Evaluation of Madrid’s bilingual programme

In June 2018, Madrid’s regional government published its evaluation of Madrid’s bilingual programme. The report presents data about the impacts of the programme on the students’ level of English, as well as their performance in other subjects.

The bilingual programme in the Madrid region

As we explained in a previous post, bilingual schools in Madrid have a “sección bilingüe” and a “programa bilingüe”. In the “sección”, students receive at least a third of the timetable in English, and the non-language subjects (“ANLs”) must include geography and history in all four years of ESO and biology and geology in the first and third years. Students in the “programa”, meanwhile, only have one or two ANLs in English. The ANLs are taught 100% in English, and the students in the “sección” also study an “advanced” English curriculum.

English level

In 2016-17, the British Council carried out an independent study of the level of English language competence of students in the fourth year of ESO at bilingual and non-bilingual schools in Madrid. In the recent bilingual education conference in Badajoz, Mark Levy of the British Council outlined some of the findings.

The respondents in the study consisted of 577 students at non-bilingual public schools, 673 students at non-bilingual charter schools (“concertados”; note that the bilingual programme in charter schools had not yet reached the fourth year of ESO) and 524 students at bilingual public schools, roughly evenly split between “sección” and “programa” students. This was a representative sample of all pupils at Madrid schools with respect to geographical area, socioeconomic status and type of school (public/charter, bilingual/non-bilingual). There was not much difference in socioeconomic status between students at bilingual and non-bilingual schools.

The chart shows the results of the tests. Here are some of the main conclusions:

  • Students from the “secciones” had a substantially higher English level than other students: 42% of them had a C1 and 44% had a B2.
  • The language level of students from the “programas” was similar to that of students at charter schools (“concertados”), but much higher than that of students at non-bilingual public schools. 15% of “programa” students had a C1, 22% had a B2 and 43% had a B1.
  • Students at bilingual schools obtained better results in all four language skills, but the difference was smallest for speaking.

Socioeconomic differences

In Madrid, the bilingual programme has been criticised for exacerbating differences between socioeconomic groups. Nevertheless, the results of the British Council study did not support this view: the performance of students of high and low socioeconomic status  was much more similar in bilingual schools than non-bilingual schools. In fact, the English level of low socioeconomic status students in bilingual schools was higher than that of high socioeconomic status students in non-bilingual schools.

Motivation in English learning

The British Council study also included questions about students’ attitudes towards learning English. The results showed that students at bilingual schools had higher levels of motivation and interest in learning English, and they also read more books in English, as well as using it more on social media and the Internet.

Another interesting point was that the percentage of students who attended external English classes was much higher in non-bilingual schools than in bilingual schools. Perhaps families of students at bilingual schools think they already receive enough English teaching, so they don’t need to have private classes in addition.

Other subjects

Madrid’s regional government also analysed the results of external exams, university entrance exams (PAU 2016 and EvAU 2017) and international tests such as PISA to compare students from bilingual and non-bilingual schools. They did not find any significant differences between the two groups of students in subjects such as Spanish language and literature, social sciences, maths or science, while in English the bilingual students achieved much higher marks. The Madrid government’s report contains much more detail about the results of these tests.


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