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A Guide to Education & International Schools in Spain

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  • Jacques Paillard

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For expats with children, finding the best schools and higher education institutions is a major decision. On the one hand, you want your child to immediately understand the language in which the material is taught and not fall behind on schoolwork. In this case, enrolling them in one of the many international schools would be the more straightforward choice. On the other hand, children are like sponges, they learn and adapt very fast to new environments. Perhaps giving them the opportunity to experience the local school system could be a positive part of the expat experience.

Keeping in mind that your priority is to provide your children with the best education, we have gathered all the information available on the Spanish education system.

Spain’s school system is overall considered to be very good. Spain has public, private (colegios privados), and semi-private (colegios concertados) schools, that enjoy an overall good reputation in terms of education. Spainis even listed among the top ten countries worldwide with the best international schools. The country’s reputation and education system are highly regarded internationally.

When it comes to early childhood education (ECE), only 30% of children under the age of six attend a daycare or preschool in Spain. That is due to the shortage of facilities and staff throughout the country. Most parents have no other choice than to opt for private childcare, which is more expensive than public early childhood education facilities.

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The Education System in Spain

Are you relocating to Spain with children and wondering what the education system is like? Public education in Spain is free and compulsory for children between the ages of six and 16. Semi-private, private, and international schools require tuition fees, which are imposed by the school and vary between each institution.

What Documents Are Required to Enroll in School in Spain?

Children typically need to be registered with the local city hall (ayuntamiento__). To enroll in school, the followingdocuments are usually required: the child’s ID, proof of residence, a medical certificate, and the parents’ ID and NIE.

Spain’s School Levels and Ages

An interesting fact about education in Spain, are the school levels and ages. Primary education is until the 6thgrade, not the 4th like in many other European countries. After that, students do not go on to 7th grade. Instead, they start the 1st grade of secondary education.

Below is an overview of the education system in Spain, by school year and age of admission.

School Level School Year Ages Early Childhood Education 1st Cycle (Guarderias) 0-3 2nd Cycle (Escuela Infantil) 3-6 Primary Education 1st to 6th Grrade 6-11 Compulsory Secondary Education 1st to 3rd Grade 12-15 4th Grade 16 Bachillerato 1st Bachillerato 17 2nd Bachillerato 18 Higher Education Bachelor’s Degree 18+ Master’s Degree 21+

Spain School Hours and Terms

School hours in Spain depend on the school. Some schools run from 9:00 to 17:00, with a two-hour lunch break (from 13:00 to 15:00), while others run from 9:00 to 14:00.

The school year in Spain usually follows a trimester system: September to December, January to March/April, and March/April to June. Summer holidays are typically from late-June to mid-September. Students usually have school breaks around Christmas and Easter.

What is the Grading System in Spain?

The Spanish education system uses a 10-point grading scale:

  • 9 to 10 is outstanding;
  • 7 to 8.9 is notable;
  • 6 to 6.9 is approved;
  • 3 to 4.9 is insufficient (fail);
  • 0 to 2.9 is very insufficient (fail).

What are the Main Differences Between Public and Private Schools?

In addition to public schools, you can find private schools throughout the country. These can be entirely private (colegios privados) or semi-private (colegios concertados), which are state-subsidized schools that follow the national syllabus.

Many colegios concertados are Catholic schools that typically only teach in Spanish. There is a general perception that education in these schools is of a high standard and the curricula on religions tends to be diverse and not necessarily Catholic-focused. If you wish to apply to a semi-private school, you can do so inthe same way you apply for a state school: at your local ayuntamiento.

Independent private schools may operate differently from public schools in terms of school hours, syllabus, or even school breaks. There are many choices of private schools: bilingual English-Spanish schools; Catholic schools; international schools; bachillerato schools; or foreign language schools for French, German, or other languages.

Private schools tend to be more expensive in Madrid and Barcelona, but are overall less expensive than private schools in Northern Europe or North America.

Daycare and Kindergarten

Types of Early Childhood Education in Spain

Neither daycare, kindergarten, nor preschool are mandatory in Spain. If you choose to send your child to one of these schooling levels, the cycle in which they enter will depend on their age.

  • First cycle: from 0 to 3 years old, guarderias (or nurseries)
  • Second cycle: from 3 to 6 years old, jardín de la infancia (or junior and senior kindergarten)

Neither cycle corresponds to a formal type of education. Instead, kindergartens generally act as daycares. In this context, the educational approach focuses on teaching children tools for basic communication, movements, and other important milestones for their stage of development. Children start kindergarten at the age of 3 as part of the second early childhood education cycle in Spain.

