In Spain there are public and private educational institutions.
According to Article 27.6 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, individuals and legal entities are free to create educational institutions subject to observance of the constitutional principles.
Organic Law 8/1985 regulating the Right to Education (LODE), Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE) modified by Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE) constitute the general legislative framework regulating both the public and private sectors.
Private non-university institutions
Non-university private institutions provide any of the non-university levels and stages of education, both general and specialised.
Article 21 of the LODE develops Article 27.6 of the Constitution and states that any natural or legal person of a private nature and holding Spanish nationality is free to set up and run private educational establishments, in compliance with the Constitution and the stipulations of the law itself. On the other hand, it forbids the ownership of private institutions to:
- any person serving in the state, regional or local education administrations;
- any person with a criminal record for an intentional criminal offence;
- any natural or legal person expressly deprived of the exercise of this right by a final court ruling;
- any legal person whose governing positions are held by people included in the previous sections or when the latter own 20% or more of the share capital.
Types of educational institutions according to their source of funding
Depending on their source of funding, non-university private institutions can be classified into two types:
- publicly-funded private institutions;
- private institutions not receiving public funds.
Publicly-funded private institutions are financed with public funds through the so-called educational agreements, providing that they meet the requirements set by the education regulations. They have the right to define their own nature, as long as the education provided respects freedom of conscience and the constitutional framework. However, confessional practices must be voluntary.
Private institutions not receiving public funds are financed by the fees paid by the pupils' families, although they may also obtain income from subsidies or from private institutions: cooperatives, foundations, the capital of religious orders, etc. They are free to choose their name, provided that it is not the same as or confusingly similar to that of any public school.
Their opening and running must be authorised by the corresponding education authority, as long as private schools meet the standards required by every educational institution, regardless of their ownership and source of funding, in order to ensure the quality of education. Any change in the nature of a private centre, due to a change in ownership or any other circumstance, must be notified to the educational community with sufficient time in advance.
The general legislative framework establishes the system of educational agreements as a procedure for financing with public funds those institutions meeting certain conditions, mainly in the compulsory education stages. Thus, the education authorities of the autonomous communities do not allocate public funds only to public education, but also to the private sector.
Educational agreements have a dual purpose:
- assuring free compulsory education where there are not enough public school places;
- allowing families the freedom to choose a school other than those created by public authorities.
The amount of public funds earmarked for educational subsidies is yearly established in the Spanish General Budget, setting the economic amount applicable to every school unit in the different education stages. This amount includes the salaries of teaching and non-teaching staff and the maintenance of facilities.
The education authorities may increase this amount in the case of publicly-funded private schools catering for students with special educational needs in greater proportion than the one established generally or for the area where they are located.
There are two modalities in the agreements system:
- General, for those schools with compulsory education or education recognised as free of charge by law. As the education provided through publicly-funded agreements is financed entirely from public funds, it must be offered at no cost.
- Singular, for those schools which have non-compulsory education and which subscribe to singular agreements for such programmes. In this case, public funds cover only part of the costs, so schools may receive fees from pupils as supplementary financing. These amounts shall be those set by the administration in accordance with the amount established by the General State Budget Law for the funding agreement system.
Article 116.3 of the Organic Law 2/2006 on Education (LOE) modified by Organic Law 3/2020 (LOMLOE) establishes a minimum duration of six years in the case of educational agreements in Primary Education and four years in the rest of cases. The institution has to meet the requirements in place when the agreement was approved.
Since they receive public funds, publicly-funded private institutions must comply with certain requirements:
- To provide, free of charge, the education covered by the agreement in accordance with the corresponding syllabuses and study plans and subject to the academic regulations in force. No payment whatsoever may be received for the teaching of the educational level covered by the agreement that, directly or indirectly, entails a financial compensation for such activity.
- To offer supplementary school activities and services on a voluntary basis. They must not discriminate against pupils or form part of the school timetable and must not be of a profit-making nature. The receipt of certain amounts of remuneration for these activities must be authorised by the pertinent education administration. In the case of supplementary activities, authorisation shall be granted following a proposal from the School Board.
