A bit of Wigan in the Med

18th November 1994 at 00:00
The language spoken on the streets is Spanish, but a teacher from the UK could walk into a classroom and pick up the lesson without a pause. Here the British Conservative government's curriculum reforms were taken on without a murmur and for its further education it looks to Wigan.

This two-and-a-half square mile peninsula on the bottom edge of Spain has, for the past 290 years, been resolutely British. That includes a British-based education system which has mirrored all the changes back in the UK, from GCSEs to national curriculum.

Behind all this is not necessarily any huge admiration for Britain's education policies. The changes are driven by practicality, and the needs of Gibraltar's would-be undergraduates. All Gibraltarian students who go on to higher education do so at universities and colleges in the UK.

Thus GCSEs in Gibraltar's two single-sex comprehensive schools are taken under the auspices of Midland and Southern and A-levels under the Cambridge examination board.

The official language in Gibraltar - and the language used in all the schools - is English. Even so, the language spoken in most Gibraltarian homes is Spanish (with, admittedly, quite a number of "Gibraltarianisms").

This gives Gibraltarians a unique economic advantage - they are completely at home in two of the world's great languages. It also gives them the best Spanish A-level results of any students taking the Cambridge board exams.

Gibraltar's education minister is the youthful Joe Moss, who came into the post four years ago aged only 28. He and the Rock's director of education, Julio Alcantara, are proud of the results their pupils achieve.

Mr Moss, a member of Gibraltar's ruling Socialist party, says: "Last year our comprehensives would both have been listed among the top 100 UK schools on their exam results, with Westside School (the girls' comprehensive) in the top 50."

The introduction of the national curriculum for the Rock's 6,000 school pupils and 289 teachers has been achieved with minimum fuss, after a ballot of the Gibraltarian Teachers' Association (which is linked to the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers). Only 3 per cent voted against. However the Gibraltarian version has no standard assessment tasks and no league tables. The introduction was also quite deliberately postponed to take place a year behind Britain, to let the problems Sir Ron Dearing had to sort out become apparent before teachers in Gibraltar had to deal with them.

GNVQs are being introduced this year, again lagging deliberately behind the UK. After looking at various colleges in Britain, the education department finally went into partnership with Wigan College of Further Education on its GNVQ courses. Other UK colleges, however, are looking at setting up language schools based in Gibraltar.

Today some 150 students a year go off to higher education in the UK on Gibraltarian government scholarships.

Mr Alcantara said. "Nobody ever wants to study in Spain. Compared to Britain, the Spanish university system has a long way to go in terms of the quality of lecturers."

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