The Spanish vocational education and training (VET) system has undergone an important process of digitalisation and innovation during recent years; however, the health crisis has highlighted the importance of face-to-face teaching and the challenges of a comprehensive online system.

Measures relating to VET provision aim to introduce flexible arrangements to support programme completion and allow learners and workers to acquire (new) skills and qualifications to find or maintain their jobs.

The state of emergency declared on March 14 by Royal Decree-Law 463/2020, for the management of the Covid-19 health crisis, introduces a series of measures aimed at protecting the health and safety of citizens, including limitations on freedom of movement, with resulting effects on workers, businesses and citizens. In education and training, these measures take the form of the suspension of all face-to-face learning activity in all centres and at all stages and levels.

Ensuring VET continuity within the education remit

Within the Sectoral Education Conference, the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MEFP) together with regional authorities from the Autonomous Communities, held several meetings to establish the necessary framework and guidelines Order EFP/361/2020, of 21 April establishes exceptional measures that can be adopted by regional education authorities to make initial VET more flexible. Regions may:

  • reduce the duration of work placement modules to a minimum;
  • exempt students from the health and sociocultural and community services branches who have worked during the emergency from the work placement module;
  • integrate work placement and project training into one module;
  • replace the practical training in companies, with a proposal for activities associated with the working environment;
  • in dual VET, allow the agreement with the collaborating company to be terminated if the activity is interrupted.

Guidelines for the third term of the 2019/20 academic year

Order EFP/365/2020 of 22 April sets the framework and guidelines for the third term of the 2019/20 academic year and the start of 2020/21. The agreements, adopted by 12 of the 17 regions (Andalucía, Castilla Leon, Madrid, Murcia, and País Vasco did not subscribe them), are aimed at supporting learners so no-one is left behind:

  • the last term will not include new content but focus on consolidating existing learning and skills, not to overload learners;
  • learners, as a rule, will pass to the next year, with a final decision be taken by the teaching staff;
  • those finishing a keystage (lower secondary compulsory education, upper secondary education and the second year of basic, intermediate and higher VET) will obtain their qualification, following decision of the teaching staff;
  • grades will be based on the marks obtained during the first two terms; assessment of the third term can only be considered to benefit the student.

Supporting vulnerable learners

Conscious of inequities between learners — from broadband services and computers to the supportive environments needed to focus on learning – schools have been identifying disconnected or unreachable students and preparing specific support action plans. To ensure equal access to alternative learning mechanisms implemented since the closure of schools and training centres, education authorities have distributed thousands of computers and tablets. A wide range of contributors is also stepping forward to provide free wi-fi and devices for students who lack them.

Resources for the teaching and learning processes

Both the MEFP and the Autonomous Communities have launched different learning websites and platforms offering online resources for teachers, students, and their families. Regional education authorities are offering training to support teachers at all levels in the use of online platforms, as well as proposals for a selection of teaching methodologies and activities to facilitate teaching during this period of virtual educational activity.

Preparing for the new academic year

Education authorities and training centres are working hard to assess the possibilities and requirements of implementing a 1.5-metre compulsory distance in schools for staff and students, one-way traffic in hallways, a maximum number of people per room and necessary hygiene measures. Possibilities include smaller classrooms, working and studying in shifts and combining schooldays and days at home. The situation will be assessed before the start of the next year and measures revised based on existing needs.

Measures for VET in a labour perspective

The emergency measures adopted have had a great impact on a significant number of training courses financed by the Formación profesional para el empleo scheme, since it is not possible to continue with classroom-based training. Moreover, Royal Decree-Law 11/2020 of 31 March, adopting additional urgent social and economic measures to deal with Covid-19 allows for funds from the vocational training quota for 2020 to be used to finance benefits and actions of the unemployment protection system. On April 15th, the State Public Employment Service published a Resolution establishing measures to deal with the impact of Covid-19 to allow flexible training delivery, strengthen employability and guarantee business competitiveness:

  • the deadline for the implementation of subsidised training programmes is extended until six months after the state of emergency has ended;
  • general measures on e-learning delivery of vocational training courses;
  • professional certificate programmes (CdP) can be delivered online if the training provider has been accredited for such learning and complies with the requirements established in CdP programme regulations. Training requiring the use of facilities and/or equipment for acquisition of practical skills and final assessment tests will take place after the end of the state of emergency;
  • practical workplace-based training module that is suspended or interrupted must be carried out later;
  • flexible measures in terms of deadlines and training providers apply also to training programmes offered by companies;
  • the rate of unemployed workers who can participate in subsidised training programmes for employed workers has been increased and workers most affected by this crisis are allowed to participate in any training programme

Main challenges

The impact of school closure will be significant for students from disadvantaged backgrounds; individualised follow-up and support from year 2020/21 and beyond will be needed. It is essential to show due recognition to all teachers, trainers and other education staff, whose response in this difficult time has been immediate and efficient. From one day to another, they have adapted their teaching / training methods to an online environment, often using their own resources and private locations, working extra hours with students who needed reinforcement.

Employment authority VET stakeholders will be faced with the challenge of helping companies, employed and unemployed workers adapt to a new reality, maintaining as many jobs as possible.

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