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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of the education system and of its structure


2.Organisation and governance

2.3Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Last update: 28 February 2024

Structure of the education system

The education system offers the following types of education: early childhood education, primary education, compulsory secondary education (ESO), Bachillerato, vocational training (VT), language education, artistic education, sports education, adult education and university education.

Primary education, compulsory secondary education and basic vocational training constitute basic education.

Secondary education is divided into compulsory secondary education and post-compulsory secondary education. Post-compulsory secondary education is made up of Bachillerato, intermediate vocational training, professional artistic education in music and dance and intermediate plastic arts and design, and intermediate sports education.

University education, higher artistic education, advanced vocational training, higher professional education in plastic arts and design, and higher sports education constitute higher education.

Language education, artistic education and sports education are considered specialised education.

Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE)as amended by Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE) is currently the basic standard regulating the education system and defining its structure. The structure of the Spanish education system corresponds to this organisational chart.

Non-university general education

Early childhood education presents the following features:

  • it is not compulsory;
  • it is organised in two cycles:
    • the first cycle is from 0 to 2 years of age;
    • the second one, which is free, from 3 to 5.

Primary education and compulsory secondary education cover ten years of schooling, compulsory and cost-free for all the students.

Primary education presents the following features:

  • it is the first compulsory level of the education system;
  • it covers six academic years, between 6 and 11 years old;
  • the implementation in all schools, in the fourth year, of a diagnostic assessment of the skills acquired by pupils (article 21 of the LOE, as amended by the LOMLOE). 

As for ESO, it presents these singularities:

  • It runs from age 12 to 15.
  • It covers four academic years.
  • All students, regardless of whether they pass or fail, receive an official certificate stating the number of years studied and the level of acquisition of the skills for this stage.

Basic vocational training allows for:

  • access for students between 15 and 17 years of age if they have passed the third year of ESO or, exceptionally, if they have completed the second year of ESO. The age of 15 may be reached in the current calendar year. In addition, the teaching team is required to propose that the parents or legal guardians of the pupils join these studies;
  • the awarding of the Basic Technician and Compulsory Secondary Education Graduate diplomas.

Bachillerato is a stage with the following features:

  • it lasts two academic years, which are studied between the ages of 16 and 17;
  • it allows access to the different higher education courses after being passed.

Vocational training in the education system, in addition to basic vocational training, comprises a set of training cycles that make up intermediate and advanced vocational training.

In order to access intermediate vocational training programmes, it is necessary to comply with one of the following requirements:

  • holding the Compulsory Secondary Education Graduate diploma;
  • having passed a specific training course for access to intermediate training cycles in public or private centres authorised by the educational administration;
  • having passed an entrance examination;
  • holding a Basic Technician certificate.

In the case of passing a specific course or the entrance examination, students must be at least seventeen years old in the year in which the examination is taken. Those having passed these studies receive the qualification of Technician, which gives them access to bachillerato studies. 

In order to study Advanced Vocational Training programmes, one of the following conditions must be fulfilled:

  • holding the Bachillerato diploma corresponding to the current educational laws;
  • having passed the Unified Polyvalent Bachillerato studies corresponding to the General Education Law 14/1970(repealed);
  • holding an Intermediate Vocational Training Technician qualification;
  • having passed a specific training course for access to advanced training cycles in public or private centres authorised by the educational administration;
  • having passed an entrance examination;
  • holding an Advanced Vocational Training Technician certificate or a university degree.

In the case of passing a specific course or the entrance examination, students must be at least nineteen years old in the year in which the examination is taken. Those who pass these studies obtain the qualification of Advanced Technician, which gives them access to  the university studies related to the vocational training studies previously taken.

Vocational Training students who do not successfully complete their studies will receive an academic certificate for the vocational modules passed, the competences acquired and, where appropriate, the areas or subjects passed, which will have academic validity and provide partial accreditation of the professional competences acquired in relation to the  National System of Qualifications and Vocational Training.

There is also a dual vocational training modality within the scope of the education system in basic, intermediate and advanced vocational training. It is a set of training actions and initiatives that, in joint responsibility with companies, are aimed at the professional qualification of people, harmonising the teaching and learning processes between educational institutions and workplaces. Placements with companies are supervised by the Education Authorities.

University education

Students in possession of the Bachillerato diploma who wish to attend university need to pass a test. The grade obtained in this test, provided that at least a pass mark is achieved, together with that of the Bachillerato studies, provides the access mark. The characteristics, design and general content of the university entrance exam are common to the entire country.

Adapted to the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), university education is divided into three cycles:

  • Bachelor, whose aim is to provide the students with a general training, in one or several disciplines, directed to prepare them for carrying out professional activities. These lead to the award of a Bachelor's degree and consist of 240 ECTS credits, except for those which, subject to specific legislation or the rules of European Union Law, must have 300 or 360 credits. The structure is 60 credits per year and degree.
  • Master, whose objective is the acquisition of an advanced training of a specialised or multidisciplinary nature, either oriented towards academic or professional specialisation, or to promote initiation in research tasks. These lead to the award of a University Master's degree and consist of 60, 90 or 120 credits.

