Spain’s universal pass plan for students runs into regional rejection

Madrid, Andalusia, Basque Country and others say they disagree with the central government’s proposal to make up for the negative impact of the school closures due to the coronavirus crisis

A deserted classroom at the Rufino Blanco public school in Madrid.
A deserted classroom at the Rufino Blanco public school in Madrid.EFE

Several regions of Spain are refusing to accept the central government’s plan to give a universal passing grade to non-university students as a result of the difficulties some are facing due to coronavirus-related school closures.

Although Education Minister Isabel Celaá, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), believed she had secured a general consensus on Wednesday at her meeting with regional authorities, the agreement did not last long.

According to four sources who were present at the Wednesday meeting, the overall feeling was that everyone, save perhaps for the Basque Country, accepted the conclusions of the ministry’s document. But that all changed on Thursday, when several regions raised serious objections.

Madrid, Andalusia, Castilla y León and the Basque Country said that they will not be implementing the document as they disagree with at least two of its items. Murcia said it does not support the document either, but that it will nevertheless comply with the Education Ministry’s decision to give most students a universal pass. Catalonia has not yet revealed its plans, but said that it is working on its own decree.

The lack of general agreement paves the way for significant grading differences across Spain’s regions

Despite the rejection, the Education Ministry is still planning to approve the order, which “will only apply to the regions that endorse the document,” said ministry sources.

The lack of general agreement paves the way for significant grading differences across Spain’s regions, affecting not just whether students get held back a year, but also their chances of taking their university entrance examinations.

Leticia Cardenal, president of the parent confederation Ceapa, said that the new scenario represents “a great injustice,” and that the government should use its powers under the state of alarm to force all regions to comply with the plan. The government could have used a decree to frame its education plans, but even this would require congressional approval, and the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition is far from having the required majority to push initiatives through without support.

Spanish children have been confined to their homes for more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic, and schools have been scrambling to roll out virtual teaching tools and online classes with varying degrees of success. Not all schools have the same resources, and educators have expressed concern that students in families with no access to technology could be left behind.

Source of disagreement

The first source of discord is the universal passing score for students, which in effect means that most of them would automatically move on to the next grade with very few exceptions. There is also disagreement over the plan to award graduation diplomas to last-year students of compulsory secondary school and first-year students of Bachillerato (the post-16 stage of education) even if these students have failed some of their subjects.

Some regional authorities feel that the Education Ministry should set a specific number of failed subjects that would still allow these students to move on to the next stage of education, rather than leave that number up to the regions, which could lead to inequalities.

Meanwhile, officials in the Basque Country hold the opposite view and say the ministry should not be setting common rules for everyone, because it encroaches on the regions’ powers over education. Basque officials added that they are working on their own plan to deal with the educational effects of the coronavirus crisis, and that they “emphatically” reject the ministry’s document.

The government's proposal includes plans to open schools in July for voluntary review classes.
The government's proposal includes plans to open schools in July for voluntary review classes. Eduardo Parra (Europa Press)

“We owe our allegiance to our own education community, and that is our working framework,” said the regional education chief, Cristina Uriarte. “We’ve been working for a long time on defining the essential curriculum content between now and the end of the academic year. We’re also working on the evaluations, and on the criteria and tools to carry out these evaluations.”

The northwestern region of Galicia on Thursday said it will apply the guidelines “out of institutional loyalty” but noted that it disagrees with the universal pass for students. All of these regions, except for the Basque Country, are governed by the Popular Party (PP).

“We cannot share the proposal,” said the Madrid regional government in a release, noting that it would mean that some students could graduate despite having failed several subjects.

Madrid officials said that they will continue to follow Spain’s national education law, LOMCE, which states that first-year Bachillerato students can only move on to the second year with a maximum of two failed subjects, and that second-years can only graduate and take their university exams if they have passed all their subjects.

Murcia authorities also requested more information about the financial aspects of the voluntary review courses planned for the summer, as proposed by the ministry on Wednesday.

English version by Susana Urra.

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