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Teaching and learning in general lower secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.2Teaching and learning in general lower secondary education

Last update: 20 February 2024

Curriculum for compulsory secondary education (ESO)

The curriculum is understood as the set of objectives, competences (key and specific), contents (stated in the form of basic knowledge), pedagogical methods (through learning situations) and assessment criteria. Royal Decree 217/2022 establishing the organisation and minimum teaching standards for compulsory secondary education defines each curricular element as follows:

  • Objectives: achievements that students are expected to have attained by the end of the stage and which are linked to the acquisition of key competences.
  • Key competences: skills that are considered essential for students to be able to progress with guaranteed success in their educational itinerary, and to face the main global and local challenges. The key competences are included in the student output profile at the end of Basic Education and are the adaptation to the Spanish education system of the key competences established in the European Union Council Recommendation of 22 May 2018 on key competences for lifelong learning.
  • Specific competences: performance levels that students must be able to display in learning activities or situations which require the basic knowledge of each subject or field in order to be approached. The specific competences constitute an element of connection between, on one hand, the students' output profile and, on the other hand, the basic knowledge of the subjects or fields and the assessment criteria.
  • Assessment criteria: references indicating the levels of performance expected of students in activities or situations referred to in the specific competences for each subject or field at a given moment in their learning process.
  • Basic knowledge: knowledge, skills and attitudes that constitute the contents of a subject or field and which must be learnt in order to acquire the specific competences.
  • Learning situations: situations and activities that involve the students' performance of actions associated with key competences and specific competences and that contribute to the acquisition and development of all of them.

Similarly, Royal Decree 217/2022 determines the Output Profile of students at the end of Basic Education, establishing the key competences that students must have acquired and developed by the end of that stage. It constitutes the ultimate reference point for competence performance, both in the assessment of the different stages and modalities of Basic Education, as well as for the qualification of Graduate in Compulsory Secondary Education. It underpins the rest of the curricular decisions, as well as the strategies and methodological orientations in the teaching practice.

Royal Decree 217/2022 also establishes that the eight key competences are:

  • linguistic communication competence;
  • plurilingual competence;
  • mathematical competence and scientific, technological and engineering competences;
  • digital competence;
  • personal, social and learning to learn competences;
  • citizenship competence;
  • entrepreneurial competence;
  • cultural awareness and expression competences.

Their incorporation into the school curriculum entails a number of consequences:

  • Their effective acquisition and integration into the curriculum is achieved through the design of integrated learning situations that enable learners to progress towards the learning outcomes in several skills at the same time, as many of these skills overlap and are interlinked.
  • There is no universal relationship between the teaching of certain areas or subjects and the development of certain skills; each teaching area contributes to the development of different skills and, in turn, each of the skills is achieved as a result of working in various areas or subjects.

The Administration, through the Ministry of Education, Vocational Training and Sports (MEFD), after consulting the  autonomous communities, establishes the basic curriculum (compulsory minimum teaching throughout the country in terms of objectives, competences, content and assessment criteria) in order to ensure common education for all pupils. These minimum teachings make up 50 percent of the school timetables in the Autonomous Communities with a co-official language and 60 percent for those without it.

The educational authorities in the autonomous communities establish the curriculum in their respective areas of administration, which must include the minimum teaching requirements established by the MEFD. In addition, they must periodically review those curricula in order to adapt them to the advances in knowledge, as well as to the changes and new demands of their local area, of Spanish society and of the European and international context.

The curriculum of compulsory secondary education is organised into successive levels of concretion, which  progressively adapt to the specificities of the school environment and the students who attend it.

Accordingly, schools also play an active role, developing, completing and adapting the curriculum to the pupils' needs and to their environment. To this end, they prepare a series of tools for formulating their pedagogic and curricular organisation:

  • the school development plan, which includes the application of the established curricula by the Education Administration;
  • the yearly general programme;
  • the didactic programmes;
  • the written report at the end of the school year, which reflects and evaluates the school activities and the running of the school.

The educational community takes part in the elaboration of these documents through the respective government and coordination teaching bodies of the school. The curricula established by the Education Administration are set and approved by the school staff, as well as the educational aspects of the yearly general programme.

Organisation of the first to third years of compulsory secondary education (ESO)

The subjects to be studied by pupils in all the first to third years of ESO are the following:

  • Biology and Geology or Physics and Chemistry;
  • Physical Education;
  • Geography and History;
  • Spanish Language and Literature and, if applicable, regional Language and Literature;
  • Foreign Language;
  • Mathematics;
  • Music or Plastic, Visual and Audiovisual Education.

In at least one of the three years, all students take the subject Technology and Digitalisation.

In addition, in all three years, students take an optional subject, which can also take the form of a monographic project or an interdisciplinary or collaborative project with a community service. The educational authorities are responsible for regulating this provision, which must include at least Classical Culture, a second foreign language (compulsory in all grades) and a subject for the development of digital competence.

Catholic Religion is a compulsory subject for schools and voluntary for students. In turn, the teaching of other religions complies with the cooperation agreements signed by the Spanish State with the different religious denominations.

