Education Around the World: Spain

Spanish children are not required to attend as many years in school as Americans are. While Americans graduate high school at eighteen and decide what their career path will be at any time,  students in Spain are implored to do so by age sixteen. Although this may seem like a pushy way to learn, citizens usually know what they want to be at a young age.


Primary School/ Educación Primaria

Elementary school marks the beginning of ten mandatory years of education in Spain. It is structured in three cycles of two years:

  • Cycle A is for students aged six to eight.
  • Cycle B is for students eight to ten.
  • Cycle C is for students aged ten to twelve.

It is free and aims to provide basic education. Its main goals for children are to develop written, oral, math, and reading skills. Other required subjects are art, physical education, Spanish language, and regional literature.


Secondary School/ Educación Secundaria Obligatoria

Educación Secundaria Obligatoria places value on good citizenship, cultural abilities, and using previously learned subjects for pupils’ future jobs. It prepares them to know their rights and duties, guide them to integrate these abilities and skills into their social and work life, or to go for further education such as vocational studies or college. It is divided into two two-year cycles:

  • Cycle A is from age twelve to fourteen.
  • Cycle B is from age fourteen to sixteen.

If sixteen-year-olds pass all final exams, they are awarded the Certificate of Secondary Education or Titulo de Graduado en Educación Secundaria. With this certificate, they are ready to pursue their aspirations.


Illustration of open books with pages on education in Spain. Illustration by Jooyeon Lee.
Illustration of open books with pages on education in Spain. Illustration by Jooyeon Lee.



Spanish students study various subjects with a few key differences from Americans. For instance, they learn foreign languages, such as English, in primary school. They also learn Citizenship and Religious/Moral Studies until the age of sixteen. The latter course varies depending on religious orientation. Spanish pupils are free to study Muslim, Christian, etc. values.


Standardized Testing

 Spain’s equivalent of the SAT is called the Selectividad and is divided into two parts. The first, which covers required subjects, includes History, Spanish, Literature, and a foreign language. The optional section is composed of up to four electives. For example, students could be tested in Economics or Latin.


Public vs. Private Schools

The country has semi-private and private schools as well. Semi-private ones “are usually former private schools subsidized by the Spanish government.” (Alliansecare dot com) Many semi-private institutions are run by Catholic or other religious organizations.

Private schools are known for their small class sizes, and some of them teach bilingual courses if they are international. However, courses are otherwise usually taught in Spanish “or the co-official language of the region.”

map of Spain
Map of Spain illustration by Jooyeon Lee.


Worldwide Achievement Rankings

Spain was “one of the highest among PISA-participating countries and economies” as of 2018, according to the official OECD website. Local students were also some of the most welcoming of immigrant young people. However, many principals reported that schools suffered from teacher shortages.

Spanish people teach kids to be well-rounded people with values such as Citizenship, spirituality, and Art. The country has not forgotten its roots in the Renaissance Era and still strives for the next generation to chase its dreams.


Read more articles on education and Education Around the World – Series on our Zealousenss blog  Education – iN Education Inc. (



  1.  “Education GPS – Spain – Overview of the Education System (EAG 2019).” n.d.
  2. “Schools in Spain | Allianz Care.” n.d. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  3. “Selectividad Spanish University Access Test, Selectividad Spain.” n.d. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  4. “Spain’s Educational System | Public or Private.” 2023. Seville Abroad. 2023.



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