Official Bachelor and Masters' degrees are accompanied by the Diploma Supplement, according to what the EHEA stipulates.

  • PhD, which enables the acquisition of competences and skills related to quality scientific research and its development. Doctoral studies are organised through programmes and end with the preparation and public presentation of a doctoral thesis incorporating original research results. They have a maximum duration of three years of full-time dedication, from admission into the programme until the doctoral thesis is submitted. An extension of another year is allowed, which may exceptionally be renewed for an additional year. In the case of part-time studies, the maximum duration is five years, extendable for two more years, which may also, exceptionally, be further extended for an additional year.

Non-university specialised education

Artistic, sports and languages education have their own organisation and they are considered as specialised education.

Artistic education is organised as follows:

  • elementary music and dance education;
  • professional artistic education: professional education of music and dance and the intermediate and advanced training cycles of plastic arts and design studies;
  • advanced artistic education: advanced Music and Dance education, Dramatic Arts education, Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Assets education, advanced Design studies and advanced Plastic Arts studies, including advanced studies of Glass and Ceramics.

Sports education is structured in two levels: intermediate and advanced.

Language education is organised into three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced. These levels correspond, respectively, to levels A, B and C of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and are subdivided into levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. In order to be admitted, students must be at least sixteen years old in the year in which they begin their studies. Exceptionally, students can be granted access at the age of 14 to study a language that is different from the one they learned at the stage of lower compulsory secondary education.

Pupils’ and families' rights and duties in compulsory education

The 1978 Spanish Constitution, in article 27, recognises the right to Education as one of the fundamental rights.

Article 4.1 of the LOE, as amended by the LOMLOE, establishes the compulsory and cost-free nature of basic education.

Pupils' basic rights and duties

Article 6 of Organic Law 8/1985 regulating the Right to Education (LODE), as amended by the LOMLOE, recognises the following basic rights for students:

  • receive comprehensive instruction ensuring the full development of their personality;
  • have their personal identity, integrity and dignity respected;
  • have their dedication, effort and performance objectively assessed and recognised;
  • receive academic and professional guidance;
  • have their freedom of conscience, religious and moral convictions respected, according to the Constitution;
  • be protected against bullying, discrimination and situations of violence or harassment at school;
  • express their opinions freely, respecting the rights and reputation of others, within the framework of the school's rules of coexistence;
  • participate in the running of the school and get involved in school life;
  • receive the necessary assistance and support to compensate for personal, family, financial and social and cultural disadvantage, particularly in the case of pupils with special educational needs, which prevent or hinder their access to and permanence in the educational system;
  • receive social protection, in the area of education, in cases of accident or family hardship.

Furthermore, article 7 of the LODE recognises their right of association, depending on their age, through the creation of student organisations.

In turn, article 6 of the LODE, as amended by the LOMLOE, sets out the following as basic duties of students:

  • study and make an effort to achieve the maximum development according to their skills;
  • participate in training activities and, particularly, in school and complementary cost-free activities;
  • follow teachers’ guidelines;
  • attend lessons punctually;
  • participate and collaborate to improve school coexistence and achieve a suitable study environment, respecting the right of their schoolmates to education and teachers’ authority and directions;
  • respect freedom of conscience, religious and moral beliefs, as well as the diversity, dignity, integrity and privacy of all the members of the educational community;
  • respect the school rules on organisation, coexistence and discipline;
  • take care and make good use of school facilities and learning materials.

Families’ rights and duties

Article 4 of the LODE, as amended by the LOMLOE, recognises that families have the following rights in relation to the education of their children:

  • receive a quality education in accordance with the purposes established in the Constitution, the corresponding Statute of Autonomy and education laws;
  • choose an educational institution, either public or different from those created by public authorities;
  • ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions;
  • be informed about their children’s progress in learning and social and educational integration;
  • participate in their children’s teaching and learning process;
  • participate in the organisation, running, governance and evaluation of the educational institution;
  • be heard in decisions that affect their children’s academic and professional guidance.

In addition, article 5 guarantees their freedom of association in the educational sphere. Final provision 1.2 of the LOMLOE, modifying the LODE, establishes that educational authorities must favour the exercise of the parents' right of association, as well as the formation of federations and confederations.

Meanwhile, article 4 of the LODE, as amended by the LOMLOE, states that families, as those primarily responsible for the education of their children, have the following duties:

  • adopt the necessary measures, or ask for help in the event of difficulty, so that their children study compulsory education and attend classes regularly;
  • provide them, in accordance with their means, with the necessary resources and conditions so that they can progress academically. They should also inform of any difficulties their children may have in their learning or socialisation processes;
  • stimulate them so that they carry out the study activities assigned to them;
  • actively participate in the activities established under the educational commitments established between educational institutions and families in order to improve their children’s performance;
  • learn about, participate and support the evolution of their educational process, in collaboration with teachers and schools;
  • respect and enforce the rules established by the school, and respect teachers’ authority, guidance and instructions;
  • promote respect for all the members of the educational community;
  • participate cooperatively in those projects and tasks proposed by the educational institution.

