The growing climate of school competitiveness and the attempt by families to improve the educational trajectory and job prospects of their children has triggered the market for private classes to much higher levels than previously thought: total spending on extracurricular education amounts to 1,700 million euros a year and 47% of children and adolescents attend them. The largest investigation carried out in Spain on the phenomenon warns that they constitute a great source of educational inequity, and recommends increasing the public and free offer of support classes to alleviate its effects.

The study, prepared by the professor of Didactics and School Organization at UNED Juan Manuel Moreno and the economist Ángel Martínez for the Center for Economic Policy of the ESADE business school (EsadeEcPol), divides extracurricular activities into two large categories: those aimed at “expand and improve” knowledge -for example, private language classes-, and those whose objective is to “reinforce and recover” learning not acquired in “basic curricular subjects”, such as mathematics. The authors conclude that wealthy families use extracurricular activities of the first type to a greater extent, and that they do so as a way to “differentiate” their children and provide them with “competitive advantages.” On the other hand, the most disadvantaged resort to private classes of the second type to a greater degree in order to prevent their children from falling behind, repeating a course and falling into school failure.

A class in a Valencian public school.
A class in a Valencian public school.KIKE TABERNER

The report, titled Shadow education in Spain: an x-ray of the market for private classes by school stage, economic capacity of households, ownership of the center and autonomous community, uses the information provided by two publications of the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the latest Household Expenditure Survey on Education, for the 2019-2020 academic year, and the Family Budget Survey for the year 2021. This has allowed the authors to spin finer than what they did in another investigation, on the same subject, presented a year ago, based solely on the INE Family Budget Survey, which showed smaller magnitudes (24% of the students receiving private classes and an expense a total of 732 million) by not counting very frequent extracurricular activities, such as the teaching of foreign languages ​​outside official language schools. The 2019-2020 Household Expenditure on Education Survey (which began collecting data in the summer of 2019) was affected by the great confinement, but, according to the authors, to a lesser extent.

The social stratum is what determines the most how much the private lessons are used. The Esade study shows that they are no longer a resource limited to the upper and middle classes, but have spread in a general way, although with very different intensities. In families located in the lowest quintile in terms of spending capacity (an INE concept similar to income level), 30% of children attend some type of educational extracurricular. In the two highest quintiles, the percentage exceeds, on the other hand, 60%. The average expenditure per student ―which to a certain extent can be taken as an indicator of the quality of the activities and the frequency with which they are used― is also very different depending on the social class: the investment of the richest households triples that of the poorest. poorer. On average, spending per student and course amounts to 270 euros (in Madrid it reaches 350 and at the other extreme, in Castilla-La Mancha, 153).

The work also confirms disparities depending on the educational networks that students attend (mainly due to the fact that public schools enroll many more disadvantaged students than would correspond if their distribution were balanced). The cost per student in private classes is 300 euros in the concerted one and 235 in the public one. And while in the public school the main item is allocated to reinforcing basic curricular subjects, 96 euros, followed by languages, 89, in the concerted school the order is the reverse: families spend 146 euros per course in languages ​​and 90 in curricular subjects . The third difference, and according to Juan Manuel Moreno the “most significant”, is that although the expenditure per student during the infant and primary stages is almost the same in both networks, in secondary the expenditure of the subsidized families “is it shoots 50%” compared to those of the public.

A separate case

Students from private centers (not subsidized) represent a separate case. Their families’ spending on private classes is much higher and is concentrated in what the authors describe as the search for differentiation. They allocate 483.3 euros per student and course to language studies and barely 76.5 (less than those of the public and subsidized) to review sessions of basic curricular subjects.

Entry into a private school in Madrid.
Entry into a private school in Madrid.Marta Fernández Jara (Europa Press)

The cost per student in the public is also lower in the extracurricular ones that include the “non-regulated studies of artistic education” (such as dance, plastic arts, music or theater): it amounts to 38.5 euros, compared to 55.7 in the concerted one and 57.3 in the private. And the richest quintile is the only one in which the fourth and last category of private classes included in the report under the name of “other studies”, which include the teaching of study techniques, computer science or programming, represent a percentage significant (7% of total spending on educational extracurricular activities carried out by these households). The report does not address extracurricular sports activities due to the lack of data, the authors explain, nor does it venture to say in what proportion it is undeclared activities that remain in the underground economy, although Moreno believes that it is very relevant.

The boom of private classes is global. Spain is part of this trend (total spending has almost tripled in a decade), but Moreno, who for a good part of his career has been an education specialist at the World Bank, affirms that it is still far from what is happening in Asian countries. , great references in the matter. “If we look at the percentage of Spanish students who take private classes, 47%, indeed, we are advancing fast towards what is happening in Asian countries. However, if we compare the average expenditure in relation to our per capita income with theirs, we see that we are still light years behind them”.

the first goal

The increase in private classes represents a great flow of educational inequality, warn the authors, who propose recommendations to the public powers to mitigate its impact. “The first objective should be to eliminate the part of the expense that is dedicated to reinforcement classes and recovery of basic subjects of the school curriculum and that constitutes a third of the total expense. That is what should worry us the most,” says Moreno. The Esade report proposes promoting free support classes in the educational centers themselves for kids who need it, in line with the PROA program (Plan for Reinforcement, Guidance and Support) recovered in recent years by the Ministry of Education. It also recommends promoting personalized guidance and tutoring services in educational centers, reviewing “the highly competitive external exams” (that is, the Selectividad) and “the unjustifiably high rates of failure and repetition.” The researchers also consider it necessary to increase the collection of information so that more detailed analyzes can be carried out and elements that are now left out of the calculation are included, such as extracurricular sports or summer stays to learn English in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

The text on shadow education in Spain includes a regional section, which shows that Madrid is, at the same time, the community with the highest expenditure per student on private classes and one of the last in terms of percentage of students attending classes. same: 41% compared to 56% in the Basque Country (which is where the most). The authors attribute the contrast in Madrid to the social inequality that exists in the region (which, expressed by the Gini index, is 10 points higher than average). And they consider harmful measures such as the one adopted by the Junta de Andalucía to allow families to deduct the cost of private classes. “They are a clear example of the transfer of public resources to the shadow education system with the justification of subsidizing families to improve the academic performance of their children. It is an inadvisable policy, because it will become an additional incentive to increase the demand for education in the shadows and, with it, a source of educational inequality and loss of public confidence in schooling. And this, in addition to the fact that the tax relief will only benefit upper-middle and upper-class families.

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