Comparison of Primary School in USA and Spain

Spain education system compared to US. School in Spain - education options for expats. Differences and similarities between schools in Spain and the United States. Read more on

First let me start by saying that we have a limited source of data for this post. It is just our opinion  and Comparison of the 1 Primary School we attended in USA and the 1 Primary School we are attending in Spain.  This is by no means meant to generalize for a country or even a city/district.

These are just the things we have personally experienced or observed in our own little Wagoner Bubble, with the Spain education system compared to US!  🙂

If you are living or have lived in Spain with kids in public school, please share your observations as well.

Update October 2017:  We moved to Spain in August of 2012 and at the time our kids were in 3rd and 5th grades.  They have remained in the public school system and are both in high school.   Though there are many difference with primary school and high school in Spain, we didn’t add it to this post.  Instead we have provided our knowledge of the Spanish education system, including private and international schooling options,  in our ebook about Education in Spain.   Read more here.

Spain education system compared to US. School in Spain - education options for expats. Differences and similarities between schools in Spain and the United States. Read more on

Here is a basic comparison chart of Education in Spain vs USA


(ONE Public International Baccalaureate Magnet School)
Spain – Andalucía Region
(ONE Public State School)
CafeteriaLocated in school and kids can buy lunch.Kids bring their own snack, no cafeteria.
Daily AgendaWeekly newsletter from teacher with weeks upcoming activates and homework assignments. Teachers are open to email communications with parents.An agenda/book for the entire school calendar with all holidays and breaks outlined, as well as each trimester and exam scores. Each day the kids write down their homework assignments in the book. This is also the means for parents/teachers to communicate.
Daily Class ScheduleThe same subjects each day with rotating electives/specials (Music, PE, Spanish, Science, Technology, and Art)Each day has different subjects, but it is the same on a weekly schedule. There is an exam for each subject every 18 school days.
HomeworkMonday – Thursday  ~ 20-30 minMonday – Friday 1-2 hrs. Each day and over weekends and holidays too.
Hours8:30 – 3:00 with Lunch9:00 – 2:00 with 30 min snack/recess.
RecessTeachers monitor kids on the playground.Teachers are on playground with kids; they gather together, talk/text on phones and have smoking breaks near the school gate.
Religion Not taught in public schools.Taught in public school, with option for parent to choose if student attends that topic.
Resources (Parental)There appears to be much more parental involvement in the running of ancillary school functions (teacher/office assistants, PTA, etc.).While there is a PTA here (it’s called APA in several areas), there appears to be less effort in bringing in new parents, fewer sponsored activities, much less in the way of fund-raising.
Resources (School)More school sponsored activities, curricula, and equipment.Fewer activities and classes.  School infrastructure is more dated.  Class environments are more barren (lack of posters, in-class activity stations, etc.). Lack of heating and air conditioning.
School BusTypical yellow school bus in any state.More of a greyhound type bus, with a sign in the front window “school bus”.
School SecurityMust sign in office to enter school during school hours. Playground is open to parking lot etc. Drop off and Pick up outside of front office. Parent can walk the child to class if desired.School is behind tall walls and locked gate during school hours. Must buzz in to visit office during hours. No parents beyond gate at morning drop off, but may enter 5 min prior to school end for pick up.
School SizeK-5, approx. 6 classes of 22+ for each grade. (over 800 students)K-6, approx. 1-2 classes of 22 for each grade. (under 200 students)
School SuppliesThere is a good list of supplies that children must bring with them to school. (Paper, pens, pencils, folders, etc.)The list for Spain is very similar with the addition of Toilet Paper and Paper Towels. Apparently with many budget cuts this is not supplied by the school.
Second LanguageSpanish taught from K-6English taught from K-6
Student Addressing TeacherMs./Mr./Mrs.  Last Name.First name only.
Students BehaviorKids are kids, but well-mannered for the most part. The occasional bully, but not tolerated.Kids are kids, but it does seem there is a bit more bullying tolerated than we are used to. Not overly common, but there are a few.
Teachers EmotionsProfessionalism maintained and kids are none the wiser of any frustrations, likes or dislikes of the Teacher.Hearts are on the sleeves. No problem expressing frustration, rolling of eyes, even yelling at the kids. Teachers yell at students.
Teachers PassionVery passionate and care for the children and their education.Very passionate and care for the children and their education. Of the teachers we currently have, they are very dedicated and good teachers.
TutorAssistance is available for English as Second Language Students.All non-Spanish speaking students are provided a language tutor, if school requests.

