A young girl writing in a book at a school in Spain

There is an amazing range of schools in Spain. Spain has a highly regarded education system, and schooling is compulsory between the ages of three and sixteen. There is a wide range of quality options from public schools to semi-private to international schools teaching in many different languages. This article will explore the different types of schools in Spain, the education system, and the factors you should consider when choosing a school.

The Spanish Education System

Here is a summary of the different types of school options that you have in Spain.

  1. Guarderia (4 months to 3 years):  These pre-schools are mainly private; however, some subsidized public nurseries exist. It is challenging to get places in the public guarderias.
  2. Public Schools (colegios públicos): Free for residents, the education language is Spanish or a regional language such as Catalan or Euskara in State schools.
  3. Semi-private schools in Spain (colegios concertados) are subsidized by the government but still require some fees to be paid by the pupil. The teaching language will be Spansih or a regional language.
  4. Private Schools (colegios privados): Fee-based, most are Spanish language medium, but there are regional language, English, other foreign language options, and multilingual schools in Spain.
  5. International Schools (colegios internacionales): Offer curriculums from other countries, including British, American, French, and German.
  6. Homeschooling: Homeschooling is legal in Spain; however, you need official recognition and must follow the Spanish curriculum.  Some Expats who are only here for a year may choose to follow the homeschooling curriculum from their home country.  Friends of ours successfully and happily homeschooled their daughter using the Australian system for a year.

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Private vs. State/Public Schools in Spain

There are several factors to consider when deciding between fee-paying and state-run schools.

Firstly, the public schools will teach in Spanish or a regional language, depending on where you are based. This may be a challenge for the children to begin with. If you want an easy transition or you have older children, there is a lot to be said for international schools that teach in your native language.

Secondly, can you afford the private school fees? Remember, the fees will increase as the children get older. We advise against starting them in an English-speaking private school and switching to a local school when they are older. It is easier to start them in local schools when they are younger.

Private schools will offer other benefits, such as smaller class sizes, and they may have better facilities. If they are international schools, they are likely to offer the curriculum from that nation. And the International Baccalaureate. This can be useful if your children want to return to their native country for university and work later on.

Spain has an excellent Spanish medium private system if you want the benefits of both immersive language learning and private education,

Our experience on Private vs. Public Schools for your child

The decision to send your child to a private, international, or public school in Spain is highly personal. Having lived in Spain for eight years and seen different experiences, our story and viewpoint are here.

When we moved to Spain in 2015, our son was seven. We were coming to live in Spain for only one year. Many people told us to put him in a local public school so that he would learn Spanish. But what we realized was that the first three months are really hard for the kids. They land in a school where only Spanish and, in our case, Catalan is spoken, and it is sink or swim. Three months out of one year in Spain seemed like a huge percentage of time for our son to struggle with the language. So we sent him to a private British school.

It is one of our biggest regrets.

Had we known that we would be living in Spain for the rest of his schooling, we would have put him in a Spanish-medium school for two years at least. After eight years, my son’s Spanish is at an intermediate level, and his Catalan is non-existent. As a Spanish teacher once said to us, “If it is important that your child is fluent in Spanish and Catalan, then they have to spend time at a local school”. This is not the case with all children, by the way. I have friends whose children have only been in international schools, and their Spanish is fluent.

Why choose International schools over public schools?

International or private schools in Spain are the biggest expense for many Expats in Spain. In our experience, our school fees are a significant part of our monthly cost of living in Spain. I cringe every month when it comes out of our bank account. So why would anyone choose to send their child to an International school?

Cultural Alignment

As International school faculties tend towards their nation, it makes sense for some people to keep their ties to their home country strong. So, the British schools have the bulk of British kids, while the American school has the majority of American Expats. With our background, this was not a deciding factor, and our son went to a British primary school and now goes to an American secondary school. And most Spanish International schools have a good melting pot. At our son’s school, 40% of the kids are American, 40% are Spanish, and 20% are other Expats from around the globe.

