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Supreme Court insists Spanish must be teaching language if requested by one pupil

In appeal, the Spanish Supreme Court has sided with the family who requested their son to be taught in Spanish in school, alongside Catalan. Despite the Constitution not advocating pupils had “the right to be taught in Spanish”, but only stating they had “the right and duty to know Spanish”, a dozen families have requested their children to be taught in this language, turning to the judicial system. Whilst the Constitutional Court has validated on two occasions the Catalan schooling system, based on Catalan as first language of instruction, the Supreme Court ruled against it. The Catalan Government was offering individualised attention to these children, but the judicial decision states that Spanish has to be used for “the entire class of the pupil”, even though the rest of the pupils have not requested to be taught in this language.

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27 January 2014 09:14 PM

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ACN

Barcelona (ACN).- In appeal, the Spanish Supreme Court (TS) has sided with the family who requested their son to be taught in Spanish in a public school, alongside Catalan. Despite the Constitution not advocating pupils had “the right to be taught in Spanish”, but only stating they had “the right and duty to know Spanish”, a dozen families have requested their children to be taught in this language, turning to the judicial system. Such demands occur within a broader context of growing nationalisms from both Catalonia and Spain, with the Spanish Executive looking to reinforce the Spanish language and Madrid-based media stating Spanish is marginalised in Catalonia. Whilst the Constitutional Court has last validated in 2010 the Catalan schooling system, based on Catalan as first language of instruction, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled against it and stated that Spanish also had to be introduced as a teaching language. Last January, the High Court of Justice of Catalonia (TSJC) interpreted the Supreme Court’s sentence and stated that Spanish has to be used for “the entire class of the pupil” who is requesting to be taught in this language, no matter if the rest of the pupils have not asked for it. The Catalan Government appealed against such as decision, stating it was already offering many flexibility measures, including individualised attention for these children. In addition, it argued it was absurd changing the entire system and also breaking the linguistic immersion principle for the other pupils. This Monday, it was announced that the Supreme Court has rejected the appeal and has again sided with the families. The Supreme Court’s latest decision goes against the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court on fundamental rights in Spain. The case thus represents a conflict between the two institutions, also putting the entire Catalan schooling system at risk, with more than 1 million pupils. The Catalan Government has been insisting over the last few months they will not be changing the system for this case, neither for the Spanish Executive’s Education reform, which recentralises powers, homogenises curricula, sidelines Catalan history and imposes Spanish as a teaching language.


After the end of Franco’s Fascist Dictatorship, the education system was decentralised and the Autonomous Communities were given the powers to set school curricula in coordination with the Spanish Executive. In addition, the Autonomous Communities such as Catalonia have been exclusively managing the entire school network. The Catalan Government therefore manages directly its own schooling system and has developed its own school model, built on a large social and political consensus over the last 35 years. The Catalan model has been praised by the UNESCO and the European Commission on several occasions for fostering social cohesion, equal opportunities and true bilingualism.

In Catalonia, Spanish is taught as a subject but is not the main teaching language for the rest of the subjects, which are taught in Catalan. However, there are exceptions and many flexibility measures, which allow for a smooth adaptation for new-coming pupils. The system is based on the linguistic immersion principle in order to guarantee that, by the end of their studies, pupils can master both Catalan and Spanish. It has been in place for the last 35 years and results show it works: Catalan students’ results in Spanish language are the same as or even better than (depending on the years) their classmates in the rest of Spain.

Spanish to be the teaching language for the entire class if requested by a single pupil

However, a dozen families have turned to the judicial system, requesting their children to be taught in Spanish. Following their demands, the Catalan Government guaranteed to offer individualised attention for these pupils, in order not to alter a system successfully teaching one million pupils. However, the families insisted they wanted their children to be taught in Spanish in regular classes, despite the majority of parents not having asked for their children to be taught in this language. In January 2013, Catalonia’s Supreme Court (TSJC) interpreted the Spanish Supreme Court’s sentence and demanded children not to be treated individually or being separated from other pupils. The TSJC asked the Catalan Government to adopt temporary specific measures for children to be also taught in Spanish until the case was ultimately resolved, after the appeal. However, they said it was up to the Catalan Ministry of Education to make the final decision, and settle on a ratio between the two languages.

The organisation ‘Convivencia Cívica Catalana’, which has been defending these families and is strongly supported by Madrid, applauded the latest Supreme Court decision. They believe that it will allow many more parents to ask for their children to be taught in Spanish. The organisation also criticised the Catalan Government’s “wayward” behaviour which was almost “perverting the course of justice”, by “refusing to take into account these countless judicial precedents” and requests from many families.

The demands occur within a broader context favouring Spanish as a language of instruction

Within the current tense climate between Catalan and Spanish nationalisms, the Spanish Government has been working on a broad Education Reform and on several measures designed to reinforce the Spanish language in school as well as Spanish identity.

The Spanish Education Minister, José Ignacio Wert, when presenting the latest Education Reform, stated that it was notably aimed at preventing Spanish from “being excluded” and from becoming “marginal” in Catalonia. He added that one of the Reform’s main objectives is for Spanish to also be able to serve as the teaching language, in accordance with rulings of the Supreme Court. Finally, he stated his aim was to “Hispanicise Catalan pupils”.

The last Spanish Education Reform also includes a controversial item: obliging the Catalan Government to finance privately-owned school for families who would like their children to be taught in Spanish in Catalonia. The measure will be adopted if the Catalan Executive refuses to adapt the entire system, forcing them to provide an “alternative” to Catalan as the main language of instruction. The problem is that private schools also decided 30 years ago to follow the linguistic immersion principle, since there is an extremely broad consensus in Catalonia about its benefits, strengthening equal opportunities and guaranteeing true bilingualism.

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  • The Catalan school system is based on the linguistic immersion principle (by G. Sánchez)

  • The Catalan school system is based on the linguistic immersion principle (by G. Sánchez)