First Cycle: Nurseries, or Guarderias

There is a shortage of public childcare centers in Spain­. Only 30% of children are in some type of childcare, and only half of those attend public centers. This forces parents to rely on private centers to care for their children, which are more expensive.

Fees for Daycare and Kindergarten

Out of all EU countries, Spain is known for offering the least financial support to parents for early childhood education. Because of this, the majority of children under three years of age are not in childcare in Spain.

The average school cost of full-day childcare in a private center is 310 EUR (350 USD) a month. In regions such as Barcelona, childcare can cost up to 200 EUR (225 USD) more than in the southern region.

Second Cycle: Preschool, or Jardin de la Infancia

When your child reaches three years of age, they can attend preschool (Jardín de la infancia). These centers are free as they are part of the public education system. They can either be specific centers for preschoolers or integrated with primary schools, known as CEIPS (C__entros de E__ducación I__nfantil y P__rimaria).

Fees for Preschool

Preschool is free of charge in Spain because it is part of the public education system.

Talk to other international parents with young children in Spain

Talk to other international parents with young children in Spain

Primary and Secondary Schools

When looking into schools, parents usually want their children to attend the best primary and secondary schools. Spain offers a variety of public, semi-private, and private schools for both elementary and secondary school, and bachillerato. The last two are equal to high school in the US. The school costs vary heavily depending on the type of school, you choose for your child. Public schools are free, whereas private schools have large tuition fees.

Public School Costs in Spain

Both primary and secondary education are mandatory and free in Spain. However, books and other supplies are not subsidized and must be paid for by each student.

Primary School in Spain

Primary school, or primaria, starts at six years of age and goes up to eleven. At this stage, children learn Social Sciences, Math, Language Arts and Physical education, among other basic subjects.

Secondary School in Spain

Secondary education, or ESO (E__ducación S__ecundaria O__bligatoria), typically starts at 12 years of age. There are compulsory subjects, which are the same for all students, as well as optional subjects chosen by each student. Both the compulsory and optional subjects may vary by autonomous region.

Bachillerato and Vocational Training

Secondary education in Spain is only compulsory for the first three years, meaning after reaching 16 years of age, children are not obligated to go to school anymore. The remaining two years of secondary school (comparable to junior and senior year in the US) is called Bachillerato__. Although it is not mandatory, it is free for all students. Most students choose to continue with these two additional school years after the first three years of compulsory secondary education. This type of education covers subjects more in-depth and typically corresponds to the traditional high school level.

After Bachillerato, students can either take the university entrance exam and attend university, or go on to study higher vocational training, known as Formación Profesiónal de Grado Superior.

Best Schools in Spain

Almost one third of Spanish students attend a private or a semi-private school. These are ranked higher on a national as well as international level. Most schools in Spain, especially private ones, offer early childhood, primary, secondary education.

The five best schools in Spain

  1. Meres (Asturia)
  2. Montserrat (Barcelona)
  3. La Salle Ntra. Sra. Maravillas (Madrid)
  4. Montesorri Palau (Gerona)
  5. Liceo Europeo (Madrid)

International Schools

When looking for the best international schools, Spain is listed among the top ten countries in the world to choose from.

International schools have a reputation of offering higher quality education. These usually allow kids to follow the national curriculum from their home country or an internationally recognized curriculum. Going to an international school in Spain does not mean your child will not integrate with the local language or culture because many Spanish children also attend these schools.

The majority of international schools in Spain use English as the primary teaching language. American and British schools are the most popular, but you can also find French schools and German schools. Swedish and Italian schools are rare, but can still be found in Madrid and Barcelona. If you are looking into catholic schools, you will find plenty. These range from semi-private, private, and international.

List of the Best International Schools in Spain

Not all schools targeted at international students in Spain have English as their primary teaching language. Some of the schools are also French or German. Below, you will find a list of schools for different regions and languages below:


  • American School Of Barcelona
  • British School of Barcelona
  • Deutsche Schule
  • Collège Ferdinand de Lesseps
  • Scuola Italiana of Barcelona


  • International College Spain
  • American School of Madrid
  • Lycée Français de Madrid
  • Deutsche Schule Madrid
  • Scandinavian School of Madrid


  • The British College
  • Novaschool Sunland International
  • Schellhammer International School


  • American School of Valencia
  • British School of Alzira
  • Cambridge House
  • Caxton College
  • El Plantio International School

Other regions

  • The Lady Elizabeth School (Alicante)
  • Almuñécar International School (Almuñécar)
  • American School of Bilbao (Bilbao)
  • Deutsche Schule Bilbao (Bilbao)
  • Sotogrande International School (Cadiz)

Tuition Fees for International Schools

You can expect international schools to be more expensive than other private schools. Overall tuition fees for international schools in major Spanish cities are not much higher than in other popular cities around the world.

