SPAIN | The Pact against school segregation has reduced one fourth of education inequalities

The seventh meeting of the Monitoring Committee of the Pact against school segregation, promoted by the Catalan Ombudsman and the Department of Education, together with the majority of towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants and members of the educational community, the Parliament and institutions, was held on 10 January 2023.

This is the first meeting attended by the ombudswoman, Esther Giménez-Salinas, who has publicly expressed her commitment to continue with this project. During her welcome speech, the ombudswoman expressed her concern about the looming economic crisis, which will introduce more inequality to the schools’ challenge to guarantee the educational development of their students in conditions of equal opportunities. In this context, she stated that avoiding the concentration of educational complexity in certain schools is an effective policy for fighting the social and economic consequences of the crisis.

The meeting was also attended by the first vice-president acting as president of the Parliament, Alba Vergés; the Catalan Education minister, Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray; the deputy for children, Maria Jesús Larios; and representatives of trade unions, families, local bodies, and the education sector.

In the course of this meeting, the Progress report on the deployment of Decree 11/2021 was presented, with the aim of continuing to evaluate the deployment of the measures provided in the Pact during the 2022/2023 school year.

The report begins by highlighting that the measures that have already been implemented have led to a reduction of more than 15% in the overall levels of school segregation in the education system. This reduction is 28% if we consider that part of the inequalities is due to the different social composition of towns. This means that the Pact has made it possible to reduce more than a quarter of the existing inequalities at local level in the schooling of students.

It is also noteworthy the fact that although the proportion of foreign students in the education system has increased, the number of schools with a high concentration of foreign students has decreased, so that primary schools with more than 50% of foreign students have gone from 5.3% of the total before the signing of the Pact to the current 4.1%.

Despite these advances, the report claims that in a third of the towns with more than 5,000 inhabitants the levels of school segregation have increased despite the Pact, and that a good proportion of them still have dissimilarity indices above 0.40, which implies inequalities in the schooling of students in preschool 3. In this context, the ombudswoman and the deputy for children call for a greater effort and the strengthening of policies to be implemented in towns where school segregation is high, and also in towns where the trend is negative.

The deployment of Decree 11/2021 has also improved the detection of students with specific educational needs for socio-economic reasons, which has increased fivefold between the 2018/2019 and 2022/2023 academic years in the admission process for students in preschool 3 and 1st year of secondary education. Thus, if we take as a reference the applications in the admission process for students in preschool 3 and 1st year of secondary education, the number of students with specific educational needs for socio-economic reasons has increased from 3.4% in the 2018/2019 academic year to 17.3% in the 2022/2023 academic year in the case of preschool 3, and from 3.7% to 19.6% in the case of 1st year of secondary education.

However, the report recalls that only 60% of students in a situation of risk of poverty are detected, which means that, despite the increase in detection, there is still room for improvement.

Another positive development has to do with improving the adjustment between the number of school places reserved and the number of students with special educational needs who live in each area. Prior to the signing of the Pact, the number of reserved school places was clearly oversized, so that the number of applications from students with special educational needs was less than 50% of the number of places reserved for these students. During the 2022/2023 academic year, this figure has increased to 90%. On the negative side, however, the report regrets the late detection of these students, which forced a substantial modification of the offer after the end of the pre-enrolment period for the 2022/2023 academic year.

Despite progress in some numbers and improvements in detection, there are areas where more effort is needed.

Firstly, one of the measures that is less advanced concerns the financing of the schools. The commitments related to school funding foreseen in the Pact have not been fulfilled. The scholarships referred to in Decree 11/2021 have not yet been transferred, although it is planned to do so during the 2022/2023 academic year only for students in preschool 3 and 1st year of secondary education. Schools are not receiving the amounts referred to in the financial report of the Decree for the rest of the students. For example, the additional funding received by charter schools was 12.0 million euros, 31.4% less than expected.

Secondly, the adequacy of school zoning has also yet to be implemented, as only 5.4% of towns have modified their educational zones following the approval of this decree. There are still towns with zones that do not guarantee internal social heterogeneity, and also large towns with single-zone models that may not be adequate to fight school segregation: one third of large towns have single-zone models, and about one tenth have socially homogeneous zones with high complexity.

Thirdly, the report claims that there are still strong inequalities in the schooling of students with special educational needs. Although there have been improvements, 41% of these students still do not attend the school they should attend in order to avoid inequalities in schooling.

In addition, the double access path to the education system between students with specific educational needs and ordinary students is not sufficiently guaranteed. There is also a lack of transparency in the criteria used to assign school places for students with special educational needs. And the maximum proportion of students with special educational needs referred to in Decree 11/2021 has not been applied.

Fourthly, despite a small decrease in the proportion of students arriving halfway through the school year allocated to schools with high complexity, the current figure –38% in primary education and 30% in secondary education– is still too high, thus failing to meet one of the objectives of the Pact.

Finally, the ombudswoman and the deputy for children consider it essential to decisively deploy the measures that are planned but still pending: currently, 8 of the 30 measures have been completed, and the remaining 22 are in the process of being implemented.

Please note that the English version of the progress report is not available yet. You can read the Spanish version of the executive summary by accessing the Spanish article and scrolling down to the Download section.


Source: El Síndic de Greuges de Cataluña, Spain

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