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Tensions of reform boil over into strike

Disillusion, uncertainty about job security and doubts about the education authority's commitment to back reforms with adequate resources were the dominant themes in a 7,000-strong demonstration by teachers in Barcelona, Spain, last month.

Combined with a one-day strike which closed over half of Catalan state schools, the protest is a response to reforms being implemented in primary and secondary schools across Spain.

Since responsibility for implementing the reforms is being devolved to 16 regional governments, the pace of change varies from one region to another. Catalonia pioneered the reforms by introducing the new system in selected schools 10 years ago. The main innovations include increasing the school-leaving age from 14 to 16, making music, physical education and languages part of the curriculum for primary schools, and promoting a more flexible student-centred approach to learning in secondary schools. Not a lot to oppose there, you might think, nevertheless many Catalan teachers disagree with the way in which the reforms are being put into practice. "The theory is excellent but I think that a sense of reality is missing," said Gregorio Luria, a secondary school philosophy teacher.

Raising the school-leaving age has meant responsibility for teaching 12 to 14-year-olds passes from primary to secondary schools, so fewer primary teachers will be required. Surplus teachers can either retrain to teach the new subjects on offer at primary level or sit exams to move up to secondary teaching. Maite Comas, of Catalan teachers' union USTEC and a primary teacher herself, sees this move as logical, but she is angry that the Catalan regional government, the Generalitat, has yet to specify exactly how these changes are to take place, even though they are due next year. While the Generalitat calculates surplus staff at about 3,000, Maite Comas believes that failure to say exactly who will be affected leaves most primary teachers uncertain about their futures.

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