For those of you who are coming to Spain to live who have children is the School system and whether to send your children to a local Spanish school or international school.  These are big decisions that will dramatically impact on your children’s future so you want to get it right.




For many expats moving to Spain with children --especially older ones-- an International School seems like the best choice as it is harder for older children to settle in at a new School in Spain than the younger ones. Another of the main reasons for this is the curriculum. International schools in Spain are all private, and many of them follow a UK curriculum, including UK exam courses, such as GCSE's and A-Levels. In addition, the top Spanish International schools also offer the International Baccalaureate program, as well as the local secondary school qualifications, called the Bachillerato. This is a great advantage for those looking to enroll their children in a school which will allow them to attend university in other parts of the world, as students attending International schools can often receive both local and international titles upon graduation. However do remember that all International Schools are private and have to be paid for. Another great benefit of International schools in Spain is the environment. Many Spanish British or International Schools offer a bi-lingual study program, accepting both Spanish and foreign pupils. This gives students a chance to integrate into the culture and learn the language (though, of course, not to the extent that they would with state schools). These types of International schools give students a chance to become fully and fluently bilingual. In addition to a superior curriculum, International schools also provide what most consider a better learning environment. They generally have smaller classes, and a newer, more relax approach to teaching. Children who attend International schools are exposed to people from all of the world, and the curriculum and extracurricular activities generally include a depth of language and art, sports, and optional academic subjects that can't be found in Spanish state schools.

While International schools have a lot to offer, there are also some downsides. One of these is the cost. In Spain, the tuition of independently-run International schools ranges from an average of 3,000 - 4,000€ per year for nursery or primary school, and up to 8,000-10,000€ per year for secondary and boarding schools. In general, tuition doesn't include books, materials, extracurricular activities, transport, etc. So while private school tuition isn't as expensive in Spain as it is in other parts of Europe, it can still add up, making cost a substantial  consideration. Another problem to sending your children to an International school is that they will find integration more difficult. With so many other children with similar backgrounds who speak the same language, many International school students find themselves in a cultural vacuum when it comes to Spanish language and culture and more importantly find it hard to pick up the language.




Schools in Spain can be state or privately owned. Some of the private schools are funded by the state (concertados). Fees in these schools are generally lower than in other private schools. Even though state school is free, parents will normally have to pay for books and materials, although this is not the case for all autonomous regions. A list of what is required will be distributed at the beginning of the school year.


Pre-primary education - educación infantile


Education for children under the age of six is not compulsory but many parents will choose to send their child(ren) to a pre-school (preescolar). These pre-schools are often within the same complex as a primary school. Nursery schools (colegios infantiles) are usually separate. Provision will depend on the area in which they live.

Pre-school education is divided into two cycles: First Cycle (primer ciclo) for children aged one to three, and Second Cycle (segundo ciclo) for age’s three to six.


Primary education - educación primaria


Compulsory education (escolaridad obligatoria) begins at the age of six and lasts for six years. School begins in September for children who turn six within that calendar year. Children attend the primary school of their area of residence. Primary education is divided into three cycles: First Cycle (primer ciclo), years 1 to 2; Second Cycle (segundo ciclo), years 3 to 4; and Third Cycle (tercer ciclo), years 5 to 6. The primary curriculum includes natural and social sciences (conocimiento del medio natural, social y cultural), the Spanish language (Castellana) and literature,  an autonomous language and literature if applicable (lengua cooficial), mathematics, physical education, plastic and visual arts, and a foreign language and optional Catholic religion (when a child starts school the parents will be asked whether they want their child to attend religious classes). A second foreign language may be added in the third cycle. A child that fails to achieve the set standards for a particular cycle may be required to repeat the year. Children are graded in the following manner:

  • Insuficiente (IN) - Insufficient
  • Suficiente (SU) - Sufficient
  • Bien (BI) - Good
  • Notable (NT) - Very good
  • Sobresaliente (SB) - Outstanding


Secondary education - educación secundaria obligatoria


Compulsory secondary education (Enseñanza Secundaria Obligatoria/ESO) begins at the age of 12 and lasts for four years. Types of schools providing this education include: Institutos de Educación Secundaria, Colegios Privados and Colegios Concertados. Pupils receive more specialized training and begin their preparation for the baccalaureate or vocational training at these schools. Compulsory secondary education is divided into two cycles, from 12 to 14 and 14 to 16. Compulsory subjects include natural and social sciences, history and geography, physical education, plastic and visual arts, Spanish and an autonomous community language (if applicable), a foreign language, literature, mathematics, music and technology.


In the second year of the second cycle, pupils choose two of the following four options: natural and social sciences, music, technology, and plastic and visual arts. The Catholic religion is an optional subject for all four years; non-Catholics may choose study periods instead. A second foreign language can be chosen during the second cycle.

As with primary education, a pupil can be required to repeat a year if they do not meet the required standards at the end of the school year. Children can only repeat the year once. Once pupils have finished their four years of ESO, and have obtained the set standards, they receive the Certificate of Secondary Education (Graduado en Educación Secundaria). This certificate is necessary for those who want to continue higher secondary education (Bachillerato) studies or intermediate vocational training.


Higher secondary education - bachillerato or formación profesional

At the end of compulsory education (usually at age 16) pupils can go on to Bachillerato studies or vocational training (formación profesional).


Bachillerato: Some of the subjects studied are common to all students, such as Spanish, a foreign language, Spanish history and physical education. However, students can choose to specialize in one of five different branches: arts, nature and health sciences, sciences and engineering, social sciences or humanities. At the end of their studies they receive the




At the end of the day for those of you who have the funds to send your children to International Schools in Spain you have a tough choice to make and we hope this article has given you some useful information to help you reach the right decision for your children.  If you found this article interesting why not visit our living in Spain page for more useful information about Spain.

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