SWEEPING reforms to the Spanish primary and secondary education system have been presented to parliament by Pilar del Castillo, the minister of education and culture.
The changes will include the introduction of a standard school-leavers'
exam, an end to automatic promotion to the next year's class in secondaries, and the provision of separate support classes for under-performers from age 12.
The measures outlined in the "Law of Educational Quality" are due to come on stream in 20045. A new final exam at 18, the PGB (general test of bachillerato), will replace the schools' internal tests for those seeking a place at university and will include an oral foreign language test. Pupils will be streamed into the bachillerato classes or the professional training route at 14, and those taking the bachillerato will choose between sciences or arts at 15.
The changes are intended to address high levels of "school failure", particularly among those from poor backgrounds and immigrants with a limited knowledge of Spanish. The PGB is designed to standardise the levels demanded by each school. Standardisation has been seen as a particularly important issue since responsibility for education was devolved to Spain's autonomous communities.
Critics say that a separate system will be created that simply perpetuates educational differences, often based on social class. They argue that the fundamental problem in schools is a lack of money, an area that is not addressed in the current legislation.
"It will segregate the students with difficulties, without even offering a euro to improve the quality," said Carmen Chacon of the opposition socialist party, PSOE.
Trade unions also criticised the new law and predicted widespread strike action. "It is a step back to the past in education; we are moving towards a very unequal system," said Eulalia Vaquero, the president of the confederation of parents. Miriam Municio, of the students' union, said: "It is teaching for the rich."
The minister of education and culture, who has recently had to face the largest protest marches since the transition to democracy over her plans, was unmoved. She said that many of the changes had been demanded by teachers and that the restructuring would serve to motivate the students. The new test "was being applied in every country in the European Union, except in Greece and Portugal", she said.