Spain’s state-subsidised schools break law by charging ‘fees’ for free education

Ninety percent of Spain's 'colegios concertados' charge parents extra fees that amount to as much as €2,000 a year when by law these schools should be completely free, a new study reveals.

Spain's state-subsidised schools break law by charging 'fees' for free education
90% of concertada schools charge fees. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

State-subsidised schools, or colegios concertados, are schools where some funds are provided by Spanish government, but not all the costs are covered as in the case of public schools.

There are currently 9,317 of these institutions in Spain, according to the latest data from Spain’s Ministry of Education in its report from 2019/2020. Around 58 percent of them are Catholic schools.

Spain is the fourth country in Europe with the highest number of state-subsidised schools and 26 percent of children in Spain study at one.

In theory, they are supposed to be free because they are supported by public funds, but nine out of ten of these schools are charging fees to families.

READ ALSO: How Spain is changing its ESO secondary education system

Three out of every four are even labelling these fees as mandatory, despite the fact that the law prohibits it, according to a joint report by Spain’s Association of Private and Independent Schools (Cicae) and the Spanish Confederation Associations of Parents of Students (Ceapa).

In one out of every two colegios concertados, the fee is higher than €100 per month.

Article 88 of Spain Law of Education (Ley de Educación) states that in order “to guarantee the possibility of enrolling all students without discrimination on the basis of socioeconomic reasons, in no case may public or private centres receive amounts from families for receiving free education, impose upon families the obligation to make contributions to foundations or associations or establish compulsory services associated with teaching that require financial contributions from the families of the students”.

But this isn’t what’s happening in practice, with reports suggesting that some parents end up paying more than €2,000 a year in ‘extra fees’ which don’t cover other expenses they have to cough up such as for school excursions, activities or school material.

Even though families are under no legal obligation to pay these cuotas, school administrators will pursue their payment repeatedly in the form of emails or letters, with parents fearing their children will face discrimination if they don’t.

Catalonia, Madrid and the Basque Country are the regions where these payments are the most expensive, according to the Association of Parents of Students (Ampas).  

Parents pay the most in Catalonia at €191 per month on average, which is slightly less than last year’s average of €200.

The Basque Country has seen a 60 percent increase in fees compared to 2020 up to €160 per family per month, and Madrid they’re paying €119 this year compared with €100 last year.  

These are the only three regions in which in 100 percent of the cases the fee was mandatory.  

READ ALSO – Costs, tax cuts and choices: What you should know about childcare in Spain

At the other end of the spectrum, Aragón is on average the cheapest for these types of schools at €38 per month on average. Andalusia comes in second at €42, followed by Valencia at €74.  

These fees, however, are still way below the amount that families would have to pay if they sent their kids to a fully private school.  

Navarra is the only region that has been left out of the study this year. 

Elena Cid, general director of the Association of Private Centers said: “The serious thing is that the fees are authorised by the educational authority. Every year schools request permission to charge these fees and the administration authorises it. We ask that the administrations do not authorise these fees. The right of families to free education is not being guaranteed and this is discriminatory”.

Spain’s colegios concertados justify their fees by saying that the payments make up for the underfunding they suffer, despite the fact that the amount of public funds that go to these state-subsidised schools has risen by 20 percent in the last ten years while the number of students enrolled remained stable.   

They’ve referred to this latest study as a “smear campaign” to “eliminate the competition that state-subsidised education offers at a time of declining birth rates.”

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‘I got looks of kindness’: Is breastfeeding in public considered ok in Spain?

The World Health Organisation and the UN recognise breastfeeding as a human right and, therefore, consider it appropriate anywhere and at any time, but what are people's attitudes to doing it in public in Spain?

'I got looks of kindness': Is breastfeeding in public considered ok in Spain?

Spain’s, Equality Law protects mothers who want to breastfeed their children in public, which means that any mother in Spain has the legal right to breastfeed her children in public without feeling threatened, criticised or insulted.

This is also covered in article 24.2 of Law 7/1997 of July 4th, which authorises business owners not to admit certain clients to their businesses if they behave violently, cause inconvenience to the public or other users or alter the normal development of the activity. But, the law also considers it to be an abuse of this right if you use it to restrict access in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.

This means that if you’re in any type of establishment, store, swimming pool, cafe or restaurant, they cannot refuse you the right of admission if you are breastfeeding or throw you out if you decide to it there. 

