Back to School in Mexico

After seeing a plethora or first day of school photos in the first week of September it struck me that if we were living in the UK, my four-year-old daughter would have started primary school last week.  That just sounds too grownup!  However, since we’re in Mexico, she’s just gone into second grade of kindergarten so that means she’s still a preschooler here.

Kids here started back at school towards the end of August, nearly two weeks earlier than in the UK, and so far she’s adjusted well to being back.  I’m actually a bit surprised at how well, we haven’t had any of the drama we had last year, which is a relief and I hope it lasts!  You can read about how we all got on with Emma starting kindergarten last year in Starting School in 9 Emotions - my first term as a preschool mum.

I often find myself comparing my own experiences of going to school in the UK and the British education system with my current reality – as a teacher and a mum – as part of the Mexican education system.  There are plenty of similarities of course, but also a lot of differences, so I thought I’d give you an idea here of some of the ways Mexican schools are different.

Back To School In Mexico


The Mexican school system consists of three “basic” obligatory stages: Kindergarten, Primary and Secondary.  Then after that, “Prepa” or Preparatoria is kind of the equivalent to high school in the US, then university.

Kindergarten is three years from ages 3 to 6, although you may have children as young as 2 years 8 months starting kinder 1! So little. Some kindergartens also have a “maternal” year previous to first grade.  Another interesting fact is that although the school year runs from August to July, school starting ages are based on the calendar year, not the academic year.  In the UK, kids with birthdays in September are usually the oldest in the class, but in Mexico the children with January birthdays are the oldest and children born in December will be the youngest – unless they are held back a year, which is quite common too.

Back To School In Mexico
Photo credit: Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Primary school is normally from first grade to 6th grade, from age 6 (or sometimes 5) to 12.  Some private schools, particularly bilingual schools, also have a year of pre-primary, or pre-first before first grade. This may be part of the kindergarten or primary school.  Secondary school is three years from 7th grade to 9th grade which takes them up to age 15.  Then Prepa is normally another three years from 10th grade to 12th grade, taking them up to age 18.

It is also possible to repeat a year, from 3rd grade onwards.  You can pass or fail the year based on your exam results.  I never liked that idea.  In Kindergarten kids can also be recommended to repeat a year based on their level of maturity or readiness for the next academic year.


Back To School In Mexico
Photo credit: Tim Wright on Unsplash

Exams start in primary school, right from the beginning in a relentless cycle usually every two months, then end of year exams.

All the exams are made by the class teachers and graded by the same teachers, including final exams to graduate from secondary and Prepa.  This makes for very subjective exam results, as you can imagine.  Especially in Prepa, kids will desperately beg you for an extra decimal, a recount, another assignment for extra points, etc.  There are “second chance” exams after the final exams, called “extraordinary exams” for those that didn’t pass the first time.

Universities almost always have entrance exams.


Private schools are very common in Mexico.  There are a wide variety of types (religious, non-religious, different educational philosophies, bilingual, international, etc) and an equally wide range of costs, quality and size.  You often find that private schools have all levels, from kindergarten up to Prepa or even university, sometimes all on one site.

Government schools have to be non-religious.  Often they lack resources, have very large class sizes and may not have enough teachers.  This is particularly true in schools in poor rural communities.


Schools tend to be quite strict about uniforms, although with some exceptions.  Each school has its own specific uniform, even in kindergarten, and they can be quite expensive.  Usually there is the normal uniform and the sports uniform which they wear on the days they have PE or sports class.  They don’t get changed at school.


Back To School In Mexico
Photo credit: Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash

Government schools are free, of course, but parents still have to buy uniforms and school supplies.

Private schools have a lot of expenses to cover:
Enrollment fee
Monthly fees
Cost of materials/books
School supplies (usually a long and very specific list)
Usually contributions to the parents’ association and perhaps for specific events.


Schools in Mexico start early, usually between 7am and 8am, kindergarten a bit later.  They have “lonch” (a mid-morning snack) at school, then finish some time between 1pm and 3pm when they go home to have their main midday meal.  There may be optional after school classes in the afternoon, too.  Generally at secondary school level the day starts earlier and finishes later than at primary level, and government schools tend to have a shorter schedule than private schools.


Back To School In Mexico
Photo courtesy of Flickr

Every Mexican school, no matter what type of school it is, has regular flag ceremonies.  This seemed quite peculiar to me at first, coming from the UK where we have nothing like this, but it is a normal part of school life.  It’s something like a school assembly, held weekly, fortnightly or monthly, depending on the school.  Most schools have a central courtyard where the flag ceremony takes place and everyone lines the courtyard and salutes the Mexican flag while the students that have been chosen to be in the honour guard march with the flag around the middle of the space.  They have to rehearse a lot so that they are all marching perfectly in time. Everyone sings the national anthem (very important – everyone knows at least the first verse and chorus from kindergarten or earlier).  Usually students from a particular class or grade will make a presentation about something relevant to that date or time of year.  It’s all about instilling a sense of national pride and showing respect towards patriotic symbols and traditions.

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These are some of the differences and peculiarities of the Mexican school system that struck me, coming from the UK.  Maybe compared with other countries they’re not so different, I don’t know, but I’d be interested to find out.

How do these compare to your experiences of school? Let me know in the comments below, I always love reading your opinions!

Back To School In Mexico

You may also be interested in reading 10 Ways I can tell that my daughter is truly Mexican.

Additional photo credits: Mexican flag courtesy of Pixabay, pile of books with apple by Element5 Digital on Unsplash, row of colouring pencils by Jess Watters on Unsplash 

Shank You Very Much

Shank You Very Much



  1. Interesting to read about the differences compard to UK schools. My youngest is at preschool, my daughter is at infant school while my eldest is in junior school. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

  2. What an interest ing read about your schools! Thank you! #globalblogging xoxo

  3. This is so interesting to read. I didn't realise that Mexico was so different to the UK when it came to school.
    The exams sound so harsh but at least they are used to them and not much of a shock when they are older.

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