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New attack on Catalan school model by Spanish Government: an appeal against next year’s enrolment

The Spanish Ministry of Education has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Catalonia (TSJC) to cancel the already-sent enrolment applications for the next school year in order to include the option of choosing Spanish as the language of tuition. Five parties representing 80% of the Catalan Parliament have strongly protested against this "new attack" on a school model that guarantees that pupils master both Spanish and Catalan and has many flexibility measures for newcomers. The model is also backed by an extremely broad majority of Catalan society and only a few dozen families, out of the 1.55 million pupils in Catalonia, had requested education in Spanish. Linguistic immersion in Catalan ensures knowledge of the language by children who are not regularly exposed to it, while the model also ensures knowledge of Spanish. Therefore, equal opportunities and complete bilingualism are ensured. However, the model has been the target of Spanish nationalists for a long time.

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06 May 2015 11:55 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- The Spanish Ministry of Education has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Catalonia (TSJC) to cancel the already-sent enrolment applications for the next school year in order to include the option of choosing Spanish as the language of tuition. The TSJC has accepted to take it into consideration. Five parties representing 80% of the Catalan Parliament have strongly protested against the Spanish Government's action, a "new attack" on a school model that guarantees that pupils master both Spanish and Catalan and has many flexibility measures for newcomers. The model is also backed by an extremely broad majority of Catalan society and only a few dozen families, out of the 1.55 million pupils in Catalonia, had requested education in Spanish this year. According to education experts, linguistic immersion in the minority language – Catalan in this case – ensures knowledge of the language by children who are not exposed to it in their everyday life outside of school. At the same time, the school model also ensures knowledge of the majority language – Spanish in this case – by all children. Therefore, the current model ensures equal opportunities and complete bilingualism, emphasising social cohesion and protecting language and cultural diversity. However, the Catalan school model has been the target of Spanish nationalists, initially from outside Catalonia, over the last decade, using it as a tool to gather votes in the rest of Spain. In fact, the Spanish Government's appeal arrives just 3 weeks before the Municipal Elections, which are also regional elections in many parts of Spain but not in Catalonia. After the initial controversy, the Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, highlighted that the appeal does not want to cancel all the enrolments, but rather give the opportunity to parents to file an application to chose Spanish.


The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, accused the PP of trying to change the Catalan school model through the back door, "trying to change through courts what they cannot change through the ballot boxes". The Catalan Minister for Education, Irene Rigau, stated that Wert's appeal is "a nonsense thing" administratively speaking and "an offence" politically speaking.

Besides this, 5 parties representing 80% of the Catalan Parliament, including the government and most of the opposition, have strongly criticised the Spanish Government's "new attack" and have backed the current mode. In order to show the unity defending the current model, the five of them have held an unusual joint press conference. Meanwhile, the two Spanish nationalist parties, the People's Party (PP) and Ciutadans (C's), have insisted on their attack on the current school model.

Model backed by an 80% majority of the Catalan Parliament

Anna Simó, MP from the left-wing Catalan independence party ERC, said that the appeal "is a legal disproportion without precedents, only understandable for people who do not know the country and who have a totalitarian vision of the education in this country and of governance. This is an irresponsible attack on coexistence and an irresponsible attempt to create conflicts where they are absent. It is outrageous that the Spanish Government takes to court and politicises education in Catalonia, and that the last thing it cares about are the hundreds of thousands of families, children and young people in this country".

David Fernández, MP from the radical independence and alternative left party CUP, stated that the Spanish Government and the PP "are uncouth, uncouth and ignorant. The Spanish Government and especially Minister Wert are the ones that need an urgent programme, and urgent and extreme democratic and educational immersion".

Joan Mena, MP from the Catalan eco socialist and post-communist coalition ICV-EUiA, said that "from the ICV-EUiA group we announce, and I think it is also backed by the other political parties and by the people who like the Spanish language – and we like it a lot, we love it, that these groups will be “the lightning that will not stop” against the People's Party Government, as the poet Miguel Hernández once said, against this way of trying to politicise the future of the children of our country".

Rocío Martínez-Sampere, MP from the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), which is part of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), stated "You know it already. Today we are facing a new attack that we consider an extremely important mistake politically speaking. Pedagogically, and in terms of civil and social cohesion, it is an atrocity, directly an atrocity".

Finally, Ramona Barrufet, MP from the governing centre-right pro-Catalan State coalition CiU, stated "[We want] to say to the People's Party to stop using the classrooms, using the students, and let the schools work. All the results regarding the learning of languages are satisfactory. On top of this, [the PP] should not put the practice of systematically taking things to court in front of the linguistic immersion teaching community. It is an issue that brings together all the education community and causes social cohesion. We do not want the model from Valencia, the Balearic Islands or the Basque Country, where there is a classroom distinction [based on tuition language], we want our educational system to be a cohesion tool for society".

