The Spanish secondary education system is one of the most effective in Europe and is becoming more and more attractive to foreigners every year. Education in Spanish secondary schools (colegios), in which children are usually enrolled after they are 6 years old, is divided into three levels: Primaria (6 years), Secundaria (4 years) and Bachillerato (2 years). At the same time, the first two steps are mandatory for everyone without exception, regardless of the status and financial situation of the family.
The academic year in Spanish schools begins no earlier than the second week of September and ends no later than the third week of June, although the exact dates are set by the authorities of each autonomous community. The calendar provides for the same Christmas (December-January) and Easter (March-April) holidays lasting 10-14 days.
In most schools, classes are held from 8:30-9:30 to 13:30-15:00, based on the educational level and curriculum, with short breaks (5-10 minutes) and one long break for lunch (30-40 minutes ). Class occupancy ranges from 15-25 people, although in connection with the transition to the so-called “new normal” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is planned to introduce a limit on the number of students – no more than 20, with alternating shifts and distance learning.
Types of secondary schools in Spain and their differences
According to the latest data from the Spanish Ministry of Education, as of 2019, there were more than 31.5 thousand secondary schools in the country, of which about a third are private or semi-public (concertados) – that is, private with government support. The average cost of studying in a private Spanish school with an established reputation, excluding costs for uniforms, textbooks, meals, transport, sections, group trips and excursions, is about 600-800 euros per month, and for elite educational centers it can exceed 10 thousand euros per year.
The vast majority of private schools have their own boarding schools/campuses located directly on their protected territory, so if it is impossible for the whole family to stay permanently in Spain, this option seems to be the best option. The share of foreigners studying in private schools accounts for about 5% of the total number of students (this figure differs markedly by region), and about 15% of foreign families choose semi-state educational institutions for their children.
In Spain there are quite a lot of private schools that issue double and even triple certificates, which are recognized in the USA or Great Britain. Such educational centers are aimed at citizens of other states who subsequently intend to return to their homeland. Education there is conducted in the language of the country of origin (most often English, much less often French or German) and according to the corresponding program, and subjects from the Spanish program serve as a “mandatory addition”.
The curriculum may vary depending on the type of secondary school and level, but there is a common minimum set of disciplines for all, which includes:
Spanish language and literature;
language of the Autonomous Community (Catalan, Valencian, Galician, etc.);
foreign language (at least English);
computer science and basic computer literacy;
music and drawing/design;
Religion, although included in the curriculum of most public and private secondary education institutions, is a compulsory subject only in Catholic schools. In all other cases, you can always refuse to attend such lessons, despite the fact that they are educational and not propaganda in nature.
Best schools in Spain
Over the past twenty years, one of Spain’s leading newspapers, El Mundo, has been developing an annual ranking of the country’s best educational institutions – separately for high schools and universities. When choosing an educational center, both local residents and foreigners who plan to send their children to study in Spain are guided by this rating.
When compiling it, in which more than two thousand recognized authorities in the field of education take part, 27 different criteria are taken into account – right down to the range of canteens. The main criteria include the effectiveness of the educational model, the cost of training, the availability of all the necessary infrastructure, the range of subjects, the qualifications of teachers, sections and additional classes, class occupancy, location and transport links.
The largest number of secondary schools that meet all the above criteria are found in the Autonomous Community of Madrid, Catalonia, Andalusia, the Valencian Community and the Basque Country, but all of them are private or semi-public.
At the end of 2019, the top five best schools in Spain included:
1. Estudio (Madrid; private)
2. Manuel Peleteiro (La Coruña; private)
3. Ágora Sant Cugat (Barcelona; private)
4. Meres (Meres, Asturias; private)
5. Montserrat (Barcelona; private with government support)
The ranking of international schools where education is carried out in accordance with the standards of other countries is topped by:
1. Aloha College (Malaga)
2. Británico de Córdoba (Cordoba)
3. Novaschool Sunland (Malaga)
4. San Francisco de Paula (Seville)
5. San Pedro International College (Malaga)
Preparation for entering universities in Spain
The final stage of the Spanish secondary education system is bachillerato, when high school students spend two years preparing to enter university. In fact, the bachillerato can be compared to the two graduating classes of Russian schools, since at the end of it, students take exams, based on the results of which they are admitted to universities. The fundamental difference is that before moving to this level, the teenager himself chooses one of three directions (technical and natural sciences, social and human sciences, art and culture), based solely on his preferences, and not on previously obtained grades. Moreover, at the end of the first year, he is given the opportunity to change his choice, subject to passing exams in specialized disciplines.
Accordingly, over the course of two years, future applicants study only those subjects that they will need in their future professional activities – “techies” are exempt from studying world literature, and “humanists” are not forced to study physics. Thus, the goal of the bachillerato is to give students the maximum amount of knowledge in their chosen specialization, to provide them with the opportunity to improve in this direction, while freeing them from “ballast”.
In addition, in Spain there is a system of international baccalaureate (Bachillerato Internacional), when educational programs have a pronounced international focus. Thanks to this, students acquire knowledge in relation to the traditions, culture and current situation of different countries, which not only broadens their horizons, but also allows them to adapt better and faster when moving abroad.
For foreigners studying in schools that do not support the BI system, there is the possibility of enrolling in a Spanish bachillerato if certain conditions are met. The main one is passing all the necessary exams – including the Spanish language, knowledge of which at a very good level will be simply necessary. Some private schools issue second diplomas, with which it is possible to enter universities in the UK and the USA on a general basis, and in this case it is necessary to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English.