Introduction to the case study offered by Luis Grajal de Blasby

by Antoinette Camilleri Grima

Luis Grajal de Blas

Luis Grajal de Blas is involved in the administration of a bilingual programme in a Spanish secondary school, Ies Pérez Comendador in Plasencia (BILINGUAL PROGRAMS IN EXTREMADURA2.ppt). In this case study he highlights a number of background variables such as geographical, economic and social factors that have a bearing upon the organisation, implementation, and success of an innovative programme like this one. 

The Guide (Chapter 3) discusses a number of social factors relevant to decision-making processes in education.  Grajal de Blas gives a clear picture of the many social facets that influence the needs of the community and the social representations of languages and language education.  This case study also exemplifies the school profiling process and illustrates in some detail the type of information that can be collected before embarking on a whole-school language policy (School profile).

The bilingual programme described by Grajal de Blas has made a number of important efforts in order to:

  1. Diversify language learning activities (Guide, section 6.5)
  2. Diversify materials and resources (Guide, section
  3. Link with other teaching establishments (Guide, section 6.5.4)
  4. Cater for staff development (Guide, section 5.4.3)

Grajal de Blas gives details of these efforts in his case study.  Finally he also makes an appraisal of the success and challenges still facing their programme, and how the school has moved to work hand in hand with the local authorities in order to improve the overall language provision (School policy).

Bilingual Programmes in Extremadura

Luis Alberto Grajal de  Blas

The aim of this contribution is to describe the way we have recently implemented plurilingualism in the Spanish region of Extremadura. First, a background to the social and economic context is given.  This is then followed by a description of our school and an illustration of our bilingual programme.

Geographical and Economic Background

EXTREMADURA is a western region in Spain close to the Portuguese border. Its territory is divided into two provinces: Cáceres and Badajoz. Table 1 presents some data related to its social and economic background.  From this information one concludes that:

  • No population growth has taken place in the last century and the population at present remains the same as in 1920.
  • During the fifties, sixties and seventies of the past century Extremadura lost a quarter of its population due to emigration, mainly to areas surrounding the richest Spanish cities - Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao - but also to other countries like France, Switzerland, Germany, and The Netherlands.
  • 2.5% of the population in Extremadura live in 8.5% of the Spanish territory (i.e. the territory of Extremadura).
  • 45% of the population are either under 20 years or above 65.
  • Agriculture and livestock are still very important activities in the economy of our region.
  • The annual income per inhabitant is almost 40% lower than the average EU-25 countries.

 Table 1: Social and Economic Background
Evolution in the 20th century:
1900: 882410 inhabitants
1920:1054707 inhabitants
1950:1364857 inhabitants
1980:1050119 inhabitants.
Evolution over a 3 year period:
2002 : 1073050 inhabitants
2003: 1073904 inhabitants
2004 : 1075286 inhabitants
Population under 20 yrs: 23,5%
Population above 65: 19,08%
birth rate (1/1000):9,19
death rate (1/1000):9,59
population growth rate (1/1000): -0,4
45% of the population in Extremadura live in towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants.

While the population in Spain grew 108% in between 1900 and 1991, Extremadura growth rate at this time was only  20%.
At the beginning of the 20th century almost 5% of the population in Spain lived in Extremadura. Now only 2.5% of Spaniards move to our region.
Land Area
41,634 Km2
This amounts to 8.5% of the country.
The province of Badajoz is the largest in Spain. Cáceres ranks third in size.
Population density is 25 persons/Km2
Agriculture and livestock: 13.53%
Industry: 10.4%
Construction: 14%
Services: 62.07%
Income per capita    (EU-25 = 100)
Spain : 94,6
Extremadura: 61,5
Extremadura is one of the poorest regions in Spain. Along with Andalucía, it is still considered to be a priority number 1 area by the European Union.

IES PEREZ COMENDADOR is located in Plasencia, the main town in northern Extremadura, the second largest town in the province of Cáceres and the fourth largest one in Extremadura with 40,000 inhabitants.

