Government to force international schools to teach more in Spanish

The Ministry of Education is preparing a royal decree with new regulations for international private schools based in Spain. One section of the legislation will force these schools to give more class hours in Spanish, as well as in the co-official language, and they will have to adapt their facilities to Spanish standards in such a drastic way that their viability may be considered by some as “endangered”.

The draft royal decree on the Regime of Foreign Teaching Centres in Spain will replace the one from 1993 now in force. It will affect the 120,000 students of the 300 private centres that are governed by the regulations of their countries of origin, mainly the United Kingdom, the USA, France and Germany, and some Scandinavian countries.

The text, which is still in its initial phase and is likely to be improved with the contributions of the educational community, maintains that this type of teaching is increasingly in demand and that the purpose of the changes is “to achieve adequate supervision” and “include an injunction against conduct that contravenes” what is established, “in order to ensure quality education”, implying that in these three decades some bad practices may have occurred.

The centres are “very concerned” about this new regulation, which they believe will reduce their autonomy by entailing more intervention by the central and regional administrations. Starting with the language in which classes are taught, because the draft is committed to “promoting national languages”, when precisely these centres are characterised largely by their immersion in English, French, German or Italian.

The 1993 norm hardly entered into linguistic issues. It simply said that, in Primary and ESO, the teachings of the foreign system had to be “completed” by teachings of Spanish language and culture and, where appropriate, of the language of the autonomous community in which the schools were located, and that both the curriculum and the schedules of these teachings would be set by the Ministry and the Autonomous Communities. But it did not specify in what proportion or detail the terms. Subsequently, they have been developed by the Autonomous Communities, although the regional inspections have been comprehensive with the specific needs of the centres and have not caused many problems with the teaching hours.

But the new decree increases linguistic controls and hardens the rules. In the first place, it extends the field of Spanish action to Infant and Baccalaureate, which were not previously included and were regulated in accordance with the provisions of the legislation of the country of origin.

In addition, there is now talk of a “minimum required schedule” for the teaching of the subjects of Castilian Language and Spanish Culture (the equivalent of Knowledge of the Spanish Environment or History of Spain) that “will be the one established in the basic regulations”, where this, for the first time, through the state curricula, a specific number of hours has been established that must be dedicated as a minimum to each subject.

The evaluation of the teaching of Spanish language and culture and of co-official languages ​​will be carried out “according to the regulations applicable to the Spanish educational system”, whereas until now it had been done in accordance with the regulations of the country of origin.

There is also another paragraph that gives carte blanche to the autonomous governments to “establish the presence of the co-official language in terms similar to the Spanish language”, something that was not said before. Such is the importance given to “national languages” that each international school must now have a technical director who will coordinate the teaching of Spanish language and culture and the co-official language. And finally, it is said that the Spanish inspections will assume “the same functions” that they have been entrusted with respect to languages ​​in the national centres.

All these changes are going to be especially noticeable in relation to the co-official languages ​​because foreign schools already give a reasonable number of hours in Spanish, as explained in the sector. But the decree will have effect in communities with co-official languages ​​such as Catalonia or the Valencian Community, where the administrations have been flexible until now with the vehicular language used in international schools. These schools serve, in fact, as a kind of escape route for families who, being able to afford it, choose not to submit to the prevailing linguistic regime.

Sources from one of the British schools in Barcelona explain that now they only give two hours a week of Catalan and between two and four hours of Spanish, depending on the stages (two hours in Primary, three in ESO and four in Baccalaureate). The rest is taught in English. When they have to stick to the required “minimum hours”, they would have to modify their schedules to include four or five hours a week of Catalan and four or five hours of Spanish, in addition to another three of Spanish Culture in Spanish, which will considerably lower the English teaching load.

The same will happen in the Valencian Community. The person in charge of an Anglo-Saxon school in this region says that now they only give one hour a week of Valencian Language, five hours a week of Spanish Language and one hour of Spanish Culture in Castilian. With the new decree they would have to give four hours of Valencian Language, five hours of Spanish Language and three hours of Spanish Culture.

“Currently the proportion is 75% of the curriculum in English and 25% of the curriculum in Spanish and co-official,” explains this director. «With the new decree, there will be a minimum of 60% in English and 40% in Spanish and Valencian in Primary and ESO. But the fact is that, in addition, this affects us in Baccalaureate, where until now we have taught classes entirely in English: with the changes introduced, it becomes unfeasible to comply with the foreign curriculum and it will harm our students’ access to Anglo-Saxon universities.

“Foreign schools in Spain are very concerned with this draft royal decree, for the vast majority it would be impossible to comply with double legislative taxation, the one required by their country and now also by the Spanish in terms of adding a Spanish curriculum to their own, facilities and some prohibition such as that of the denomination, which would mean discrimination against national centres to which these new requirements are not imposed,” according to sources from the Association of Private and Independent Schools (Cicae).

They explain that they have sent allegations to the Ministry regarding the changes, which will affect both foreign students and Spaniards who pursue their international studies in these centres. “We trust that they take them into account so that this draft does not pose a threat to these schools that have been established in Spain for many years and are a source of attraction for talent and cultural diversity and academic offer,” they emphasise.

These are other changes to the decree that, according to the sector, will harm international schools:

Until now, international schools had to meet the requirements of the facilities established by the country of origin. But with the new decree, the centres already created and already authorised are required to adapt to the same conditions as Spanish schools. It will be necessary to have large patios, sports halls or laboratories, without taking into account that many are located in small villas that cannot accommodate large infrastructures.

“Many centres will find it impossible to adapt. The viability of many of the authorised centres is seriously jeopardised, as they will lose their authorization and will be forced to close. We estimate that this measure will lead to the closure of between a third and a half of the schools,” warns Juan Santiago, president of the Association of Autonomous Centres for Private Education (Acade).

This provision affects both newly created centres and existing ones, which will have to adapt to the new regime before the 2025/26 academic year if they were authorised before 2006 and in 2026/27 in the case of those authorised after 2006. If these deadlines pass without having obtained the renewal of their authorisation in accordance with the new requirements, “they will not be able to continue carrying out their activities,” says the royal decree.

The decree does not contemplate imparting teachings in a blended or distance learning manner. Acade denounces that “the principle of equality is violated, since in Spain non-compulsory education does have the possibility of being authorised under the distance education regime, as is the case of Baccalaureate and FP.”

It is also forbidden for the educational or pedagogical method to be part of the specific name of the centre (for example, schools called The Montessori School or Waldorf School cannot be opened), considering that it can “lead to confusion”. It seems that some centres have carried the methodology in the name but have not applied it afterwards. Acade sees in this measure “a violation of the free creation of companies or educational centres.”

The centres, to be authorised, must commit to being in operation “for a minimum period that allows the completion of the teachings that the students who, with sufficient academic achievement, have started them in it, are studying.” That means that they must ensure that they do not close within 15 years. Acade believes that it is an “abuse of law” that is not required of national schools.