Education is compulsory in Spain from 6 to 16, and schools in Spain are increasingly considered to be of a better standard than those in many other European countries (including the UK) with fewer discipline problems. Here’s a quick guide to the options and how they work.

International schools

  • The most popular choice for expats, with several in the area to choose from.
  • Some teach exclusively in English, others in English and Spanish.
  • Most are members of the National Association of British Schools in Spain (NABSS).
  • British schools usually follow the UK curriculum and offer GCSEs, A/S and A levels. Many also now offer the internationally – recognised international Baccalaureate diploma as an alternative to A levels.
  • Class sizes are small and the atmosphere is relaxed.
  • All international schools are fee paying. Fees vary from school to school.

Spanish schools

  • Spanish state education is open to all EU citizens and is free from pre-school to 18.
  • You’ll be expected to pay for books, stationery and extra-curricular activities.
  • Villages and suburbs have their own nursery and primary schools, but secondary schools have a larger catchment area.
  • The catchment area is all-important – if you’re set on a particular school, make sure you look for a home in the right area.
  • Around 30% of Spain’s school children go to a private school. These are fee paying and offer a lower student/teacher ratio than state schools.

The Spanish education system

– Pre-school Education (0-6 years):

A good way to integrate your children (and yourself) into the Spanish-speaking community. Pre-school education (“Educación Infantil”) is divided into two 3-year stages (0-3 years and 3-6 years). Pre-school education is not compulsory but is free during the second stage (3-6 years) in state-funded schools. There is also a range of nurseries, both state-funded and private, some run by expats.

– Compulsory Education (6-16 years):

This consists of two stages:

  1. Primary education (“Educación Primaria”) from the age of 6 to 12.
  2. Lower Secondary education (“Educación Secundaria Obligatoria” – ESO) from the age of 12 to 16. Unlike UK schools, if children fail their end of year exams at either primary or secondary level, they risk having to repeat the entire academic year – a definite motivator!

– Non-Compulsory Education (16-18 years):

Students can down one of two routes (as long as they have their certificate to show they have completed their ESO):

  • Upper level of secondary education (Bachillerato)
  • Intermediate vocational training. The upper level of secondary education prepares students for university. Alternatively, they can opt for vocational training, which begins with general training for the workplace and then moves into specialist areas and work experience placements.

– Higher Education:

Applicants for Spanish universities are expected to complete the entrance exam in their final year of secondary school. Once accepted at a university, students study for three years and gain either a “licencia” (in academic subjects) or a “diploma” in vocational or technical subjects. University graduates can then go on to do further study for the equivalent of an MA or PhD. Spanish universities have been in a constant state of change over the last few years because the government has been working to bring them into line with EU regulations and everything is due to be in place by 2010. In Spain it’s usual for students to attend the nearest university and live at home. There are several good universities in the area, including in Málaga, Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla. When it comes to grants, it’s a familiar story – you’re very unlikely to get one. So whether your children decide on university in Spain or in the UK, it will be quite an investment.