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Catalan should not be the only main language of instruction for small children, says Spain’s Supreme Court

The tribunal declares null and void the 2008 Catalan government decree which stated that Catalan “should be used as the language of instruction” for pupils between 3 and 6 years old. The Supreme Court also overturned the article that banned the separation of pupils for linguistic reasons and the one that established that teachers should guarantee that foreign pupils learn Catalan in order to achieve “rapid integration”. The Catalan minister for Education, Irene Rigau, says “all stays the same” because the education law is newer than the decree affected by the ruling and also states that Catalan is the language of instruction in Catalonia.


27 June 2012 11:48 PM



Barcelona (ACN).- A new ruling against the current education system in Catalonia, in which Catalan is the language of instruction has been made. The Spanish Supreme Court has ruled that Catalan cannot be the only main language of instruction for children between 3 and 6 years old. According to the sentence, Spanish should also be explicitly included in the law as language of instruction in Catalonia for the smallest children. The decision overturns a Catalan Supreme Court ruling from last March that validated the system of education in Catalonia (that has been working for 30 years) and stated that Spanish was not in any case excluded from schools because teachers and pupils used it when needed.

The Catalan minister for Education, Irene Rigau, said in an urgent press conference that this ruling does not change anything and that the system \u201Cstays the same\u201D. She argued that the main educational framework in Catalonia is based on a law, the LEC, passed in 2009, one year later than the decree affected by the Spanish court ruling. Therefore, she said, education in Catalan in all schools is protected by this last law. Rigau urged all teachers and families to continue their normal activities in the next school year as they have always done.

The ruling by the Spanish Supreme Court

One of the articles declared null and void said that \u201CCatalan, as the language of Catalonia, should be normally used as the instruction language and in the internal and external activities of the education community\u201D. The ruling states that Catalan law cannot \u201Creduce Spanish to a subject in the curriculum\u201D and \u201Cavoid its condition of instruction language jointly with Catalan\u201D. The Spanish Supreme Court says that the Catalan Government should introduce \u201Call necessary changes to adapt its education system\u201D to make Spanish a language of instruction at Catalan schools. In fact, it clearly says that, to be constitutional, the law should \u201Cspecifically recognise Spanish as language of instruction in Catalonia\u201D. It adds that the constitutional right to be taught in Spanish in Catalan schools \u201Ccannot be subject to those people that ask for it individually\u201D.

The Court also annulled an article that guaranteed the children\u2019s right \u201Cto be educated in Catalan and not be separated in different schools or class groups because of their normal language\u201D. Moreover, the article guaranteed the respect of \u201Cindividual linguistic rights of pupils\u201D. The Supreme Court says it is not enough to respect \u201Cindividual rights\u201D of Spanish-speaking pupils and that their language should be of instruction too. However, it does not say how this should be done without introducing a segregation of pupils for linguistic reasons.

The Supreme Court has also overturned the article that stated that \u201Cdepending on the sociolinguistic background of the children, Catalan immersion methodologies will be implemented to boost its learning\u201D and, \u201Cwhen possible, there will be translation measures into the languages of the family\u201D for those coming from abroad. The Court says Spanish should also be considered explicitly in those cases.


Catalonia\u2019s current school model has been in place for the last 30 years and is widely accepted within Catalan society. It is supported by all school teachers\u2019 unions and associations, academic experts \u2013both at Catalan and international level\u2013, many civil society organisations, and the political parties not supporting Spanish Nationalism. However, controversy has been growing over the past number of years, mainly fuelled by Madrid-based politicians and Spanish nationalist movements. They accuse Catalan authorities of marginalising the Spanish language, which according to them is in danger in Catalonia. However, all serious and rigorous studies point out the contrary: the language in the weakest position in Catalonia is Catalan, not Spanish.

In Catalonia's public schools, Catalan is the language of instruction in order to guarantee that all pupils end their studies knowing both official languages: Catalan and Spanish. The reason for this is that many children, especially from working-class and immigrant families are not exposed to the Catalan language at all. On the contrary, children coming from Catalan-speaking families are exposed to Spanish, since it is very present on television, on the street or in the school playgrounds. Therefore in order to guarantee equal opportunities all children taught in Catalonia\u2019s public schools are provided with the skills to perfectly use both official languages. All subjects but Spanish and foreign languages are taught in Catalan, and Spanish is taught as a subject.

Children that do not understand Catalan (because they come from non-Catalan speaking families) follow an adapted programme during the first years, not segregated, to learn Catalan. Experts emphasise that if Catalan was not the instruction language, many children from Spanish-speaking families would not know Catalan sufficiently. Therefore these children will be in a clear disadvantage in the future, since pupils coming from Catalan-speaking families, which are taught in Catalan, are perfectly proficient in Spanish at the end of their schooling. Furthermore, in the future there would be two split language communities: a Catalan-speaking community knowing both Catalonia\u2019s official languages, and a Spanish-speaking community knowing only Spanish.


  • A group of children in a Catalan school (by ACN)

  • A group of children in a Catalan school (by ACN)