Parents in School Decision Making in Spain

1.1 Introduction - General Aspects of the Spanish Educational System related to Parents Participation

The government of the educational system in Spain is a responsibility shared by the State, through the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the seventeen Autonomous Communities or Regions in which the country is divided. The Ministry of Education sets up the basic framework of the system and exercises the functions needed to ensure the basic unity of the system. The Autonomous Communities have, for their respective territories, regulatory and executive powers in educational issues. In early 1999 only ten Autonomous Communities were exercising their powers in educational matters but all the Communities will assume their full responsibilities during the year. A further level of administration, even though its responsibilities are not very important, is the local or municipal one. Town Halls are usually the owners of the public pre-school and primary school buildings and take responsibility for the upkeep, repairs and running costs.

The implementation of this "State of Autonomous Communities" entails, in the field of education as in many others, a process of substantial change whereby a centralised model is giving way to a decentralised form of government.

The objective of decentralising educational administration does not merely involve the division of powers between national, autonomous regions and local administration; it also entails the promotion of community participation in education, which is one of the principles established in article 27 of the Spanish Constitution.

The Spanish model of educational management was established by the LODE (Organic Act on the Right to Education) in 1985). The main principles are decentralisation, autonomy and the democratic participation of teachers, parents and students (in the secondary level) in school management through School Councils. Additionally, the LOGSE (Organic Act of the General Organisation of the Educational System) in 1990, and the LOPEG (Organic Act on Participation, Evaluation and Administration of Educational Establishments) in 1995, expand the LODE provisions with regard to participation and amend the organisation and functions of governing bodies of publicly funded establishments.

LODE established a series of collegiate bodies at the various levels of educational administration intended to ensure the involvement of all sectors of the educational community. At the national level these bodies are the State School Council, which has advisory status in respect of the nation-wide master plan for education and in respect of Bills or proposed regulations to be enacted by the Parliament or the Government; the General Council for Vocational Training (which provides advice on issues relating to that stage of education) and the Universities Council, (in the field of higher education). At regional and local levels, there are regional and municipal school councils. Finally, there are school councils for each individual educational establishment.

Reform of the educational system, which is being implemented in the 1990’s, has one of its major aims as improving the quality of teaching. In this context the progressive increase in autonomy for schools to adopt decisions is considered an important factor in increasing the quality of education. That progressive autonomy of schools also means a greater level of participation from the educational community.

Thus, each school has the autonomy to define its own model of organisational and pedagogical management in order to ensure that the most suitable advantage is taken of the resources allocated to it and to provide for a pedagogical model more in keeping with the specific needs of pupils and characteristics of the surrounding community. Each school has its own "Educational Project" which includes Curricular Projects for the different levels taught in the school.

Present legislation establishes two major means of involvement of parents in school decision making: their representation in the School Councils and the Parents’ Associations. In the first case parents take part in the government of schools. In the second they participate in school life in different ways.

2.1 School Councils

All schools financed out of public funds must adjust to the organisational model laid down by law. Therefore they have as government bodies - at least - a managerial team which includes the Headteacher, the Head of Studies and the Secretary or Administrator, a Teachers’ Committee and a School Council. The School Council is the highest government body in school, since it elects the school Headteacher for a term of four years and, by a two-thirds vote, can also fire the Headteacher. Working within guidelines established by the Educational Authorities each School Council has its own degree of autonomy to define the educational principles and objectives that give direction to school activities.

The Teachers’ Committee includes all educational staff in the school and is chaired by the Headteacher. It is responsible for planning, co-ordinating and decision-making in all pedagogical issues.

The Headteacher of the public schools is elected by the school council from among the eligible teachers and appointed by the competent educational authority. The Head is the official representative of the establishment and is responsible for running it, enforcing all existing laws and provisions, managing school personnel and convening and presiding over the meetings of collegiate bodies, implementing the decisions that have been taken. The Head is also responsible for implementing the establishment budget and the school council decisions regarding financial matters.

The actual composition of School Councils in the public sector in Spain varies according to the educational level taught (pre-school, primary or secondary) and the size of the school. Similarly variations can be experienced according to the Autonomous Region in which the school is located. In all cases, however, the composition of the School Council must include:

Since 1995 one of the representatives of parents in the council is appointed by the Parents Association.

Tables 1 and 2 list the composition of the School Council for public sector education under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. As these tables reflect parents do not have the majority of votes in the council. From a legal point of view the composition is balanced between administrators, teachers and parents and pupils. In reality teachers tend to dominate the council, since those in managerial positions are also the teachers.

All parents with children at the school can present themselves in the election for representatives at the school council. The father and the mother have the right to vote and, with the purpose of increasing the number of votes in this sector, voting by mail is allowed.

TABLE 1

THE COMPOSITION OF SCHOOL COUNCIL IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

INFANT AND PRIMARY SCHOOLS

(RD 82/1996 of 26 January)

a) Schools with nine or more classes
  • The Headteacher, who acts as convenor
  • The Head of Studies
  • A councillor or representative of the Town Hall where the school is located
  • A representative of administration and services staff
  • Five teachers chosen by the Teachers Committee
  • Five representatives of the parents of pupils
  • The Secretary, who acts as secretary of the Council, with voice but no vote
b) Schools with six or more classes but less than nine
  • The Headteacher, who acts as convenor
  • The Head of Studies
  • A Councillor or representative of the Town Hall where the school is located
  • Three teachers chosen by the Teachers Committee
  • Three representatives of the parents of pupils
  • The Secretary, who acts as secretary of the council, with voice but no vote
c) Schools with more than two classes but less than six:
  • The Headteacher, who acts as convenor
  • A councillor or representative of the Town Hall where the school is located
  • Two teachers chosen by the Teachers Committee, one of whom acts as secretary of the council, with voice but no vote
  • Two representatives of the parents of pupils
d) Schools with one or two classes:
  • The Headteacher, who acts as convenor and secretary
  • A councillor or representative of the Town Hall where the school is located
  • One representative of the parents of pupils

