The Dutch educational system is failing to make the most of pupils’ abilities and this is partly due to the wide difference in standards between schools, according to the latest annual report by education ministry inspectors.
The inspectorate concludes that school choice is likely to have a significant impact on the future of a child, due to huge differences in performance levels. For example, some primary school pupils of comparable ability scored 10% to 20% points lower in key tests because their school is not up to scratch.
This means they enter the next phase of their education lower down the educational ladder and are unlikely to catch up, the inspectors said.
‘We knew that educational quality varies but we didn’t expect the differences to be this great,’ inspector general Monique Vogelzang told the Volkskrant.
Acting education minister Jet Bussemaker and junior education minister Sander Dekker said they were ‘very worried’ about the inspectorate’s findings. ‘The fact the pupils’ talents may or may not be used to the full, depending on the school, promotes inequality. This is an extremely undesirable situation,’ they said in a written reaction to the paper.
The differences in quality stretch across the country and occur in all school types, from small primary schools to pre-university gymnasia, vocational schools and universities. The inspectorate’s report is the first of its kind on this scale.
Teachers and school leaders
The inspectors say one of the reasons for the disparity between schools is the quality of teachers and school management. Schools with a majority of parents with little schooling have trouble attracting qualified staff.
School lobby group PO Raad is not surprised about the findings. It told the Volkskrant primary education has been under pressure for years through under-funding and cutbacks on support staff. The situation will get worse because of the impending teacher shortage, the organisation warned.
The VO Raad for secondary education told the paper schools ‘not always make the most of students’ talents’. What is needed is more investment in improving teachers’ and school leaders’ professional skills, it said.
While Dutch schools generally perform well, they have failed to make much progress compared with schools in other countries, the inspectors say.
In particular, the number of top level pupils has shrunk and there has been a drop in the number of pupils really performing well.