At some point in compulsory secondary education, all students must take the subject of Education in Civic and Ethical Values.

In order to favour the transition between educational stages, in the organisation of ESO, the educational authorities must ensure that pupils in the first and second stages take a maximum of one more subject in addition to the areas that make up the last cycle of  Primary Education.

Organisation of the fourth year of compulsory secondary education (ESO)

The subjects studied by all pupils in the fourth year of ESO are as follows:

  • Physical Education;
  • Geography and History;
  • Spanish Language and Literature and, if applicable, regional Language and Literature;
  • Foreign Language;
  • Mathematics A or Mathematics B, depending on the student's choice;
  • three subjects from among the following: Biology and Geology, Digitalisation, Economics and Entrepreneurship, Artistic Expression, Physics and Chemistry, Personal and Vocational Training and Guidance, Latin, Music, Second Foreign Language, Technology;
  • one or more optional subjects, in accordance with the framework established by each  educational administration, taking into consideration the continuity of the optional subjects taken in the previous years of ESO. These subjects may take the form of a monographic work or a collaborative project with a community service.

In order to reinforce inclusion, the educational authorities may incorporate Spanish sign languages in this year.

In those autonomous communities with an official language of their own, exemptions from taking or being assessed in the corresponding subject may be established in accordance with the conditions set out in each autonomous community regulations. Said subject will receive the treatment determined by the autonomous communities concerned, guaranteeing, in any case, the objective of sufficient linguistic competence in both official languages.

Catholic Religion is a compulsory subject for schools and voluntary for students. In turn, the teaching of other religions complies with the cooperation agreements signed by the Spanish State with the different religious denominations.

This fourth year is of a guiding nature, both for post-compulsory studies and for incorporation into the job market. In order to guide pupils in their choices, the education institutions can group the offered subjects into different options, oriented towards the different types of Bachillerato studies and the various fields within vocational training, encouraging a balanced presence of both genders in the different study branches. In any case, students should be able to reach, through any of the established options, the level of acquisition of competences for Compulsory Secondary Education established in the student output profile at the end of Basic Education.

Schools must offer all possible subjects or options. Students' choice can only be limited when there is an insufficient number of students for a given subject or option, according to objective criteria previously established by each educational administration.

Percentage of teaching hours per subject in ESO (2023)

Language, writing and literature 16.4
Mathematics 12
Natural sciences 11
Social studies 10
Second language 11
Physical education and health 7
Art 9
Religion/Ethics/Ethical values 3
Technology 3
Other subjects 3
Optional subjects chosen by educational institutions 2

Source: Drawn up by Eurydice Spain-Spanish Network for Information on Education (INEEMEFD) on the basis of  Education at a glance 2023.

The education authorities establish the linguistic models regarding the teaching of the official languages in their management

In addition, they may establish that part of the subjects of the curriculum might be taught in a foreign language, without altering the basic aspects of the curriculum. By the end of the stage, students must master the terminology of the subjects in both languages. However, schools that offer part of the subjects of the curriculum in a foreign language cannot include language requirements as admission criteria for students.

Teaching methods and materials

Teaching methods

The teaching methodology is the set of strategies, procedures and actions consciously and thoughtfully organised and planned by teachers with the aim of guaranteeing student learning and the attainment of the stated objectives.

The MEFP, through Royal Decree 217/2022, establishes the following pedagogical principles:

  1. The educational institutions will draw up their pedagogical proposals for all pupils at this stage, taking into account their diversity. Likewise, they will adopt methods that take into account the different learning paces of students, favour their ability to learn on their own and promote teamwork.
  2. The Education Administrations shall determine the specific conditions under which provision may be organised by areas and aimed at all pupils or at those pupils whose progress is considered to benefit in this way.
  3. At this stage, special attention will be paid to the acquisition and development of the competences set out in the student output profile at the end of Basic Education and correct oral and written expression as well as the use of mathematics will be encouraged. In order to promote the habit of reading, time will be devoted to reading as part of the teaching of all subjects.
  4. In order to foster the integration of the competences worked on, time will be dedicated to the carrying out of significant and relevant projects and collaborative problem solving, reinforcing self-esteem, autonomy, reflective thinking and responsibility.
  5. Without prejudice to their specific teaching, reading comprehension, oral and written expression, audiovisual communication, digital competence, social and business entrepreneurship, the promotion of a critical and scientific spirit, emotional education and values, gender equality and creativity will be covered in all subjects. In any case, health education, including affective-sexual education, aesthetic education, education for sustainability and responsible consumption, mutual respect and cooperation between equals will be promoted as a cross-curricular component.
  6. The official languages will be used only as a support in the process of learning foreign languages. In this process, priority will be given to comprehension, expression and oral interaction.
  7. The Education Administrations shall establish the conditions to allow, in the first years of the stage, teachers with the appropriate qualifications to teach more than one subject to the same group of pupils.
  8. The education authorities are responsible for promoting the necessary measures to ensure that personal tutoring of pupils and educational, psycho-pedagogical and vocational guidance constitute a fundamental element in the organisation of this stage.
  9. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Education Administrations to regulate specific solutions for the care of pupils who show special difficulties in learning or in their integration into the ordinary activity of the institutions, of pupils with high intellectual ability and of pupils with disabilities.

