Compulsory primary and secondary education
Compulsory education in Spain and Catalonia is from the ages of 6 to 16.
Primary Education lasts for six years, from first year to sixth year. Compulsory secondary education (ESO, which stands for Educació secundària obligatòria) starts from the age of 12 and ends at the age of 16.
Once a student has finished their compulsory education, they can then take their Baccalaureate (a two-year pre-university stage) or opt for basic vocational training (intermediate training cycles).
Choosing a school and types of educational centres
When it comes to choosing a school for your child, you will need to take several factors into account, such as their age, previous education, the languages they speak, the period you would be staying in Barcelona and the financial resources you have at your disposal.
If you plan to spend several years here, you may prefer to enrol your child in a local education-system school. If your stay is going to be short, you can opt for an international school, to avoid changing your child’s school curriculum or language of instruction.
You will also have to bear in mind the costs of the various options, which is why it is important for you to be aware of the different types of schools here.
The Barcelona area has three types of schools you need to be aware of:
- State schools. They are owned by the public authorities; in Barcelona this means either the Government of Catalonia or the Barcelona City Council. Their curriculum has been approved by the local education authorities and they are free and secular. The enrolment period is during the spring.
- State-assisted private schools. These are privately owned and managed schools and may or may not be secular. Enrolments are subsidised by the government, but parents voluntarily pay the other expenses that fall outside the realm of compulsory education. The curriculum has also been approved by the local education authorities and follows the official enrolment process of state schools.
- Private schools. While the curriculum (goals, contents, teaching and study methods and assessment criteria etc.,) requires approval from the education authorities, these schools do not receive subsidies, with parents paying the full costs of their children’s education.
If you are interested in a particular school, it is important for you to get information on it and to visit it Schools normally hold open days or study tours for parents during the months of March and April. These visits provide you with basic information, such as the school’s facilities, fees, goals and methods, linguistic project, services and extra-curricular activities.
All children living in Barcelona are entitled to a place in the education system that guarantees them a free education.
Catalonia's state-education system offers quality teaching that ensures equal opportunities for girls and boys, promotes inclusion and attention to diversity and encourages an education in skills for life. It promotes integration and is based on multilingualism, with Catalan as the language of instruction.
The state education system today is implementing numerous educational-innovation programmes in several fields: teacher training with new methods, use of learning and knowledge technologies, artistic and environmental education, foreign languages etc. Work is also being carried out to give schools greater autonomy and boost their networking.
Catalan education system schools, whether state or state assisted, follow the same curriculum as they are governed by the same legislation. However, every school can apply its own methodology and specific education programme. Such schools follow their own enrolment processes and criteria.
A pre-enrolment is required for students to be admitted to a state-funded school for the first time or to change school. This application is submitted between March and April, several months before the start of the school year.
School places are distributed first through a system of points (looking at the household’s proximity to the school, financial and family situation etc.,) and, then, by a lottery where the demand exceeds the number of places at the school.
If the student comes to Catalonia after the enrolment period has ended or when the school year has already started, their admission application will still have to be submitted. In that case you will have to verify whether there are still places in the appropriate year group at your chosen school.
The school selection process can be very complicated and there are many factors to consider. For this reason, we recommend that you consult the Choosing a school in Barcelona guide.
Consult formalities related to schooling:
- Preregistration and enrolment for pre-primary and compulsory primary and secondary education at publicly funded schools
- School enrolment for newly arrived students at publicly funded schools
Bilingual and international schools
There are over forty bilingual and international schools in Barcelona and the metropolitan area.
Let’s take a look at the differences and features of these schools:
- Bilingual schools: local curriculum, foreign language. These schools follow the local school curriculum and calendar, but use a foreign language of instruction, either wholly or partly. Such schools are generally private, but some may be state assisted and receive financial support from a government, which reduces the fees to be paid by the families. Students at these schools are local children looking for an inter-cultural environment and the children of foreign nationals who have established themselves in the Barcelona area. Most of these schools are private and state assisted.
- International schools: foreign curriculum, foreign language. These are schools that follow a foreign curriculum and which also use a foreign language of instruction. Some of these schools are subsidised by foreign governments but, while they are open to every one, they give priority to citizens from their country or students who have previously studied in their country. Even so, most of these schools are private and do not receive subsidies from any government, leaving parents to pay full expenses and fees. Although they are without financial support, these schools follow the school curriculum of a foreign country, which has been certified by the competent education authority. In addition, some schools in this group have negotiated agreements with the Catalan regional government to offer their students double graduation certificates (local and foreign).
The Barcelona area has schools which follow the English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Swiss and US school systems. There is an association that brings together the main international schools found in the Barcelona area: Barcelona International Schools Association (BISA).
Note that there are more and more state, state-assisted and private schools working hard to improve their students’ foreign-language education. Some offer qualifications and certificates such as the following:
- Batxibac: this is a programme that allows students to study a mixed curriculum and obtain both a Catalan Baccalaureate and a French baccalauréat, thanks to an agreement between the French Education Ministry and the Catalan regional government’s education authorities. It requires students to spend a third of their Baccalaureate’s teaching hours using French and to study the French language, French literature and French history. It is becoming very widespread in many state and state-assisted schools.
- International Baccalaureate (IB): is a specific curricular itinerary created by a non-profit association in 1968: the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO). There are centres that follow this programme on every continent, whose aim is to promote educational excellence. They can be studied in several languages (including Spanish, English and French). A double Baccalaureate qualification can be obtained in Catalonia and the IB in several state schools. It has also been established in several private and state-assisted schools.
- Dual Diploma: this is an official international validation programme for Baccalaureate qualifications that enables students to obtain two qualifications at the same time: one from their country of origin and the other being an American High School Diploma. It is run by the Academica Corporation. Students must study their local Baccalaureate and a few additional subjects in English through a digital platform that helps them to improve their English, develop a high level of personal autonomy and master the use of new technologies. This option is being extended to many of Catalonia’s private and state-assisted schools.
Most of Catalonia’s schools are governed by a school calendar that runs from September to June, divided up into three terms:
- The autumn term from mid-September to the Christmas holidays, which is a fortnight long.
- The winter term starts after Epiphany (6 January) and ends with the Easter Week holidays (which vary depending on the year, between March and April). The Easter Week holidays last for around ten days.
- The spring term starts after Easter Week and finishes before St John's Day, the Midsummer Day (24 June).
Some international schools may vary slightly from this general calendar.
Baccalaureate students finish their studies in May and have a month to prepare for their university-entrance examinations (PAU, which stands for Proves d’accés a la universitat).