Schools In Spain – Options For Education

So many people ask us about the kids education in Spain and it is never easy to answer.  You see we can’t speak for all of the schools in Spain, we can only share with you our experience.  We are certain that everyone has different experiences depending on location, type of school and the biggest variable, the students attending.

School in Spain - education options for expats

We are often asked about schools in Spain and sometimes in neighboring France as well.  You will need to do your research, but we will do our best to share some of the information with you and some additional resources too.

Currently the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport (Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte or MECD) has overall responsibility for education in Spain but the 17 autonomous regions make most of the decisions regarding their own education systems.

School in Spain – Schedules

The school calendar and daily schedules vary based on Autonomous Community, with a few subtle differences in holiday time at the Province and even local city level.

School Calendar

Typically the school year is from the 2nd week in September through the 3rd week in June.  You may give or take a week depending on where the school is located and the type of school.

School hours in Spain

There isn’t one standard across the country, so you will need to do your research based on the area you would like to live.  Alternatively, you may choose to live in an area because of the school schedule they follow.  Some schools have 1 continuous session during the day and others have 2 sessions, where the kids go home for a 2-3 hours in the middle of the day.

  1. School hours in Spain for primary grade levels:
    1. From 9am – 2pm, with option for comedor
      (lunch and supervised play 2pm – 4pm)
    2. From 9am – 12pm and 3pm – 5pm with option for comedor
      (lunch and supervised play 12pm – 3pm), the “break hours” may vary slightly in your area.
    3. Lunch is usually at home from 2pm – 4pm, so the break at school for 30 minute recess snack.
    4. International school is often a full day, from 9:45am – 5pm
  2. School hours in Spain for secondary grade levels:
    1. From 8:15am – 2:50pm (some schools offer afternoon or night options)
    2. International school is often a full day, from 9:45am – 5pm

For us, it was important not to have to run the kids back and forth to school multiple times during the day.  We wanted the schedule with just one session.  We will share with you the details of our experiences in the very Spanish coastal town of Almuñécar.

Almuñécar - Schools in Spain and a basic playground

Our experience with Public School in Spain

Autonomous Community – Andalucia
Province – Granada
Municipality – Almuñécar

Primary School

  • Hours 9am – 2pm, with 30 min recess at 11:15am
  • Schedule – One subject is covered every 45 minutes through out the day.  Typically Math and Language are daily and other subjects rotate. (Music, Art, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Religion, English)
  • Before school care 7am – 9am, for a fee
  • Afterschool – Comedor 2pm – 4pm, for a fee with lunch
  • Activities – there are many after school activities offered usually from 4pm – 6pm

Secondary School

  • Standard Hours 8:15am – 2:50pm,
    with 2 breaks 10:15am – 10:35 and 12:35pm – 12:50pm
  • The school operates until 9:00pm, for those who require an alternate schedule (typically older students who work)
  • Schedule – One subject is covered every 60 minutes through out the day.  Typically Math and Language are daily and other subjects rotate. (Music, Art, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, Religion, English)
  • Activities – there are many after school activities offered usually from 4pm – 6pm

Spanish School Vocabulary

  • Comedor – It’s typically lunch and supervised play for 2 hours.  This is an additional fee and there are options for financial assistance.  In our school this was 4.50€ per day per child.  Our school did not have a full kitchen, so meals were catered in each day.
  • Recreo – Recess!  Who doesn’t love recess?  Well, they usually just receive about 30 minutes and this includes anytime they want to take to eat a snack or have a drink.  Depending on the school facilities and AMPA (Parents association, like PTA), they may or may not sell food items.  Typically kids bring a snack and drink from home.

Spanish Education System

Attendance is compulsory from ages 3-16, so they don’t really understand or acknowledge the concept of homeschool.  If your children are living in Spain, it is expected they will be enrolled in school.  We do however know many people who are residing in Spain and are not registered with the school.  This can be accomplished depending on your citizenship, visa option and/or the luck you have at your foreigners office.

If you are a non-EU citizen and are here on a visa, you will need to register at the foreigners office.  They usually request to see the enrollment papers for school when you apply for the child’s NIE (National Identity Extranjeros – Foreigners ID Card), but we have renewed 2 times now and were only asked to show them once.  It all depends on who is behind that desk and how closely they follow the rules.

As far as attending school, there are a few options to choose from.

Types of Schools in Spain

  • Colegios públicos – State-funded public schools.
  • Colegios concertados – State-funded private schools, there may be fees you need to pay in some locations as it is not fully funded.
  • Colegios privados – Private schools.  Since some private schools are publicly funded, the line between public and private is blurred.  It is common for these to be Catholic schools.
  • International Schools in Spain – I guess this would fall into the private schools in Spain, but they are usually with a curriculum from another country, most often an English-speaking country (British, American or Australian).  The International School in our town is a British curriculum.  The international schools do tend to have more hands on experiences, supplies and more organized activities.

