Home schooling in Spain

God knows there are reasons enough to want to do it: school failure rates, currently 30% and rising; the lack of mother-tongue Spanish (or English) education in large areas of the country; curricula light on useful stuff and weighed down by religious and ideological legacy nonsense; teachers who are mainly interested in holidays and retirement; private school costs, which, while way lower than the UK, may still seem scary in a the biggest recession since Al-Mansur & Son visited these parts. So why is there so little home education in Spain?

I’d always been told it was illegal, but it turns out that the 1978 constitution loves you, 27.1.1 recognising your right to freedom of education. However, as Barcelona parents who want to exercise their constitutional right to have their children educated in Spanish have discovered, the authorities will cheerfully use administrative and judicial filibustering to prevent exercise of that right. Here‘s what happened to a rather repulsive sect:

In July 1990 regional authorities in Barcelona, Spain, raided a Family community and forcibly apprehended 21 children, one as young as eight months old. They claimed that the children were abused and in need of state care. At the same time, the parents of the children were charged with illegal association, operating an illegal school, inflicting mental damage on their children, and fraud. Although no evidence of any kind of abuse was found, the children were forced to remain against their will in state custody for nearly 12 months.

After four years of judicial crap, the Supreme Court ruled:

We find ourselves in the presence of a community of people who have adopted a lifestyle that differs from the generally accepted norms. Not a single element is found that could allow us to declare the existence of any intention to hurt their children or the other children of the community. They avoid sending their school-aged children to official institutions of learning choosing to teach them themselves using the method that in Anglo-Saxon countries is known as homeschooling. To proclaim the superiority of one education system over another would inevitably lead us to apply value judgments. Judges cannot enter into the sanctuary of personal beliefs, except when external behaviors originating from a particular ideology negatively affect legally protected rights.

Great stuff, but putting something on hold for four years is tantamount to prohibiting it. Another, rather different case: Team Sánchez-Branson looks absolutely sane and competent, and the kids look like they’re doing well, but the Guipúzcoa bureaucracy came after them this spring, fortunately without being able to shake their resolve:

Once you get past the state, the current small numbers of home educators mean you face all the other classic first-mover disadvantages. For example, if you don’t plan on giving up work entirely and becoming a 100% Renaissance plonker, and if you wish your children to have sufficient opportunity to kick, punch and bite other children, then you need to find other competent parents to share the burden. I’m told that the problem in Spain is that most home educators–whilst absolutely charming in their capacity as individual hippies, religious maniacs, conservative loons and fakirs–tend to view stuff like science and capitalism in a dim light. If there are progressive, libertarian, money-worshipping home educators out there, then they’re pretty well hidden. That’s a problem.

Next up: validation of knowledge and skills. The Spanish state distance education authority, CIDEAD, appears to provide help with schooling and access to exams, but only if you’re a wandering gypsy and if your education authority says it’s cool, which it most certainly won’t. I suppose if you could muster enough English-language-oriented kids, you could point them at British GCSEs etc. I’m quite willing to believe that the Americans have some kind of exam/testing system, adapted to distance education, but I know nothing about it. Or whether there’s a Spanish-language version.

In terms of self-help groups, La Asociación para la Libre Educación, ALE, looks interesting, as does Crecer sin Escuela, and there’s a whole bunch of others which will be duly investigated as and when doomsday approaches. Meanwhile, via Aspie HE, here’s Jim Hacker setting out to reform the British education system:


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  1. We’re Barcelona residents and we share your concerns. Maybe we should set up a school together for our children. Let’s talk!

  2. Kaleskeul is born. An interesting point: if a bunch of parents get together and educate their children, at what point does that start being regulated as a school? Or do you get standard school inspectors dropping by if you’re just explaining calculus to one sprog, whose father you consider yourself?

  3. Madalen Goiria’s summary of this post is rather clearer than the original:

    El texto se refiere en primer lugar a los motivos que podrían provocar la práctica generalizada del homeschool. A continuación repasa la licitud-ilicitud de la misma, desde el punto de vista legal y analiza dos casos en los que se ha producido la intervención de la maquinaria legal, aunque a distintos niveles. De una parte, el que dio lugar al procedimiento judicial que se desarrolló en la Audiencia Provincial de Barcelona, en relación a los Niños de Dios y que provocó los recursos que se sustanciaron ante el Tribunal Supremo y Tribunal Constitucional respectivamente, y de otra, el caso de la familia Branson-Sanchez. Por último se refiere a las instituciones que recogen los intereses de las familias que educan en casa.

  4. Hello,
    I have been homeschooling for 15 years in the United States. We have graduated two children and have a third just beginning her high school journey. I just wanted to let you know that homeschoolers in the U.S. do NOT have to take a specific test at the end of the their schooling to demonstrate that they have finished their high school education. Those wishing to attend college will, of course, take the SAT just the all the other students. Those who don’t want to attend college have several options available to them depending on the state they live in. In my state of New York, one option is to have the superintendent write a letter stating that the student has filed all the necessary paperwork and taken four years of standardized achievement tests if the student has done so. But, it’s different for every state(and for every college, for that matter). We homeschoolers always found a way to get what our children need, though. This is one area where HSLDA (www.hslda.org) comes in handy.
    I want to encourage all you parents in Europe to examine this method of schooling and to be bold enough to take the step for your children’s future. Homeschooling produces amazing results and those results cannot be denied.
    Lastly, I am a born-again Christian (someone you might call a religious maniac), but our family is definitely capitalistic and we heartily endorse the study of science. However, we don’t worship money or mankind, if that’s what you mean by the label of being progressive and libertarian.
    We simply wanted to raise children with strong values, good morals, and an entrepreneurial spirit who can think for themselves instead of following the crowd blindly.

  5. Thanks very much for that Ellen. Your system sounds a lot less bureaucratised than ours, which often seems like its main goals are to turn kids into faithful servants of the state (the church has lost that battle) and provide secure, well-paid employment for people who often couldn’t care less. I figure we’d be a lot better off in either the UK or the US, but not everyone agrees with me.

    Please don’t take the religious maniac bit amiss–I suffered at school under a deranged fundamentalist headmaster, but many of my best friends are religious maniacs, although, being Europeans, most of them worship Mr Marx, and they’re all pro-science and pro-capital. The problem here is that in Barcelona some of the church-run white schools still don’t even mention Darwin, which seems pretty silly for a city that apparently believes that at least part of its future is as a centre for biosciences.

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