Some regions have gone even further to protect a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. In 2015 the Basque Government formally recognised the practice as a right and included it in its health system regulations. Then in 2016, Valencia approved a proposal to recogise the right of mothers to breastfeed their children in any public space. A year later in 2017, the Pamplona City Council followed in its footsteps, declaring all municipal offices, from streets and parks to schools and cultural centres, as open spaces for breastfeeding.

The laws may be in place to protect those who want to breastfeed, but how do mothers in Spain actually feel about carrying out this practice in public, do they feel comfortable enough and have they experienced any problems? 

READ ALSO: Five things you should know about Spain’s new Family Law

How do foreign mothers in Spain feel about breastfeeding in public?

The Local spoke to several foreign residents in Spain to find out what their experiences have been and how they compare to breastfeeding in public back in their home countries. 

Generally, most women we interviewed felt very comfortable with breastfeeding in public in Spain and the majority said it was much more widely accepted here than back in their home countries. 

Kate Weatherby from the UK who lives in Barcelona said: “I definitely feel more comfortable here than in the UK. I’ve had strangers talk to me, come closer to look at the baby feeding and say how cute he is, even touch him while he was feeding. Whereas in the UK when you get out a boob, everyone either leaves to ‘let the baby feed in peace’, or they stop making eye contact! That’s friends and family as well, not just strangers”. 

Marti Buckley who is from the US and lives San Sebastián had a similar opinion saying that with her daughter who was born in 2019, she felt very comfortable breastfeeding anywhere. “The Basque Country is such a matriarchy with a strong presence of women, people don’t give it a second thought,” she explained. 

She added that it was so much easier to breastfeed in public in Spain than back in the States where her first daughter was born. “I definitely remember feeling like I had to get up from a table and completely and totally hide any skin if I was going to breastfeed in public. I remember also feeling like it was almost a requirement to act apologetic about it,” she said. 

Lucy Grainger, also from the UK, agreed that with her first in the UK she was expected to cover up, but with her second in Spain, she felt completely different. “I would breastfeed whenever she wanted, often on the go in the carrier – which is a common practice here. I would sit in plazas and feed her on trains and the Metro too”.

What are people’s attitudes to breastfeeding in public in Spain? Photo: Wren Meinberg / Unsplash

But it wasn’t just those from other English-speaking countries who feel that Spain has a much more relaxed attitude to breastfeeding in public.

Steffi De Nancy from France said: “In Spain, sometimes I receive looks of kindness, affection or admiration (and also indifference). I have never been looked at badly. I have felt this all over Spain, even in smaller towns,” she stated. 

This was in contrast to how she feels in France, where she “notices more stares as if it were something weird or not so frequent. I think there is a problem there with how breastfeeding is perceived in public places there,” she explained.

Another reader who preferred not to be named said that in Barcelona she’s had no problems and feels very relaxed breastfeeding, but “in my husband’s village near Zaragoza it’s more conservative and I’ve had a couple of comments,” she added. 

“In Catalonia, I’ve never had a problem even in small villages. I now live in a town outside the capital and everyone’s been very supportive”. 

Not everyone feels the same

One reader, Eva Šalplachtová from the Czech Republic, however, did not agree with the sentiment of the majority. She explained that in her country breastfeeding is both common and encouraged. “In my social group breastfeeding became almost a religion,” she said.

When she came to Spain she said that most of the other mothers breastfeeding in playgrounds and open spaces were from Central Europe or Germany. “To be honest, I have never had a feeling of being observed while breastfeeding until I came to Spain,” she added.

What about when it comes to breastfeeding toddlers?

Not only are attitudes to breastfeeding in public different in Spain to other countries, but the ages at which it’s socially acceptable to breastfeed changes too. 

“In the UK anything beyond age one and you’re getting questions about when you’re planning on stopping… I did feel a bit self-conscious when my second son was born and I was feeding both of them in public because my 2-year-old suddenly looked ridiculously huge next to his brother!” Kate Weatherby said.

Eva Šalplachtová, on the other hand, said that in the Czech Republic, it’s common to breastfeed until the child is around 3-4 years, but in Spain, her friends were surprised that she was breastfeeding a one-year-old. “Once I was told by our neighbour that she has never seen a toddler nursing” she added, saying that sometimes she had received negative comments too. 

Lucy Grainger had found the opposite in Spain, saying that she found it far more normal to breastfeed older children here. “In the UK you don’t really see babies older than 6 months being breastfed… In Spain, I breastfed my youngest until three and never felt I had to hide that”. 

Another reader who preferred not to be named echoed this feeling saying: “I’ve had a very positive experience breastfeeding in Spain, even with a toddler – I’m too embarrassed to breastfeed my toddler in England in public”.