Education in Spain

Last updated: November 20, 2019

Education in Spain is widely accessible to everyone due to state education and the relatively cheap cost of university (compared to the UK).  Education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16 years and very popular to continue studying a ‘Bachillerato’ ages 16-18 (the Spanish equivalent of college or 6th form). University is also a very accessible, popular option.

The Education System in Spain

Education is one of the most important steps in terms of a career in Spain, so there is a lot of value based on achieving good grades. Living in a small town will mean you won’t have much variety when choosing a school, but in many of the big cities there is a large range of both state and private schools. In addition, there are many English speaking schools where it is possible to follow the British style of education system (including GCSEs and A-Levels).

The education system in Spain is categorised into the following age groups:

  • 0 -3 years: Guarderia, called nursery in the UK
  • 3-6 years: Escuela Infantil, pre-school
  • 6-12 years: Primaria, primary school
  • 12-16 years: ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria), secondary or high school
  • 16-18 years: Bachillerato, A levels
  • Formación Profesional: Apprenticeship
  • 18+: University and higher education
AgeType of SchoolDescription
0-3GuardariaCalled nursery in the UK
3-6Escuela InfantilPre-school
6-12PrimariaPrimary school
12-16ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria)Secondary or high school
16-18BachilleratoA levels
16-18Formación ProfesionalApprenticeship
18+University and Higher Education4 year undergraduate degree

Education in Spain

Primary and Secondary Education in Spain

It is possible to enroll children in nurseries from the age of 3 months to 3 years. There is a monthly fee for most public nurseries, however in addition to public ones there are private nurseries which are often more expensive. After nursery most children in Spain go to kindergartens from the ages of 4 to 6. Unlike the UK this is not required by law. Similarly to ‘reception classes’ in the UK kindergartens are often in the same buildings as primary schools,

Primary School

Compulsory education in Spain starts at 6 years old. The Spanish system differs to the UK as there are three educational cycles in primary school, each lasting two years (similar in some ways to a key stage in British education). It is only possible to move to the next cycle after passing the previous one. The first two cycles are based around building a general education, the third cycle has a focus on building skills needed for high school such as Spanish, maths and science, in addition to foreign languages (mostly English) and physical education.

High School

After primary school, Spanish students must continue into compulsory secondary school (ESO) until the age of 16. This is also divided into two cycles each lasting two years.

Education in Spain

Following completion of these two cycles a Spanish student has three options:

  1. Continue education in the Bachillerato, this can be specialised into areas such as science, social science, arts and philosophy. This is the equivalent of college or 6th form
  2. Vocational or professional training, like an apprenticeship
  3. Enter the work force

There is a slightly different relationship between students and teachers at this stage, it may be a surprise to learn that it is normal for students to call professors by their first names!

University in Spain

Spanish students must pass an entrance exam before going to university. Fees are much cheaper in Spain than the UK, around €1,000 per year, however this needs to be paid upfront. Nevertheless, students that achieve higher grades are often entitled to reduced fees. It is important to note that education in Spain is taught in a more theoretical way than in Britain, however this is starting to change. Spanish education has come a long way and now there are even more female than male students in university. Hours are often longer than in the UK and there is a higher emphasis on exams at the end of each module or course.

Unlike the UK, Master’s programmes are much more important when it comes to employability. To afford costs, a lot of Spanish students tend to commute to local universities from home, although if they live too far away it is normal to live in a flat shared with other students.

What Next?

Thinking of moving to Spain? Check out our overview of everything you need to know!