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Education system in Spain

spanish educational system

The system of education in Spain consists of five main stages:

  • Preschool education – Educación Infantil;
  • Primary education – Educación Primaria;
  • Mandatory Secondary Education – Educación Secundaria Obligatoria;
  • Bachillerato level – Bachillerato;
  • Higher education– Educación superior.

One also has the option of pursuing a professional education, similar to that found in the Russian vocational-training colleges and institutes (Cíclos Formativos). The professional education consists of two stages and includes “Cíclos Formativos de Grado Medio” (the foundational courses) and “Cíclos Formativos de Grado Superior” (the higher level courses), and can be obtained instead of a Bachillerato after completing the mandatory level of secondary education. The graduates of the “Cíclos Formativos de Grado Superior,” in the same manner as the holders of the “Bachillerato,” are eligible to gain access to higher education in Spain with the professional degree.

Apart from the five stages mentioned above, the education system in Spain includes education for adults (Escuela de Adultos) and also specialized language, arts, and applied educational courses.

School system in Spain

Preschool in Spain (Educación Infantil)

school system spain

The system of education in Spain begins with preschool education. At this level, school is not obligatory and is guaranteed to be free of charge for children between the ages of 3 and 6 in public schools. However, in private schools payment is required. The preschool education can be subdivided into 2 stages:

  • Preschool for children between 0 and 3 years old;
  • Preschool for children between 3 and 6 years old.

Mandatory School Education in Spain (Educación básica)

Primary Education in Spain (Educación básica)

According to current Spanish legislation, primary school education is obligatory. Similar to preschool education, it is free in public schools but not in private schools. In addition to public and private schools, students have the option of attending religious schools financed by the Catholic Church for their primary education.

The Spanish education system functions under the control of the Spanish Ministry of Education. The government monitors the quality of education, establishes the standards for the number of teachers and the quantity of students in each class, confirms methodological programs, and controls financing, etc.

The educational program in Spain includes mandatory secondary education across all types of schools. Students from 6-16 years old obtain their secondary education in two stages.

  • Primary education (educación primaria): for children between 6 and 12 years old, with a division into three cycles, 2 years per cycle: initial cycle (6–8 years old), middle cycle (8–10 years old), senior cycle (10–12 years old);
  • Second stage (educación secundaria оbligatoria). This stage completes the basic education for students between 12 and 16 years old. Upon graduating from the program, the student receives a diploma certifying the completion of secondary education.

The main subjects taught within the framework of the school curriculum of the Spanish secondary program include: natural sciences (geography, environmental studies), humanities (history, sociology, literature, civil education, and human rights education), languages (Spanish, foreign languages, the languages of the autonomous regions of Spain – Valencian, Catalan, Galician, or Basque), mathematics, physical training, music, and fine arts.

A graduate with a secondary education diploma can continue his or her education by taking secondary professional education courses or by studying in a Bachillerato program in a college, or the graduate may begin his or her working career.

Bachillerato in the Spanish educational system

The school system in Spain includes the level, Bachillerato, which resembles the senior grades of the Russian general education school and consists of two courses. Bachillerato is not a mandatory level of education but a voluntary educational stage of the school system in Spain. As a rule, the students that plan to continue studying in the universities in the future choose to study at this level. The second course of the Bachillerato presupposes that the students choose their main field of specialization: natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, or the arts. Final exams in a Bachillerato program are considered to be the entrance exams necessary for admission to universities. Due to the extremely high competition, the graduates with high final average grades have a priority in choosing a university. One begins studying in Bachillerato at the age of 16 years, after finishing the basic school education.

bachillerato in spain

The specialized education in Spain has 3 areas of concentration:

  • Arts (Artes), fine arts, and design (artes plásticas imagen y diseño), or stage art, music and dance (artes escénicas, música y danza)
  • Science and technologies (Ciencias y Tecnología)
  • Humanities and social sciences (Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales)

The students may transfer from one course into another one only if they successfully pass all the exams. Should a student fail up to 2 subjects, the student has the opportunity to retake that course and postpone the exam until the next exam session. Failing 4 or more exams results in the automatic repetition of the course. The graduate who successfully passes all final exams receives a diploma that certifies the completion of his or her secondary education (Título de Bachiller, «Bachelor’s»). This diploma grants the graduate the right to access higher education in Spain.

Secondary Professional Education in the Spanish Education System

Secondary professional education holds an important place in the Spanish education system. One can obtain it by choosing one of 42 areas of specialization. The duration of every course depends on the particular specialization, and as a rule constitutes 1300-2000 hours with 25% of the educational time dedicated to industrial practice.

secondary education in spain

The following categories of people may attain access to secondary professional education (Formación Profesional de Grado Medio) in Spain:

  • College graduates with diplomas of basic education (Título de Educación Secundaria);
  • Specialist assistants (Técnico Auxiliar);
  • Specialists (Técnico);
  • Graduates of a second Bachelor’s course (Bachillerato Unificado y Polivalente);
  • University graduates;
  • Persons who successfully have passed the entrance exam (The minimum age to take an exam is 17 years old).

Students who have finished a secondary professional education (Formación Profesional de Grado Medio) and a higher professional education (Formación Profesional de Grado Superior) receive the diploma of specialist (Técnico) and the diploma of high-level specialist (Técnico Superior) accordingly. The specialist diploma enables one to continue studying in Spain (in a Bachillerato program). The diploma of the high-level specialist allows one to seek admittance to one of the universities of Spain without exams and to continue studying in the same field of specialization. Special types of education in the Spanish education system (Enseñanzas de régimen especial) The types of education in Spain discussed below represent the different kinds of education available and encompass all age categories of students. The Spanish system of education presupposes that specialized education might start with preschool preparation and might finish with one obtaining a diploma equivalent to the diploma of higher education. Degrees are offered in the following areas of specialization:

  • Fine arts and design (Artes plásticas y Diseño);
  • Conservation and restoration of objects related to cultural heritage (Conservación y Restauración de bienes culturales);
  • Music;
  • Dance;
  • Dramatic Art – Arte Dramático (Teatro);
  • Foreign languages (Idiomas).

