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Regional policy trajectories in the Spanish education system: Different uses of relative autonomy




education policy, governance, new public management, school choice, school autonomy, accountability, Spain, Catalonia, Madrid, federalism, quasi-federal system


Federal and highly decentralized political systems open different spaces to interpret, adapt, and enact international policy trends and ideas within the same territory. Spain, a country with a highly decentralized educational system and contentious territorial politics, is a very suitable case to analyze these dynamics. Spain and its different regions have not been immune to the influence of global policy ideas that gear around promoting private provision, school choice, and New Public Management (NPM) in education. However, the consolidation of the decentralization project, together with the fact that many regional governments have aimed to construct, for a variety of reasons, singular political profiles, have resulted in markedly different policy trajectories. To show this, this article pays particular attention to recent changes in the educational governance arrangements of two important Spanish regions, Madrid and Catalonia, as they have gone through differentiated processes of educational reform. Albeit the two regional education systems share important features (such as a historical and wide-scale public-private partnership for school provision), they have engaged with, combined, and mobilized exogenous and endogenous privatization policy ideas in remarkably different ways. The article delves into the political drivers behind this policy differentiation process by paying special attention to the relations of coordination, conflict, and competition that prevail within an incomplete federal system, such as the Spanish one.


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Author Biographies

Xavier Bonal, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Xavier Bonal is Professor of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and director of the research group Globalisation, Education and Social Policies (GEPS). He has worked as a consultant for international organisations such as the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe. Professor Bonal has widely published in national and international journals and is the author of several books on sociology of education, education policy and globalisation, education and development.

Marcel Pagès, Autonomous University of Barcelona, University of Girona

Marcel Pagès is a postdoctoral researcher and Margarita Salas Fellow at Autonomous University of Barcelona [Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona] in the Department of Sociology and University of Girona [Universitat de Girona] in the Department of Pedagogy. He has participated in different research projects and collaborated with various educational and research organizations. His research interests are education reform processes, school governance, and inequalities in education.

Antoni Verger, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Antoni Verger is a professor of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and a research fellow at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA). His research examines educational reform processes through comparative public policy perspectives. Over recent years, he has specialized in the study of privatization, markets in education, school autonomy, and accountability reforms. He is the lead editor of the World Yearbook of Education and the Journal of Education Policy.

Adrián Zancajo, Autonomous University of Barcelona

Adrián Zancajo is a Ramón y Cajal researcher at the Department of Sociology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. His research areas are education privatization and markets, educational policies, and inequalities. In these areas, he has developed different research lines, including the political economy of education reforms, the enactment of education policies, and their impact on equity.




How to Cite

Bonal, X., Pagès, M., Verger, A., & Zancajo, A. (2023). Regional policy trajectories in the Spanish education system: Different uses of relative autonomy. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 31.



Global Policy Mobilities in Federal Education Systems