Since its foundation in 1186, Plasencia has been a crossroads, a trading centre where products related to agriculture and livestock are sold (the traditional weekly market organised in the main square of the old town is a symbol of this activity). Plasencia is also a reference point for people coming from the surrounding area due to the availability of hospitals, schools, a University and other services. Within its Medieval walls, people can find some of the most prized monuments  in Spain.  Palaces, Romanesque and Gothic churches, two cathedrals (the older inside the new one) are the main buildings of this historic environment. In its coat-of-arms, the town motto reads UT PLACEAT DEO ET HOMINIBUS (to please God and mankind).  The university city of Salamanca is 130 km from Plasencia, and Madrid is about 230 km eastwards.

In a single day one can visit Roman ruins in Caparra, the Medieval Jewish quarter in Hervás, a palace of the Habsburg Emperor Charles V in Cuacos de Yuste, Ski runs in Béjar, beautiful countryside in The Jerte Valley (also known as The Cherry Valley) and the Natural Park of Monfragüe (the largest area of Mediterranean forest in Extremadura).  These are all in the vicinity of Placencia.

The Social Context

Plasencia, like the rest of the Extremadura region, is a monolingual area for a number of reasons:

  • There are no ethnic minorities and the number of immigrants coming to this region remains small. Multiculturalism does not exist in our social context yet. Almost all our students are Spanish and born within the region.
  • Although our city is not far away from Portugal, no linguistic influence comes from this country: the Portuguese language is offered as a foreign language only in 5% of the schools. Some programmes have been developed during the last years aimed at increasing exchanges between the two countries.
  • Our economic structure, traditionally based on local agriculture and livestock, has little or no influence outside the region, so that foreign languages are not considered a priority by the population. Schools have to make a lot of effort to convince students of the importance of foreign language teaching as there is little or no awareness of languages among the population.
  • The Spanish language is spoken everywhere. There are some dialects, with Portuguese and Galician influences, in small rural areas, but not with many speakers. The authorities have supported programmes aimed at furthering knowledge about these linguistic varieties.

Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5 below provide figures that can help us understand some facts about education in our region:

  • Pre-University Students. There is a slightly decreasing trend. 17.2% of the population and 3 out of 4 people under the age of 20 attend these educational levels.
  • Pre-University Student distribution among different educational institutions in Extremadura (2004/05): Only half of the students in compulsory education manage to reach upper secondary education. Education is not a priority among our youth.
  • Multiculturalism does not exist in our educational context: Only 2% of students in pre-university educational institutions come from foreign countries. Students who belong to Minority communities require a good knowledge of the Spanish language in order to integrate into our educational system.
  • 80% of the students in pre-university studies attend public schools.
  • The number of students per group ranges between 20 and 25. The teacher-student ratio is 1:8 in primary and 1:12 in secondary schools.

Table 2:

Table 3:

Pre-Primary and Primary school
Lower Secondary education (Compulsory)
Upper Secondary Education: Academic Branch
Upper Secondary Education: Vocational Branch

Table 4:

Pre-Primary and Primary school 2.0%
Lower Secondary education 1.60%
Upper secondary Education: Academic Branch 0.60%
Upper secondary Education: Vocational Branch 1.00%

Table 5:

   Public Schools  Private schools
Pre-Primary and Primary school 17.5 23.0
Lower Secondary education       24.3 28.0
Upper secondary Education: Academic   Branch 21.6 24.5
Upper secondary Education: Vocational Branch 20.0 20.0

Table 6:

  public private
Pre-Primary and Primary school 415 Not available
Secondary schools     127 Not available
TOTAL 542 53


PEREZ COMENDADOR secondary school is one of five secondary education centres in the town.

Up to 1995 it was only a vocational training school but ten years ago it became a medium sized secondary school with a new academic offer that included both lower (compulsory) and upper secondary education. At the beginning of the 2005-06 academic year, the school launched an English-Spanish bilingual programme aimed at improving the linguistic skills in both languages of the students at lower secondary level.

In 2003 the school celebrated its 25th anniversary. The name comes from a famous sculptor born at the beginning of the 20th  century  in  Hervás, a town not  far away from our city.

