One week remains for the official start of the school year and the theoretical plans, the recommendations of epidemiologists and the reductions in the number of students per class that appeared in the manuals of the Ministry of Education for safe return to school they have blurred. The unions have been warning for months that any planning involves, as an inescapable element, the hiring of more teachers. But a few days before the students step into the classrooms for the first time, and with the regional governments decreeing limitations on social gatherings in the street and at home, the figures of new hires formalized or agreed with unions they are far from the 165,000 calculated by the Workers’ Commissions at the end of May for a return with all the guarantees.
Chaos two weeks after returning to school due to the lack of measures and the increase in cases
The 17 communities and their eight million students will begin the 2020/2021 academic year with about 20,000 more teachers, according to data collected by this same union that includes the incorporations either signed or concretized with the social agents and that are likely to increase by the following days. For example, the Andalusian Government (of PP and Citizens) approved in early August to expand the teaching staff by 826 places, although next Wednesday it brings together the sector table to finalize the award of another 4,000 more promised.
The unions warn that the hiring in each region ends up being a labyrinth in which there is a considerable distance between the announcements and the palpable reinforcements in the classrooms. In the case of Andalusia, the places will be offered only between September and December “pending the budgetary capacity”, says José María Ruiz, head of Education of the Workers’ Commissions. Other regions have not even closed the quota of teachers they need. The Xunta de Galicia, governed by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the hiring of 240 teachers for Infant and Primary progressed, but has left the Secondary reinforcement open to demands a week before the start of the course.
The Community of Madrid (PP and Ciudadanos) is emerging, together with Euskadi (PNV), as an exception within the autonomies. It has not announced the hiring of teachers despite the fact that it accounts for a third of all diagnosed infections and It is the one that worries the Ministry of Health the most. The regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, will present her strategy for the start of the school year on Tuesday, two days before the meeting of all the Education Councilors with the Ministers of Education, Isabel Celáa, and Health, Salvador Illa, in a Sector Conference questioned for being delayed until the last minute and plunging families and teachers into uncertainty.
Among the figures for teacher reinforcement managed by the Workers’ Commissions are 3,000 more teachers in Castilla-La Mancha (PSOE), 1,000 in Asturias (PSOE), 201 in Cantabria (PRC), 458 in the Balearic Islands (PSOE), 600 in Castilla and León (PP and Ciudadanos), 540 in Extremadura (PSOE), 660 in Navarra (PSOE) and 800 in Murcia (PP and Ciudadanos). They stand out for the volume of hiring announced the Valencian Community (PSOE and Compromís), with 4,374 more teachers –an extra 7 %–; and Catalunya, with the arrival of 8,258 new workers, although 1,576 are canteen monitors and administrative staff.
Most communities refer to the ratio set by law
But even these latest larger figures raise doubts as to whether they will be sufficient to implement the generalized ratio reductions suggested by the Ministry of Education in the first version of its plan (dated June): bubble groups of no more than 20 students and ideally 15. The WHO also advises reducing the number of students per classroom (although without specifying thresholds), and the Spanish Association of Pediatrics is more ambitious and sets the ceiling at 10-15 students. These figures collide with an educational law, the Lomce, which allows over-rates of up to 10% above the maximum: 20 Kindergarten students, 25 Primary and 30 Secondary.
Only the Valencian Community has already agreed to a limit of 20 students per classroom in Primary. Catalonia has only announced it while waiting for its strategy to materialize this Tuesday, after the Generalitat has had to correct its initial strategy. The unions fear, however, that it is an order that is not accompanied by an extra hiring of teachers, but rather that specialists (those who are not tutors) are used. Galicia, Madrid, Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha, Navarra or La Rioja have only committed to respecting the ratio established by law and not making use of the exceptional 10% of the Lomce.