 

TABLE 2

THE COMPOSITION OF SCHOOL COUNCIL IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

UNDER THE CONTROL OF THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

SECONDARY SCHOOLS

RD 83/1996, of 26 January

a) Schools with twelve or more classes:
  • The Headteacher, who acts as convenor
  • The Head of Studies
  • A councillor or representative of the Town Hall where the school is located
  • A representative of administration and services staff
  • Seven teachers chosen by the Teachers Committee
  • Three representatives of the parents of pupils
  • Four representatives of pupils
  • The school administrator or secretary, who acts as secretary of the council, with voice but no vote
  • In the case of schools with at least two types of vocational studies, or those with at least 25% of the pupils in vocational courses, one representative of the enterprises or business in the school area, with voice but no vote
b) Schools with less than twelve classes:
  • The Headteacher, who acts as convenor
  • The Head of Studies
  • A councillor or representative of the Town Hall where the school is located
  • A representative of administration and services staff
  • Five teachers chosen by the Teachers Committee
  • Two representatives of the parents of pupils
  • Three representatives of pupils
  • The school Administrator or Secretary, who acts as secretary of the Council, with voice but no vote

 

2.1.1 Powers of the School Council

The powers assigned to the School Council of public schools are, as a minimum, the following:

3.1 Parents Associations

Alongside their representation in the School Council other ways to participation have been devised for parents and pupils. Pupils have class delegates who represent the pupils in each class or group, the council of delegates in the school and pupils’ association. Parents may also co-operate and participate in the schools educational task through Parents Associations.

Parents’ Associations have a long tradition in Spain (the first were founded in 1931) and exist in a majority of public and private schools. All parents with children at school can be members of the Parents’ Association.

The functions of Parents’ Associations, include such matters as:

Parents’ Associations also have the right to make proposals for the creation and modification of the Educational Project and internal regulations of the school. The School Secretary has the mandatory duty of making sure that Parent’s Associations receive information about the issues discussed in the school council meetings and the agenda of these meetings is sent in advance to allow the Associations to make proposals. Usually, Parents Associations also develop the important task of providing training courses for parents.

Parents’ Associations can group themselves into Federations and Confederations at local or national level. These Federations are aided by public funds and the Ministry of Education provides them with legal advice. At this moment two main Confederations exist at the national level: the CEAPA (Spanish Confederation of Mothers and Parents of Pupils) and the CONCAPA (Catholic Confederation of Parents of Pupils).

4.1 Special issues and problems

Since 1985 efforts have been made to increase participation in the government of schools. To a considerable degree these efforts reflect the social desire to democratise the public services and, in recent years, to increase school effectiveness. The creation of Educational Projects has crucial importance for the determination of the character of the school, its objectives and its individual internal structure. However, there is a risk that these projects could become another bureaucratic requirement in schools, due to the centralist tradition in the country. Success of the Project’s launch and execution depends to a great extent on the capacity of the Head to lead it and to facilitate participation from various sectors, especially from parents.

In Spain, as in other countries, parental involvement in the process of decision making at the school is not easy to secure. From the legal point of view parental participation is guaranteed by their representation in the School Council and by the Parents’ Associations. However, the number of parents willing to stand for election and the number of parents who really vote in the election for School Council reflects apathy in this sector, especially at the secondary level. Additionally, the lack of communication between the parents’ representatives and the parental community as a whole can also be considered as a problem.

The data on parents’ participation at the 1996/97 School Councils elections exemplify this lack of interest: only 27% of parents at pre-school level, 21% at primary level and 7% at secondary level exercised their right to vote. These figures have worsened since the previous elections.

Understanding the reasons for this low parental implication will require additional research but it is possible that is due to the limited influence that parents have in taking relevant school decisions, and that their interests are usually only concerned with questions about their own children.

In addition some research data shows that parental participation at the School Council meetings is quite poor. Parents take part in discussions less frequently than teachers and, when they do, raise questions that are not central to the life of the school.

By contrast Parents’ Associations have a considerable tradition in Spain although a majority of parents are only formal members, without involvement in the daily running of the school. Additionally, Parents’ Associations usually limit their tasks to making arrangements for extra-curricular activities and collecting extra funds for the school, without entering in to controversies about educational principles and actions.

In order to solve these problems different institutions, like the State School Council, claim to put into practice measures for encouraging real participation of parents in the decision making in schools. Nevertheless we need to improve our knowledge about the reasons for this apparent lack of interest as well as making teachers and parents conscious of the importance that participation has to enrich the educational process and not just as a means of achieving external goals.

Immaculada Egido Galvez


  1. MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE (1 994): Centres ofeducation and the Quality of Teaching. Proposal for Action. Madrid, Ministry of Education and Science, cfr. p. 5
  2. Ley Organica 9/1995, de 20 de noviembre, de la Participacion, la Evaluacion y el Gobiemo de los centros docentes, articulo 2.2.
  3. RAMO, Z. y RODROGUEZ-CARPENO, M. (1993): Organizacion de los Colegios de Primaria y de las Escuclas Infantiles (Reglamento Organico). Madrid, Escuela Espanola, CFR. p. 149
  4. CONSEJO ESCOLAR DEL ESTADO (1 998): Informe sobre el estado y situacion del sistema educativo 1996 - 1997. Madrid, Ministerio de Educacion y Cultura, p. 340.
  5. GIL VILLA, F. (1 995): La participacion democratica en los centros de ensenanza no universitarios. Madrid, C.I.D.E., cfr. p. 134