Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Spain


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  Last update 11 April 2014  
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Spain’s educational context

Students: For 15-year-old students in Spain, achievement has remained below the OECD average over the years, while the impact of socio-economic background on mathematics performance is slightly above the OECD average, according to PISA. Spanish 16-24 year-olds are more proficient than the overall adult population, but perform below the average of their peers in other countries participating in the OECD Survey of Adult Skills. Spain has close to 100% enrolment in early childhood education and comprehensive education for all students until age 16. Grade repetition hampers equity and completion; enrolment in VET is lower than the OECD average; and dropout rates from upper secondary education are high among students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Tertiary enrolment and attainment have increased to the OECD average. Those with lower educational attainment are particularly affected by unemployment, more than in most OECD countries. Also, youth unemployment has risen sharply, with almost 25% of Spain’s youth population neither employed, nor in education or training in 2011.

Institutions: Spanish learning environments are positive, according to the views of 15-year-old students. The ratio of students per teacher is below the OECD average at all levels of education. Principals are elected or selected from among teaching staff and follow a short training course. They tend to focus more on administrative tasks than pedagogical leadership. Salaries for teachers are competitive in relation to workers with similar experience. Spanish teachers have access to professional development, but appraisal opportunities seem less common for teachers in Spain than for their counterparts in other countries. Evaluation and assessment is organised partly at the central government level (in co-ordination with regions) and partly at the regional level.

System: The education system is steered by national and regional education ministries, with the national level defining the overall framework and guidelines. Education objectives are aligned to EU 2020 priorities. Most schooling decisions are taken at the regional level and to a lesser extent by the central government, with limited autonomy for individual schools. Funding is determined and mainly distributed by the regional governments. Although public funding has seen some reductions due to the economic crisis, expenditure per student continues to be above the OECD average.

‌Key policy issues

Spanish system-level policies such as grade repetition have the potential to impair equity and contribute to student dropout. High dropout and youth unemployment rates require efforts to consolidate basic skills and better match labour market needs, focusing on quality of education and provision of vocational education and training. At the same time, quality of teachers and school leadership can be improved through more targeted initial and continuing training. Schools require sustained support to respond to the rapid and large increase in the proportion of immigrant children they have experienced. Given the on-going crisis and recent budget cuts, Spain faces a major challenge as it strives to continue delivering and raising the quality of education and skills. This is especially important for more disadvantaged groups, because higher education attainment and skills generally translate into greater labour force participation and higher wages.


‌‌Recent policy responses

Spain aims to promote education improvement, mainly through a new law, the Organic Law for the Improvement of Educational Quality(Ley Orgánica para la Mejora de la Calidad Educativa, LOMCE, 2013). Among its main measures are greater autonomy for schools, new preventive diagnostic testing in primary education, more vocational pathways starting in the final years of lower secondary education, and exit exams in lower and upper secondary education.

To reduce dropout, a range of targeted programmes is available, and a new dual VET system (2012) combines training with employment in companies.

In Spain, the performance of 15-year-olds in mathematics, reading and science was just below the OECD average in PISA 2012 and has remained unchanged over the years. The proportion of low performers in mathematics (23.6%) has also remained unchanged since 2003 (23%) and is around the OECD average (22.2%). In PISA 2012, the impact of socio-economic background on mathematics performance of 15-year-old students in Spain (15.8%) was slightly above the OECD average (14.8%) (see the interactive chart below).


In 2011, the proportion of Spain’s population with at least an upper secondary qualification remained below the OECD average for 25-34 year-olds (65% compared to 82%), despite a significant increase (by 10 percentage points between 2000 and 2011). In 2011, the tertiary attainment rate for 25-34 year-olds was at the OECD average of 39%, also an increase (see the interactive chart below). Overall, the attainment level of the population has improved since 2000 as the proportion of 25-64 year-olds with below upper secondary education attainment has decreased.



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