully completing this education stage, pupils are awarded the certificate of Secondary Education Graduate giving access to Bachillerato and medium-grade training cycles in Spanish schools.
Post-Compulsory Secondary Education
Successfully achieving a certificate of Secondary education graduation allows access to higher level vocational training, university courses and other forms of specialised education.
The first option is the Bachillerato. The courses leading to the Bachillerato last for 2 years. 1st and 2nd year studies are available with students able to choose from the following subject categories: arts, natural and health sciences, humanities and social sciences, technology.
Curriculum: physical education, philosophy, history, arts, natural and health sciences, humanities, social sciences, technology, Spanish language, autonomous community language and foreign language.
The second option is occupational training. Occupational Training allows students to train into specific jobs and is often an excellent choice for students of a less academic nature.
Holders of this qualification may enter the workforce, or enroll in higher technical programs after accumulating occupational experience in their specialized course.
Higher Education in Spain
The choices after achieving the Bachillerato or Occupational Training become more varied.
Firstly, there is post-secondary occupational training, an extension of the occupational training that takes place from 16-18 years this allows students to further enhance their training to a higher level (grado superior) and lasts either one or two years.
The entrance requirement for post-secondary occupational training is either a bachillerato diploma (12 years of schooling), or técnico plus some work experience. Holders of this qualification may enrol at universities in fields related to the trade for which they have been trained, or they may enter the work force.
University education is a popular choice and there are nearly 100 universities in Spain (both public and private as well as those offering a UK, European or American curriculum), including several Catholic and private institutions of higher education.
Admission to Spanish state Universities is based on a national university entrance exam (Prueba de Aptitud para a la Universidad). The exam is held each June and due to the huge demand for higher education in Spain and the limited number of places, students with low score may not be admitted to the school of their choice, or even gain university entrance at all.
Programs and Degrees
Stage 1: Short-cycle degree programs that last three years are generally professional in nature. There are two types of short programs:
Programs leading to the Diplomado (university diploma) are offered at university schools (escuelas universitarias), which are attached to a university. These programs are offered in a wide range of subjects, including fine arts, information technology, library science, nursing, allied health, social work and teaching at the basic education level.
Programs leading to the Diplomado Ingeniero Técnico (engineering technician) or Diplomado Arquitecto Técnico (architectural technician) are offered at university schools of technical engineering and architecture (escuelas tecnicas universitarias de ingeniería y arquitectura).
Students who successfully complete their short-cycle programs generally do not undertake any further university study. However, if they choose to do so they may be required to complete a one-year adaptation course (Curso de Adaptación) to compensate for any curricular deficiencies in their education. They can then begin studies in Stage II programs in related disciplines leading to the licenciado.
Stages 1 & 2: Long-cycle programs, offered at universities, last between four and six years and lead to a Licenciado (licentiate degree or what is known as a Bachelor degree in the Anglosaxon world) or a Ingeniero or Arquitecto diploma (professional degree). These programs are divided into two cycles. The first cycle lasts two-to-three years and is comprised of general education plus studies in a major field; the second cycle requires two-to-three years of further specialization, ending with the conferral of a licenciado or professional degree.
Licenciado programs require a minimum of four or five years in such disciplines as arts, biological sciences, chemical sciences, economic and business sciences, law, pharmacy, political science and sociology, psychology and mathematical sciences. However, medicine and veterinary medicine each lasts six years.
Professional programs leading to ingeniero or arquitecto degrees in architecture, engineering and related fields require five-to-six years of study.
Master Degrees in Spain
Several universities and business schools currently offer master’s programs in business administration. There are several bilingual and English-language programs, and some business degrees are being offered jointly with the traditional licenciado. Although some of these programs are not formally recognized by the Ministry of Education, many enjoy solid international reputations and come with highly sought-after global work opportunities.
Stage 3: Students who wish to go on for a Doctorado must hold a licenciado degree or arquitecto or ingeniero diploma. Doctoral programs generally require two years of further study and consist of both coursework and a dissertation.