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Schools in Spain have less favourable disciplinary climates in science lessons compared to other OECD countries, according to students’ reports in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, with an index of disciplinary climate of -0.08 (the average index value was 0.00). Despite improvements since PISA 2012, student truancy as reported by students in PISA 2015, remained higher in Spain than the OECD average: 24.7% of 15-year-olds reported skipping at least one day of school in the two weeks before the PISA 2015 test, compared to the OECD average of 19.7%. However, students in Spain were more likely to report that their science teachers adapt their instructions more frequently than the OECD average, with an index of adaptive instruction of 0.15 (the average index value was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]).

The PISA 2015 index of professional development leadership in Spain (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to staff professional development) was 0.14 compared to an OECD average of -0.01. However, the index of instructional educational leadership (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to instruction) was among the lowest in the OECD at -0.41 (the average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]). The proportion of lower secondary teachers in 2016 aged 50 or over was 36.7% in Spain, compared to the OECD average of 35.4%. In 2017, teachers in Spain had more net teaching hours for general programmes than the OECD average. Teachers annually taught 880 hours at primary level and 713 hours at lower secondary level, compared to OECD averages of 784 and 696 hours, respectively (OECD, 2018[2]). According to school principals’ self-reports in PISA 2015, schools have lower levels of autonomy over curriculum in Spain than on average in the OECD: 63.6% of principals reported that the school has primary autonomy over curriculum, compared to 73.4% on average (OECD, 2016[1]).

According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 89.3% of teachers in Spain said that if they could choose again, they would still become a teacher; this was higher than the OECD average of 75.6% and one of the highest levels across participating OECD countries. Furthermore, 14.1% of teachers felt that the teaching profession was valued in society, compared to an OECD average of 25.8% in 2018 (OECD, 2019[3]).

According to school leaders’ reports in PISA 2015, school leaders in Spain are less likely to conduct self-evaluations of their schools (87.7% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 93.2%), and are slightly less likely to undergo external evaluations of their schools (73.9% of students were in schools whose principal reported this, compared to the OECD average of 74.6%) (OECD, 2016[1]). Teacher appraisal levels, as reported in the previous cycle of TALIS 2013, were lower than the average: 21.7% of teachers had reported then having received an appraisal in the previous 12 months, compared to the average of 66.1% (OECD, 2014[4]).

The share of students enrolled in secondary schools whose principal reported in PISA 2015 that standardised tests are used to make decisions on students’ promotion or retention was 20%, compared to 31% on average (OECD, 2016[1]).

In 2017, state autonomy levels over resource management (allocation and use of resources for teaching staff and principals) were higher than the OECD average: 63% of decisions in Spain were taken at the school level, compared to the OECD average of 9%.

Spain’s annual expenditure per student at primary level in 2015 was USD 7 320, which was below the OECD average of USD 8 631. At secondary level, Spain spent USD 9 020 per student, compared to the average of USD 10 010, while at tertiary level (including spending on research and development), Spain spent USD 12 605 per student, compared to USD 15 656. In 2015, expenditure on primary to tertiary education as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) was 4.4% in Spain; the OECD average was 5%. The proportion coming from private sources (including household expenditure, expenditure from other private entities and international sources) was higher than the OECD average (18.9% compared to 16.1%). Between 2010 and 2015, the relative proportion of public expenditure on primary to tertiary education fell by 8.4 percentage points in Spain, compared to an average OECD decrease of 1.3 percentage points. During the same period, private expenditure increased by 56.2 percentage points, compared to the OECD average increase of 10.6 percentage points (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

Spain’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.26).

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Table 8.26. Evolution of key education policy priorities, Spain (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work, 2008-191

Evolution of responses collected by the Education Policy Outlook, 2013-192

School improvement


Spain reported the ongoing challenge of providing sustained support to schools with an increased share of immigrant students. Recently reported priorities include the improvement of school management autonomy to develop quality actions that will be accompanied by an increase in transparency and accountability, as well as establishing measures to improve overall education outcomes. [2013; 2016-17]

