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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general upper secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.4Organisation of general upper secondary education

Last update: 20 February 2024

General upper secondary education (ISCED 3) in Spain comprises the 4th year of compulsory secondary education (ESO) and the two bachillerato years (Spanish Baccalaureate).

Types of institutions

As reflected in Article 108 of Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE), as amended in Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE), the network of schools providing bachillerato education consists on:

  • institutions fully or partially supported by public funds:
    • public schools;
    • publicly-funded private institutions;
  • private schools, with exclusively private sources of funding.

Public schools, referred to as “institutos” (high school) may also provide bachillerato studies and vocational training. Private schools, whether publicly-funded or not, may adopt any name, except those corresponding to public institutions or those which may be misleading, and they usually offer other types of education as well.

All schools in the state, regardless of ownership and source of funding, must meet a series of minimum requirements regarding the academic qualifications of teachers, pupil-teacher ratios, teaching and sports facilities, and the number of school places. These requirements are set out in Title IV of Royal Decree 132/2010 and Article 87.2 of the LOE regarding the numerical student-teacher ratio per unit.

In the 2021/22 school year, the following institutions were registered in the whole of Spain as offering bachillerato studies:

  • on-site: 4,691; 3,128 of which were public schools, 484 were publicly-funded private schools and 1,079 were private schools;
  • distance learning: 187; 186 of which were public and 1 was private.

Source: Statistics from the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD) on the number of institutions that provide each type of education.

The number of schools varies substantially from one autonomous community to another.

Geographical accessibility

It is the responsibility of the State to promote actions that allow for the choice of any educational option desired, regardless of the place of residence, as long as the established academic requirements are met.

Along that same line, the education authorities, based on the principle of collaboration, must facilitate access both to education with a limited offer and to institutions in neighbouring areas for students who have no such educational offer in institutions close to or in their own autonomous community. This circumstance shall be taken into account in the student admission processes.

Furthermore and once again based on the principle of collaboration, the education authorities must facilitate access to their facilities with educational value and the use of their resources by students and teachers from other autonomous communities.

At the same time, special attention must be paid to schools in rural and insular areas, considering the peculiarities of their educational environment and the need to encourage students from rural and insular areas to remain in the education system beyond basic education. To this end, the specific nature of rural and insular schools should be taken into account, providing them with the necessary means and organisational systems to meet their particular needs and guarantee equal opportunities. In those rural and insular areas where it is considered advisable, schooling can be provided in a municipality close to the student's place of residence in order to guarantee the quality of education.

In order to achieve all of the above, in those cases in which schooling is required in schools further away from the place of residence (due to the absence of closer institutions), the existence of residences (boarding schools) is available, which allows pupils to return home at weekends. This service is provided free of charge in these cases, together with transport and canteen services. Bachillerato, being part of post-compulsory education, is not free of charge. However, bachillerato studies are provided free of charge in public schools. In turn, Article 32.5 of the LOE as amended in LOMLOE, establishes that public administrations shall promote a progressive increase in the availability of public places in bachillerato, in its different modalities and itineraries, and Article 82.3 establishes that education administrations shall promote an increase in the enrolment of students from rural and insular areas in non-compulsory education.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Access to bachillerato studies is normally possible on possession of one of these qualifications or their academic equivalents:

  • Compulsory Secondary Education certificate;
  • any of the vocational training qualifications;
  • any of the plastic arts and design diplomas;
  • any of the diplomas in sports education.

The education authorities are responsible for regulating the admission of students to public and publicly-funded private schools. This regulation must ensure the following aspects:

  1. the right to education;
  2. equal access;
  3. freedom of choice of centre by the families or the person exercising legal guardianship.

This regulation must provide for the necessary measures to avoid segregation of pupils due to socio-economic or other reasons. In all cases, an adequate and balanced distribution of students with specific educational support needs among schools must be observed.

Only when there are not enough places to meet the demand do public schools and publicly-funded private schools apply a series of priority admission criteria, which are common and applicable throughout the country, without any of them being exclusive in nature. They are the following:

  • having siblings enrolled in the school or parents or legal guardians working at the school;
  • closeness of the school to the parents' or legal guardians' home or to their workplace;
  • per capita income of the family unit;
  • legal status of large family, of pupils born from multiple births, or of single-parent family;
  • student's family placement situation;
  • disability of the pupil or of either of his/her parents or siblings;
  • condition of gender violence or terrorism victim;
  • status of high-level or high-performance athlete;
  • each students' academic record.

None of these criteria shall be exclusive and may not account for more than 30% of the total maximum score, except for the distance to the family home, which may exceed this limit.