Table 7 presents some figures about our students and staff. More detailed information about the linguistic background of teachers is given in Table 8. After analysing the data in Table 8 one becomes aware of an obstacle identified in section 6.2.2 of the Guide: that of the availability of teachers who can teach in two different languages. The lack of teachers to develop plurilingualism has its origin in the way languages were learned in Spain in the past as well as the monolingual context in which our daily lives develop. In our school, as in the vast majority of secondary schools in our area it is not possible to find the right teacher profiles as described in section 6.2.3 of the Guide.

Table 7:
 Lower secondary education 200
 Upper secondary education (Academic branch) 105
 Upper secondary education (Vocational training) 220
 Teachers 64
Administrators, cleaners and janitors 11

Table 8:
 University degree in at least one foreign language 6
 University degree in classical languages 1
 University studies abroad (different from Foreign languages
 Skills in at least one foreign language (equivalent to B1
 and B2 levels of the Common European Framework of
). They have certificates issued by well-known
 institutions in foreign language teaching.
 Other official Spanish languages speakers
 (Galician, Catalonian, Basque)

Our school is committed to a number of educational activities, butmost of them are conducted in Spanish. Our students are encouraged to take part in Literature Workshops (where well-known Spanish writers explain and share with them their creative process), Image and Sound workshops (our school produces short films every year, often prize-winners in national contests), cross-curricular projects on topics like drug addiction, gender equity or multicultural society), drama activities, environmental programmes, and Gender Equity and Coeducation, Blood Donation campaigns (campaigns which have won regional education authority awards).

A school magazine called CARPE DIEM is designed and made in PEREZ COMENDADOR SCHOOL. Two or three numbers are issued yearly free of charge for school students and teachers. Students are encouraged to contribute by writing articles, comments and producing art work. This magazine has a high profile in the region. It includes articles and sections written in English and French.

Diversifying Language Learning Activities. A review of the facts that must be considered to develop plurilingualism according to section 6.1 of the Guide.

Our work in providing students with foreign language education is largely influenced by the circumstances described above: the economic and social context, the monolingual environment, traditions, the lack of foreign language training programmes for prospective teachers in the past, etc. (see section 6.1 of the Guide).

In the Spanish Education System all students at secondary level (except those engaged in vocational studies) must follow courses in at least one foreign language (90% of them choose English) across the different levels: three lessons a week (about 100 hours per course). A second foreign language can be learned as an option in both compulsory and non-compulsory secondary schools (about 70 hours per course). In our case, only 20% of the students follow a second foreign language programme (mainly French). Those who wish to learn German, Italian, Portuguese, etc must follow courses outside the school system. In some cases there is no availability of learning programmes devoted to these languages there either.

Most of our students have studied a foreign language (normally English) for at least four years in primary school.  However, very few of them would have had the chance to visit foreign countries or to establish contact with people from the target language countries and cultures.

Only about 15% of our students follow foreign language courses outside school in order to improve their communicative skills, enhance their school qualifications, and get external certificates offered by English, French or American institutions. There is little or no coordination between these establishments and the school as recommended in section 6.3 of the Guide.


In our language education we deal with the four language skills. Oral comprehension is developed by means of conversation. For Reading comprehension, students are presented with texts (authentic or semi-authentic), in which they can read about, among other things, English traditions and customs, scientific facts, historical aspects, the life of adolescents in other countries, etc. The study and enrichment of vocabulary is fully related to the reading texts and to the conversation themes. Oral Communication is developed by encouraging students to communicate their ideas about a chosen topic.

The main difficulties our students encounter are related to the structural and pronunciation differences between Spanish and English.  For instance, syllable structure is different and causes problems in listening tasks.  Grammar is considered by our students as the most important issue in learning a foreign language so that a great amount of time is dedicated to it.  This takes away time that could be dedicated to the strengthening of other skills and the application of other methods (like those considered in section 6.6.1 of the Guide).

Finally the lack of contact with English speaking people (learning in homophone environment - section of the Guide), the difficulties found in the lack of daily use of this language, and the monolingual background of the students, account for a lack of motivation on their part to learn English.

