The Spanish state schools have undergone dramatic changed over the last decade and standards are fast approaching those in the rest of Europe. Furthermore, if a child wants to continue at a university elsewhere, such as the UK, there are no special examinations to take, the results may be convalidated directly without even translating the same before supplying the same to the respective university body (such as UCAS).
State education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Science, although authority can be delegated to regional governments. This is the case in in Andalucía where the Junta de Andalucia has the responsibility for the educational system (including higher education).
State education is free, but parents must usually pay for school books (which are expensive, although they are provided free in certain cases), school supplies and extra curricular activities, such as sports and art which do tend to be lacking, as compared to schools in the UK and, especially, the USA. For most Spanish children, school starts with nursery or pre-school at the age of 4 or 5.
Compulsory education termed the basic general education begins at six years of age in a primary school and lasts for eight years. At the age of 14, students receive a school-leaving certificate, which determines the course of their future education. Those with high marks are awarded a titulo de graduado escolar certificate and may attend a higher secondary school to study for their baccalaureate. Less academic students are awarded a school certificate, and attend a vocational programme providing specialised training for a specific career.
Attending a local state school helps children integrate into the local community and learn the language and is highly recommended if you plan to stay in Spain indefinitely. Although it may not appeal initially, given the choice many foreign children prefer to attend Spanish school and become part of the local community. It is worth noting that, whereas it is fairly easy to switch from a state school to a private school, the reverse is not the case. If you need to move a child from a private school to a state school it can be difficult for that child to adjust, particularly a teenager.
The academic year runs from the first week in September to the end of June, although there may be a slight variance, depending on area. The main holidays are at Christmas, Easter and the long summer break. School hours vary depending on the school and are usually from 09:00 to 16:00 with an hour's break for lunch. However, an increasing number of schools don't have a lunch break and finish classes for the day at 1.30 pm or 2.00 pm. Lessons are generally divided into teaching periods of 45 minutes. Some schools provide school lunches at a minimal cost, although many children bring a packed lunch or go home if they live nearby. Most schools provide a subsidised bus service to take children to and from their homes in outlying regions and state schools generally provide an after school nursery (guardería) for working mothers.
Spanish school children have long school holidays compared with many other countries. The length of the terms are fixed and generally the same, although local fiestas and ferías always mean an extra day off or two.
Schools are also closed on public holidays when they fall within term time. Pupils transferring from primary to secondary school are given an additional two weeks summer holiday, which usually includes an 'end of school' trip with their fellow pupils which can be anywhere in Europe, depending on money raised and what is considered affordable for the parents. School holiday dates are published by schools and local communities well in advance, thus allowing parents plenty of time to schedule family holidays during the school holidays.