Under no circumstances will there be discrimination on the grounds of birth, racial or ethnic origin, sex, religion, opinion, disability, age, illness, sexual orientation or gender identity or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.

Still, if there are not enough school places, the following are given priority in the school catchment area corresponding to either of the parents or legal guardians’ place of residence or employment:

  • students coming from compulsory secondary education schools that are attached;
  • students whose schooling is caused by the change of residence of the family unit due to forced mobility of either parent, a disability of any of the family members, or as a result of acts of gender-based violence.

Admission is the responsibility of the education authorities of each autonomous community. To this end, they may constitute commissions or bodies of admission which guarantee and must establish the corresponding ways for the families to complain against the decisions taken in the these procedures.

  • the school board is in charge of admission in public schools, while in publicly-funded private schools the person in charge is also the owner;
  • private schools have autonomy for establishing their own admission procedures.

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

Bachillerato is normally completed between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.

This stage comprises four school years. Although groups are created according to the year of birth, there might be students with several years difference in age in the same group, as there might be students repeating the year. However, the ordinary distribution of students by age and school year is as follows:

  • first year of bachillerato: 16-17 years old (ISCED 3);
  • second year of bachillerato: 17-18 years old (ISCED 3);

The conditions under which students may complete the bachillerato studies in three years, in the ordinary system, whenever their personal circumstances, whether permanent or temporary, make this advisable, have yet to be established. This will be the responsibility of the Government, after consultation with the autonomous communities.

With regard to repeating a year, students may repeat a maximum of three years in the whole stage until they reach the limit of four years spent in the ordinary regime of bachillerato studies.

A form teacher is assigned to each group, but specialist teachers are responsible for teaching the different subjects. These specialist teachers may have the same group of students during the following years.

With regard to the numerical teacher/student ratio per unit, the following aspects should be mentioned:

  • it is regulated by the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD), in Royal Decree 132/2010, which establishes a maximum of thirty-five students per classroom;
  • the education authorities may authorise an increase of up to ten per cent in the maximum number of students per classroom in public and publicly-funded private schools in the same schooling area for various reasons:
    • to address immediate schooling needs of late starters;
    • needs arising from the transfer of the family unit during an extraordinary schooling period, either due to forced mobility of either parent or legal guardian, or as a result of the initiation of a family placement measure for the person attending school

Bachillerato is developed in different modalities, it is organised in a flexible way and, where appropriate, in different itineraries, so that it can offer students a specialised preparation in accordance with their educational prospects and interests or allow them to join the labour market once they have completed it.

Organisation of the school year

The education authorities, within their jurisdiction, are responsible for annually establishing the school year calendar.

Activity in schools starts on September 1st and ends at least on June 30th. For students the teaching activity begins during the month of September and ends in June in the first year in bachillerato, and is established depending on the dates of the exam for access to university in the second year of bachillerato. The exact dates are set by the education authorities in each autonomous community. The teaching activity is organised taking into account the Christmas, Easter and summer holidays, giving rise to terms of varying length. However, some autonomous communities have also tried to divide the year in two-month periods.

School holidays for students are spread out over the whole year in the following manner:

  • approximately eleven weeks of summer holidays;
  • about fifteen days at Christmas;
  • between eight and eleven days in late March or early April, corresponding to Easter;
  • between two and three days for Carnival, depending on each autonomous community;
  • around twelve days declared as public holidays or non-school days by the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD) or the local/regional authorities.

This distribution of holidays, public holidays and non-school days can vary significantly from one autonomous community to another.

During the summer holidays, educational institutions may remain open until the end of July for administrative purposes. Depending on the organisation of each educational centre, the same may occur on non-holiday days during the Christmas and Easter breaks.

Organisation of the school day and week

Schools establish the weekly and daily timetable, respecting the minimum number of teaching days established by law and in the guidelines on school day set by each autonomous community.

The school general timetable, in the school development plan, must specify the following aspects:

  • school opening time and conditions;
  • teaching hours;
  • availability of school services and facilities out of school hours.

The weekly timetable is organized from Monday to Friday, except holidays, according to the school calendar. In general, it comprises 30 to 32 lessons lasting 55 minutes each, i.e., 6 or 7 lessons daily lessons.

During the school day, there is a 30-40 minute break divided into two periods, either after every two or three lessons or as a single period by mid-morning.

The weekly and daily timetable, as proposed by the management team, must be approved by the school council and ratified by the education administration. If it does not include the scheduled teaching activities, the relevant education authority returns it to the school so that it can be revised and corrected.

Beyond the daily school schedule, remedial courses and extracurricular activities related to educational subjects of interest are often offered: languages, ICT, sports, fine arts, reading and writing, directed study activities, etc. These services are available for families (upon payment, in most cases) and are voluntary for pupils.