Evaluation and assessment


Spain reported the ongoing need to implement a balanced evaluation and assessment framework that sets national education goals and standards to help students and teachers improve, with measures being taken in recent years. Spain previously reported the challenge of providing school principals and directive teams (as well as regional school authorities, teachers, heads of school departments, other educational personnel and parents) with assessment information about their own school, allowing benchmarking in relation to international PISA results. More recently, Spain reported that the current main challenge is the implementation of the electronic version of the assessment as well as developing external evaluations at the end of each educational level. [2013; 2016-17]


According to OECD evidence, Spain faces two inter-related challenges: to continue to increase the capacity and quality of its research base and to improve the impact of innovation on the economy. [2014]

Recent priorities include the development of proceedings aimed at improving the flexibility and accessibility of the education system through the development of education laws within the different fields of competence. Another priority is to improve the co-ordination and co-operation among all educational administrations to correct educational inequalities among autonomous communities. [2016-17]


According to OECD evidence, total spending on research and development (R&D) remained significantly below the OECD average, due mainly to low business spending on R&D. [2014]

Recently reported needs include holding schools funded with public money accountable for the use of those public funds, as well as increasing both budgetary efforts and efficacy when granting scholarships. A further priority is put on adopting more initiatives to improve the management of economic resources, promoting responsibility and the improvement of efficacy and quality in the management of public resources. [2016-17]


1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

2. See Reader’s Guide (years and methods of collection).


Selected education policy responses

School improvement

  • Spain has introduced several initiatives in recent years to enhance the role of information and communication technology (ICT) within education. In 2018, Spain developed a new National Plan for Digital Education (Plan de Transformación Digital Educativa) to reinforce elements from the 2013 National Plan for Digital Culture in Schools (Plan de Cultura Digital en la Escuela).

    The initial plan (2013) established five principal lines of action, a committee of technology and education experts (comprised of delegates of all regional authorities, university experts, teachers and different education experts) and new digital competencies based on the EU framework (Fernández, 2015[525]).

    The new plan promotes five lines of action: 1) promoting methodological transformation in the classroom and collaboration in education; 2) improving the learning spaces and technological infrastructure in schools; 3) developing students’ skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects; 4) developing digital competences in the education system; and 5) leveraging teacher training as a means to improving practice (National information reported to the OECD). It maintains, keeps and reinforces some of the previous lines of action from the previous plan, such as those related to the Internet Broadband School Connection, the Digital Competence, or the Open Digital Resources (Procomún).

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Progress or impact: By 2018, 13 regions participated in the Internet Broadband School Connection line of action, implying coverage of about 11 577 schools and 4 million students (National information reported to the OECD). Also, Open Digital Resources hosted more than 92 000 resources and had over 31 000 users. Moreover, the Education, Digital, Innovation and Open (Educativo, Digital, Innovador y Abierto, EDIA) project and the newly launched projects, Inspiring Education Experiences (Experiencias Educativas Inspiradoras) and the Observatory of Technological Education Work (Observatorio de la Tecnología Educativa) intend to offer teachers further resources and information regarding best practices (INTEF, 2019[526]; INTEF, 2019[527]).

The Development of the Digital Competence Framework for Teachers was ongoing from the first draft in 2013 to the publication of a more developed, and most recent, version in 2017. Spain’s framework was used as one of the bases for the European Mentoring Technology Enhanced Pedagogy project (MENTEP, 2015-18), in which the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training participated together with 13 other European countries. In Spain, 1 000 teachers, nominated from 49 centres across all regions, took part in this project.

In 2017, an Online Portfolio of Teachers’ Digital Competence, an optional formative tool to guide teachers’ self-reflection and self-evaluation and recognise competences, was piloted (INTEF, 2017[528]). It can be accessed through online training courses. Since 2014, about 40 000 teachers enrol every year in online teacher training courses. Teachers come from all regions, including Ceuta and Melilla. The project is now available throughout all educational regions (National information reported to the OECD).

Evaluation and assessment

  • To improve student performance, Spain was one of ten participating countries in the pilot of the PISA-based Test for Schools programme (Prueba PISA para Centros Educativos, 2014). The assessment provides individual participating schools with student achievement data comparable to country-level PISA results.