Acronyms used for various schools in Spain

  • CEIP –  (Colegio de Educación Infantil y Primaria) Primary School
    • Infantil – preschool ages 3-5
    • Primary School preschool – grades 1- 6
  • IES – (Instituto de Educación Secundaria) Secondary School grades 7-10.  It is also known as ESO – (Educación Segundaria Obligatoria), Second Obligatory Education.
  • Once a Spanish student graduates from ESO, students have three different choices:
    1. Bachillerato – Grades 11-12,  Junior and Senior year in high school, but it isn’t mandatory. It’s intended for college prep.  Students who successfully complete the requirements of the Spanish high school Baccalaureate will receive a diploma.  They may then opt for vocational training, a university education, or in some cases both.  In order to continue on to the university they must take an entrance exam (Prueba de Acceso a la Universidad – PAU).  The test results together with the student’s academic record and grades will determine not only access to the university but also which degrees the student can pursue.
    2. Vocational/Professional training (Electrician, hairdresser, etc.)
    3. Enter the work force

 Almuñécar - School Classroom

More resources for Expat Education in Spain and beyond

I know this post is focused on education in Spain, but we do have many people contact us who are also interested in moving to France.  There are some similarities with the education system and obtaining the long-term resident visa as well.

While I don’t have any experience with American Schools in Spain, we have heard good things about the American School in Paris.  If you are considering moving to France, check out their school here www.asparis.org.  I am sure they have affiliations with some in Spain as well, so check it out.

More about our experiences with schools in Spain & Spanish Education System

We have found that the education is quite different in Spain compared to the one school we attended in North Carolina.  We find that the classrooms are extremely basic here in Spain and there just isn’t much funding in the way of supplies and hands-on materials for the kids.  Sometimes it does feel like we are stepping back in time with all lecture based classes with loads of memorization and homework.  I am not sure if this is for all public schools or just ours.  For us, the priority was for the kids to be immersed in Spanish and have a social outlet.

The school grounds are very basic with a blacktop/cement play area and possible a basketball hoop or fútbol goal posts.  There aren’t usually many playgrounds or supplies on campus at our school.  That said, they do walk to many of their field trips and they do sometimes go to the community pool or to the beach for the Physical Education class.  So they do use the environment around to meet the needs rather than having it on the school grounds.

Almuñécar - School field trip always walking

The kids are getting the basics for sure, but their schools are small and don’t really have the staff or funding to cater to special needs or gifted.  The entire class is taught at one level and there isn’t too much of special attention to allow students to work at different levels.  This may be different in larger schools or larger cities, but it isn’t the case at our schools.

All of that said, the kids are each excelling and absolutely love their schools.  They are very happy and well-rounded and don’t really remember much from the USA to compare schools.  Both of our kids are curious and tend to be ahead of the game in many areas, so we do continue to supplement their education at home.  Here are some of the things we did when we were homeschooling and much of it still applies while attending public school.

1 year of homeschool - you can't learn much from travel or can you? Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

Now that we are staying in Spain longer than the intended 1-2 year immersion, we are looking at other educational options for the future.  Both of our kids will be university bound and we need to investigate the options we have for them.  If we are still in Spain, it may be that we send our kids to private or international schools for their last 2 years of high school.  Who knows what we will do, but we are starting to investigate options.

We do know that the University systems in Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands are excellent and low-cost compared to the USA.  So we are researching many options and will keep you posted as we progress.

If you are at all concerned about the education, grades and having something like “home”, then you may want to look into the international school options.  They aren’t located everywhere, so if this is your choice it may dictate where you should reside as well.

If you would like more information about moving to Spain, we have plenty to share.  We also offer consulting services to help answer your questions.
We help you plan and adjust for your move to Spain. Read more on WagonersAbroad.com

If you are a non-EU citizen and would like to know more information about obtaining a long-term resident visa, we can help you with that as well.  Read Live In Spain!

Live In Spain - All you need to know to apply for a long-term resident visa in Spain. This is for non-EU citizens. We also provide consulting services to assist you with the process or answering questions. Click to read more.

Well there you have it.  I am sure there are still more questions which need to be answered, but this should be a good starting point for you.  Do you have any other questions about schools in Spain or education?

If you have any personal experience with schools in Spain you would like to share, please do so in the comments below.  Let us know the type of school, age of your kids (at the time) and location within Spain.  Thanks!

