Education in Madrid

School system in Madrid

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Spain's state-funded school system (escuela pública) is supported by a comprehensive network of private schools (escuelas privadas), including many foreign and international schools. Around one third of Spain's schoolchildren attend private schools, most of which are co-educational day schools.

State education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Science (Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia), although authority can be delegated to regional governments. Of the 17 autonomous regions, seven (Andalusia, the Basque Lands, the Canary Islands, Catalonia, Galicia, Navarre and Valencia) have responsibility for their own education system (including higher education). State education is free but parents must usually pay for school books (which are expensive, although they are provided free in certain cases), school supplies, and extra-curricular activities such as sports and arts and crafts. Pupils usually go to local village (pueblo) nursery and primary schools, although attending secondary school may entail travelling long distances (buses are provided).

Compulsory education (escolaridad obligatoria), termed the basic general education (Educación General Básica/EGB), begins at six years of age in a primary school (escuela primaria) and lasts for eight years. At the age of 14 (equivalent to eighth grade) pupils receive a school-leaving certificate, which determines the course of their future education. Those with high marks are awarded a título de graduado escolar certificate and attend a higher secondary school to study for their baccalaureate (bachillerato). Less academically gifted pupils are awarded a school certificate (certificado de escolaridad) and attend a vocational school (formación profesional) providing specialized training for a specific career.


The normal registration period is in May for the following September, and is usually done at the local town hall (or sometimes by applying directly to a school).

Enrolment in a Spanish school requires an interview and in rare cases an examination. New arrivals in Spain must have their children's education record officially verified through a process known as homologation (homologación) or validation. This is an expensive and lengthy process involving the confirmation of credits and marks for each year of schooling. It can be very expensive, e.g. 300 € to 1200 €, depending on the number of years to be validated.

Without the necessary paperwork a child won't be accepted at a state school, irrespective of his qualifications (foreign qualifications such as the British GCSE aren't recognized in Spain). If possible, this process should be completed before arriving in Spain, as a child may not be accepted at a school until the official papers (confirming validation) have been received and stamped by the Spanish Department of Education.

In Spain, children must attend a state school within a certain distance of their home, so if you have a preference for a particular school, it's important to buy or rent a home within that school catchment's area. Town halls and provincial Ministry of Education offices can provide a list of local schools at all levels. To enrol a child in a Spanish school you must provide your town hall with the following documents:

your child's birth certificate or passport, with an official Spanish translation (if necessary);

The academic year in Spain runs from the first week in September to the end of June, with the main holidays at Christmas, Easter and the long summer break. School hours vary depending on the particular school and are usually from 0900 until 1600 with a one hour break for lunch, although an increasing number of schools don't have a lunch break and finish classes for the day at 1400. Lessons are usually divided into teaching periods of 45 minutes. State schools and communities usually provide an after school nursery (guardería) for working mothers.

Spanish school children have long school holidays (vacaciones escolares) compared with many other countries. School terms are fixed and are generally the same throughout the country, although they may be modified in autonomous regions to take account of local circumstances and special events (such as local fiestas). The school year is made up of three terms, each averaging around 11 weeks.

School holiday dates are published by schools and local communities well in advance, thus allowing parents plenty of time to schedule family holidays during the school holidays.

Pre-school education (Educaciòn Infantil)

Spain has a long tradition of state-funded pre-school (preescuelar), with over 90 per cent of children aged four or five attending for at least one year before starting compulsory schooling. The term pre-school embraces play school, nursery school (guardería), kindergarten (jardín de la infancia) and infant school (escuela infantil).

Under the LOGSE reforms, pre-school education is divided into two cycles; cycle one (ciclo 1º) for ages one to three and cycle two (ciclo 2º) for ages four to six.
Attendance is voluntary and free in public centers in many areas until the age of 5. The obligatory age for starting school is 5 years old.
In addition to state-funded schools, there are also many private fee-paying nursery schools, usually taking children aged from two to six, some of which are an integral part of a larger primary school. Arrangements are generally flexible and parents can choose attendance during mornings or afternoons, all day, or on selected days only. Many schools provide transport to and from homes. Fees are generally low and schools are popular, well-organized and good value for money.

Children learn about social, personal and environmental values, as well as developing their physical and mental skills. During the final years of nursery school, the rudiments of reading, writing, English and arithmetic are taught in preparation for primary school.

Nursery school is highly recommended, particularly if your children are going to continue with a state education. After one or two years of nursery school they will be integrated into the local community and will have learnt Spanish in preparation for primary school.

Primary schools (Educaciòn Primaria)

At six, children move to primary school. It last for 6 years and is divided into 3 cylces. Pupils will study Spanish language, Maths, Conocimiento del Medio (include biology, history, geography...), a second language, art and physical education. In addition most of them will study religion.

Although State education is free, parents will still have to buy books, material and pay for extra activities.

Secondary Education schools (El Instituto)

At age 12, children progress to Secondary school.

The first 4 years are called ESO (Educaciòn Secondaria Obligatoria) and children can leave the education system at the end of this section (or at the age of 16). The EsO is divided into 2 cycles of 2 years each (with the possibility of repeating the first year)

At the end of the 4 years, students will obtain a certificate. For most of the students who choose to stay at school, they will then follow a 2 years Bachillerato academic course. There are 4 types of Bachillerato: Arts, Humanities, Natural and Health Sciences and Technology.

At the end of the 2 years students will stand examinations during the monthj of May and the final result will be based both on results and continuous assessment.


In June, students who wish to go to University take a general University entrance examination (PAU) and the courses they will be able to follow depends on that examination and the result of the Bachillerato.

Students may take as long as necessary to complete their degree, repeating courses and spreading out examinations over years.

AEEA - Andalusian Association of Spanish Schools for Foreigners - Marbela, Spain Nathalie Boone Ctra Nacional 340, km 189, 6 Marbela, Malaga 29600 - Spain

Update 24/11/2003


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