50,000 fewer students and the crusade to impose a lower ratio by law in Andalusia

When the students of the CEIP Tres Carabelas de Huelva walk out their door on June 22, they will not do so until next year, but forever. The low birth rate and the few students enrolled -44 from three years to sixth grade-, are the reasons put forward by the Andalusian Ministry of Education for the closure of this center, the second to disappear in the province in a decade. Its teachers and students will be integrated into another school in the area that “was also beginning to suffer from the effects of the drop in birth rates,” according to the Board’s Delegate for Education and Sports in Huelva province.

“The decline came from much earlier. They began to remove lines. First, the second stage of seventh and eighth was taken away from us, which made many parents take their children to schools where they could continue with the Baccalaureate. Later, we had to unify cycles”, warns Pepa Mesa, who until this course has been the director of the center and for 15 years. ”With the pandemic, we proposed that the situation be used to promote the drop in ratio and transfer children from other schools with saturated classrooms here. More than a drop in the birth rate, there has been poor planning, ”she emphasizes.

Andalusia has lost 50,000 students in the first three years of the last legislature and for the next course the Ministry of Education projects a reduction of another 17,000. Figures that, together with the increase in teachers —forced by the pandemic— by 5,300, have reduced the ratio per classroom to an average of 19.8 in Infants and 20.71 in Primary. All in all, the community continues to be above the national average (10.9) and is the third (11.4) behind Catalonia (11.9) Madrid (11.7) with the highest number of students per teacher in the set of pre-university education, according to statistics from the Ministry of Education for the 20-21 academic year.

The overall data of the Board for the associations of fathers and mothers (AMPA), teacher unions and associations of primary and secondary directors of Andalusia contain many traps because, they maintain, they obviate that the Board’s policy does not go through reducing the ratio maintaining resources, but by closing school lines in public education. The fight against the suppression of lines and a progressive drop in the number of students per classroom established by law dates back to 2011, when the PSOE governed, but it has been one of the main points of friction between the educational community – which has staged several demonstrations in the Andalusian streets― and the council directed by Cs in this legislature. That demand is behind a legislative initiative admitted by the Andalusian Parliament this year to lower the ratio from 25 to 20 students in infant and primary, from 30 to 25 in secondary and from 35 to 30 in high school, for which its promoters (more of 30 groups) have started a campaign to collect signatures until August so that it can be processed. They have already collected 25,000, according to data provided by the USTEA union.

“The global numbers are very easy to handle,” says Jorge Delgado, president of the Association of Directors of Infant, Primary and School Residences of Andalusia. His list of requests to the parties for these elections includes “establishing a transparent ratio that does not involve the loss of public units.” “A concerted school signs the concerts for four or six years, so it maintains the established lines, while the public one has to do the planning every year, conditioned by the requests for places from the previous one,” he indicates. “It cannot be that the low birth rate only affects public schools”, he abounds.

From the ministry it is defended that last year, between the initial offer in February and the one that resulted in September, there was an increase of 113 units, but they do not offer the data on which training stages have been reduced and which have increased. “It cannot be justified that those that are left over in Infants go to secondary school, because the needs are different and the suppression of a line in Infants condemns the future of the center,” says Delgado.

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A reality that Loli Ortiz knows first-hand, a member of the AMPA of the CEIP Camacho Melendo in Priego de Córdoba (22,250 inhabitants, Córdoba) and who is leading the mobilization of the center’s educational community. Last year he lost one of the two three-year lines, despite exceeding 40 applications. “It was decided to distribute those that were left over from 25 in the rest of the public schools in Priego, because the town is considered a public district. In this way, everyone has their lines up to the maximum ratio allowed at that age [25]”, he points out. This year they have once again exceeded 40 requests and have not opened the promised second line. The center has initiated a series of mobilizations with the hope of reversing the decision of the Ministry.

The ballast of one less classroom

One less line, leaving the only existing one at its maximum, is a dangerous ballast for the future. “What happens if a child repeats or if I have to include another because they have siblings in the center or if a student has special needs?”, he asks. The suppression of lines also implies the reduction of resources for the center, such as the support of a monitor in Infant. “Lower the ratio automatically because the birth rate goes down per se it does not have to be more effective, sometimes it is more important to allocate more resources, but if lines are eliminated, but the ratio remains at a maximum and the remaining resources are not used to reinforce that Early Childhood education, that implies making cuts, “says José Saturnino García, sociologist specialized in Education and director of the Canarian Agency for University Quality and Educational Evaluation

175 kilometers from Priego, in Pozoblanco, the CEIP Virgen de la Luna fights not to lose the second line of three years that with great effort they managed to recover last year, after it was taken away on 19-20. “This conditions the schooling process for us, because parents who are going to take their children to school for the first time, when they see that we only have one line and that it is complete, they prefer to go to another center,” says Yolanda Durán, head of the AMPA of the center, delving into the dissuasive effect exerted by the suppression of lines. “If the concerted have fewer students per classroom, in the end, parents opt for that option. If that is not promoting concerted action to the detriment of the public one, I don’t know what is…”, she maintains.

“During the pandemic with fewer students and the reinforcement of teachers, we clearly saw that the way of teaching and the attention per student improved,” says Delgado. In 2021, Andalusia managed to lower the early school leaving rate by four points (17.1), but it is still the highest of all the communities. “We want that, just as other communities such as the Basque Country, Catalonia or Castilla y León are doing, they take advantage of the drop in the birth rate to regulate the drop in the ratio by law,” he adds, referring to the content of the legislative initiative presented in Parliament .

Durán and Ortiz coincided a few weeks ago in a concentration in Córdoba capital in favor of lowering ratios and maintaining lines. They hope that their mobilization will have the same effect as that of the CEIP José María del Campo, in the Sevillian neighborhood of Triana, where the demonstrations, batucadas and the movement on social networks to recover one of the two children’s lines that the Ministry suppressed on past course has brought about its recovery. “It has been a joint and very brave effort by the families of the center and the new ones,” explains the vice president of the center’s AMPA, Olga Navarro.

But he warns: “The defense of public education cannot depend on bringing families out to fight, it must be defended from within the Administration.” Ask for a deeper analysis. “This cannot go from making education profitable and saying that I close a line here and open it there, we need a political and social commitment to defend public education”.

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