The Place of Linguistic-Minority Students in Spain's Recent Educational Reform Law
Cathryn Teasley
(University of A Coruña, Galiza (Spain)



In 1990, the Spanish State established a new educational code called the Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo--the LOGSE--desscribed in its own text as "the essential instrument of the reform" (MEC, 1990, p.12, translation mine). Said reform movement gained momentum during the latter half of the 1980s, which was also a time of rapid political, economic and social change as Spain approached full membership in the European Economic Community. The allure and the challenge of such new horizons served as a catalyst for change; just five years after the enactment of the previous educational code, known as the LODE (Ley Orgánica Reguladora del Derecho a la Educación) (BOE, 1985), the Ministry of Education had already produced a new document to replace it, odifying both the basic structure as well as some of the major goals of public education in Spain. Now in its final stages of implementation, the LOGSE is to be fully operational by the year 2001.(1)

During the eight years ensuing since the new code first went into effect, interest in its impact has steadily grown. Ambitious field studies have already begun to emerge, such as the forthcoming Ministry of Education report on the quality of the new Mandatory Secondary Education.(2) Nevertheless, certain issues have continually failed to attract the same degree of institutional attention. One of these is the education of marginalized children whose first languages do not match any of the official languages of Spain--neither the dominant Castilian, nor the co-official languages of the Autonomous Communities(3)--and it is well documented that Gypsies and immigrants from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America constitute the majority of such communities in Spain (García Castaño & Pulido Moyano, 1997; Calvo Buezas, 1995 and 1990; Fernández Enguita, 1995; Juliano, 1993; Asociación Nacional Presencia Gitana, 1991).

The manner in which these linguistic- and/or ethnic-minority students(4) are addressed in the LOGSE is the focus of this work. A microanalysis of the content of the law will demonstrate how immigrant and Gypsy students are afforded vague, indirect, contradictory or hierarchical treatment at best, or none whatsoever at worst, even in the most ideologically-charged and socially-informed of the legislation's wording and intentions. As a necessary preface to this analysis, however, an overview of the general structure and functions of the LOGSE is in order, including its major headings, as well as the reported impetus behind it, and its primary mission and goals.

A Brief Overview of the LOGSE(5)
Major Headings (Table of Contents)
_____________________________________________________________________________________________ -- Preamble
-- Preliminary Title
-- Title One: On the General Levels of Instruction:
-- Chapter One: On Early Childhood Education
-- Chapter Two: On Elementary Education
-- Chapter Three: On Secondary Education
-- Section One: On Mandatory Secondary Education
-- Section Two: On College-Preparatory Education Bachillerato)
-- Chapter Four: On Vocational Education
-- Chapter Five: On Special Education
-- Title Two: On the Special Instructional Areas:
-- Chapter One: On Artistic Instruction:
-- Section One: On Music and Dance
-- Section Two: On Dramatic Arts
-- Section Three: On the Instruction of the Fine Arts and Design
-- Chapter Two: On the Instruction of Languages
-- Title Three: On Adult Education
-- Title Four: On the Quality of Instruction
-- Title Five: On the Compensation of Inequality in Education
-- Additional Dispositions
-- Transitory Dispositions
-- Final Dispositions


Noteworthy Divergences from the Previous Educational System and Code(6)
The LOGSE has streamlined the structure of the Spanish educational system with that of most other European Community member states: Early Childhood Education is extended to accept from toddlers to six year old children (attendance is voluntary); mandatory education is extended two more years to the tenth grade; Vocational Training is modified to better match the working world; and class size is reduced to a maximum of 25 students in primary school and 30 in secondary.

Reported Impetus, Ideological Underpinnings and Primary Aims
Adhesion to the European Community is an important condition inspiring changes meant to smooth the way for all levels of exchange and movement within the continent. On the other hand, because the Spanish government has maintained a high-speed momentum in meeting its modernization agenda (since the transition to democracy in 1975)--focusing on political, cultural and economic/technological diversification--the educational system has had to keep pace, especially in an organizational sense. Finally, there is renewed interest in ideological constructs such as democracy, equality, justice, tolerance and solidarity, which pervade the code's Articles.

