The story on current education reforms in Spain: The past will come back

During the time when Spain was ruled by a dictator, girls and boys went to different schools, or they were at least subject to class segregation. Typically, the rich and middle class children went to private religious schools, and the poor children from the suburbs and/or villages went to public schools. A crucifix was also present in all classrooms; it was placed in the front of the room to preside over all classrooms.

Compulsory external assessments were the norm for students at both ages 14 and 16, and those that failed their exams could not progress in their studies; those students had to either wait a year to retake the exam, or enrol in a VET program (because in Spain one typically enrolled in VET only if he or she was not a good student, or due to the inability for some families to afford university).

Though this was the main issue for many families, many students were lucky to even complete their primary education.

Despite the fact that Spain is a multicultural country with at least four languages, all education was only carried out in Castilian, and children were taught that all other languages were "dialects".

Eventually, as democracy was restored, education began to improve. Nowadays girls and boys are educated together in public schools (but there are still shameful occurrences wherein public funds are given to private schools which continue to segregate sexes). Public Schools are democratically ruled; religion is not a compulsory subject any more; and education is conducted in Basque, Catalonian, Valencian, Galician, as well as in Castilian. Students are not externally assessed; there are not school rankings.

Gradually, the teaching profession has become more attractive. In public schools, teachers are relatively well paid, and teachers must pass difficult exams to obtain tenure in public schools; but there is still a lot to be done and many challenges to overcome in Spain’s education system. The maximum public expenditure in education reached just 5.01% of the GPD in 2009, one of the lowest among European Union member states, and well below those countries that perform well in PISA.

In Spain, VET is still not seen as an attractive alternative. Half the population has only attained the minimum compulsory education and the percentage of Spain’s population with a post-secondary education is ranks low among the European Union member states’ average. Early school dropouts are also a huge issue: Spain’s rate is double that of the mean in the European Union.

In 2009, the socialist Ministry of Education launched the so-called “Pact for Education,” which sought to bring stability to Spanish education in legislation and funding, in collaboration with regions as well as stakeholders. The pact did not succeed because the conservatives did not support it.

The socialist government that had applied important cuts and measures lost the subsequent elections, and the conservatives were given an absolute majority. Since then, conservatives have been systematically dismantling the benefits of the last 35 years of democracy in Spain, and education is an important ideological point in their agenda.

Their proposed reform in education, called LOMCE, is now on its way to Parliament. It is a very regressive reform; it has been constructed without any consensus and or negotiation, disregarding the voice of teachers.

In the LOMCE, education is not considered an inalienable right that is sustained by the State through its efforts and assurance of the present network of quality public schools. The projected reform does not include measures that seek to improve educational equity, and it disregards the role of education as one that instigates social cohesion; on the contrary, it favours the privatisation of education, and it emphasizes the ideas of employability, competitiveness and an education on the service of the productive model. Basically, the proposed reform promotes social exclusion.

In addition to passing LOMCE, the conservative agenda seeks to cut public expenditure in education—down to 4.9% of GDP in 2015, and they have already layed off tens of thousands of teachers. Unions have estimated that the cost of the reform would be very high.

LOCME intends to return to the days of educational repression: LOMCE will allow segregation of sexes, and thus a different education for girls and boys; all students will study religion or an alternative subject; Castilian only education will be possible in regions, with two co-official languages; there will be external assessment of students, which means more obstacles for those with difficulties or from less favourable social backgrounds. The last will favour the assessment of teachers based on students’ test results. The reform will also eliminate the prohibition to rank school on the basis of external assessments. The so-called “autonomy” is a mere reinforcement of the hierarchical systems in schools. Funding will be related to results.

Basically this reform poses the consequences of competitiveness between public and private schools, the social segregation of students, teacher layoffs, and an increase in early student dropouts. VET will once again become the only path for many unsuccessful students. Dual VET, which has been copied from countries with very different productive models, will deteriorate in a country with youth unemployment above 50%; this will condemn those students from less favourable social backgrounds to become a cheap workforce.

This reform is a complete paradigm shift in education that will revert the Spanish state to the faults of its past.


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María Luisa Sánchez Simón

María Luisa Sánchez Simón is an advisor on higher education for the Spanish teachers' federation, FECCOO. At the regional level in Galicia, she is a member of the executive board of CCOO. She is also a professor of fluid mechanics at the University of La Coruña, Spain.

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