What do you think about the comparison of primary school in USA and Spain?

There are also several similarities between Spanish and American schools.  For example; there are separate class rooms per grade, with a teacher instructing.  The school day usually consists of various subjects, with breaks or recess.  When it comes to numbers, well they are still numbers.  We will say the long division in Spain is done a little different from what we were used to in the US, but it is still division.

How do we keep the kids up with English and USA topics for school?

For the first few years we purchased the brainquest workbooks by grade.  These are absolutely amazing and full of entertaining worksheets.  We had a tradition to tear out the pages when they were complete and reviewed.  This way the book would become smaller as we continued and they could see their progress.

Of course we held off on these initially, as immersing into the Spanish public school was enough.  We treated these as summer or travel workbooks.  They were perfect to take along on trips.

More Wagoners Abroad posts on our experience with Education in Spain

Homeschooling in Spain – This is what we know…

Do you want to know more about Education System in Spain?

If you are looking for more in depth information on the education system in Spain vs USA, we have more information available for you.  We cover the different types of schooling options in Spain for primary, public schools, private schools and more.  Check out our Education in Spain ebook, where we explain all of the education options from preschool through high school.   Read more about the book here



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7 thoughts on “Comparison of Primary School in USA and Spain

  1. Hi Heidi! Very thorough and comprehensive post! I just wanted to add that my kids have VERY COMPLETE and free school lunches (sponsored by the government), it’s one of the greatest things ever! I LOVE the meals that they get at school, they have full 2-course meals with salad, 2 main dishes and a veggie side dish, bread, drink and dessert all included. I get this service for free because I’m low income, but for those parents who have a good salary (and must therefore pay the full price) it is not very expensive considering what is included, about 25€ per month. The availability of school lunches, I suppose, depends on the size of the school and whether they have space for a lunchroom.

    Another anecdote (which I recount on my blog) is that in Canada, where I grew up, we were forced to stay outside in the yard ALL THE TIME regardless of the weather! I’m amazed no kid ever keeled over from hypothermia! But I suppose that was just a local thing (ie. probably that was just personal policy in the school I attended, probably not generalized in all schools in Canada!).

    • Thanks Serena! I love the extra input from Spain, Canada or USA 🙂 There is no way to generalize for an entire country or city for that matter. That is why I tried to say, just our perception. Our kids go to “after school” comedor 2 days a week, which includes lunch. We do have to pay for it and it is 4,50 each per day. So expensive for us! We are really sending them to immerse more in the language and play with their peers. The plan was 2 days a week for October and November. Then see where they are with their Spanish. Thus far, it has helped, but other issues have come up too. We will like do a full post on the topic sometime soon. Thanks again for your added value.

  2. Hi Heidi, My daughter is in P4 at school in Barcelona, and she goes to a “concertada” (I’m American, husband is Spanish). I was definitely hesitant to send her to school at age 3 for 30 hrs/week where it is “mandatory” (It really isn’t, people think that)! She has adjusted well…but teachers don’t have time to hold her hand as much. At that age there’s pressure to adapt. We’ll see as she gets older. Did your kids adjust in a new environment??

    • Hey Justine, thanks for the comment. Our kids took a couple of months to adjust. Our public school here is from 9am – 2pm, so not a very long day. The second and third months in Spain, we had the kids attend the after school program 2 days a week.This helped with the language and bonding with other kids. Their Spanish picked up quickly once we did that and it made the adjustment a little easier. It is good for them to socialize and I am sure your daughter will be a nautural. At her age it is much easier for her to adjust than you think, but it is more difficult for us parents to let go. She will do great.

  3. A warning to parents coming into Valencia City is this: if you’re not empadron by April or so, it’ll be essentially impossible (or highly improbable) to get into most of the concertados; and even if you are, if your child is older than the first year of primary school, it’ll be very difficult to get into most of the concertados.

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