Microanalysis of the LOGSE for Its Treatment of Linguistic-Minority Students
General Tendencies in the Wording and Focus of the Law
As stated above, the lexical reminders of an apparent concern for ethics and democratic values in education are evenly distributed throughout the document; they are the salient features of the following extracts, which contain the most direct references to issues affecting linguistic minority populations(7):

In the Preamble:

[Excerpts from assertions on current contexts, values and directions for Spanish society]:
-- "...practicing--in a critical and axiological manner, in our society of plural values--liberty, tolerance and solidarity." (p.7)
-- "...the habits of democratic coexistence and mutual respect..." (p.7)
-- "...the struggle against discrimination and inequality, be these due to birthplace, race, gender, religion or opinion; be they of familial or social origins..".(p.7)
-- " that can and must become a decisive element in overcoming social stereotypes aoosciated with gender differentiation..." (p.12)
-- "Ours is a society in an accelerated process of modernization which is heading, now more clearly than ever, toward a common horizon for Europe. ...[T]he countries with which we are trying to construct a European project are of great relevance to education." (p.8)

Similar wording appears amongst the subsequent articles of the LOGSE, such as the following:

[The Spanish educational system will promote]:
-- "Learning to respect the linguistic and cultural plurality of Spain." (Art. 1e)
-- "...peace, cooperation and solidarity..." (Article. 1g)
-- "...equal rights between the sexes, rejection of all types of discrimination and respect for all cultures" (Art. 2.3.c). (These notions are also applied to Title Four On the Quality of Instruction.)
-- "An appreciation of the basic values that govern life and human coexistence..." (Art. 13e)
-- "Acting in the spirit of cooperation, moral responsibility, solidarity and tolerance, respecting the anti-discrimination principle among peoples." (Art. 19d)
-- "...teaching practices that attend to the plurality of the needs, aptitudes and interests of the students." (Art. 21.1)
-- "The analysis and critical assessment of world realities..." (Art. 26.c)
-- "Solidary participation in the development and improvement of one's social environment." (Art. 26f)
-- "...and [public education] will assure preventative and compensatory action to guarantee the most favorable conditions for schooling, during early childhood education, of all children whose personal conditions, due to low-income family background, geographic origin, or any other circumstance presupposing initial unequal access to mandatory education..." (Art. 64)

Finally, there is the important Title Five On the Compensation of Inequality in Education, which will be examined separately below.

On reviewing the selections of language presented above--and not to the exclusion of the entire text of the law--it becomes evident that there is a failure to move beyond the mere listing of very general and vague civic values and objectives, given the complete absence of direct references to Gypsies, immigrants, non-official-language instruction, or marginalized linguistic minorities. Moreover, when extraterritorial or crosscultural exchanges are specified, they are almost always in reference to Europe, but never to non-Western countries; on only a few occasions is the word "world" used. Nor does the LOGSE address comparative academic achievement levels according to home language, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity/race, even when non-governmental studies have found that Gypsies continue to be over-represented in Special Education programs (Asociación Nacional Presencia Gitana; 1992). Institutional involvement with discrimination and unjust access to educational opportunity is thus kept at a tertiary level, as there is no overt recognition of how various forms of discrimination have always, and will predictably continue to, manifest themselves in the Spanish educational system. Whereas the case can be argued that the relatively recent, rapidly growing, non-European immigrant presence in Spain may still warrant our not judging the LOGSE's omissions too severely, Gypsy and payo (non-Gypsy) co-existence predates the thirteenth century in Spanish territories (Asociación Nacional Presencia Gitana; 1992).

On a different, but related issue, there is a clear hierarchy and favoritism governing the official languages of instruction. Autonomous Communities with their own co-official languages are obligated to have their students learn not only the autonomous language, but Castilian and an additional "foreign language" as well. And, in practice, the latter amounts to only French or English. In Castilian speaking Autonomous Communities, however, learning another autonomous language is optional. No exceptions to these imbalanced conditions are stipulated in the law, and non-European languages are excluded from discussion.

Lastly, while Title Five On the Compensation of Inequality in Education reiterates the kinds messages listed above, it does so in no more specific terms, again failing to refer to Gypsies, immigrants or any specific linguistic-minority issues:

Compensatory education policy will reinforce the action of the educational system so that inequalities derived from social, economic, cultural, geographic, ethnic, or other factors are avoided. (Art. 63.2)

Nonetheless, Article 65.3 of this title is key in that it attempts to translate the aforementioned broad values into action, by holding the Educational Administration accountable for the application of "compensatory" measures when

...students experience special difficulty in attaining the general objectives of a basic education due to their social conditions... (Art. 65.3)

However, through all this, not only are the means are missing--no particular actions or programs are identified-- but certain tacit assumptions underscore the notions of "compensatory education" and "special difficulty," as they do in the statement "due to [the students'] social conditions" (which also appears in Article 64 above, on early childhood education). By employing the old trick of modifying the wording, one can better identify the dominant, pro-institution biases behind this message. Consider the following rewording of Article 65.3:

The Administration will be held accountable for improving the educational system when it experiences special difficulty in meeting the general objectives of providing a basic education to all student populations, due to institutionalized biases.