Within their pedagogic autonomy, schools are in charge of defining the teaching methods in the classroom, according to the said pedagogic principles. They also decide on curricular materials and didactic resources. In this regard, they must develop their pedagogical proposals for all students, taking into account their diversity. Likewise, they must adopt methods that take into account the different learning paces of students, favour their ability to learn on their own and promote teamwork.

Each teacher can make their own methodological decisions, which must respect both the agreements made at school level and what the relevant Education Authorities establish.

Curricular materials and teaching resources

Textbooks and teaching materials do not require the previous authorisation of the education authorities for their adoption and publication. In any case, they must:

  • be adapted to the scientific rigour adequate for the pupils’ age group and to the approved curriculum set by each Education Authority;
  • reflect and promote respect for the principles, values, freedom, rights and constitutional duties, as well as the principles and values set out in current educational laws and in  Organic Law 1/2004  on Comprehensive Protection Measures against Gender Violence, with which all educational activity must comply.

In the exercise of pedagogical autonomy, it is up to the educational coordination bodies of each public educational institution to decide on the textbooks and other materials to be used in the development of the different areas.

The supervision of textbooks and other curricular materials is the responsibility of the educational authorities and constitutes part of the ordinary process of inspection carried out by each of them on all the elements composing the teaching and learning process. In any case, it is necessary to ensure respect for the principles and values contained in the Constitution and the provisions of all regulations in force.

Families pay for textbooks and school materials. However, the MEFD promotes, within the Sectoral Committee for Education, programmes that facilitate the availability of textbooks at no cost and other curricular materials through a system of loans or grants. This Sectoral Committee, through the General Education Commission (support body), agrees on the objective criteria for distribution, as well as the amounts to be transferred in favour of each autonomous community in each budget year. Here you can access the agreement and distribution for the year 2023.

At the same time, there are a number of  regional and local aids for the purchase of textbooks and school materials for students attending publicly-funded schools.

Finally, although various initiatives have been carried out by different Education Administrations to regulate the homework that students must do outside school hours, in Spain there is no specific legislation regulating this aspect at a national level. Consequently, in this respect the organisation is subject to the judgement of each teacher or the agreements reached at each school.

Information and Communication Technologies

Educational authorities and management teams at public schools should promote the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the classroom as an appropriate and valuable educational medium for carrying out teaching and learning tasks. Additionally, the educational authorities must establish the conditions that make it possible to eliminate risk situations arising from the inappropriate use of ICT in the school environment, with special attention to situations of on-line violence. In accordance with the law, confidence and safety in the use of technologies must be fostered, paying special attention to the elimination of gender stereotypes that hinder the acquisition of digital skills under equal conditions.

On the other hand, the objective of the output profile is for students to activate the learning acquired in order to respond to the main challenges they will have to face throughout their lives. One of these objectives, according to ANNEX I of Royal Decree 217/2022 is:

"To critically analyse and take advantage of the opportunities of all kinds offered by today's society, in particular those of culture in the digital age, assessing their benefits and risks and making an ethical and responsible use of them that contributes to the improvement of personal and collective quality of life."

The Procomún network of open educational resources is intended for educational and learning uses, primarily by the teaching community and students, but also by the general public.

Currently, Procomún is a network of open educational resources (OER), where you can search, display and download learning objects in standard formats and with open licenses for use in pre-university education. It integrates a social network as a meeting point for the educational community, which facilitates interaction with other users, creating communities, sharing, valuing and disseminating all kinds of educational resources. At the same time, it incorporates semantic technology linking it to other similar digital networks (Europeana, Redined, National Library, Prado Museum, Hispana y Dbpedia).

These OER are under open license (Creative Commons España), which allows free access, as well as their use, modification and redistribution by others without any restriction or with limited restrictions.

Meanwhile, the EDIA Project (Educational, Digital, Innovative and Open) of the National Centre for Curriculum Development in Non-Proprietary Systems (CEDEC) promotes and supports the creation of digital and methodological transformation dynamics in schools to improve student learning and promote new models for educational institutions.

EDIA offers a collection of educational content for primary education, among other educational levels. These open educational resources (OER) are curriculum-referenced and offer proposals for active methodologies and the promotion of digital competence in the classroom. The resources include all the templates, guides, rubrics and documents necessary to implement the didactic proposal in the classroom.

The OER are created with the eXeLearning, authoring tool, so that any teacher can access them to use them directly, but also download them and modify them according to their classroom context. The OER of the EDIA project have generated networks of teachers who discuss the use of resources and technology in the classroom. This virtual faculty constitutes a framework for experimentation to propose new educational content models that develop aspects such as accessibility and topics such as gender equality or digital citizenship.