School hours also vary – at some local schools, there is a long lunch break that lines up with siesta, and then kids return for a couple of hours of afternoon school.

Curriculum

International schools have a wide range of country curricula, including British, American, French, German, and Swiss. Depending on what your child wants to do after school, these curricula could help. For example, British A Levels may be useful if your child wants to go to a British university.

Many of these schools also offer the IB or International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is well regarded. We have noticed that many British schools are now moving towards only offering the IB over A-Levels. We chose IB for our son as we are still unsure what tertiary education he will want and which country he will study in. The IB seemed to be the one certification that would keep his options open and is well-regarded worldwide.

Facilities

This is not a uniquely Spanish thing. International and private schools simply have more funding to spend on top-class facilities and teaching staff. Your child may have access to top-notch science laboratories, a wide variety of music choices, amazing sporting facilities, and loads more.

What are Concertado schools?

Concertado schools are semi-private institutions that receive both public funding and private contributions, usually in the form of fees from parents. They bridge the gap between fully public schools (colegios públicos) and fully private schools (colegios privados). The admission criteria for concertado schools can vary based on the region of Spain, as education is delegated to the autonomous communities. However, there are some general criteria that are commonly used across the country:

  1. Proximity to Home or Work: Families living closer to the school or where the parents work might be given preference. This is often the most heavily weighted criterion.
  2. Siblings Enrolled: Having brothers or sisters already enrolled in the school can give an applicant an advantage.
  3. Family Income: Some schools might consider the family’s economic situation, giving preference to those with lower incomes.
  4. Family Composition: Factors such as large families, single-parent families, or families with members who have disabilities might be given priority.
  5. Academic Performance: While not as common, some concertado schools might consider the student’s academic performance or conduct in previous schools.
  6. School’s Own Criteria: Since concertado schools have a degree of autonomy, they might have specific criteria unique to their institution, often related to their educational project or philosophy.
  7. Religious Affiliation: Some concertado schools have religious affiliations, primarily with the Catholic Church. While they cannot strictly deny admission based on religion, families who share the school’s religious beliefs might have an advantage in the admissions process.
  8. Interviews and Tests: Some schools might conduct interviews with the parents or the child. There might also be entrance exams, though this is more common for private schools.
  9. Special Needs: Students with special educational needs might be given preference, especially if the school has the facilities and resources to cater to those needs.
  10. Official Points System: Many autonomous communities use a points system where each of the above criteria corresponds to a certain number of points. These points determine the child’s position on the admission list.

It’s essential for parents to research the specific criteria for the “concertado” schools they’re interested in and the regulations in their particular autonomous community. Additionally, due to the competitive nature of admissions in some popular “concertado” schools, applying to multiple schools is advisable to increase the chances of securing a spot.

Note: Schools can’t discriminate on nationality, which is a nice by-product. Fees for Spanish citizens and Expats are the same. Expats and Spanish nationals should pay the same fees for the same services.

How to choose a school for your child

Finding the right school for your child or children is as important as finding a place to call home. Most of us want the very best for our children, right? In our case, we chose the town where we live based on the location of the school that we found to be a perfect fit for our son. We were lucky in that we could work from anywhere. With remote working in Spain a reality for many people these days, you can choose a school first and then a location to live.

Here are the factors to take into account when researching schools:

  • School Stages (primary, secondary, etc.)
  • Curriculum (IB, A-levels, etc.)
  • Type of education that you want, e.g., Montessori, British curriculum, American Curriculum, etc.
  • School Facilities
  • Location
  • Tuition Fees
  • Enrollment fee or Capital fee
  • After school activities
  • Enrollment process

If you are looking at International Schools, you can use our directories to filter schools according to your requirements. Here are the directories for the best international schools in these cities.

Once you have narrowed it down to three or four international schools in Spain, we recommend that you visit them. You will get a real feel for whether the school fits your child’s personality and needs. What are your first impressions?

Finally, have a chat with parents whose children go to the schools. We recommend looking and asking in Facebook groups if you are new to Spain.