Perhaps our education system has failed to develop language awareness programmes among the youngest learners in order to help them appreciate plurilingualism, and to stimulate them to seek further knowledge about linguistic varieties.


In the school year 2004-2005 our Regional Education Authority launched a two year experimental bilingual programme in four lower secondary schools, located in the two main cities of Extremadura (Cáceres -86,000 inhabitants- and Badajoz -135,000 inhabitants-). Two of them were French-Spanish bilingual programmes, while the other two were English-Spanish ones.

At the beginning of the scholastic year 2005-2006, the extension of this programme to other towns was considered. In fact, six new schools joined the project last September, amongst them PEREZ COMENDADOR school. Three different possibilities were offered to schools in order to develop a bilingual programme: French-Spanish, English-Spanish and Portuguese-Spanish sections. PEREZ COMENDADOR School went for the second option and is now working in close cooperation with a primary school in the city EL PILAR that launched a similar programme with students aged 10.


The aims of our bilingual programme are:

  • To improve the communicative skills of students in one foreign language.
  • To teach non-language content in a foreign language.
  • To provide opportunities for cultural immersion in target language countries.
  • To reinforce the learning of a second foreign language.
  • To increase exchange programmes and promote communication between schools in Extremadura and others abroad.
  • To follow European Union and Council of Europe advice on reinforcing foreign  language tuition.

We are trying to follow some of the suggestions made forward in the Guide.  For example: 

  • In section 6.4 it stresses the need to decompartmentalise language education  and integrate language teaching in a cross-curricular approach.
  • Section 6.5.3 describes the possibility of developing these programmes as a  pilot scheme in secondary compulsory education just as is being done in Extremadura.
  • The role of transversality in learning experiences is emphasised in section  6.6
  • In section 6.10, bilingual programmes are described as one of the most  effective ways of implementing education for plurilingualism and plurilingual awareness.


Our programme is intended for students who have just left primary school and who are entering lower secondary studies at the age of 12.  Two non-language subjects can be taught using the foreign language in the bilingual programme. In our case this is done through English. This programme tries to fulfil two roles: that of developing students" plurilingualism and also their capacity in the area of language awareness (as is described in section 6.10.2 of the Guide).

In each non-language subject included in the programme, the foreign language must be used for at least one weekly period. The syllabus of these subjects remains the same as the one followed in other schools which are not bilingual.

In this programme students must study a second foreign language (in our case, French) with an additional period per week (3 hours per week instead of 2). This decision was taken in order to promote and develop second and foreign language learning (section 6.4 of the Guide).


Students volunteer to take part in the programme and no previous experience in bilingual programmes is required. Schools developing these projects are allowed to establish selection procedures in order to incorporate students in the bilingual programme.  Parents sign an agreement on behalf of their children stating that they will stay in the programme for two years.

At least twenty students are required to begin a bilingual project. Only a single bilingual group is allowed in each level in every school involved in the programme.


Teachers taking part in this project are staff members of the school. They agree to participate for a two-year period with no extra payment. Instead they are rewarded with some benefits like a reduction in their teaching load and grants (to attend foreign language courses mainly). To participate in the bilingual English programme they must have an adequate level of English which means that they either possess a university degree in the foreign language or external certificates issued by other institutions (e.g. Cambridge University Proficiency Test, Spanish School of Languages, DELF (Dîplome élémentaire langue française), etc.

Among the teachers involved in the programme there is a coordinator, whose speciality must be the foreign language of the programme. This teacher is in charge of the programme, coordinates the teachers' work, looks for resources and acts as a public relations officer in the community. Coordinators responsible for organising courses aimed at improving the linguistic skills of the school staff members. Teaching teams (the Guide, sections 6.2.3,, are one of the main features of this kind of programme: the work load is shared among the different staff members and foreign language teaching is diversified.


