Types of schools

In Spain there are three types of schools:

  1. Public
  2. Private
  3. Semi-private (part private and part government subsidized, called Educación concertada)

The majority of private and semi-private schools are affiliated with the Catholic faith.

Spanish Education System

  • Educacíon infantil – Preschool & Kindergarten
  • Educacíon primaria – Primary school
  • 1º de E. Primaria  – 1st grade
  • 2º de E. Primaria – 2nd grade
  • 3º de E. Primaria – 3rd grade
  • 4º de E. Primaria – 4th grade
  • 5º de E. Primaria  – 5th grade
  • 6º de E. Primaria – 6th grade

Educacíon secundaria obligatoria – Junior high school and high school

  • 1º ESO – 7th grade
  • 2º ESO – 8th grade
  • 3º ESO – 9th grade
  • 4º ESO – 10th grade

Bachillerato – High school

  • 1º BAC – 11th grade
  • 2º BAC – 12th grade

After Bachillerato, students take an exam called, Selectividad for college admittance.

Grading Scale Equivalency

Grades in Spain are assigned on a 10-point scale. Here are the equivalent U.S. letter grades:

  • 10 – A+
  • 9 – A
  • 7-8 – B+
  • 6 – B
  • 5 – C
  • 3-4 – D
  • 0-2 – F

School Organization


Teachers do not have their own classrooms, but move from classroom to classroom each period while students remain in the same classroom all day.

Students, even in high school, call teachers by their first names. This may give the impression that the teacher-student relationship is close, however in many cases this is not the case. Spanish teachers demand great respect from students, are more authoritarian, and maintain a distance from students. Their role is to teach their students, not to form relationships with them.

Teaching Style

  • In junior high school and high school, teachers primarily lecture and there is minimal teacher-student interaction.
  • My teachers didn’t hesitate to embarrass students and point out bad grades, which shows a lack of discretion and concern for the student.
  • Teachers are not paid very well and there seems to be low moral among them.
  • Teaching methods in Spain are said to be evolving with the intention of becoming more collaborative, however this was not apparent at my strict private school.

Homework and Learning Style

  • Homework consists primarily of reviewing class notes and memorizing the materials. In high school, I had many fewer projects and papers than in the U.S.
  • The most noticeable difference in studying in Spain is their affinity for mindmaps or esquemas, as they are called in Spanish. Students make elaborate detailed esquemas to learn curriculum and prepare for tests.

Academic Calendar Year

  • Starts the second week in September
  • Several long weekends through the year, typically in October, November, early December, and in May
  • Two week vacations at Christmas and Eastertime
  • School year is divided into trimesters, which are followed by exams
  • At the end of May, examánes globales tests material from the entire year

For more information see my blog post, FINALS ARE OVER, BUT NOT SCHOOL!

School Directory

  • Due to student confidentiality, no student information is shared with other families or students. This means that there is no printed or electronic version of a student directory, which makes communication very complicated and extremely frustrating.
  • Consequently, students and mothers create WhatsApp group chats to communicate. However, home addresses, and names of children and parents were not always apparent.
  • As children often use only their father’s last name and mothers use their maiden names, it isn’t always clear who is the parent of whom!


There is no homeroom, but each student is assigned a tutor who is a counselor and advocate for the student. Students go to their tutor for any school related issues and typically meet with their tutor once a month.

School rules

Here are some rules that may seem quite harsh to an American:

  • When the teacher closes the classroom door, class starts. Any students late to class may not enter and consequently miss the entire class. At my school, this even applied when the teacher chose to start class prior to the official start time. In any case, there is no debating a Spanish teacher’s authority.
  • In the event a student from another classroom, room 112, is visiting a friend during break in room 114 and the teacher from room 114 walks in and shuts the door, the teacher may keep the visiting student during the entire period, preventing the student from returning to their own classroom.
  • If a student is absent from school, it is his/her responsibility to contact classmates for any missed lessons assignments.

For more information see my blog post, LIFE IN A SPANISH CLASSROOM 

School materials

  • Students do not have lockers, but small 9 x 12 inch deep cubbies in their classrooms to keep their books and papers.
  • Paper is the European A4 size format, which is longer and narrower than the standard U.S. 8.5 x 11 inch paper. Typically, graph paper is used for all subjects, and has two or four hole punches for corresponding two or four ring binders. However, papers are usually put into plastic sleeves prior to being inserted into a binder.
  • Writing with a pen is preferable and always required by teachers over pencil, even on math tests!

For more information see my blog post, LOCKERS AND BINDERS AND PENS, OH MY!


Uniforms are a common site on the streets of Madrid as most private and semi-private schools require them. The uniforms vary in color and pattern, but otherwise have all the same elements.


  • Kilt
  • White polo or long sleeve shirt
  • Sweater
  • Socks or tights (socks go ¾ way up the calf. Many girls bunch them down around their ankles after leaving school)
  • Black shoes, usually Mary Jane’s for younger students and penny loafers for older girls
  • Many schools require winter coats be a specific color to match the uniforms
  • Green seemed to be the most popular uniform color with navy as a distant second

For a picture of our uniforms see my blog post, MY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL 


  • Pants (tan or navy)
  • White polo or long sleeve shirt
  • Sweater
  • Black penny or tassel loafers, called castellanos in Spanish

School bus

School buses in Spain are beautiful coach buses, complete with footrests, window shades, seat trays and air conditioning. This luxurious bus is a welcome change from the American yellow school bus.


Extracurricular activities in the Spanish education system are far less important than in the U.S. and have no bearing on college admittance.

  • There are no school leagues or state tournaments
  • Students do attend some athletic events like basketball, soccer and volleyball games, but do not draw masses as do American high school Friday night football or basketball games
  • In Bachillerato, the last two years of high school, many students drop the few activities they may have had to focus exclusive on studying for the Selectividad, which along with grades are the only factors used to determine college admissions

Spaniards love their guitars and playing ballads. Fortunately, we had a talented classmate who played the guitar and sang during breaks