Children in a classroom in one of the schools in Spain

International Schools In Spain

American Schools in Spain

There are many American schools in Spain. Here are a few of the most renowned for those moving to Spain from the USA.

American School of Madrid

This school offers a complete American-style education for preschool through 12th-grade students. It follows the American curriculum and offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

American School of Barcelona (ASB)

The ASB is an international, independent, co-ed day school. It offers an educational program from preschool through grade 12. It combines both U.S. and Spanish educational systems and offers the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP). A focus on developing strong academic skills, problem-solving ability, critical thinking, and creativity sets the ASB apart.

Benjamin Franklin International School

This school is located in Barcelona and offers an American curriculum for preschool through 12th-grade students. It also offers the International Baccalaureate program.

American School of Valencia

This school offers an American curriculum for students from preschool through 12th grade. It is located in the coastal city of Valencia and offers extracurricular activities such as sports, music, and theatre.

Sotogrande International School: This school is located in the southern region of Andalusia and offers an American-style education with an international focus. It offers the International Baccalaureate program and focuses on developing students’ leadership and critical thinking skills.

International College Spain

This school is located in Madrid and offers an American curriculum for preschool through 12th-grade students. It also offers the International Baccalaureate program and has a strong focus on language learning.

British Schools in Spain

Several British schools in Spain are highly regarded for their academic programs, facilities, and extracurricular activities. Here are some of the best British schools in Spain, and they all offer education from preschool through to the age of 18.

The British School of Barcelona (BSB)

The BSB is one of Spain’s most prestigious British schools, with campuses in Castelldefels and Sitges. The school offers a British curriculum and is accredited by the National Association of British Schools in Spain.

King’s College

This British school has four campuses in Spain, including in Madrid, Alicante, Murcia, and La Moraleja. The school offers a British curriculum and is accredited by the National Association of British Schools in Spain.

Aloha College

Aloha College is a British school located in Marbella, offering education from ages 3 to 18. years of age. The school offers a British curriculum and is accredited by the National Association of British Schools in Spain.

Sotogrande International School

Sotogrande International School is located in San Roque. It offers education for children aged 3 to 18. The school offers a British curriculum and is accredited by the National Association of British Schools in Spain.

The English International College

EIC is located in delightful chi-chi Marbella. The school offers a British curriculum and is accredited by the National Association of British Schools in Spain.

It’s important to note that there are many other British schools in Spain that also offer excellent academic programs. It’s worth doing further research to find the school that best fits your needs and preferences.

Pre-school education in Spain

The obligatory age for starting school in Spain is five years old, but schooling is now widely available to children from the age of three.

The preschool education curriculum in Spain is designed to help children develop their cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional skills through play-based learning, artistic expression, and other interactive activities. The curriculum is focused on developing children’s curiosity, imagination, and creativity. The goal is to develop independent learners. There are different types of preschool education options available in Spain, including:

Public nurseries and pre-schools: government-funded centers that provide free or low-cost preschool education services.

Private nurseries and preschools provide preschool education services for a fee.

International pre-schools: These may be linked to international schools that provide a curriculum in another language. There are also those that follow specialist models such as Montessori, Waldorf, or Forest Schools.

Elementary Schools in Spain

Elementary Schools are called Primaria (6–12 years old). The curriculum focuses on developing students’ literacy, numeracy, science knowledge, social studies, and physical education skills. The curriculum is designed to help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills.

Free state-run schools will offer a curriculum taught in Spanish or Catalan. There are special schools such as Montessori and Weiner and a variety of international schools offering the curriculum from their native countries.

It is important to do your research and visit potential schools in person to find the best fit for your child’s needs. You can also contact the local education authority or school board for more information about the elementary schools in your area.

High Schools in Spain

High school is called “Educación Secundaria Obligatoria” (ESO), and there is compulsory secondary education for students between 12 and 16. After completing ESO, students can continue their studies in “Bachillerato,”. This is a two-year program that prepares students for university or vocational training.

