The concept of competence is a recent introduction into the curricula of the Spanish education system, and applies to vocational training and university, but also to basic education. In both cases, the meaning and use of the term have differed, sometimes giving rise to confusion. There can be no doubt, however, that this incorporation has been of significant impact. On the one hand, it has generated considerable debate between those who consider the concept to respond to economistic arguments, removed from educational realities, and those who believe it to have a transformation potential that cannot be ignored. On the other, incorporation of the concept is leading to a series of modifications in school practices and in teaching and learning with whose consequences we are not yet acquainted. This article analyses the situation created by the introduction of key competences in Spanish compulsory education and seeks to gauge the potential this offers for improving opportunities for success at school. The authors believe that key competences are a reformulation of educational intentions, whose consequences for schools and teaching practices largely depend on the new interpretation of learning in the light of different approaches and research traditions.