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March 2017

Left behind in English wars

Under attack from left-wing party Izquierda Unida (pic above), the Madrid regional government has released a torrent of information on their bilingual schools.

According to the data, studies show that concerns over science results, the main subject taught in English, are unfounded. Results in English tests, however, showed some children outperforming EU averages while others made little or no progress. A Gazette analysis of the results (see below) reveals good progress at primary. At nine years old, 66 per cent of students achieve A2 on a test of teaching and learning.

At the end of primary, 40 per cent score B1 in a four-skills test – though 15 per cent remain at A1 or below. A dramatic divergence between top and bottom achievers appears at age sixteen, with 7 per cent achieving C1 – near native speaker standard – while 14 per cent remain below A2, suggesting they have made no progress at all in secondary school. Students are streamed by language level in secondary, with the top stream – known as the bilingual section – achieving better results across all subjects. The Madrid government have announced a further test at fourteen, to be administered by Spain’s official language centres, to check on students’ progress. Comment and analysis here.

Madrid chart



President of the Autonomous Region of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes (below) has come in for criticism in the local press for allegedly planning to introduce English in regional pre-schools without obtaining the agreement of school management, teaching staff or unions. Educational officials have been quick to defend Cifuentes, pointing out that this is a pilot programme limited to existing bilingual schools volunteering to take part. The project, which is aimed at introducing English to three-to-six year olds, will consist of three 45-minute classes a week taught by Spaniards with C1 English. The project is loosely based on a randomised controlled trial in Madrid by US early-learning specialist Patricia Kuhl, reported in last December’s Gazette. Kuhl found that children exposed to hyperstimulating social interaction with native speakers showed five times more improvement in L2 acquisiton than those taught by untrained non-native speakers.

Cristina Cifuentes children


by Andrea Pérez

Izquierda Unida (IU), one of the main political left-wing parties in Spain, has released a report critical of the ‘pioneering’ bilingual school system in the Autonomous Community of Madrid. The report accused the regional government of running a programme which promotes social segregation, with a negative impact on subjects taught in English. It claims that ‘bilingual’ education in Spanish and English only shows a ‘colonial mentality’. State secondary school teacher Augusto Moreo, the report’s co-author, told El Publico newspaper that ‘the system chooses the best students with the best English… because they have more abilities or because they come from families who can help them.’ Madrid now plans to introduce bilingualism into kindergarten. Comisiones Obreras – Spain’s largest trade union – have joined IU in criticising the initiative, accusing the government of using the bilingual programme purely for electoral purposes. They highlight the lack of teachers with sufficient English and call for further external evaluation before the programme is implemented in early years.

Pic courtesy: Fernando Jiménez Briz
Pic courtesy: Cristina Cifuentes

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