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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of centre-based ECEC


4.Early childhood education and care

4.2Organisation of centre-based ECEC

Last update: 23 January 2024

Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is divided into two cycles:

  • the first cycle (for children aged 0–2 years)
  • the second cycle (for children aged 3–5 years).

Article 5  of Royal Decree 95/2022 which establishes the organisation and minimum teaching requirements for Early Childhood Education, provides for the second cycle of Early Childhood Education to be free of charge, as well as the extension of free education to the first cycle, prioritising access for pupils at risk of poverty and social exclusion and those with low enrolment rates.

In both cycles, parents or guardians can choose the school they want for their children, either public or private, as long as a single access requirement is observed: the children's year of birth. The education administrations of the autonomous communities are in charge of regulating the admission of children to both cycles of ECEC for public and publicly funded private schools, with four objectives:

  • To guarantee the right to education, access under conditions of equality and freedom of choice of school by parents or guardians.
  • To avoid segregation of pupils on socio-economic or other grounds.
  • To ensure an adequate and balanced distribution of students with specific educational support needs among schools must be observed.
  • Not to discriminaten on the grounds of birth, racial origin, sex, religion, opinion, disability, age, illness, sexual orientation or gender identity or any other condition or circumstance.

To that end, the education administrations of the autonomous communities constitute commissions or bodies of admission. Only in the event of there not being enough places to meet the demand, a series of priority admission criteria, common to the entire state (article 84.2 of the Organic Law 2/2006 on Education [LOE], as amended by Organic Law 3/2020 [LOMLOE] and article 4 of Royal Decree 1635/2009):

  • existence of siblings enrolled in the school;
  • the parents/guardians live or work close to the school;
  • per capita income of the family unit;
  • parents or legal guardians working at the educational institution;
  • legal status of large family;
  • pupils born from multiple births;
  • single-parent family;
  • placement with a foster family;
  • whether the child has a disability or if his or her parents or brothers and sisters have any degree of disability;
  • condition of gender violence or terrorism victim.

The autonomous communities and the local administration may establish other criteria within their scope of competence, and schools themselves can add some complementary criteria. 

Private schools have autonomy for establishing their own admission procedures.

The education administrations of the autonomous communities provide mechanisms for complaints about decisions made by the bodies responsible for the admission of children. These mechanisms vary from one autonomous community to another and the recipient of the complaint varies according to the ownership of the school (usually the school council in the case of public and publicly funded private schools). Private schools do not accept complaints. 

Group size and child–staff ratios

In the first and second cycle of pre-primary education, class groups are normally arranged according to the year of birth. Each group has a teacher who is in charge of the same group throughout the entire cycle if possible. In the Spanish education system, this teacher is called a tutor. In most ECEC settings, children of the same age are grouped together. In some rural areas with few children or special settings (i.e. children of different ages) is prioritised. The child-teacher ratio varies depending on the Autonomous Community. The maximums per group and technician/teacher in charge in Spain are as follows: 

Age of children Maximum number of pupils per group and per technician/teacher
Less than 1 year 8
1 year 10–14
2 years 16-20
3 years 25
4 years 25
5 years 25

Teaching roles in pre-primary education

Professionals who have a university degree in pre-primary school teaching or primary school teaching with a specialisation in pre-primary education (both corresponding to International Standard Classification of Education [ISCED] level 6) are responsible for teaching each group of students.

Other roles involved in pre-primary education

  • In the first cycle (0-2 years), professionals holding the Pre-primary Education Advanced  Technician certificate (ISCED level 5) may teach or support school teachers, as determined by the education authorities.
  • In the second cycle (3-5 years), classes are taught by pre-primary education school teachers, who can be supported by school teachers in other specialities/subjects if necessary (specialists in foreign languages, therapeutic pedagogy or hearing and language, among others). 

Annual, weekly and daily organisation

Annual organisation

The school calendar  regulates the duration of the academic year, as well as holiday periods. It is established by the education authorities in the Autonomous Communities, within the scope of their educational powers, taking into account the minimum requirements regulated by the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports.

The duration of the school year is usually set separately for each cycle.
In the case of schools providing the first cycle, the number of school days may vary depending on:

  • the needs of families;
  • the possibilities for organisation of classes;
  • more flexible working time arrangements of the educational staff;
  • the stable functioning of groups and compliance with the child–staff ratio noted above.

The duration of the school year ranges between 10 months and 11 months in most autonomous communities.

The second cycle is regulated as per the other non-university educational stages: it comprises a minimum of 175 school days, organised in terms and distributed between the first fortnight of September and the end of June.

School holidays are spread throughout the whole school year as follows:

  • 11 weeks of summer holidays,
  • at least 2 weeks of Christmas holidays,
  • approximately 10 days at the end of March or beginning of April (Easter holidays),
  • 2 or 3 days during the carnival period,
  • about 12 bank holidays established by the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD) or the regional and/or local administrations.

The distribution of holidays, bank holidays and non-teaching days may vary greatly across autonomous communities.
During the summer holidays, schools must remain open until the end of July for administrative matters, teacher training, organisation of the next school year, or other activities. They may also remain open during the Christmas and Easter holidays.  

Organisation of the school day and week

Classes are held from Monday to Friday. The school day may be split, with break or siesta time and recess, or continuous, depending on each autonomous community.

The education authorities of the autonomous communities establish the school schedule, which varies depending on the ownership of the school:

  • Public schools offering the complete stage or only the second cycle: These schools operate for 25 hours per week (i.e. 5 hours per day) from Monday to Friday. This includes nap time and playground breaks. A complementary timetable is usually offered before and after those 25 hours for those who need it.
  • Public schools offering only the first cycle: Each autonomous community regulates the number of hours per week. It is not standardised, although children are not allowed to remain on the school premises for more than 8 hours per day.
  • Private schools: Although they have the autonomy to adapt their timetable to family demands, in some autonomous communities, regulations set by the education authorities establish that children are not allowed to remain on the school premises for more than 8 hours in the first cycle.

Many schools who provide pre-primary education offer the following:

  • Breakfast.
  • Extracurricular activities organised by parents’ associations, schools themselves or external institutions. These activities are non-compulsory for pupils.
  • Support service for families who start working before the start of classes. In many autonomous communities it is called “Morning Classroom” and it consists of a series of activities that usually start at 7:30.

In addition to school hours, tutors and other teachers spend 5 dedicated (complementary) hours a week in the school carrying out activities during which they do not directly take care of the students.

  • Meetings with parents. Each tutor has a scheduled hour per week for this purpose, which must be posted on the school's noticeboard.
  • Attending meetings with other tutors and teachers of the group.
  • Attending faculty meetings.
  • Attending meetings with the pedagogic coordination committee and the school board, if required.
  • Improvement training and educational research.

In schools exclusively offering pre-primary education, either the first or both cycles, the arrival and leaving times may be delayed by half an hour to facilitate communication with children's families and children’s adaptation to the school day.
No specific timetables are established for the different curricular areas. The organisation of time combines stability with flexibility and is adapted to pupils’ needs and rhythm of activity, play and rest.