- To constitute a School Board as the main body for its management and control.
- To apply the same admission criteria for students as public institutions
- To use a procedure for hiring teachers which is subject to control.
- To have an average student/teacher ratio below the one fixed by the education authorities for public institutions.
- To comply with the minimum standards that ensure the quality of education.
In accessing such arrangements priority is granted to schools which:
- attend school populations in disadvantaged economic conditions;
- carry out trials of pedagogical interest for the education system;
- work as cooperatives.
Any procedure related to educational agreements with private schools must be carried out before the education authority of the relevant autonomous community. In the case of the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, this is handled by the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MEFP).
Requirements of private institutions
Private institutions must fulfil the same requirements as all the educational institutions, regardless of their source of funding.
These requirements are established by the MEFP in collaboration with the regional education authorities.
Institutions providing the first cycle of pre-primary education are governed by the provisions of the relevant education administration, which must grant them authorisation as pre-primary education schools.
According to Royal Decree 132/2010, the following general requirements apply to institutions providing the second cycle of ECEC, primary education, compulsory secondary education, bachillerato and vocational training:
- be located in independent buildings for school use exclusively;
- meet the relevant safety, security and energy-saving conditions,
- have, in the spaces where teaching is carried out, adequate natural and direct ventilation and lighting;
- meet the accessibility and barrier removal requirements stipulated by the legislation in force;
- be provided with, at least, the following rooms and facilities: school head's offices, coordination and guidance activities, rooms for administration, staffroom, an appropriate number of toilets for the students and adapted to them and the necessary rooms to provide support to students with special education needs. In addition, in the case of publicly funded schools, it is necessary to provide space for meetings of student associations and parents' associations.
There are several specific minimum requirements for each educational level:
In ECEC, the minimum requirements are as follows:
- a classroom per authorised unit with a minimum of 3 square metres per school place;
- a multi-purpose room of 30 square metres;
- a playground;
- a ratio (numerical ratio of teachers/pupils per unit) of a maximum of 8 children in the case of under 1 year olds; between 10 and 14 in the case of 1 year olds, depending on each autonomous community; between 16 and 20 in the case of 2 year olds, also depending on each autonomous community. In the second cycle of the stage (from 3 to 5 years old), a maximum of 25 children per teacher is allowed.
The maximum number of children with special education needs in mainstream education per classroom is established by the education authorities in their jurisdiction. In any case, the early childhood education centres that provide schooling for these children will have the necessary human and material resources to ensure their proper care.
In primary education, the minimum requirements are as follows:
- at least one classroom per unit;
- 1.5 square metres per school place;
- a room per every six units for splitting the classes and another room for support and reinforcement activities;
- a multi-purpose room;
- a ratio (numerical teacher/student ratio per unit) of a maximum of 25 pupils per unit.
The maximum number of students with special education needs in mainstream education per classroom is established by the education authorities in their jurisdiction. In any case, the early childhood education centres that provide schooling for these students will have the necessary human and material resources to ensure their proper care.
Compulsory secondary education
In compulsory secondary education, the minimum requirements are as follows:
- a minimum of one unit per level;
- a classroom per unit, with a minimum of 1.5 square metres per school place;
- per every twelve units, a workshop classroom for technologies, two classrooms for music and plastic and visual education activities and, at least, an experimental science laboratory;
- a room per every eight units for splitting the classes and another room for support and reinforcement activities;
- a ratio (numerical teacher/student ratio per unit) of a maximum of 30 pupils per unit.
The maximum number of students with special education needs in mainstream education per classroom is established by the education authorities in their jurisdiction.
In bachillerato education, the minimum requirements are as follows:
- a classroom per unit with a minimum of 1.5 square metres per school place;
- a room per every four units for splitting the classes and another room for support and reinforcement activities;
- the necessary facilities according to the bachillerato branches provided;
- a ratio (numerical teacher/student ratio per unit) of a maximum of 35 pupils per unit.