Spanish public schools provide free education to all students, including those who are not Spanish citizens. The curriculum is based on the Spanish National Curriculum and is taught in Spanish.

Private schools in Spain offer a variety of educational programs, including international and bilingual or trilingual programs. The International Baccaulearate is an excellent program that is highly regarded across the world. There is also the option to study A Level at British schools.

Homeschooling in Spain

While not explicitly forbidden, the law surrounding homeschooling in Spain is a bit of a grey area. Freedom of Education is recognized in the Spanish Constitution, but no national regulations are in place currently.

Spanish families wishing to homeschool their children must obtain authorization from the Ministry of Education, follow the official curriculum, and pass regular assessments. However, Spanish laws will only apply to permanent residents. So, if you are still a temporary resident, you can educate your children at home without fear of legal action.

There are also many international online schools that can help you in this endeavor. And the fees for these online schools are certainly lower than most private schools. However, you would need to seek out alternative ways to replicate the socialization that schooling in-person offers.

University / College in Spain

Studying at a university in Spain can be a great experience! Spain has a rich culture and history, and its universities are known for their high academic standards. It is important to have a good command of the Spanish language in order to participate fully in classes and social activities. If your Spanish is not good enough, some universities offer courses in English, but it is still a good idea to learn Spanish.

Universities in Madrid

Madrid is the capital of Spain and is a large and exciting city in which to study. It is home to several universities that are popular among international students.

Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM)

UCM is one of the oldest and largest universities in Spain, with a diverse student body that includes a significant number of international students. It is known for its strong humanities, social sciences, and STEM programs.

To enroll in UCM courses taught in Spanish, you will require a B2 level of Spanish or higher.

UCM degrees with significant coursework in English include Business Administration, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Education, English Studies, Physics, and Psychology. Outside of these degrees, English offerings are rare and alter from year to year.

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM)

UPM is a leading technical university in Spain with a strong focus on engineering and science. It has a large international community and offers programs in both Spanish and English. Here is a link to their full offering of undergrad courses taught in English.

IE University

IE University is a private university in Madrid known for its business programs. It offers undergraduate and graduate programs in both English and Spanish.

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM)

Commonly known by its Spanish initials UAM or as “la Autónoma”. It is a public university that is known for its research in social sciences and humanities. It has a large international community and offers exchange programs that are taught in English.

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M)

UC3M is a public university known for its excellent economics, business, and engineering courses. Aware of the importance of knowledge of other languages ​​for university graduates, UC3M was a pioneer in offering groups in English for the most requested degrees. With a constant increase in demand, it now offers the possibility of taking the majority of their undergraduate studies entirely in English or as a bilingual degree.

Universities in Barcelona

Barcelona is a wonderful city to enjoy student life. With a rich cultural heritage, great weather, vibrant nightlife, and a beach, what more could you want? It also boasts some of the best universities in Spain. Remember, Barcelona is situated n Catalonia, so the official language here is Catalan, not Spanish.

Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF)

UPF is a public research university in Barcelona that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of fields, including social sciences, humanities, business, and engineering. It is known for its international focus and has a large community of international students and faculty. Bachelor’s degrees offered in English include Audiovisual Systems Engineering, Computer Engineering, Global Studies, Industrial Technologies, International Business Economics, Law, and Telecommunications Engineering.

Esade Business School

Esade is a private business school in Barcelona that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in business and management. It is known for its international reputation and its strong focus on entrepreneurship. They offer numerous courses 100% in English and others that are bilingual.

Barcelona School of Economics (BSE)

BSE is a research institution in Barcelona that offers graduate programs in economics, finance, and data science. Its programs are taught in English and attract a diverse and international student body.

EADA Business School Barcelona

EADA is a private business school in Barcelona that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in business and management. Its programs are taught in English and are known for their practical focus and international perspective.

International University of Catalonia (UIC Barcelona)

UIC Barcelona is a private university in Barcelona that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of fields, including health sciences, social sciences, and architecture. Its programs are taught in English, and it attracts students from around the globe.

