Failing Spanish students

2 min
Archival image of students

The school year has started off on the right foot. At least, with certain normality despite the persistence of covid. Nothing to do with the commotion and uncertainty of a year ago. The most important problem has occurred in vocational training (FP), where the demand has skyrocketed and has taken the ministry by surprise and where there is much room for improvement. This is one of the basic problems we are dragging along. But there are more, including school failure. The data made public by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are devastating for Spain, including Catalonia: in Spain as a whole, almost nine out of every 100 secondary school students stay down a year (8.7%). This is the highest rate of the thirty-five OECD countries, where the percentage of students who stay down a year stands at 1.9%. Therefore, in Spain it is four times as high. In baccalaureate a similar thing happens: Spain is also at the top of the ranking in students who stay down a year, with a rate of 7.9%, well above the average of the OECD countries (2.9%). The number of of Neets (people who are not in education, employment or training), after a few years in decline, has also grown again during the pandemic: they already represent 22% of youngsters (in 2019 they were 19.2%).

It seems clear, then, that young people have not taken advantage of lockdowns to prepare themselves better. In addition, although Spain has been one of OECD countries where more hours of class have been taught during the pandemic (an obviously positive development), this has not helped improve the results. This is despite the fact that in the first school year during the pandemic (2019-20) students were passed a lot more easily. In baccalaureate the number of graduates went from 72.65% to 83.25%, an unprecedented jump of over 10 points in a single year.

If we take into account that the Celaá law, the latest educational reform, in force since January of this year, allows students to move up a year even if they fail one or two subjects, in the coming years the OECD statistics will be disguised. But the reality will continue to be that many of our students do not reach the minimum required level. This does not mean that the assessment system has to revolve around exams and grades. The problem is not how, but what: that is, that young people have sufficient knowledge and skills to learn; that year after year, they make progress. The OECD data are more reliable than PISA's, which is less damaging to Spanish education. PISA data are based on surveys that not all schools answer. On the other hand, OECD data come from official records.

In any case, tackling school failure, with too many students who fail to make the most of their time in compulsory education and, without realising it, mortgage their future and become a burden on the education system, should be a matter of state and a priority for families and the entire teaching community.