GOVERNMENT proposals to take low-achieving pupils out of mainstream schools at 14 are causing an uproar among teacher unions and the parliamentary opposition.
The debate has been fuelled by a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, Overcoming failure at school, which showed that failure rates in Spanish secondaries - defined as failure to obtain the school-leaving certificate - stand at 26 per cent, six points above the European average.
Those students who leave Spanish schools with no qualifications are currently channelled into training courses for manual and technical skills such as carpentry and metalwork.
Education minister Mariano Rajoy, who proposed the changes, believes that less able students should be allowed to drop the standard curricula from the age of 14. "It is possible we need to start diversifying the curricula from 14 years," he said.
"It is not clear that a law which says all students should study the same things in the same classroom is producing positive results."
However, in a parliamentary debate last week, Mr Rajoy found the full political opposition ranged against him, including a sometime political ally Convergencia i Unio. CiU spokeswoman Carme Laura Gil said: "We were trying to avoid segregation and assure students' rights to receive the same kind of education."
One of the strongest objections is that these students would no longer attend their usual school because the special training courses are based elsewhere.
Carles Martinez, spokesman for the Catalan teaching union, USTEC, said: "All students between 12 and 16 should be at the same schools, but there should be special classes for those students who find it difficult to follow the standard curriculum."
Mr Martinez believes other measures are also needed, including more special centres for the small minority of very disturbed teenagers - a group he estimates to be around 1 per cent of pupils. In Catalonia, north-eastern Spain, there are currently 15 such centres.
In addition, classroom sizes at secondary schools, currently limited by law to a maximum of 30, should be brought down to 25, he said.
Spanish parents share his concern. A recent survey found that 68.3 per cent felt the system should pay more attention to the needs of less able children.