A crusade against the Catalan school model

The Spanish Government, run by the People's Party, is continuing with its crusade against the Catalan school model. The current Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, is now filing an appeal against the enrolment process for next school year in public schools, which is about to be completed by many families. The Spanish Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday it was filing an appeal to the Catalan Supreme Court (TSJC) with the hope of forcing the Catalan Government to offer new enrolment forms where families can choose Spanish as the language of tuition for their children. "For another year, the form does not include the option to choose Spanish as a tuition language", stated Montserrat Gomendio, Deputy Minister for Education.

According to her, families have "the constitutional right" to choose the language of tuition of their children and the Spanish Government will make sure this is respected. However, the Spanish Constitution does not include such a right. Nowhere in the Constitutional text is it stated that parents can choose the language of tuition of their children. The Spanish Constitution only recognises "the right and duty to know Spanish", but it does not address the school tuition language. In fact, the broad majority in Catalonia supporting the current model emphasises that it is in line with the Constitution, as the Catalan schooling system guarantees knowledge of Spanish. The problem appears to be that the model also guarantees knowledge of Catalan, which seems to be a problem for Spanish nationalists.

On top of this, Spain's Constitutional Court has validated the Catalan school model on two occasions, in the 1990s and in 2010. On the latter occasion, it explicitly said that the Catalan language can be "the centre of gravity" of the model but that Spanish cannot be excluded. Spanish is far from being excluded: it is taught as a subject for Spanish language and Spanish literature. In addition, many teachers teach some of their courses in Spanish, as the system allows for some geographic flexibility, and newcomers also have some of their classes taught in Spanish, as well as individual attention in that language.

These reasons seem not to be sufficient for the Spanish Government run by the PP, which is following a recentralising and Spanish nationalist agenda. The Spanish Education Minister has even recognised this in Parliament, when in October 2012 he said that his aim was "to Hispanicise Catalan pupils". Besides this, for the last two-and-a-half years, Wert and the PP have also been approving a series of laws and measures aimed at imposing Spanish as a language of tuition in Catalonia.

According to them, they are fostering freedom and protecting the rights of Spanish-speakers. However, they are weakening the Catalan language, together with other sets of measures approved in other Autonomous Communities where Catalan is a local language. For instance, in Aragon, they have changed the name of Catalan and are now calling it by a ridiculous acronym, LAPAO, while also marginalising its use. Ironically, the Spanish Constitution states that "minority languages will be the object of special promotion and protection".

The Spanish Government's measure would segregate children by language, creating two separate language communities

The Spanish Government's aim to impose Spanish as a language of tuition in Catalonia and allow parents to choose would create 'de facto' two school systems, two different tracks, segregating children by language. In the future, this would widen the language divide and create two separate language communities: one formed of Catalan-speakers who also speak Spanish and another one formed of Spanish-speakers who cannot speak Catalan. Such a future projection is based on the pedagogical studies of the last decades, which show that children from non-Catalan-speaking environments obtain worse results in Catalan than those which Catalan-speaking children get in Catalan but also in Spanish. In fact, results show that Catalan students get similar results in Spanish language as their peers throughout Spain, proving that the school model in place in Catalonia guarantees a proficient knowledge of Spanish, or at least not worse than in the rest of Spain.

For all these reasons, the Catalan school model is widely backed by Catalan society, as well as by the education community, including teachers unions, parents associations and the associations of privately-owned schools. In fact, the association of privately-owned schools in Catalonia that also receive a share of public funds has explicitly backed the current model this Wednesday, after hearing of the Spanish Ministry's appeal.

On previous occasions, the main association of all types of privately-owned schools (including those that do not receive public funds) had also backed the current model based on linguistic immersion and stressed the fact that there is no private offer for Spanish-only education in Catalonia because there is no demand and the linguistic immersion system works. The system has proved its effectiveness over the last 3 decades, being praised by international organisation such as the European Commission and UNESCO, as it truly ensures bilingualism.

In fact, in the regional governments where the People's Party has imposed its own school model, Catalan has been relegated to a secondary position and its knowledge is not guaranteed. This is the case for the Valencian Country (also called the Valencian Community) and the Balearic Islands, where Catalan is the local language but is less spoken than in Catalonia. In Valencia, children are segregated by language, with separated classrooms. On top of this, there are not enough classrooms with Catalan as a tuition language and many parents have to choose Spanish because there are not enough public schools offering tuition in Catalan.

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  • The Spanish Minister for Education, José Ignacio Wert (by ACN)

  • The Spanish Minister for Education, José Ignacio Wert (by ACN)
New attack on Catalan school model by Spanish Government: an appeal against next year’s enrolment