The Confederation of Pedagogical Renewal Movements notes that current hiring “is not intended for a general reduction in ratios.” In some communities, the hiring will involve one teacher per center. “This works for very little. Imagine what it means for an institute with 50 or 60 teachers. The philosophy seems to be to give more support staff than to reduce ratios”, assesses its secretary Raimundo de los Reyes, president of the Fedadi directors association . For De los Reyes, the ratios should be around 15 students and, from there, it would be ideal if a classroom could be given to all with more teachers and in municipal spaces such as libraries or civic centers. “If not, you can resort to teaching partially telematics or on alternate days,” he values. The teacher admits that “it is difficult to make drastic decisions on public spending when you do not know what you are going to find” and believes that the current strategy of educational administrations would make sense if the school system were flexible and teachers could be hired at the same time the epidemic flares up. “But it’s not like that”.
“The management teams of some communities do not even know what the final plan will be or what they will find on September 1,” complains Maribel Loranca, secretary of the UGT Education sector. The union marks as essential four measures that, it assures, “have had proposals since April”: “lowering of ratios, fitting out of spaces, reinforcing workforce and investment for a digital plan”. “These are measures on which we are turning and it seems that there is consensus, but there is a lack of political will to want to put them at the forefront and invest,” he points out in conversation with elDiario.es. Loranca assures that, to explain how we have reached this situation at the edge of the beginning of the course, he prefers “not to speak of guilt but of co-responsibility. “And there is the Ministry, which has been reducing the criteria because if not there was no possibility of agreement until reaching a minimum document, and the communities,” ditch.
A late date in tense weather
The question that crosses millions of homes these days is whether the concentration of students in the classrooms will end up contravening the recommendations of Health to avoid encounters of more than 10 people. Government and autonomous communities face their late appointment – families and unions coincide – in the Sectorial Conference with a tense climate due to social concern and very little room to make far-reaching decisions.
The Ministry directed by Celáa is preparing a document on a “risk reduction basis” on how to act in cases of occurrence of cases and outbreaks in schools, as explained this Monday by the director of the Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simón . Education hides itself in the fact that educational competences are autonomous, although it is reviewing the strategy agreed in June – rejected by Madrid, Euskadi or Galicia – in view of the worsening epidemiological situation in Spain. Infections have risen to 19,382 over the weekend. And in the last 24 hours, 2,060 have been registered, as notified by the autonomous communities to Health. What the Sánchez government has ruled out for now is delaying the start of the school year. The funds to meet these extra expenses of the autonomous communities are committed by the national Executive: 2,000 million specific that, however, have not yet reached the autonomies. It is expected that they will be transferred – to each community depending on the number of students – in the month of September, according to the commitment of the Treasury. Regional governments do already have 6,000 million euros distributed, the first part of the so-called COVID funds.
The regional governments of the Popular Party, for their part, demand from the Executive of Pedro Sánchez a single protocol applicable to all the autonomies after having opposed supporting the continuity of the state of alarm in the last two validations in Congress (the tool that allowed in sole command of Health on the autonomies). And in the PSOE they take chest that the communities that govern have increased their teaching staff on average almost four times more than those managed by the conservatives, according to a statement from the socialist group in the Senate.
In full countdown, more and more autonomous communities are beginning to lean towards a blended turn due to the poor prognosis of the data. The Murcian Government, led by Fernando López Mirás, announced this Monday that only Early Childhood Education students will go to school every day. The Madrid Minister of Health, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, ruled out a face-to-face tour in the region last Friday. Three months ago, the Ministry of Education assured that the physical return to school was “unavoidable” to bridge the gap between students that marked the last quarter of last year and left the most vulnerable behind in learning due to lack of means.
However, the needs of making small groups are not the same in all communities, because some of them have had much higher ratios for years. If in Spain the average number of students per classroom in Primary is 21.9, Madrid (24), Catalunya (23.1), Comunitat Valenciana (22.6) and Murcia (22.5) stand out well above. In ESO, Catalunya (28.2) and Madrid (27.1) are also those that far exceed the Spanish average, which is 25.2.
The latest data available from the Ministry of Education, for the 2017-2018 academic year, also shows how the subsidized schools – to which a part of the reinforcements designed by the communities will be directed – should be the ones that assume the greatest reductions in ratios, since statistically they are higher. In Primary, the difference is 20.4 students per classroom in public and 24 in private.