The blow of the sixth wave of the pandemic in schools, with a barrage of positive cases among students and teachers, does not distinguish between public and concerted networks, with all the problems that this entails. The teaching teams are solving the situation as best they can, day by day, and often without all the help they would need from the Administration, as many of them protest. In the case of the concerted school, in addition, the difficulties they are experiencing in covering staff losses are added, something that many times they do not even achieve, since it is the centers themselves that must be in charge of looking for substitutes and hiring them.
“A management can spend several hours organizing a leave: look for the substitute, redo schedules, process the teacher’s leave and process the substitute’s contract… These days the schools seem like agencies,” complains Meritxell Ruiz, general secretary of the Escola Cristiana foundation , the main employer of the concerted in Catalonia. “In one case, it took us four days to get the discharge [necesaria para poder conseguir un sustituto] and in another, so many days passed that they gave the teacher both the discharge and the discharge”, explains Soledad Casas, director of the Colegio de Jesús in the Barajas neighborhood, in Madrid, about the problems it poses for a concerted center such as the theirs the saturation of health care services. And he adds: “And many times we don’t find substitutes just for seven days [lo que dura la cuarentena]; if they are unemployed or preparing oppositions, it is not worth it”.
Concerted schools are private centers subsidized with public money so that they offer compulsory education free of charge. They serve a quarter of the students in all of Spain, with percentages ranging from 15% in Extremadura and the Canary Islands to almost half of the student body in the Basque Country. Always involved in the debate between the defenders of this subsidized offer (mainly Catholic) and those who advocate the pre-eminence of the public offer and complain that the concerted offer charges families, its hybrid nature can leave them in no man’s land in situations like the current one. “We pay the payroll of teachers, but we are not responsible for looking for people,” said the Secretary General of Education of Catalonia, Patrícia Gomà, a few days ago. “The concerted one is always the last in the queue, we are seen as private, that we only want to charge families to do business and they do not just believe that we are also a public service”, laments Enric Masllorens, general director of the Foundation Jesuits Education.
Pedro Huerta, general secretary of Catholic Schools, the majority entity in the concerted network at the state level, insists in the same direction: “It seems that we are always complaining, but it is that, deep down, it is to the detriment of the students, of teaching. Someone could say: well, let the concerted party look for the beans… But, look, I can look for the beans if I have one or two teachers. [de baja], but not eight and I don’t know how many there will be next week”.
A teacher works in two classrooms at the Colegio de Jesús in the Barajas neighborhood of Madrid. Victor Sainz
Huerta also recalls that many communities withdrew a good part of the teaching reinforcements at the beginning of the course to deal with the pandemic situation, which would come in handy in the current situation. “In some cases, they were also withdrawn from the public, but in others only from the concerted one,” he says. This course, although in many cases less than a year ago, the concerted centers are being provided with additional teachers in all the communities except Aragón, Castilla-la Mancha, Murcia and La Rioja, according to the count made by Catholic Schools. According to these calculations, some autonomies also offer aid to hire covid coordinators (Andalusia, and Cantabria) or reinforce the cleaning service (Madrid) and many also give funds to buy materials such as masks: Aragón, Asturias, Cantabria, Comunidad Valenciana, Galicia, Balearic Islands, Madrid, Navarra and the Basque Country.
Some regional governments, in addition, are trying to streamline the mechanisms to replace teachers on leave, but even in these cases, the difficulties come from other sides. For example, the lack of substitutes. The Escola Cristiana foundation, which brings together 70% of the Catalan concerted, has a pool of substitutes of 900 people that it offers to its 400 affiliated centers, but it has fallen short. Given the current high volume of casualties, and that many resign, they sent an email to all the candidates to find out who was really available immediately: 260 responded. In addition to trying to fatten the bag, they have closed an agreement with the private university Ramon Llull to incorporate already graduate students who are studying a master’s degree or a second degree. They have also tried to incorporate final year students, but the Generalitat has not allowed it. Of course, they will be able to hire secondary teachers to teach primary classes.
In the Madrid neighborhood of Barajas, the director of the Colegio de Jesús explains that, with four absent teachers (there have become five out of 46), they are managing as best they can, thanks to the extra effort of the staff. In a walk through the center on Friday morning, clear examples of what he refers to can be seen: a nursery school teacher giving class in the middle of two classrooms whose students cannot get together; another taking care of the little ones at one hour and those of ESO at the next; the head of studies leading tai chi exercises in another class; video cameras turned on in almost all of them pointing at the teacher so that the students at home can follow the lesson… “Every day you arrive and you don’t know what you are going to have to do. Before, I didn’t bring my cell phone into class, but now I have to carry it with me because they continuously communicate a positive from a student or a teacher, some change…”, says the Language teacher Marta Gómez.
In the end, with all the difficulties and although they have had to park the most advanced methodologies, the schools are still open, the classes continue their course and the curriculum is advancing. But at the cost, insists Soledad Casas, of increasingly exhausted teams, more exhausted families and students who find it increasingly difficult to keep their spirits up.
“In a week and a half we have had the same casualties due to covid as in the entire first quarter,” says Natalia Llorente, director of Escola Pia de Igualada (Barcelona). Llorente defines the situation of his center as “complex”, with 10% of the staff on leave. Added to this is the management of positives among students. “This generates a lot of work for us, sending communications to families, counting quarantines, seeing those who are not immunized… And Health cannot give us an answer to everything because they are collapsed and do not have sufficient means,” complains the director, who also regrets that the efforts by the covid are eaten almost all the time. “Schools are being charged with tasks that do not correspond to us, such as informing families about health issues, we should have reinforcement for these matters. Our responsibility is to provide a good educational service”.