University system in Spain

The university system of education in Spain allows one to obtain a university degree (Enseñanza Universitaria) according to the general European and world standards, as well as the requirements of the Bologna process. The system offers three educational levels, or cycles:

1. Bachelor’s degree (Grado). Students receive this degree upon completion of three or four years of a university education course (The duration of study at the first stage of higher education depends on the area of specialization. For example, in order to obtain a Bachelor’s in the field of medicine, one must study for up to 6 years). One can earn a university degree of the first cycle (Grado) in all areas of specialization—Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences.

2. Master’s degree (Máster). Students receive this degree upon completion of one year or two years of a university course in a narrow specialization. One can earn admittance to this educational stage only with a Bachelor’s degree (Grado).

3. Doctoral degree (Doctorado) is equivalent to that received in a Russian doctoral program. The duration of the program is 3-6 years. One can be admitted into a Doctoral program with a Master’s degree and in some cases after the completion of a Bachelor’s program. The final element of the Doctoral program is the defense of the Doctoral dissertation.

university system spain

In the majority of Spanish universities, admission to a Bachelor’s program is carried out based on the results of the General State Exam, PAAU (Pruebas de Aptitud para Acceso a la Universidad). Generally, this is known as “Selectividad.” The exam is held in schools (for graduates who earn a complete secondary education diploma) or with the preparation courses affiliated with the universities in Spain. UNED (Universidad Nacional de Education a Distancia – Public University of Distance Education) offers an opportunity to take a competitive exam from long distance. The exam helps determine the general level of the student’s academic preparation by testing on subjects that correspond to the chosen area of specialization (technical or humanities). A grade is given based on the 10-points scale by calculating the simple average of the answers for all questions. The composite score also takes into account the simple average on the school transcripts. The admission requirements for the Master’s and Doctoral programs may vary and depend on the department, university, or region of Spain.

The university system in Spain requires that one pay a tuition to study at the universities. Education in the public schools and universities is quite affordable, however. The cost of studies is generally 2500-5000 euros per year. To study in a private university in Spain is more expensive, though, and one might need to pay 3000-10,000 euros per year. Students are free to take advantage of a well-developed system of scholarships and grants, as well as the international exchange programs. The students who demonstrate academic excellence not only are able to cover all the costs of their education by means of scholarships, but are also able to participate in exchange courses in leading universities around the world.


According to the current legislation, the university system in Spain envisages pursuit of the higher educational degrees only in the universities. The public universities in Spain are considered to be more prestigious than the private ones. There are also religious universities that function under the auspices of the Catholic Church and universities that prepare specialists in such areas as the arts, cinematography, and military sciences.

All Spanish universities are autonomous and are allowed to introduce changes into students’ educational programs. The universities are responsible for the development of the curricula that, apart from the obligatory core subjects according to specialization, include optional classes and subjects, which a student can choose according to his or her personal preferences and needs. The curricula are confirmed by the university committee. The administration of each university is in charge of calculating and establishing the studying costs for all departments; it is also responsible for issuing diplomas to graduates.

According to the university system in Spain, the academic year lasts from October to June. Most of the Spanish universities conduct teaching in Spanish. They offer preparation courses in the Spanish language for foreign students, and it is possible to choose an area of specialization (such as a concentration in law, economics, medicine, etc.). The universities in Spain also offer a great variety of programs in the English language.

When applying for some programs, the university might require confirmation of Spanish language proficiency. DELE (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) can be submitted as a confirmation document. One can prepare for the DELE exam in one of the numerous language schools in Spain and in other countries. The exam takes place several times per year. When confirming the level of Spanish language proficiency, one should pay attention to the following deadlines: the date of submitting an application and the deadlines for the certificate to be issued and sent to the student. All the information detailed above demonstrates that it is extremely important for a foreign student to start preparing for admission to a Spanish university in advance, taking into account deadlines for document submission and the date when he or she is expecting to receive the language certificate. In the Spanish university system the educational process is based on a system of credits. Ten hours of in-class studying corresponds to one credit. The number of collected credits demonstrates the level of a student’s preparation, intensity of the education, and academic achievements.

Business schools in the Spanish system of education

When talking about the education system in Spain, one should stress the vast range of private business-schools available. Many of them are well-known and very prestigious. For instance:

  • ESADE – Escuela Superior de Administracion y Direccion de Empresas;
  • IEDE – Escuela de Negocios de la Universidad Europea de Madrid (Institute for Executive Development).
business school spain

The quality of education in the above-mentioned schools of Spain corresponds to world standards. The cost of studying might exceed the cost of studying in a private university. Many programs offered by business schools are taught in English. Should a foreign student be insufficiently fluent in the Spanish language but have a good command of English, he or she has a good chance to receive a high-quality education in a business school. The costs of studying can range from a few thousand to eighteen thousand euros per year.

The specialists of the «INEEDSpain» service center will be glad to help you choose the right school or university, select an individual study program, apply for a visa, or find an apartment in Barcelona during your stay in Spain. Here in Barcelona, we offer over 200 types of services! For more information and assistance, call us on the numbers indicated on our website. We hope that our article has helped you to understand the system of education in Spain.


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