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Progress or impact: In 2013/14, Spain piloted the PISA-based Test for Schools in 225 schools. In 2015/16, 64 schools participated in the assessment, with an estimated 100 schools participating in 2016/17. All autonomous communities have now participated in the programme, which remains optional for schools. To provide joint school information to educators from districts and associations of schools, an additional school group report was developed in co-operation with the OECD Secretariat during 2015-16. According to national evidence, this resulted in better knowledge of the programme among the school community (National information reported to OECD).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

Evaluation and assessment

  • Spain’s Organic Law for the Improvement of Education Quality (Ley Orgánica para la mejora de la calidad educativa, LOMCE, 2013) aimed to leverage assessment to improve the early identification of students at risk of grade repetition or early school leaving. To that end, the law introduced external, standardised assessments of student competencies at Years 3 and 6 of primary schooling, and in the last year of both compulsory (lower) secondary schooling and upper secondary. At primary level, these exams would seek to identify students whose competencies fell below the expected level for their grade and thus trigger increased support. Secondary level exams for general and vocational streams would be higher stakes academic exercises to inform students’ entry into the next level of education. The government intended to implement these reforms gradually from 2014, with national coverage as standard by 2018. In 2016, the government agreed to redesign the tests to make them diagnostic, as opposed to summative, and to introduce sampling at the end of primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education (Royal Decree 5/2016) (Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional, 2019[529]). With ongoing developments for a possible reform of the LOMCE, the high-stakes nature of examinations at lower and upper secondary level is largely revoked (Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional, 2019[529]). (OECD, 2018[530]).


Selected education policy responses


  • Spain’s National Reform Programme (Programa Nacional de Reformas, 2012) presents national objectives to meet the EU 2020 Strategy (2010). This is the main reference point for public policy on economic, social and labour matters; education is one of the five key focus areas. Spain set the following national objectives: reduce the early school leaving rate to below 15%; and increase the level of tertiary educational attainment among 30-34 year-olds to at least 44% (OECD, 2018[530]). Since 2012, the government has revised the programme annually, modifying the 2020 targets and analysing the various policy reforms introduced to address the recommendations within the EU framework.

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Progress or impact: According to the 2019 report on the National Reform Programme, the rate of early school leaving in Spain has fallen substantially in recent years from 24.6% in 2013 to 18.3% in 2017 (European Commission, 2019[531]). National statistics show that the 2018 level fell even further to 17.9%. However, this remains one of the highest rates in Europe, and national figures mask important regional disparities (for example, early school leaving rates are as high as 29.5% in Melilla) (Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional, 2019[532]).

The percentage of those aged 30-34 years old who have completed tertiary education continues to improve, gradually reaching 42.4% in 2018; the government expects to exceed the EU objective of 44% in 2020. Among younger cohorts, attainment levels are higher: in 2018, 46.4% of 25-29 year-olds had completed tertiary education (Ministerio de Educación y Formación Profesional, 2019[532]). The government has implemented numerous reforms to support the drive towards these targets.

Financial aid to facilitate equitable access to higher education has been increasing: in 2018 an increase in funding for the scholarship and study aid system of EUR 1 620 million was agreed, bringing the total to 142% of the 2012 fund (Government of Spain, 2018[533]). The Observatory for Grants, Financial Assistance and Academic Performance has also been reinstated (2018) to oversee and analyse the efficacy, equity and transparency of the support system for tertiary students.

As of 2019, a new programme aimed at reducing early school leaving (Programa de Orientación y Refuerzo al Avance de la Educación) was introduced, slightly modifying previous initiatives in this area (e.g. Proeducar). It aims to support educational institutions and students from vulnerable socio-economic environments and backgrounds (migrants, Roma, special educational needs) and to strengthen the competencies of teaching staff to address student diversity in the classroom. For 2019, the programme has a budget of over EUR 80 million, to be distributed among the Spanish regions according to the number of students, including the number of those with special educational needs, suitability rates and the rural/urban dispersion of the population (National information reported to the OECD).

The plan for the reduction of early school leaving (Plan para la Reducción del Abandono Educativo Temprano, 2014-20) continues to target early school leaving rates through various measures including specific programmes targeted at high-risk areas and student groups through co-operation and co-ordination with institutions and local and regional authorities (OECD, 2018[530]).