The average price of tuition in international schools varies by region. In Barcelona, tuition fees are the highest in the country, usually at around 770 EUR (860 USD) a month, followed by Madrid at 740 EUR (830 USD) a month. In Malaga, tuition fees are considerably lower, with a monthly fee of 520 EUR (582 USD).

Requirements for Admission to International Schools in Spain

International school requirements vary greatly by school. When it comes to the age of admission, it is more common for schools to admit students from three to 18 years old, although some may take in children as young as eight months.

Different documents are required depending on the child’s age. In general, you must provide school reports and other qualifying exams, such as one covering ESL (English as a Second Language), from the last two years to prove your child has sufficient knowledge of the primary language. Your child may also be informally interviewed by the teachers or asked to take an entrance test.

Other requirements and admission rules may differ from school to school, so check with your preferred schools individually. In general, expect to have these documents ready:

  • photocopy of the birth certificate, the family registry, identity card or passport of the child;
  • photocopy of the parents’ identity documents;
  • medical certificate indicating the child has no contagious or infectious diseases;
  • school certificates from previous schools;
  • passport sized photograph of the child;
  • application form from the school (if applicable).

Higher Education

Some of the best universities in Spain welcome both Spanish and international students. In fact, Spain is among the top destinations for foreign students worldwide.

Higher education in Spain follows the traditional system of a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. or Doctorate. Some courses like Music, Plastic Arts, or Sports may follow a different education system. Bachelor’s degrees may last for three years or four years (180 ECTS or 240 ECTS).

There are at least 80 courses in Spain taught entirely in English, with some 160 courses taught at least 50% in English. You can check a complete list of bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees to see which courses are taught in English.

The Best Universities in Spain for International Students

  • University of Barcelona
  • Autonomous University of Barcelona
  • Complutense University of Madrid
  • Autonomous University of Madrid
  • University of Granada

You can also find a complete list of schools by region in the Ministry of Education’s website.

University Tuition Fees in Spain

How much does it cost for international students to study in Spain? Tuition fees for universities in Spain are set by each regional government, so they may differ depending on where you plan to study.

In general, students in Spain pay relatively low tuition fees in public schools. Undergraduate (bachelor’s degree) tuition fees are around 680 to 1,400 EUR (760 to 1,570 USD) per year, while the fees for postgraduate(master’s or Ph.D. degrees) are typically between 1,350 to 1,500 EUR (1,510 to 1,680 USD) per year.

Tuitions fees for private universities are higher. Bachelor’s courses in private universities cost between 5,000 and 12,000 EUR (5,600 or 12,450 USD). Master’s and Ph.D. degrees vary from 1,320 to 2,160 EUR (1,480 to 2,420 USD) a year. These fees apply to both national and international students.

(Promotion) Higher Education for Working Professionals

If you want to gain enough knowledge to reach a higher managerial level, upskill, or change career paths, there are now many opportunities available. For working professionals, one aspect is crucial — flexibility. One of the most flexible offers available are the accredited Master and MBA online degrees offered by IU International University of Applied Sciences. Learn more here.

Ask other international parents already living in Spain

Join one of our many local parent groups and get advice on which schools to choose.

Language Schools

No matter if you need to improve your Spanish or learn it from scratch, there are many language schools in the country that cater to every level and need. Generally, relocation is the main reason why people want to learn a language. According to Babbel, a language learning tool, Spanish ranks third out of nine languages as one of the easiest languages for English speakers to study.

Popular Language Schools

There are a lot of different language schools in Spain. Here are the most popular ones:

  • Cervantes Escuela Internacional
  • Don Quijote Language School
  • Enforex: International Language Instructors
  • International House Spain
  • Home Language International

Language Schools Fees

Language Schools are private and their courses aim to achieve a language proficiency level in accordance with the European Standards. It is not uncommon to find courses named Spanish A1 or Spanish B2.

The number of hours of each course varies, depending on the proficiency level that has to be met at the end of the course.

Prices tend to range from 160 EUR (175 USD) per Week for a 5 to 11 weeks course, to 640 EUR (705 USD) for an intensive four-week programme.

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