Concluding Remarks

The preceding microanalysis of Spain's most recent educational code has unveiled a document that--despite its philanthropic tone-- has, in important ways, set the stage for the continued neglect of the needs of the most marginalized populations of Spain: Gypsy and immigrant linguistic-minority children. In fact, a number of contradictory values affecting these students can be found in the LOGSE, and have been detailed in the full paper corresponding to this summary version. Finally, whereas some promising legislation has since been enacted--such as a national, 1996 resolution establishing the provision of teachers from Portugal to predominantly working-class, immigrant school communities in need of bilingual instructional support (Dirección General de Centros Educativos, 1996)--such efforts are isolated. Unless measures are taken by all participants in the Spanish educational system to reduce the hegemonic practice of exclusion which so pervades the LOGSE, little will likely be done for substantial, Statewide improvement in the education of children whose sociolinguistic circumstances are thus pitted against those of the educational institution, only to the detriment of equal access to schooling.

Asociación Nacional Presencia Gitana (1991). Informe sobre la cuestión gitana. Madrid: Editorial Presencia Gitana.

BOE (Boletín Oficial del Estado) (1985). "Ley Orgánica 8/1985, de 3 de Julio (Jefatura), Reguladora del Derecho a la Educación (LODE)." No. 159, 4 de junio.

Calvo Buezas, T. (1995). "La educación intercultural en una sociedad pluriétnica". In Alfieri, F., et. al. Volver a pensar la educación (Vol.1): Política, educación y sociedad . Madrid: Ediciones Morata, pp. 254-267.

--------- (1990). ¿España racista? Voces payas sobre los gitanos. Barcelona: Editorial Anthropos.

Dirección General de Centros Educativos (1996). "Programa de Lengua y Cultura Portuguesa." Resolution No. 45, 4-11-1996, (Marginal 1996/2952; Disposición: Instrucciones 21-10-1996). Madrid: Editorial Aranzadi.

El País (1998). "¿Qué saben los chicos de la ESO? Primer informe oficial del Ministerio de Educación sobre la calidad de la secundaria obligatoria." No. 669, martes, 3 de marzo, Sociedad. El País Digital: .

Fernández Enguita, M. (1995). "Escuela y etnicidad: El caso de los gitanos." In Alfieri, F., et. al. Volver a pensar la educación (Vol.1): Política, educación y sociedad . Madrid: Ediciones Morata, pp. 281-293.

García Castaño, F. & Pulido Moyano, R.. (1997). "Educación multicultural e intercultural: Reflexiones sobre el Caso Español." Paper presented at the Multicultural Education Workshop of the 1997 Congreso de Psicopedagogía, University of A Coruña, Spain.

Juliano, D. (1993). Educación intercultural: Escuela y minorías étnicas. Madrid: EUDEMA.

MEC (Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia) (1990). Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del sistema Educativo. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia.

1. Full-text versions of both the LOGSE and the LODE are available at the URL:

The LOGSE can also be found in Appendix One of the full-paper version of this summary. The stages of implementation of the new code are also stipulated in the LOGSE.

2. Despite the fact that the LOGSE's approach to the ninth and tenth grade levels are not scheduled to be implemented until the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 school years, the National Institute of Quality and Assessment has already conducted a major survey to assess the effects of the new Mandatory Secondary Education, which includes grades seven through ten. Some of the results of this 1997 study have been published very recently in the popular press (El País, 1998). The Ministry's forthcoming, 100-page report will reflect more thoroughly the conclusions derived from the responses of the 56,555 students, 3,287 teachers, and 11,508 families surveyed throughout Spain. The report is said to cover the five general areas of: school achievement; teaching methods and planning; school functioning; the teaching profession; and families and the school system. The summarized conclusions are available at a website associated with the daily journal, El País, cited above. See reference section for the website URL.

3. The co-official languages include Galizan-Portuguese in Galiza, Catalán in Catalonia, and Basque in the Basque Country. Official or co-official status is attained when the right to use the language in question is governed by Statewide and/or Autonomous legislation.

4. The term "minority" is used in the sense that the ethnic or linguistic group it refers to is relatively smaller in proportion to the largest, and most dominant of ethnic or linguistic groups within the Spanish State, even when the minority group in question represents the majority of students in a given school community.

5. For a full-text version of the LOGSE, visit the website:

6. Both this and the following sections are much reduced in this summary version.

7. Not all instances have been included here for lack of space; translations mine.