Moving to Spain: Spanish Education Basics

updated summer 2018

For those moving to Spain to teach English in the fall, there are huge questions to answer as you wrap your head around your teaching assistant job. What does IES mean, and how old will my student be? What are timetables in Spanish schools like? And, perhaps most importantly, when will I have holidays and days off?

We’re demystifying the Spanish school system with a beginner’s guide to school types and schedules.


First, let’s take a look at the overarching school system in Spain, which consists of public, private and semi-private schools:

  • Public Schools, or colegios públicos, are state-run schools that follow a region-wide curriculum. Teaching positions at these schools are coveted, and teachers must go through a rigorous testing session called oposiciones for placement. Their reward? Job security and great pay (not to mention all of that vacation time!). These schools are free to attend through age 16, after which students can choose to continue the college track, called bachillerato, or formación profesional, which is skills training. Or, they can just leave, no questions asked.
  • Private Schools are competitive schools for which parents must pay a monthly tuition for a student to attend. The schools may or may not be associated with a religious order. Pupils in colegios privados are often expected to wear a uniform and are held to high educational standards. Curriculum may or may not follow an international (IB), British, French or even German system, and may or may not be affiliated with a religious order.
  • Half public, half private, or Concertados, are schools that are partially subsidized by the state and most typically by a religious order. These students may have extended hours and also wear uniforms.
  • Bilingual Schools: Spain has long been behind the rest of Europe when it comes to speaking foreign languages, so bilingual schools have become a popular option for parents wishing to expose their children to another tongue. While not all teachers at bilingual schools are native speakers of the second language they teach, they have undergone special training. English is, by far, the most popular language, though French, German, and even Chinese bilingual programs exist.
  • Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (EOI): If you were assigned to an EOI you’ll be working with adults in a state-run language school. Your focus will typically be on oral fluency, and you’ll have slightly smaller classes and next to zero discipline problems. The drawback to this job is that you may work in the evenings or have some sort of split schedule.

Spanish schoolchildren are required to go to school from the age of 3 or 6, depending on autonomous region, until they are 16. After, many will choose to study a baccalaureate and then continue on to a university or trade school. Anything before university is considered enseñanza no universitaria. Levels are split by ages:

Infantil: The first cycle of primary education is educación infantil, meaning preschool and kindergarten. Students range from 2 ½ to 5 years old. In this stage, pupils learn how to properly hold a pencil and begin writing, how to use their bodies, and how not to bite one another. No, really.

Preschools are coded E.I. for Educación Infantil, whereas schools which offer both infantil and primary education are indicated by the abbreviation C.E.I.P. (Centro de Educación Infantil y Primaria). If you’re assigned to the latter, expect to have kids from about 3 until 11.


Primaria: Primary is the second cycle, which is further split into two-year ciclos. A teacher often accompanies a class through the two years. Grades 1 through 6 are considered primaria, and students stay in one classroom for all subjects except PE or music in most cases.

Infant and primary public schools tend to start at 9:00 and go until 14:00; private schools and concertados may remain open until 17:00, at least a few times a week. Larger cities are an exception, where students stay until 5pm but eat at school.

Primary schools catering exclusively to grades one through six are indicated by the abbreviation C.E.P. (Centro de Educación Primaria), and range in age from about 5 or 6 to 11 or 12.

Secundaria: There is no “in-between” step like middle school in Spain. Secondary school consists of four mandatory years of study (hence the full name educación secundaria obligatoria), then students who wish to continue to higher education can opt to enroll in a baccalaureate program of other course of professional study. Secondary students are assigned a group — for example, Primero de ESO “C”– with whom they will take the majority of their classes.


Formación profesional: Trade schools, known simply as FP, are an alternative to baccalaureate programs. Students older than 16 are welcome to attend, as well as adults, and many language assistants often attend these classes, particularly in hospitality training programs.

Secondary schools offering the four levels of ESO in addition to baccalaureate (bachillerato, BAC) and trade school (formación profesional, FP) studies are named IES for Instituto de Enseñaza Secundaria. Here, the school day usually begins between 8:00 or 9:00 and continues until 15:00. Sometimes classes or special courses at these schools are offered in the evenings.

No matter where you’re assigned to teach, you’ll have a glimpse into regional culture and have a whole slew of children asking you your favorite football club or if you have any kids yourself. Enjoy it – the school year flies by!

book pages preview

To celebrate the 2018 re-release of COMO’s Moving to Spain, we’ll be previewing excerpts from our new, updated and expanded eBook. Every Monday in July and August, check back for sneak peaks on budgeting, health care, piso hunting and more!

Are you moving to Spain to teach English this fall? With over 500 copies already sold, our 130+ page eBook Moving to Spain: A Comprehensive Guide to your First Weeks Teaching English in Iberia, is your one-stop source on moving to and working as an English teacher in Spain. We’ve compiled 22 years of experience into an easy-to-read, hopefully funny but ultimately handy eBook that details everything from what to pack, navigating Spanish transport and even earning extra income, among so much more.


You asked for it, and we’ve worked overtime to push up our release of  Moving to Spain!

We’ve beefed up the contents and added a few extras so that you can make your move to Spain as smooth as possible. You can purchase Moving to Spain right now for 10 euros. Sign up for email updates and look out for special promotions on our Facebook and Twitter pages. And if you really want a head start on teaching, why not teach online from Spain?

Any other packing conundrums or items you wish you’d left at home? We’d love to hear them!

Have you ever worked in a Spanish school? We’d love to hear your feedback on your region’s differences!

Author: Cat Gaa

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