Reforms are seen as benefiting democracy

7th November 1997 at 00:00

Since Spain returned to democratic government, its education system has undergone a series of radical reforms. These give an important role to parents in shaping the national framework, and in managing schools.

Involving parents at the national level is taken very seriously. There are two nationwide parents' confederations, which nominate 12 parents to the State School Council. This means that they are consulted on every change to the law affecting education, and also know what advice the minister has received from other organisations.

Parents play a decisive role on the councils which govern individual schools. These councils can hire and fire headteachers and make other key decisions. In primary schools, parents have seven seats on the council; in secondary schools, four of these seats are reserved for pupils, reflecting the growing ability of adolescents to speak for themselves.

Parental involvement of this kind is seen as important for strengthening democracy, and also for the well-being of families. Hence there is some alarm because parental participation in schools governance has actually declined in recent years, especially at secondary level.

The State School Council has urged the government to launch a nationwide media campaign, and to improve funding for training. Parent training takes place in local teachers' centres or teacher-training institutions.

* Escuela de Padres (Parents' school). This is a unique feature of a 500-pupil elementary school in Madrid. Most of the pupils, aged between three and 14, are from deprived backgrounds, and 10 to 15 per cent come from a community of resettled gypsies. The school is organised by the teachers (as volunteers), and about 50 parents attend. It has put on courses such as "How to help your child with learning" and "How to save money".

One successful session on xenophobia was run by gypsy mothers. The teachers are confident that the children of these parents benefit academically from their involvement.

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