Universities in Valencia

Valencia has a vibe similar to Barcelona but is smaller and cheaper. It also has a wonderful beach and a buzzing nightlife. It is home to several universities that offer degree courses in English.

Universitat Politecnica de Valencia (UPV):

UPV is a public technical university offering undergraduate and graduate engineering, architecture, and science programs. Many courses can be taught in English.

Universidad Catolica de Valencia San Vicente Martir (UCV)

UCV is a private university that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of fields, including health sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Its programs are taught in both Spanish and English.

Florida Universitaria

This private university in Valencia offers undergraduate and graduate business, tourism, and communication programs. Its programs are taught in English and draw a large number of international students.

Berklee College of Music Valencia

Berklee is a preeminent American music college that has campuses in Boston, NYC, and Valencia, Spain. The private music college offers undergraduate and graduate music performance, production, and technology programs. Its programs are taught in English and attract talented musicians from around the world. Expect fees in line with the top American universities.

European University of Valencia (UEV)

UEV is a private university offering undergraduate and graduate business, law, and communication programs. Its programs are taught in English, and its student body comprises around 1/3 international students.

It is important to note that the availability of courses taught in English may vary depending on the program and the university. It is always best to check with the university directly to confirm which courses are taught in English and what the requirements are for admission to the program.

Universities in Malaga

Another wonderful Spanish city to spend your student days in. Malaga has the best winter weather of all the above locations. Great tapas, bars, a thriving old town, and lovely beaches complete the picture.

University of Malaga (UMA)

UMA is a public research university that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in a variety of fields, including humanities, social sciences, science, and engineering. It has a strong international reputation. Spanish is the language of instruction, but there are some subjects offered in English. However, these are highly demanded since students are limited per course.

Marbella International University Centre (MIUC)

Located in lovely Marbella just down the coast, MIUC is a private university in Marbella that offers undergraduate and graduate programs in business, psychology, and media. Its programs are taught in English and draw a large number of international students.

Les Roches Marbella International School of Hotel Management

Also in Marbella, this private hospitality management school in Marbella Les Roches offers undergraduate and graduate programs in hospitality management. Its programs are taught in English and are world-renowned.

Instituto de Empresa (IE) University

IE University is for students who approach learning as a way of life. IE is a private university offering undergraduate and graduate business and law programs. Its programs are taught in English, and it aims to offer a personalized, student-centric approach. Over 130 nationalities are represented each year, with over 75% international students.

FAQ

Can International Students Study in Spain?

Yes absolutely. Spain offers a wealth of opportunities for foreign students, including many courses taught completely in English. You may need a Spain student visa.

Do Spanish schools teach in English?

While state-funded schools teach in Spanish or a local language like Catalan, there are many international schools that offer an English-speaking curriculum.

Is it expensive to study in Spain?

Spain is a relatively cheap country to study in, particularly when compared to the USA.

What time does school start in Spain?

School usually starts between 8.30 and 9 am in the morning.

Is school free in Spain?

State-run schools are free for all residents in Spain.

Can international students get scholarships in Spain?

International students may be able to receive free or affordable opportunities for schooling in Spain. Different private and public schools offer a range of financial support from many groups and individuals.

2 Comments

  1. Hi,
    We have found a semi-private school (concertado) in the town local to my parents where we would love the children to go when we move to Spain (Murcia). How does the system work in terms of being allocated a place at school? Do we get any choice in this process? Or once we have our padron do we apply through the local council and simply get allocated a space at the nearest/available school which could be different to our preferred choice?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi. Concertados are semi-private schools. They are run independently (often with a religious body oversight). The general taxpayers subsidize these schools. The admission criteria vary by school, but many use a points system. Being in the local catchment area, having family who attend the school, being a part of the local community, family income, and academic performance may all be factors. We’d suggest approaching your favored school as soon as possible to understand how they manage their admissions process. All the best, Alastair

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