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



More info on getting your Spain Non-Lucrative Visa Here

This ebook is your step by step guide to obtaining a Spanish non-lucrative Visa or retirement visa to Live In Spain.  We offer time and money saving Tips and Tricks for the non lucrative visa for Spanish Residency.
Live In Spain eBook

Move to Spain Consulting

If you want a quick answer or someone to speak with, we also offer consulting.  Check out our Spain non lucrative visa consulting page now, for our latest offers!

Move to Spain Relocation Packages

From relocation planning and visa application, to residency and getting settled, we offer our expertise and knowledgeable advice.  We can help you with your move to Spain with children or without.  We also offer custom packages for your move to Costa Tropical.  Click here tor read more about our relocation to Spain packages.


Live In Spain – Spain Visa Requirements | Driving In Spain | Getting Settled in Spain | Residency/Visa Renewal Education In Spain | Almuñécar Walking Guides

11 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.

  4. I guess every school is different!.. Because I have studied in Fuengirola, Málaga (Andalucía-Spain), in a private school, I’m spanish btw. I see quite a difference in how my school was in comparison to the one you are talking about.

    We did have a cafeteria, well my first years there, it was just a kiosk, with all we needed, even toasted bread, and warm bocadillos! 😉 But the last 3-4 years we had a fully operated cantina, where there were also served meals, for the students that had to stay in school between the day and evening shift. (yes, we had from 9:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 17:00, or 18:00 if detained, or had an extracurricular activity, like basket, soccer, etc..)

    Then we had weekly exam for each subject (I know.. way to much!), Teachers weren’t on the playground, but they were in an office right by, so if anything happened, a teacher was present inmediately. (I never saw a teacher smoking, eating, etc..). Religion was tought in public & private schools, but as you say, it was possible to choose if you wanted to attend, although, this would have to be cleared before you start, as it is a life choice, your parents will take for the child. In my 8-9 years there, only 1 student of english parents, didn’t attend that class.

    Not sure we had air-condition or heating system, but I had never any issue with the temperature. It was never cold, or too hot.

    In my school, there was 40-41 students pr. class. And we never had to bring our own toilet paper or tissues.

    We adressed our teachers by Don or Doña + first name. Although quite formal, there were a couple of teachers we called as “Seño / Señorita” (Mrs) + first name or just the title whithout name.

    Kids were not allowed to be kids!… we had to behave! Had to, or we would have been expelled! there were this Strike system like in baseball! –> First strike (your parents have to come to school to talk with your teacher or the dean), Second strike (one week home), and third and you were out! (and not allowed to come back to that school.. ever!).

    In fact, when the ringing clock called in, we had to get in a single line, from left to right, from the youngest to the oldest. And respectfully, let the youngest go first up the stairs. No running allowed either! When inside the class, we werent allowed to sit down until the teacher arrived! And when he did, we had to unisonically welcome him/her and he or she would say: You can sit down.

    Teachers were professional and respectful, although we had one, that could throw a chalk, if you weren’t attent in class, put in the corner facing it if you were talking when you shouldnt, and other peculiarities. We had one teacher who was called Mrs. Thatcher!, as she was quite extreme, yelled infuriated, and even made some students pee on themselves in stress situations (in front of the classroom), but after some remarks against her, she had to leave her job! (she left when I was in 5th class, and had been there for quite some years, before I even started).

    Other things I remember was, that if you weren’t at the gate before 9:00, you wouldn’t get in!! No matter if you had a doctors appointment or anything. The gatekeeper, closed and dissapeard. (I once, did jump over the fence, to get in, as I knew that I just could say I was in the toilet with stomach pain or something, instead of missing the whole day). The second time I did, I got caught, and it looked like a scene from a movie, when someone is trying to escape from jail!… luckily no dogs or weapons there! 😛

    We wore the school’s uniform, and weren’t allowed to be seen after school in the streets with them (if not accompanied by our parents). So no street playing or getting in trouble/fight with the uniform!

    School was hard, disciplinary, a tad too much maybe (I hated school when I was there), but years after, when getting older, I realize that I wish every school were like that. There were rules, and consequences if breaking them.

    • Thanks for sharing. Yes there is no way we can generalize and say all schools are the same. We can only share our own personal experience, so thanks for your input and showing a different experience.

  5. We are in Andalucía and our daughter is in 5th Grade now. This is our second school year here and we love it. The education and school system is far more superior to the American. We just got school textbooks for 180€ , free of charge because Spanish Education pays for it. No fundraising BS like in States. My daughter finally got teacher who cares about her and not fundraising. No stupid PTA and sports crap like in US. And the level of academics is very intense and more in depth. Furthermore, creativity and freedom is supported here. USA is always bragging how best and greatest they are but they cannot take care of its children education. Plus, no fear of mass shootings or drills.
    I hope, my daughter will never return to the shithole called USA.😉😉

Come on and tell us what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.