Schools involved in this bilingual programme are provided with a full time native assistant teacher (one of the specialised teachers described in section 6.2.3). They are also funded with an extra amount of money and have priority in the development of European projects such as those included in Socrates Actions (Comenius, Arion, etc.).  This is a way of emphasising the importance of foreign language learning and it is done through the establishment of educational networks with schools abroad, and study trips. Teachers engaged in the project are encouraged and supported when they wish to improve their language skills abroad and are given other incentives so as to move forward in their professional career.


As previously mentioned the programme began in our school last September (2005-2006). Since that moment the teachers involved in the project have been working in a number of fields that will be described below. We are also about to embark on other activities.

1. The organisation of teaching and learning activities of students enrolled in the bilingual group (English-Spanish) in two non linguistic areas (Mathematics and Design & Technology) and the development of methodological tools to integrate the English language into these subjects. 

  • During this first year, our priority in non-language subjects with respect to the  foreign language was the development of oral fluency, the acquisition of   vocabulary in each field, and the consolidation of basic grammatical structures.
  • Among the methodological tools we investigated the integration of native assistant teachers in our daily work, and we also tried to include similar content in the English lessons as in the non-language subjects.
  • Adapting the existing syllabus to the new learning conditions.
  • Consolidating the communicative teaching methods as described in section 6.6.1 of the Guide.

2. The preparation of material and the collection of resources (printed material, multimedia, etc.)

  • Textbooks borrowed from other education systems were not suitable for our  students due to the language used in them and the differences existing between  our syllabus and theirs. So we had to work very hard in order to adapt both the syllabus and the textbooks (see section 6.4 of the Guide).
  • We consider spoken interaction in the foreign language as a very important element and this has meant very hard work in searching for interactive material that was in some way similar to our syllabus.  In this respect we have shared information with other schools involved in the programme and through the Internet we have been able to collect a significant number of resources suitable for our students and relevant to our curriculum.
  • We have translated our school web page into English, and this has provided opportunities for new kinds of language learning: distance learning, and self-directed learning (sections and of the Guide).

3. The production of school identification cards and notices in English and Spanish, as well as the promotion of the Programme in Plasencia and its surroundings.  Throughout the year the teachers involved in the programme have taken on the task of explaining its objectives and activities in primary schools, on local TV channels, magazines, papers, etc. This was necessary in order to give it a high profile and to emphasise the importance of plurilingualism in the context of students" future academic careers and a modern inter-connected world.

4. The organisation of courses for school teachers who might join the project in the near future.

  • During the first two terms of the academic year a teacher training programme has  been developed by the coordinator of the programme together with the native assistant  teacher.  The programme's aim was to update the knowledge of the English Language among teachers who are not yet involved in the programme but who will eventually join it. The course was held for three hours a week over a period of five months. The plurilingualism of our teachers is a priority for us.

5. Establishing a co-operation strategy between the native speaking teacher and the other teachers. Native teachers are considered as an important asset in plurilingual education.

  • For most of the teachers involved in this experience, working with a native teacher was appealing, but also demanding on their time considering we did not have any previous experience and so we had to struggle to find the best ways of making the best of this possibility.   Among other things, weekly periods are devoted to the preparation of lessons, to the development of our own pronunciation, to the development of resources, and to the integration of content and culture of the target language.

 6. The definition of a common set of communicative strategies, vocabulary and grammar for both language and non-language subjects taught in English.  Given that our students did not have any previous experience of learning content through a foreign language, we agreed to establish a basic set of communication strategies in the classroom.

7. Visits to secondary schools with previous experience in the programme to learn about strategies for admitting students to the programme, methodological issues in bilingual teaching and learning processes, as well as resources and materials, assessment tools, and new ways of increasing the partnership with the local community, among others.

8. The establishment of cooperation between our school and the primary education centre that is developing a bilingual experience in Plasencia.  A special link has been made with the primary school in our town which is providing content teaching in two subjects through English.  Meetings are periodically held between the coordinators who share resources and material.  The primary school teachers are invited to take part in our training course with the native assistant teacher.  These are some of the ways of forging longitudinal co-ordination between language teaching establishments (the Guide, sections 6.3, 6.5.4)

9. Strengthening the EU-dimension by learning about and participating in European programmes and linking up with European partners.  The main aim of this work is to improve our students" communication skills.  In view of this, we plan to take part in meetings organised by the European Union for prospective project partners; we have published a leaflet in English about our school, its activities, its surroundings, the staff and our students; and we have established contacts with Spanish education advisors in other countries as a way of finding partner schools.

