12 and 16-year-olds to take Catalan and Spanish speaking exams

Minister says measure "protects schools" against the 25%-in-Spanish ruling

3 min
Cambray during his appearance before the parliamentary committee on Monday

BarcelonaThe Department of Education continues to try to convince Catalonia's High Court that students have the same skills in Spanish as in Catalan. This Monday, in an appearance in Parliament's Education Commission, minister Josep Gonzàlez-Cabray announced that the department plans to hold Speaking exams in Catalan and Spanish for pupils in 6th grade of primary school (aged 11-12) as well as students in 4th grade of secondary school (aged 15-16) as part of the basic skills tests. The measure reinforces the Department's idea of avoiding specific percentages of classes to be taught in either language, contrary to the High Court ruling.

Cambray has used his appearance to defend the department's policies and, in the face of criticism from the opposition, has assured that all the changes, except bringing forward the start of the school year, were made after discussing them with teachers, whom he has reproached for having left the negotiating table. "Dialogue they say? We are waiting for them and they do not show up!" he exclaimed, and regretted that the teachers' representatives have not made counterproposals and have limited themselves to ask that measures be applied a year later. "Agreements depend on both sides," he added.

The idea of Education is that the new tests included in the tests of competences of these courses serve as "one more step" to contrast, as the law establishes, that the students finish the compulsory schooling with a full mastery of Catalan and Spanish. Cambray has also taken the opportunity to praise the "political consensus" that has been achieved around the linguistic policy law, adding the PSC and the comuns to ERC and Junts -which later dissociated itself-and stressed that the text recognized that language learning is a matter of pedagogy and not of percentages.

Criticism of the unions

Beyond the announcement, Cambray used a large part of the appearance to criticise education unions' attitude for having stood up the department after mediation failed to stop the five-day strike in March. The minister has emphasised that the Education Dpt has made three proposals to workers' representatives to try to reach agreements and all have been rejected without any counterproposals being made. He also assured that, out of the fourteen demands made by unions, the department has already rolled seven out this year or will roll them out next year, three are expected to be rolled out in the coming years and four, he admitted, are decisions that depend on the department's pedagogy or are too expensive.

One of these pedagogical proposals, he admitted, is to bring forward the start of the school year. Cambray has again defended that starting classes a week earlier in September benefits the most vulnerable students, since families will not have to look for paid activities for their children those days, and he stressed that both public and chartered schools will have the same schedules they had until now. He also recalled that most schools already only have classes in the mornings in the month of June. The Catalan Socialists' Party has asked him to postpone the measure for at least one school year, but Cambray has rejected it.

The minister also defended the gratuity of the second year in public kindergartens and explained that his intention is to extend the measure to all nursery school-aged children. On the Vocational Training, Cambray said that the enrolment and offer of places will be "better" than this year, when some courses were oversubscribed. Thus, he assured all students coming straight from secondary school will have a guaranteed place in a vocational training course of their choice as long as there is a clear and quick job opportunity.

The opposition has reproached him for an alleged lack of dialogue with the educational community and has asked him to reflect on the fact that despite the cuts being reversed all the unions have joined in demonstrations and strikes unseen for years. They have also asked for more resources to make all education between ages 0 and 3 free, more places in vocational training and to lower student/teacher ratios.