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12 thoughts on “Schools In Spain – Options For Education

  1. Great post, Heidi. We’re looking forward to coming to Almuñécar next week. We have set up appointments with several schools and others have said we can just stop by whenever.

    • Oh thanks Nat. I actually had you guys in mind when I was writing it. It seems similar questions come to us in wave and there have been a few people of the past couple of weeks asking about schools. Once that happens, a post is born! We look forward to meeting you.

  2. I’m forwarding this post to a friend of mine who is thinking of moving to Spain with her kids. You just answered many of the questions that she’s been asking herself!

    Thanks, Heidi for such an excellent and informative post!

  3. If you haven’t already, you may enjoy reading, “The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education,” by Maya Frost.

    My main take away from the book was that if your kids are smart, there’s really no reason they have to complete high school or even go to high school at all unless they really want to. The quality of education at U.S. community colleges is usually better and more challenging than at most high schools. So, rather than sitting through 11th and 12th grades, bored out of their minds, smart, self-motivated kids can, instead, be taking care of all of the prerequisites they’ll need for their bachelor’s degrees either in person or via the internet at a U.S. community college. That way, by the time they’re 18, they can apply and get accepted to a university in the U.S., transfer their community college credits over and start out as juniors, rather than freshmen. By the time the kids are 20 years old, at the latest, they’re ready to graduate from university with a B.A./B.S., and then they’ve got their whole lives ahead of them. Besides the educational benefits, it ends up being much, much cheaper to do the first 2 years of university at a community college.

    It sounds like your kids are smart. Maybe you and they might benefit from some of the strategies described in the book. One thing I remember was mentioned in the book was that if your kids are fluent in a foreign language, which yours obviously are, they’ll probably be able to completely test out of most U.S. universities’ foreign language requirements, saving you/them a huge amount of time and money and speeding up their graduation dates even more…

    Good luck!

      • Somehow, I get the impression you’re less excited than I am about the idea of graduating college early. That’s cool. 🙂

        Our daughter’s only 7 now, so we’ve got some time to go before we have to decide. We may end up changing our minds by the time she’s a teenager, but right now it’s what we’re thinking of helping her to do.

        As with most things, my perspective is heavily influenced by experiences we’ve had ourselves and seen others close to us go through. One close friend of ours somehow managed to stretch out his undergraduate studies to 10+ years, for which he ended up with $60K+ in student loans that he’s still paying off now at age 36. Another friend ended up with >$100K in student loan debt which he accumulated over the course of the 18 years it took him to get his bachelor’s degree going to school part time and working part time.

        Those two examples of people close to us have made me want to prioritize helping our daughter to finish school as quickly and as inexpensively as possible.

        Maybe your experiences have been different??? 🙂

        Anyway, thanks for the great blog. I enjoy reading you guys’ posts. Our daughter wants to be Anya when she grows up. 🙂

        • Hey Shane,

          Sorry my comment came off as hum drum. I guess I shouldn’t respond to comments when I first wake up in the morning. Well, today is your lucky day because I have already done the dishes and laundry, so had a bit of time to wake up before replying to emails, blog comments and social media. 🙂

          Actually, we agree with you and are fully on board with getting them the best education in the most cost effective way and in a timely manner too! Your information in wonderful and we look forward to digging in a bit more to see what opportunities we have. Lars will be 14 next month and even though we still have a while for university too, it is on our minds. We are looking for ways to supplement education now and do what we can online, in advance. Especially since obligatory school finishes at 16 in Spain, so it is somewhat in line with your thoughts. Of course there are the college prep courses for the 17-18 years, but we too are looking at any university level info. Anyway, it is very exciting to think about and no way did I mean to come off as not caring. We really do appreciate you sharing the info and I think it is of great value to us and our readers. Thanks

          • Luckily, we’ve got you guys a few years ahead of us. As long as you keep writing your blog, we’ll be able to follow along and, hopefully, learn from your experiences before we have to decide what to do about our daughter’s college education. Thanks again for your writing!

            • Awesome! Thanks so much. Well, we are just about to enter the phase of braces for Lars, so we will write all about that too. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting too.

  4. I am 23 with two young kids. I really want to get out the US. I am thinking Central America – my kids fathers is from El Salvador and my kids understand Spanish but don’t speak it well. What kind of visa did you apply for? I would like to move to Central America for a year but what am confused on the visa I would have to apply for since I’m going there for work or school.

    Thanks and your blog gives much insight!

    • Hey Briana, I love central America. I am not sure what visa you would need to live there. We are located in Spain and came over on the non-lucrative visa, so that is the one where you aren’t allowed to work in Spain. You need to prove you have enough funds to support your entire family for the year.

Come on and tell us what you think!