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The Spanish education system

It comprises the education authorities, education professionals and other public and private actors who perform regulatory, financing or service provision functions for the exercise of the right to education in Spain, and those entitled to such a right, as well as the set of relations, structures, measures and actions being implemented in order to ensure it.

It is in the early stages of a reform process since the Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education, which modifies, to a limited extent, the 2006 Education Act, was passed in 2013. The reform, on a general framework of stability, is presented as an ongoing process as weaknesses are detected or new needs arise in the education system.

This reform recognises the need to combine quality and equity in the training provision, considering that school enrolment is not enough to meet the right to education, but quality is a constituent element of that right.

Characteristics that define it within the European context

  • Universalisation of education and inclusive education: A school enrolment rate of almost 100% has been achieved from the age of 3 and the equity index is higher than the OECD average.
  • Declining trend in the early school leaving rate (23.6% in 2013), although it is still far from the European average (12% in 2013) and the 15% objective planned in Spain for 2020 (10% in the European Union).
  • Main objectives of the educational reform: Reduce the early school leaving rate, improve the educational results according to international criteria (rate of excellent students and rate of students holding the Lower Compulsory Secondary Education Certificate), improve employability and stimulate students’ entrepreneurial spirit. In addition, prepare students for the exercise of citizenship, as well as for active participation in the economic, social and cultural life, with a critical and responsible attitude and capable of adapting to the changing situations of the knowledge-based society.
  • Principles of the reform: Increase in school autonomy, reinforcement of the management capacity of school leaders, external evaluations at the end of each stage, rationalisation of the educational provision and increase in the flexibility of pathways. Moreover, the transmission and implementation of values which promote personal freedom, responsibility, democratic citizenship, solidarity, tolerance, equality, respect and justice, as well as helping to overcome discrimination of any kind.
  • Main new elements that are introduced:
    • External evaluations, formative and diagnostic, at the end of the stage, which are comparable to those conducted internationally and focused on the level of acquisition of skills.
    • Reinforcing, at all stages, the learning of core subjects which contribute to the acquisition of key skills for the academic development of students.
    • Programme for the Improvement of Learning and Performance in Compulsory Secondary Education, basic vocational training, the anticipation of the pathways into Bachillerato and vocational training and the transformation of the current 4rd year of compulsory secondary education into a preparatory year with two different paths. 
    • Bridges between the different training paths and within them, so that none of students’ decisions is irreversible.
    • Integration of Civic and Constitutional Education into all the subjects of basic education, so that the acquisition of social and civic skills is included in the daily dynamics of teaching and learning processes.
  • With a view to the transformation of the Spanish education system,special emphasis will be placed on the following areas: information and communication technologies, promotion of multilingualism and modernisation of vocational training.

Training provision of the Spanish education system

The Spanish education system provides the following types of provision, which are implementing what is established by the Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education from the 2014/15 school year. The educational reform will be completed in the 2016/17 school year.

Pre-primary education is up to 6 years of age. Although it is not a compulsory education stage, the second cycle is free in all publicly-funded schools (public schools and publicly-funded private schools). Public schools providing it are called pre-primary schools and those also offering primary education are called pre-primary and primary schools.

The 2013 Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education does not introduce any change to what was stipulated by the 2006 Education Act.

Basic education is compulsory and free in publicly-funded schools. It lasts ten years and it is divided into two stages: 

  • Primary education, provided in primary schools. It covers six academic years, usually studied between the ages of 6 and 12.
  • Compulsory secondary education, studied in secondary schools, between the ages of 12 and 16. At the end of this stage, students receive the first official certificate, the Lower Compulsory Secondary Education Certificate, which allows them to have access to upper secondary education or the world of work.

The 2013 Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education introduces major modifications to both stages, which together constitute basic education. Its implementation started in 2014/15 in the 1st, 3rd and 5th years of primary education.

Upper secondary education is also provided in secondary schools. It lasts two academic years, usually studied between the ages of 16 and 18. It offers two possibilities: Bachillerato (general branch) and intermediate vocational training (professional branch). The latter is also provided in vocational training integrated institutions and in national reference institutions.

The 2013 Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education introduces significant changes in the educational provision of Bachillerato and, especially, vocational training. The reforms of vocational training provision include:

  • The creation of the new cycles of basic vocational training: These new cycles, which can be taken by students aged 15-17, among other entry requirements that have been established, started to be implemented in the 2014/15 academic year.
  • The development by the education authorities of dual vocational training in the education system.

Higher education comprises university and professional studies. University education, provided in universities, lead to the award of Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees. Advanced vocational training is provided in the same institutions than those offering intermediate vocational training.

Adult education and training covers different types of provision offered by the education and employment authorities, provided by institutions from different nature. Classroom-based education leading to the award of official degrees of the education system is provided in ordinary schools or specific schools for adults. Adult education and training is aimed at people aged over 18 and, as an exception, workers aged over 16 who cannot attend school in ordinary regime or high performance athletes. 

Apart from these studies, the Spanish education system offers specialised education:

  • Language education, provided at official language schools. Only students aged over 16 can take these studies.
  • Artistic education, including elementary Music and Dance education, professional artistic education and advanced artistic education. These studies are provided in different specific schools, according to every kind and level of education.
  • Sports education, organised in intermediate and advanced training cycles and provided in the same institutions than those providing vocational training.

Administration and management of the Spanish education system

It is necessary to stress the high degree of decentralisation, which distributes the competences between all the education authorities: the General State Administration (Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport) and the authorities of the Autonomous Communities (Departments for Education).

The central education administration executes the general guidelines of the Government on education policy and regulates the basic elements or aspects of the system. Regional education authorities develop the State regulations and have executive and administrative competences for managing the education system in their own territory.

In addition, schools have pedagogical, organisational and managerial autonomy for their resources.  This autonomy is accompanied by the participation of the education community in the schools’ organisation, governance, running and evaluation.

The 2013 Act on the Improvement of the Quality of Education makes changes in the administration and management of the Spanish education system: in the curriculum and the distribution of competences, in the participation in the running and governance of public and publicly-funded private schools, in school autonomy, in mixed-membership governing and teaching coordination bodies, in public school management, as well as in the evaluation of the education system.

Further information

For further information, please consult the introduction articles of Organisation and governance and of each educational level: Early childhood education and care, Primary education, Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education, Higher education and Adult education and training.

For a brief description of other main topics regarding the Spanish education system, please read the introduction article of Funding in education, Teachers and education staff, Management and other education staff, Educational support and guidance, Quality assurance and Mobility and internationalisation.

For information on recently adopted or planned reforms and policy measures, please consult the topic Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments.

Structure of the Spanish education system 2014/15

Diagram 2015 Spain.png

Key Notes.3.PNG

Source: Eurydice

Common European reference tools provided by the Eurydice Network