Nation debates reforms

15th October 2004 at 01:00

Spain's socialist government has torn up plans to introduce a compulsory exam for bachillerato students, but wants to introduce testing for all nine and 13-year-olds.

The measures are included in a 168-page blueprint for reform, unveiled by the education minister Maria Jesus San Segundo, as she launched a national debate on her proposals.

One of the Socialist Party's first moves after unexpectedly winning power in March was to freeze the Education Act of the previous, Conservative government.

Ms San Segundo's plan attempts to tackle Spain's high secondary school failure and drop-out levels - the third highest in the European Union on both counts -and to improve students' language and technological skills.

Those nine and 13-year-olds who fail the tests should be given careful personal attention, including, if necessary, extra tuition during weekends and holidays. The practice of making children repeat a year should be used more sparingly and as a well-monitored remedy rather than a punishment, the blueprint says.

The previous Education Act made little provision for the vast numbers of immigrant students who are flooding the state system. This year they represented 5.7 per cent of new entries in Spanish schools. Ms San Segundo aims to provide extra classes and individual attention to help integrate them into Spanish society. She also aims to spread newly-arrived foreign students equally among state schools and concertados (state-funded private schools).

The minister proposes the teaching of a second language (generally English) from the age of six, with a third becoming compulsory from the age of 12.

Class sizes should, where possible, be halved from 30 to 15, and native-speaking language assistants should be drafted in, she says.

San Segundo has published the government's proposals on a Spanish-language website and invited interested parties to participate in the debate.

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