Gap widens between rich and poor schools in Spain

by Deborah Cater
Unequal socio-economic distribution within Spanish schools. Image by MAOIKO/Shutterstock
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Schools for the rich and schools for the poor. This seems to be something that only happens in third world countries, but nothing could be further from the truth. Spain is close to leading the OECD when it comes to the unequal distribution of pupils in primary education.

This is evident from the most recent research by EsadeEcPol and Save the Children on diversity and freedom in education. Spanish news outlet RTVE wrote on Monday about experts’ warning of the unequal distribution of students. They also warned of the creation of “ghetto schools” with a higher concentration of students of foreign descent and children from disadvantaged families.

After Turkey and Lithuania, Spain scores the worst of all OECD countries on the balanced distribution of students from different socio-economic levels. The unequal distribution mainly occurs in primary education. In secondary education, Spain scores just at or below the OECD average.

One third of primary school students in Spain should change schools

The Godard index shows how many students would have to change schools to achieve an equal socio-economic distribution. Spain achieves a score of 0.29 which means a third of underprivileged students should change schools to achieve the balance within Spanish primary schools.

Madrid best example of unequal distribution of primary school students

The problem is also unequal across the Spanish regions. Madrid (0.41) and the Basque Country (0.31) score the worst on the Godard index. In contrast, in Cantabria (0.22) and La Rioja (0.21), primary school pupils are the most equally distributed in Spain.

Baycrest Wealth

In Madrid, the situation is dire, according to Save the Children, because the index has grown exponentially in recent years. Three factors underlie this: the increase in the number of schools under state supervision, the change in the standards for school selection and the bilingual education system.

In principle, there is a lot of freedom in choosing a school, but not every parent can afford to choose a school 5 to 10 kilometres away. In that respect, the neighbourhood in which people live does play a role. It is also made impossible for many parents to choose a bilingual school, because their income is insufficient. Madrid Regional Council introduced this system.

Save the Children calls for different education policies in Spain

According to Save the Children, there needs to be a change in education policy in Spain and the way educational authorities designate places for students.

EsadeEcPol and Save the Children recommend some measures as a solution to the problem:

  • the socio-economic level (income and education level of parents) will weigh more heavily for admission to school.
  • schools will start using double registration lists: a list for pupils from privileged backgrounds and a list for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The same number of students must be accepted from both lists.
  • schools to reserve places for taking in children who start in the middle of the year. This is especially for children of, for example, migrants who would otherwise only be able to turn to vulnerable schools.

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