Infant school pupil numbers plummet due to declining birth-rate

NEARLY 51,500 fewer children are in schools in Spain this academic year as a result of the ever-decreasing birth-rate, says the ministry of education

The fall in pupil numbers has, predictably, mainly been seen in the 3-6 age-group, which has gone down by 3.7% from 1,362,128 during the 2015-2016 school year to 1,311,683 this year.

Overall, pupil numbers nationwide of all age-groups have plummeted by 2.8%, from 1,806,620 to 1,755,200 since the last school year.

Infant school, which is not obligatory but strongly recommended, is split into two stages – the first being from babyhood to three years old, with children typically accepted from as early as six months and which most of the government’s opposition parties want to make free of charge to all parents; and from three to six years, which is free of charge already and for which classes are normally held in mainstream primary schools.

The maximum number of pupils in school on record in the under-six stages was seen in the 2011-2012 academic year, when 1,917,236 were on the register, but the number has gradually reduced.

This is partly due to the birth-rate continuing to fall and partly the result of foreign families leaving Spain due to lack of job opportunities.

Very limited financial help is available to parents with fewer than three children, who are considered ‘large families’.

Single parents, those with at least two children of whom one or more is disabled, and those with three or more are entitled to a €100-a-month tax reduction, which is refunded once a year in summer, and some town councils offer help towards the cost of school textbooks and buses for these families if they are on a low income, typically the minimum wage or below.

Otherwise, the cost of raising a child comes out of mums’ and dads’ pre-parenthood wages and, if they wish to reduce their hours to save the cost of childcare, this means bringing the kids up on even less money.

Unemployment and lack of job security, with over nine in 10 new positions being temporary and often part-time, means a growing number of women and men of child-bearing age are choosing not to have children or to stop at one for purely financial reasons.

A trend which has been seen throughout the 21st century, the falling birth-rate shows no signs of reversing as yet – between now and the year 2030, an estimated 5.3 million babies are predicted to be born, representing a 22% decline on the period from 2000 to 2015.

During the last school year, 51.7% of pupils in Infants were boys; 63.7% of the total went to State schools and 10.8% to private schools, with the remainder in what is known as a colegio concertado or grant-maintained centre – a ‘halfway house’ between State and private, where parents pay some fees and the rest of the schooling is covered by the government.

A total of 148,018 pupils in Infants in the 2015-2016 academic year were foreign, or born in Spain to foreign parents, compared with 149,984 in the previous school year.

As yet, no figures are available for the number of foreign children in Infants in the current school year, but the majority of these are expected to be in Catalunya, Madrid and Andalucía, as has typically been the case, with the fewest seen in Navarra, La Rioja and Cantabria.

Infant education is considered by authorities to have a ‘positive impact’ on future academic performance, especially as it means children are often able to read and write before starting mainstream school at age six.

Before age six, pupils learn personal and social development appropriate to their age, movement, bodily control, verbal communication and language, discovery of physical and social characteristics of their environment, and the basic inter-personal skills that will be developed as they grow.

Thanks to the higher birth-rates seen between 1999 and 2008, the number of children in primary school – aged six to 12 – and compulsory high school, from 12 to 16, has gone up, the ministry of education says.

This year, the total number of kids in secondary school comes to 1,899,019, compared with 1,868,584 in the previous year – a rise of 30,435.

In primary school, a total of 671 extra children are now on the register, rising frrom 2,924,463 in the 2015-2016 academic year to 2,925,134 this year.

The numbers appear to show that the sharpest birth-rate decline has, therefore, been in the period since 2009, when the financial crisis began in earnest.

Numbers of students in sixth form have also risen, which may be partly linked to higher birth-rates at the turn of the Millennium, and partly to the crisis – with the emphasis on obtaining higher qualifications now greater than ever – as figures show that an extra 12,809 young adults enrolled on Bachillerato (A-level) courses this year, taking the total to 707,033 from 694,224.

The number of babies born in 2008 came to 11.2 per 1,000 inhabitants, or 1.12%, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), but had shrunk to nine per 1,000, or 0.9%, by 2015.

Published Think Spain13 January 20176

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