Although Spain’s education system is not widely considered to be among the strongest in the European Union, there have been signs in recent years that the standard of education received by Spanish children is starting to improve. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that significant amounts of government funds first started to be dedicated towards the public education system and as a result standards are generally not as high as those seen in other developed nations.
While many children in Spain attend pre-schools from the age of three, children don’t actually start compulsory education at primary school (Educación Primaria) until the September of the calendar year in which they are six years old. Some children may be allowed to start primary school before this, but that will often be down to the discretion of the Government in the region that you live – in Spain, education is overseen by the regional governments, although the system is similar throughout the country. Among the subjects taught as primary school are: Spanish language, Maths, Conocimiento del Medio (a general knowledge subject which includes biology, history, geography, general and local knowledge and social awareness), physical education, art and craft and a second language (usually English, although in some areas it may be French).
Primary school lasts for six years – typically between the ages of 6 and 12 – after which children move on to Compulsory Secondary Education (Educación Secundaria Obligatoria – commonly referred to simply as ESO). ESO lasts for four years (12 to 16) and generally features the same subjects which are taught at primary school alongside a range of others (although what these actually are will be largely dependent on the area in which you live – and, in some instances, on the school itself. At the end of the fourth year, children will take exams in an attempt to earn their Graduado de Educación Secundaria (Secondary Education Graduate certificate) at which point they can then choose to leave school.
Should your offspring wish to remain in education, then they can attend Post-Compulsory Schooling (Bachillerato) and work towards the Título de Bachiller (Title of Bachelor) – the qualification that all those who are looking to go on to attend university will need to obtain. The Bachillerato lasts for two years (16 to 18), during which time student’s will need to study certain curriculum subjects and choose to specialise in one of four academic streams: arts, humanities and social sciences, natural and health sciences or technology. Some children may instead choose to undergo vocational training and work towards a Técnico qualification. Holders of this qualification may enter the workforce, or enrol in higher technical programs after accumulating occupational experience in their specialised area. Spain, however, currently has one of the lowest rates in Europe for children staying in school beyond the age of 16. This is something that the Spanish government is at present trying to change, and getting youngsters to stay on in school is viewed as being increasingly important given the high levels of youth unemployment in the country.
Most Spanish families choose to send their children to free state schools. However, the standards of state schools vary dramatically from very good to extremely poor, and as no formal school ranking systems exist in Spain, you will need to rely on word of mouth in order to find the best education facilities near to where you live. Generally, if your child is primary school age then they will simply attend the school closest to where you live, although there is a little more choice at secondary school level where you will be able to apply to any schools located within a certain geographic zone. It is essential to note that the teaching language used in all state schools will be Castilian Spanish alongside any co-official languages that may be used in the particular region in which you live (for example, Catalan, Basque or Galician). Therefore, if your child struggles with the Spanish language they will find school hard going at first; you should also not assume that their teacher will speak any English, especially if you are not moving to a popular expat spot. There are other options aside from state schools, including international schools (which will teach in English) and private schools (which are sometime bilingual). It will cost parents money to send their children to either of these types of institutions, but international schools will almost certainly be more affordable than their private equivalents. There are also faith-based schools while homeschooling is another option.
Should your child wish to attend university upon successfully completing Bachillerato, then they will need to apply to the university (ies) that they wish to attend and then sit the rueba de Aptitud para a la Universidad (national university entrance exam) which is held each June. These exams are arguably as important as those taken in post-compulsory education as students with low scores may not be admitted to the school of their choice, or possibly even gain university entrance at all. Programmes leading to the Diplomado (university diploma) are offered at escuelas universitarias (university schools), while those leading to the Diplomado Ingeniero Técnico (engineering technician) or Diplomado Arquitecto Técnico (architectural technician) are offered at escuelas tecnicas universitarias de ingeniería y arquitectura (university schools of technical engineering and architecture). According to the 2012 Times Higher Education Supplement world university rankings, Spain’s best university is the Autonomous University in Barcelona which was ranked just outside the top 200.