10. The development of an international collaborative project by students on traditions and cultural topics using ICT resources. Its aim is to exchange cultural information as well as to establish links with schools and students from different countries. This was a direct result of the ENSEMBLE workshop held in Graz on December 2005. Schools from Romania, Malta, Croatia and Spain took part during this academic year (2005-2006) (Network x4)  Thanks to this project the students of these schools have used English to communicate, and have passed on information about monuments, traditions, food, music, etc (resource 1 Spain.pdf; resource 2 Spain.pdf: resource 3 Spain.pdf).

Projects like the one described above allow us to develop language learning in an interesting way despite the homophone environment (section of the Guide), and to integrate intercultural aspects in our daily work (section of the Guide)

11. We have made an effort to be in touch with organisations and institutions involved in bilingual education: English-speaking countries, Embassies or cultural centres hosted in Spain, The British Council, private organisations which usually develop language training programmes abroad for students and teachers, etc.

12. We have tried to encourage other school members to contribute in the teaching and learning of more subjects using English as a vehicular language.  This is a way of broadening the programme to other educational levels.

13. Linking in-school with out-of-school activities such as: trips, guided cultural tours, games, music, cultural contests etc.

We think it is important not to restrict our programme to the school. We believe it would be beneficial for everyone concerned to extend it to other groups of students and to activities outside the school. This is the reason why we have proposed activities connected with the English Language and culture in which all the students could take part, such as a comic play in English, a fashion show related to English culture, a treasure hunt activity in an old town where a number of tasks in English were assigned to students in order to improve their skills in English while they learn more about the history of Plasencia, etc.  Language teaching and learning must be connected to the personal interests of those who are following the training process according to specifications proposed in section of The Guide. Leisure activities are a way of stimulating language learning among secondary school students.

14. We are considering the possibility of implementing the European portfolio in close cooperation with the school staff teaching languages.  This would promote self-assessment, stimulate language awareness, and would help students establish links between different linguistic varieties.


  • The schools involved in the project have acquired a better profile and have been accorded higher status by the local community.
  • Parental commitment to their children"s education and school is high for students taking part in the bilingual programme.
  • The assistant native teacher provides invaluable help to other staff members involved in the project, for example in materials development, in looking for resources, and in their own language proficiency.
  • At the end of the first year of bilingual teaching, students performed better in oral communication in English and also showed improvement in the non-language areas included in the programme.
  • There has been a greater international dimension, better knowledge of English speaking countries and their culture, and a better understanding of the world situation.
  • Group work and a multidisciplinary approach have been strengthened as a result of this project.


  • There is a dire need for more printed educational resources in non-language subjects taught through a foreign language.
  • The funding for schools involved in the programme needs to be revised in order to allow for an increase in activities and for acquiring educational materials suitable for this programme.
  • The need to strengthen teacher training programmes in foreign languages in order to increase the bilingual education offer (both in subjects and levels).
  • The promotion of links between schools engaged in this kind of project in order to share experiences, materials, methods, outdoor activities, etc.


The current two main goals of the Education Authorities in Extremadura are the spreading of ICT in schools, and the strengthening of foreign language learning.  Bilingual programmes are not the only action proposed by education authorities to improve foreign language tuition in our region and reverse the situation described at the beginning of this contribution. For example, a first foreign language has become a part of the education of three-year-old children since 2003-2004.  Nowadays, at least 20% of primary schools offer a second foreign language (two periods a week) for higher level students (10-11 year olds). Furthermore, this academic year three primary schools in the region are implementing the European Portfolio.

The Role of the Head teacher in the Implementation of Plurilingual Education
Project work for pluringualism
Diversifying the language curriculum
Let's begin with the youngest
Challenges and opportunities of bilingual education
Social and economic considerations in setting up a new bilingual programme
Using a foreign language as a medium of instruction