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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of Primary Education


5.Primary Education

5.1Organisation of Primary Education

Last update: 2 February 2024

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Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE), on article 80.1, as amended by Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE), establishes that, in order to make the principle of equity effective in the exercise of the right to education, public authorities are responsible for developing actions aimed at people, groups, social environments and territorial areas that are in a situation of socio-educational and cultural vulnerability with the aim of eliminating the barriers that limit their access, presence, participation or learning.

These actions have two objectives:

  • reinforce the action of the education system in such a way as to avoid inequalities derived from geographical, social, economic, cultural, ethnic or other factors;
  • give effect to the principle of equity in the fulfilment of the right to education.

During the primary education stage, the education authorities are committed to guaranteeing a free school place in the same municipality or established schooling zone.

In addition, rural and island schools receive specific attention. In this respect, it is established that the education authorities must take into account their specific nature in order to provide the means and organisational systems necessary to meet their particular needs and guarantee equal opportunities.

In this context, and within basic education (which in Spain takes place between the ages of six and sixteen: primary education and compulsory secondary education), in those rural and island areas where it is considered advisable, students are allowed to attend school in a municipality close to their residence in order to guarantee the quality of education. In this case, the education authorities must provide free school transport services and, if necessary, a dining room and boarding school.

In general, the aspects to be considered when planning educational provision in a specific geographical area are:

  • urban areas: the birth rate, the increase in the number of foreign pupils and the growth of population in emerging areas;
  • rural and island areas: the difficult access to geographical areas, birth and death rates, the ageing of the population and the number of seasonal workers.

In addition, territorial cooperation programmes take into account as criteria for the territorial distribution of economic resources the singularity of these programmes in terms of favouring equal opportunities. The following aspects will be particularly valued:

  • volume of students enrolled in relation to the objectives of the programme in public and publicly-funded private schools;
  • socially disadvantaged rural or urban areas;
  • depopulation;
  • demographic dispersion;
  • insularity.

Admission requirements and choice of school

As it was already mentioned, Primary Education is one of the two educational stages constituting basic, compulsory and cost-free education. This stage of schooling is for students between the ages of six and twelve. They are enrolled in the school in the calendar year in which they turn six years old.

With the intention of guaranteeing equity, the Act on Education (LOE as amended by LOMLOE) includes a series of measures whose objective is to achieve the full inclusion and integration of those students who require educational attention differing from the ordinary. With regard to their schooling, the following clarifications are made:

  • Students with special educational needs: this is governed by the principles of normalisation and inclusion, ensuring non-discrimination and effective equality in access to and permanence in the education system. The schooling of these students in special education units or centres will only be carried out when their needs cannot be met within the framework of the measures for attending to diversity in ordinary centres;
  • students with high intellectual abilities: action plans are adopted, as well as curricular enrichment programmes adapted to these needs, which allow them to develop their abilities to the maximum. The Government establishes the rules for the flexible schooling of students with high abilities at this stage;
  • students with late integration into the Spanish education system: their schooling is carried out according to their circumstances, knowledge, age and academic record, so that they can be incorporated into the most appropriate course for their characteristics and previous knowledge, with the appropriate support, and thus continue their education to the best of their ability. 
  • students with specific learning difficulties or in a situation of socio-educational vulnerability: this is governed by the principles of normalisation and inclusion, ensuring their non-discrimination and effective equality in access to and permanence in the education system.

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 State, 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;
  • in the case of students from abroad who are within compulsory schooling age groups, the incorporation into any of the grades that make up Primary Education is carried out according to their circumstances, knowledge, age and academic history, so that they can successfully continue their education.

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 pre-primary 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 said procedures.

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

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Primary education is usually completed between the ages of 6 and 12. Pupils have the right and obligation to be schooled from the calendar year in which they turn 6.

This stage is divided into six academic years, three cycles of two academic years each. Class groups are usually made up taking into account the year of birth, which usually leads to the following distribution of primary education students according to age and academic year:

  • first year: 6-7 years old;
  • second year: 7-8 years old;
  • third year: 8-9 years old;
  • fourth year: 9-10 years old;
  • fifth year: 10-11 years old;
  • sixth year: 11-12 years old.

In each group a member of the teaching staff is assigned as class teacher, as well as being responsible for teaching most of the knowledge areas.

All primary school teachers have competence in all areas of this level, but those related to music, physical education, foreign languages or other disciplines determined by the government, through the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD), after consultation with the autonomous comunities, will be taught by teaching staff with the corresponding specialisation or qualification.

The qualification required for teaching in primary education is that corresponding to school teacher specialised in Primary Education or the equivalent Bachelor degree. For the teaching of certain areas, the Government, after consulting the autonomous communities, for teaching purposes, may authorise other university qualifications than the ones mentioned above.

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

  • it is regulated in the LOE as amended by LOMLOE, which establishes a maximum of twenty-five students per classroom;
  • the educational 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:
    • 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.

Organisation of the school year

Respecting the minimum requirements established by law for the whole of the State (a minimum of 175 school days), the educational authorities are responsible for establishing the annual school calendar in their respective administrative areas.

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 at the end of June. The exact dates are set by the educational 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, The Autonomous Community of Cantabria is trying to divide the year in two month periods.

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

  • around eleven 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),
  • one to six days for Carnival;
  • around twelve days declared as public holidays or non-school days by the MEFD or the local or regional authorities.

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.

In addition to Christian celebrations, Ceuta and Melilla celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Melilla also celebrates Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement on 24 September and Eid al-Adha on 17 June.

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 organised as follows:

  • is organized from Monday to Friday, except holidays, according to the school calendar.
  • in general, the number of daily teaching hours is five, which is equivalent to twenty-five teaching hours per week.

The school day, on the other hand, has the following characteristics:

  • In schools with a split school day, the teaching activity with students is usually not less than three hours in the morning and not more than two hours in the afternoon. There is a break between the two periods, which usually lasts no less than two hours. However, schools may suggest a different distribution of school hours, in compliance with the rules and regulations set out by their educational authorities.
  • in schools with a continuous school day, the teaching activity with students is carried out in the morning.
  • the morning timetable includes half an hour for playing time between lessons (recess). That half hour is considered part of the five daily teaching hours. In centres with a continuous school day, these thirty minutes can be covered in two different teaching periods (of fifteen minutes each or of twenty and ten minutes, respectively).

The weekly and daily timetable, as proposed by the management team, must be approved by the School Council and ratified by the educational authorities. 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.

Outside the school day, and depending on the specific educational institution​, other activities:

  • In centres with a split school day, there is a lunch break of between thirty minutes and one hour. The time remaining until the start of the afternoon classes is for students to rest.
  • There may be services in place for the admission of students one hour or one and a half hour before the lessons. During this time, pupils usually play games and sometimes breakfast may be served.
  • After school hours, they offer remedial courses and extracurricular activities related to educational issues of interest: languages, ICT, sports, arts, reading and writing, directed study activities, etc.

These services are available for families (in most cases paying for them) and are voluntary for students.