The rights and duties of students and families are also regulated within each of the State educational authorities: the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD) in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and the Departments of Education in the autonomous communities.

Their definition and implementation is established within the framework of school autonomy through the school coexistence plan, which is part of the school development plan

Educational institutions

According to article 27.6 of the Spanish Constitution, individuals and legal entities are free to create educational institutions, subject to observance of the constitutional principles.

Non-university educational institutions according to their ownership and source of funding can be classified as:

  • public schools: they are owned by the Public Education Administration and publicly-funded;
  • private schools: they are      owned by a private natural or legal person and privately funded;
  • publicly-funded private schools: they are are owned by a private individual or legal entity, but they can be publicly-funded through a regime of agreements.

At the same time, names of non-university educational institutions according to the education provided can be:

  • pre-primary schools which:
    • are attended by pre-primary education pupils;
    • can provide the whole level (0-6 years old) or just the first cycle (0-3 years old);
  • primary education schools (CEP), attended by primary school pupils;
  • pre-primary and primary schools (CEIP), attended by pre-primary and primary school pupils;
  • secondary education institutions (IES), which can offer:
    • compulsory secondary education and/or bachillerato studies;
    • vocational training cycles;
  • vocational training institutions, which only offer vocational training programmes;
  • integrated vocational training centres, which offer all vocational training courses;
  • special education centres, which provide schooling for pupils with special educational needs that cannot addressed within the framework of the measures for attending to diversity in ordinary institutions;
  • adult education centres, which offer education for adults;
  • adult education classrooms, which:
    • are integrated within primary schools and/or secondary schools, although they can also belong to city councils and local corporations;
    • provide adult education;
  • Gathered rural schools (CRA), which:
    • are groups of several schools in neighbouring areas gathered in a single school working jointly;
    • they are located in rural areas needing this kind of school group due to their socio-demographic characteristics.

It is the responsibility of the Education Administrations to determine the name of those public institutions that offer education combined in a different way to the above.

Vocational training is provided both in public and private educational institutions, authorised by the concerning Education Authority, and also in institutions specifically. These are the national reference institutions. They are public institutions specialised in the different productive sectors, carrying out innovation and experimentation action in terms of vocational training.

Universities, providing university education, can be classified, depending on their ownership, into public or private. They all comprise:

  • university schools;
  • faculties;
  • departments;
  • research university institutes;
  • doctoral colleges;
  • other centres or structures required for the performance of their functions.

Finally, the Education Act also establishes the name of the institutions providing specialised education:

  • Artistic education:
    • Conservatories of music and dance: elementary and professional music and dance education;
    • higher conservatories or higher schools of music and dance: advanced music and dance education;
    • art schools: professional plastic arts and design education;
    • higher schools of dramatic arts: advanced dramatic arts education;
    • higher schools for the preservation and restoration of cultural assets: advanced preservation and restoration of cultural assets education;
    • higher schools of design: advanced design education;
    • higher schools of plastic arts: advanced plastic arts education.
  • Language education:
    • Official Language Schools: elementary, intermediate and advanced language education;
  • Sports Education:
    • they do not have a specific name: public or private schools authorised by the corresponding education authority, included in vocational training institutions or in authorised institutions of the different sport federations.

Home education

According to national legislation full-time compulsory education cannot be provided at home.

Home education is authorized only in exceptional circumstances for health reasons. It concerns only pupils who cannot attend school due to a prolonged stay at home by medical prescription. It can be carried out at home or at the hospital, remaining so until the health condition leading to it ends.

Hospital teaching has the following characteristics:

  • Purpose: ensure the continuity of the educational process of hospitalised students and avoid or reduce as far as possible the negative consequences that their stay in hospital may cause both on an educational and personal level.
  • Target groups: pupils at compulsory schooling age hospitalised for a long period of time.
  • Organisation:
    • Based on a national agreement from 1998, each autonomous community has developed this programme according to its own particularities. 
    • Each participating hospital provides the necessary spaces for the activity of the school units.
    • The educational administration provides the necessary teachers and resources.
    • During the period of hospitalisation, the students keep their school place in the ordinary institution where they are enrolled.
    • The teaching staff in the hospital classroom is coordinated both with the teaching staff of the student's reference institution (to meet their curricular needs) and with the healthcare team in order to adapt the educational activity to the medical and emotional circumstances of each student.

On the other hand, home teaching programmes have the following particularities:

  • Purpose: ensure the continuity of the educational process of students who are required to stay at home upon medical prescription and avoid or reduce as far as possible the negative consequences that their stay at home may cause both on an educational and personal level.
  • Target groups: pupils at compulsory schooling age who cannot attend school due to a prolonged stay at home by medical prescription.
  • Organisation: each educational administration has developed this programme according to its needs and possibilities, the main options being the following:
    • providing civil servant teachers who exclusively provide this service;
    • providing civil servant teachers who work part-time with these students, either from an ordinary institution or from a hospital classroom;
    • awarding grants to private non-profit organisations to implement the programme.