  • According to recent information reported to the OECD, the economic crisis created restraints in different areas of spending in Spain that forced the government to suspend various policies or regulations related to learning environments and teachers’ working conditions, in order to control expenditures. Spain sought better control and efficiency in spending by enacting the Royal Decree 14/2012, which increased teaching hours per teacher and relaxed class size restrictions, among others (Government of Spain, 2012[534]). The government also restricted salary increases for primary and secondary school teachers and limited replacement rates for retiring teachers to as low as 10%. Some of these measures were temporary and regional authorities could decide on their application (Government of Spain, 2019[535]). According to the OECD, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (MECD) also terminated a series of funding programmes in 2012, including the Territorial Co-operation programmes. In addition, the student loan system, which had operated from 2009-11, was replaced with a scholarship system due to high levels of default on loan repayment as a result of growing youth unemployment (OECD, 2018[530]).

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Progress or impact: A consolidated text of Royal Decree 14/2012 now includes subsequent legislation modifications so as to increase and improve the distribution of available and allocated resources (Government of Spain, 2016[536]). According to recent OECD research, many of the measures led to a fall in job satisfaction, and the government subsequently began easing restrictions (OECD, 2018[530]).

For example, teacher replacement rates were permitted to rise to 100% as of 2016 to create an additional 130 000 available teaching positions. The same year, the Territorial Co-operation Programmes were relaunched to support vulnerable students. At the same time, autonomous communities received a total of EUR 325 million from the MECD to implement new vocational education and training (VET) programmes and assist socio-economically vulnerable families with the costs of school materials. Following this measure, in 2017, additional funds were allocated for the training, skill development and mobility of teaching staff across all education levels, as well as to improve school activities (OECD, 2018[530]). The policies to control expenditures related to teaching hours and class sizes have also been repealed by the new ministerial team (National information reported to the OECD).

Higher education also benefited from softer restrictions, including increases in university tuition fees, which mostly occurred in 2012-13 in certain regions, and fees have since, for the most part, been frozen. The law also allowed for the introduction of international differential fees to cover 100% of the cost of instruction, pursuant to policies established by autonomous communities. As of 2016-17, four autonomous communities have set international differential fees by decrees, five allowed universities to set their own differential fees, and eight did not permit differential fees (OECD, 2018[530]). The Royal Decree was repealed in in 2019 through Law 4/2019, which reduced teaching hours and derogated class size restrictions (Government of Spain, 2019[539]).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries


  • A series of reforms have sought to improve the quality of higher education in Spain. In 2013, the Committee of Experts for the Reform of the Spanish University System published a report with some key recommendations: pursue greater specialisation and differentiation among higher education institutions; balance increased autonomy for institutions with stronger accountability within the system; and strengthen internationalisation and invest sufficient funds (Miras-Portugal et al., 2013[537]). Reforms were then introduced to increase institutional autonomy over decisions relating to human resources programme offers (OECD, 2018[530]). More recently, the Spanish Strategy for Higher Education (Estrategia Española para la Educación Superior, 2017) seeks to act as a framework enabling greater synergies and improved relations between all actors within the higher education system (ministerial departments, the autonomous communities and higher education institutions). The strategy has multiple objectives covering equity and quality, labour market relevance, internationalisation and better career pathways and opportunities for mobility and exchange among academics and researchers (Congreso de los Diputados, 2017[538]). Other measures within the sector include reinforcing the capacity to choose study programmes based on demand and adapting training offers to the needs of the productive system. In addition, students have access to an employability map (mapa de empleabilidad de las titulaciones universitarias), which provides information relating to the labour market insertion of tertiary graduates. This is produced using information collected within MECD’s Integrated University Information System (Sistema Integrado de Información Universitaria, SIIU). There has also been ongoing revision of vocational training qualifications of the occupational standards recognised within the National Catalogue of Professional Qualifications (Catálogo Nacional de Cualificaciones Profesionales, CNCP), with a particular focus on digital competencies (Government of Spain, 2018[539]).

  • The Spanish National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (Agencia Nacional de Evaluación de la Calidad y Acreditación, ANECA, 2012) was established to improve the quality of tertiary education through evaluation, certification and accreditation of the institutions. As part of the Law 15/2014 for the rationalisation of the public sector and other administrative reforms, ANECA acquired a definitive status as an autonomous organisation, independent from the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, and the central public administration.

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