Schools in Spain

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    UPDATED APRIL 2024

    Moving to Spain with your family means sending your kids to school, which means you not only have to look for housing, but also schools in Spain.

    And deciding which school is “the best school” for your kids is no easy task, because -as I see it- it is like solving a big puzzle. Everything has to fit to make sense:

    • Is it close to home? (ideally)
    • What’s the commuting time to my work (in case you drive your kids to school)
    • What’s the main language and what other languages are taught? Is it bilingual? Will my kid have problems adjusting to Spanish, if he or she doesn’t know Spanish?
    • Is the academic level the one I want for my kids?
    • What’s the opinion of other parents?
    • When, where and how do I apply?
    • What if my kid has a learning difficulty? (it’s more common than we think when the bundles of joy are born)
    • (Insert here your personal priorities).

    Then comes the question:

    What is best? A public school? An international school? What about a British school? Private but Spanish school?

    And then you start hearing about colegios concertados. What is that?

    So take a deep breath and let’s dig into the specifics of them all.

    Let’s start from the start…

    The Education System in Spain

    Spain’s school system is divided in 4 education stages:

    • Infantil – from 0-6 years – This stage is not compulasory and many kids start going to Infantil at 3 years of age. It is here when they start reading and doing very basic maths.

    If you come from Germany or Switzerland, this may seem very odd to you, but yes: Spanish kids start doing these things early in life.

    • Primaria (Primary school) – 6-12 years – This stage is compulsory.
    • ESO (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria) – 13- 16 years – as its name says, it’s Secondary School and it is compulsory (= obligatoria) for all kids that age.
    • Bachillerato (eq. to High School Diploma, Abitur, Bac, etc.) – 17-18 years – optional, but without this diploma, it’s not possible to sit the university entry exam (EvAU). 
    From the ESO, school is called INSTITUTO or INSTI, for short, and it includes Bachillerato, too.

    Types of Schools in Spain

    Public schools or Colegios Públicos

    Colegios Públicos – There are public Escuelas Infantiles, Primary Schools, and Institutos, but if they are public, they are not the same building of school. Children change buildings and schools when they pass to the next stage. 

    These schools are free (well, paid for by taxes), open to everybody who lives in Spain and the teaching language is Spanish, although most of them are called “bilingual”, either with English or French. There are a few, which offer German, too.

    To access these schools, you have to apply to the Comunidad de Madrid and the allocation of places is mainly by proximity to where you live, with a few exceptions. 

    Concertado Schools

    Concertados are Chartered Schools in the US. The system works well here and it is not like in the US. I point this out, because I was recently told that the system in the US is facing a lot of problems. 

    These schools are privately run but publicly funded and their admission policy is similar to that of the public schools.

    There is a monthly fee to pay in these schools, but it’s usually much smaller to that of the private schools and it’s normally affordable.

    Concertado schools are mainly Catholic, but there are a few non-religious ones and most of them offer all stages of education. 

    Private Schools or Colegios privados

    There is a wide range of private schools:

    • International schools that offer the IB programme, or not, in English or Spanish.
    • Spanish schools that follow the Spanish curriculum; or
    • Schools that offer other countries’ curriculum and system, like the German, French, Swiss, Scandinavian, Dutch, etc.

    Fees tend to be very high, and they are usually located on the outskirts of Madrid Capital, but some have their buildings in the city. Many offer a school bus service.

    Extra services, like bus, extracurricular activities and lunch tend to be charged for separately.

    Many expats choose these schools for various reasons, some of them being:

    • the company which brought them here pays for it, and/or
    • parents want their kids to continue in the same system they started, and/or
    • parents want their kids to not have issues accesing universities in their home countries, and/or
    • parents want their kids to continue learning in their mother language. 

    Whatever the reason, it is important to point out that not because these schools are international, means that Spanish won’t be spoken in the schoolyard. I mention this, because I have met parents who are surprised that most kids in these schools are actually Spanish, and that Spanish is actually spoken in the schoolyard. 

    Private schools offer all stages of education. 

    Facts about Spanish Schools

    • School usually starts between 8.30 and 9.30, (depending on the school) and have different end times. Private schools finish at 16.30-17.00. 

    Again, this depends on the school and some offer extracurricular activities (extraescolares), either after that time or they finish classes earlier and offer these extra activities until 17.00.

    Public and concertado institutos finish at around 14.30 or 15.00.

    • Children usually eat lunch at school (except public Institutos)

    Lunch is Spain’s main meal, and so it is in schools, with a three course meal (starter, main dish and dessert) and some time off after that. Then kids go back to class.

    Many schools cook the meals on the premises, but few do hire a caterer.

    • Homework (deberes)– the neverending trending topic among parents and children alike.

    Spanish schools have the reputation of giving too much homework, leaving children doing deberes until all hours of the night. My experience is that that depends on the school. And while many private schools won’t give too many deberes in Primary school, they will give much more from Secondary school on.

    • Languages (idiomas) – Spain has a bilingual system in their public and concertado schools. This means that many schools teach part of the curriculum in a second language (usually English, but some also offer French or German). The aim is that children grow up bilingual, and this system is very popular among Spanish parents because every one wants their kid to speak English naturally.

    It is so popular, that each year more schools adhere to this system.

    They also hire Asistentes de Conversación (Conversation assistants), who normally are native speakers with some teaching experience that want to come to Spain for a year to work.

    Whether this bilingual system is a good idea or not, I’m not going to discuss here (I have my very personal view on that), but it is definitely a very popular option, if you want your kids to learn in a Spanish environment, where they will pick up Spanish very quickly and naturally, yet still keep their spoken English.

    If you want more information on the Spanish Education System, check out this blog, from the expert of schools in Madrid, Sinead Galvin.

    Final thoughts

    I hope this article helped you a little bit in this quest to find “the perfect school” for your kid or kids, whatever perfect school means (this varies enormously from parent to parent, family to family and kid to kid). 

    In any case, do feel free to reach out if you have any question and I’ll gladly help in any way I can, if I can. 

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    Schools in Spain

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