In vocational training education, the minimum requirements are as follows:
- the spaces and equipment established in the regulation for the training cycles provided;
- a ratio (numerical teacher/student ratio per unit) of a maximum of 30 pupils per unit.
Some educational institutions are exceptional in as much as they do not have to comply with these requirements. This does not depend on their ownership. This exception applies to institutions that:
- are attended by students with special social, demographic and school characteristics;
- provide more than an education level;
- are incomplete because they are located in rural areas;
- are in the heart of a town and they cannot expand or remodel their facilities.
Finally, private institutions providing adult education, special education or artistic education must also meet the general requirements of all educational institutions and, in addition, have the specific spaces required for their different courses offered.
Autonomy of private institutions
With regard to their organisation, the owners of private, not publicly-funded, schools have the following powers:
- The right to decide their nature, respecting the constitutional principles and the rights bestowed to teachers, parents and students. They must inform the different members of the school community. The choice of such a school by families implies their acceptance.
- Autonomy for the following aspects:
- establishing their internal regime and the specific bodies for the participation of the educational community;
- selecting their teaching staff, provided that they have the required qualifications;
- drawing up the school development plan;
- organising the school day according to the social and educational needs of the pupils;
- extending the teaching timetable for certain areas or subjects;
- establishing the admission procedure for pupils;
- setting up their rules of coexistence;
- defining their financial regime.
Private university institutions
Article 5 of Organic Law 6/2001 on Universities (LOU) elaborates on Article 27.6 of the Constitution and states that natural or legal persons may establish private universities or private university institutions, in compliance with constitutional principles and the regulations issued by the State and the autonomous communities within the scope of their respective competences. However, it is forbidden to do so for those who:
- provide services in an education administration;
- have with a criminal record for intentional offences;
- have been subject to a final administrative sanction for a serious infringement in educational or professional matters.
This prohibition includes legal entities whose administrators, representatives or directors, or whose founders, promoters or owners of 20 percent or more of their capital are in any of the circumstances described above.
Like public universities, they must meet a series of minimum material requirements in relation to their teaching, research and knowledge transfer activities, their teaching and research staff, and the availability and characteristics of their facilities and equipment. These requirements are set out in Articles 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of Royal Decree 640/2021 on the creation, recognition and authorisation of universities and university centres, and institutional accreditation of university centres.
With regard to their funding, it should be noted that:
- it is not possible for private universities to establish financial agreements with the education administration and they must provide the guarantees that ensure their economic funding, which will be proportional to the number of official degrees offered and students enrolled;
- students, by means of their academic fees, and the institutions' owner are the ones to bear all the costs;
- enrolment and tuition fees are set by each university.
In terms of organisation, private universities:
- are endowed with their own legal personality, adopting one of the forms permitted by law, and carry out their functions autonomously;
- draw up and approve their own regulations, in compliance with constitutional principles and with an effective guarantee of the principle of academic freedom in the form of freedom of teaching, research and study;
- establish, in their rules of organisation and operation, their government and representation bodies, as well as the procedures for their appointment and dismissal;
- have, in their individual governing bodies, exactly the same denomination as those established for public universities.
In Spain, there are secular universities and universities belonging to the Catholic Church. The latter are subject to special agreements between the Spanish State and the Holy See.
Distribution of private education in Spain
In the 2020/21 academic year, there were 28,395 non-university educational institutions for general education. 9,261 (32.6%) of them were private.
Within private institutions, 5,402 (58.3%) were totally or partly financed with public funds whilst, 3,859 (41.7% ) were entirely privately-funded.
Source: Statistics of the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training on the classification of schools by type of education provided by ownership/financing and autonomous community/province.
In the academic year 2019/20, the Spanish university system was made up of 83 active universities, 50 public and 33 private ones. Thus, 39.76% of the university institutions were private. There are 6 distance learning universities, of which 5 are private and one is public. Source: Facts and figures on the Spanish university system. Publication 2020-2021, p. 10.