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Supreme Court rules 25% of school subjects to be taught in Spanish, against Catalonia's own model

Spain's Supreme Court has once again ruled against the Catalan school model, following the individual appeals of a very small group of parents that wanted their children to be schooled in Spanish within Catalonia's public education system. Spain's Supreme Court (TS) has backed the decision of the Catalan Supreme Court (TSJC) to oblige schools in Catalonia to teach "at least 25%" of their subjects in Spanish, including "at least" one core subject. The TS considers such a share to be "reasonable and proportionate". It also admitted that by imposing such a share, the TSJC was "substituting" the role of the Catalan Government and Parliament. However, the TS justified such an invasion of powers because it considers the Catalan Government to have  disobeyed its previous rulings and not changed the school model to make sure that children can also have Spanish as a regular tuition language if parents request this. However, the TS’ decisions are far from reasonable, according to a broad majority of Catalan society, since it breaks social cohesion and a model approved by an extremely broad consensus that perfectly guarantees the knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan.

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08 May 2015 10:17 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- Spain's Supreme Court has once again ruled against the Catalan school model, following the individual appeals of a very small group of parents that wanted their children to be schooled in Spanish within Catalonia's public education system. Spain's Supreme Court (TS) has backed the decision of the Catalan Supreme Court (TSJC) to oblige schools in Catalonia to teach "at least 25%" of their subjects in Spanish, including "at least" one core subject. The TS considers such a share to be "reasonable and proportionate". It also admitted that by imposing such a share, the TSJC was "substituting" the role of the Catalan Government and Parliament. However, the TS justifies such an invasion of powers because it considers the Catalan Government to have disobeyed its previous rulings and not changed the school model to make sure that children can also have Spanish as a regular tuition language if parents request this. However, the TS’ decisions are far from reasonable, according to a broad majority of Catalan society, since it breaks social cohesion and a model approved by an extremely broad consensus that perfectly guarantees the knowledge of both Spanish and Catalan.


The Catalan Government will not change the entire school model and considers that the Court's verdict only affects two particular cases. The Spanish Government demands the Catalan Executive to change the model and warns that they will be vigilant about it. The Catalan school model currently involves 1.55 million pupils; around 300 families have requested Spanish as a language of tuition. It is the largest number ever of such requests (normally there is around a dozen), since the Spanish Government offered to pay for privately-owned schools for such children, by withdrawing the funds from the Catalan Government's funding scheme. The problem is that all privately-owned schools in Catalonia follow the Catalan school model or are teaching directly in foreign languages such as English, French or German.

The Supreme Court may be going beyond its powers

In Spain, the education system is exclusively managed by the Autonomous Communities. In the last decade, Spanish nationalists have been attacking the Catalan school model. Spanish nationalists insist they have the right to have their children schooled in Spanish, but such a right does not exist. The Spanish Constitution does not include such a right, despite the Spanish Government’s claims to the contrary. 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. Indeed, the fact that the broad majority in Catalonia support 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.

Spain's Supreme Court (TS) is backing a previous decision by the Catalan Supreme Court from March 2014, which was also interpreting previous decisions from the TS. In fact, since 2010, the TS has been issuing verdicts and statements backing a hypothetical parents' right to choose the language of instruction of their children in Catalonia's public education system. In Spain, the Supreme Court is the highest court for almost all types of law, affecting both persons, companies and administrations. Its interpretation about fundamental rights are also to be applicable to particular cases, but not to general ones. On top of this, the Supreme Law cannot not reshape laws, nor can it rule about differences between different government level regulations, since these issues are dealt by the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court has in fact backed the Catalan School model on two occasions (1994 and 2010). However, 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.

The Supreme Court rules "at least 25%" of subjects to be taught in Spanish

However, the Constitutional Court's 2010 ruling stating that Spanish "cannot be excluded" gives room to Spanish nationalists to demand to have Spanish as a tuition language in Catalonia, against all the laws approved with an extremely broad consensus during the last three decades by the Catalan Parliament. In fact, 80% of the current Parliament explicitly back the current model and said so on Wednesday, after the Spanish Government appealed the enrolment for the next school year because Spanish was not included as a tuition language option in the forms. Previously, it had ruled that even if only the family of a single child within a classroom requests their child to be taught in Spanish, the entire classroom should change the language of tuition, no matter whether the other parents had made a request or expressed any problem with their children being schooled in Catalan.

The Supreme Court (which is formed by senior judges, many of them with strong Spanish nationalist stances) was replying to the appeals filed by the Catalan Government and by two families against the TSJC's decision that "at least 25%" of subjects are taught through Spanish. The Catalan Government was arguing that the system already includes many flexible measures and individualised attention in Spanish for children who need it. The TS considered that individualised attention, even temporarily carried out within the very same classroom at particular moments, segregates even more than having two separate school tracks. The Spanish Court highlighted that "at least one core subject" has to be taught in Spanish, beyond the subjects of 'Spanish Language' and 'Spanish Literature', which are of course already taught in Spanish.

At the same time, it ruled out the petition from two families to have 50% of the curricula taught in Spanish, since in this case it would go against the Constitutional Court's ruling saying that Catalan should be "the centre of gravity" of the model. On top of this, the TS recognises that Catalan is still a minority language in Catalonia and therefore some degree of linguistic immersion is justified. The problem is that experts say that reducing the amount of Catalan will mean many children do not master the language.

The Catalan Government says that the verdict only affects particular cases

After hearing of the Spanish Supreme Court's decision, the Catalan Minister for Education, Irene Rigau, insisted that the ruling does not apply to the entire education system "but only to individual cases". Rigau reminded that the Supreme Court in Spain only rules about individual cases and that it does not have the powers to change laws approved by a Parliament such as the Catalan Education Law, which set out the school model. Rigau highlighted the extremely broad consensus on this existing law in Catalonia, backed by teacher unions, school associations, parents associations and almost all the political parties in Catalonia with the exception of the Spanish nationalist ones. The Catalan Minister highlighted that the Court cannot set a percentage of Spanish language within the school curricula and that it does not have the powers to change the model. Therefore, she framed the ruling in the context of the two individual families that had filed the appeal and stressed that the rest of the system, currently schooling some 1.55 million pupils, will not be affected.

The Catalan school model guarantees knowledge of both Catalan and Spanish

According to most of Catalonia's education experts and teachers associations, linguistic immersion is necessary to ensure that all children know both co-official languages. Otherwise, with a lower exposure to Catalan, many children from Spanish-speaking environments would have problems mastering Catalan, affecting their future labour opportunities and in the end damaging the community of Catalan speakers and therefore the language.

On top of this, the imposition of Spanish as a language of tuition in Catalonia by allowing parents to choose would create 'de facto' two school systems, two different tracks, segregating children by language. This is the model that the Spanish nationalist People's Party (PP) has imposed in the Valencian Country (also called the Valencian Community), and the model currently employed in Belgium. In future terms, such a model widens the language divide and creates two separate language communities; in this case, 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 to 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 (including those receiving a share of public funds and those entirely private). In fact, the main association of all types of privately-owned schools (including those that do not receive public funds) has explicitly backed the current model based on linguistic immersion and stressed the fact that there is no private offer of 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 organisations such as the European Commission and UNESCO, as it truly ensures bilingualism.

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  • The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, on Friday (by E. Rosanas)

  • The Catalan Education Minister, Irene Rigau, on Friday (by E. Rosanas)