Five questions about: the teachers’ strike

Today one or more teachers at 3,362 schools are on strike. 1,737 schools will not be opening at all, according to teachers’ union AOb. The union is expecting a massive turn out at the Amsterdam ArenA. Around 40,000 teachers, special needs staff, parents and children will be coming to the capital. Five questions about the new education policy for special needs children.

What is the plan?
Central to the plan is something called ‘passend onderwijs’, or ‘suitable education’. Each special needs child, from children with autism to children with dyslexia or speech problems, will be centrally registered. Then a suitable school will be found for the child, either a main stream school or a school for children with special needs.

What is wrong with that?

Nothing. The plan will save many parents from lugging their children around from one school to another. More children will take part in education and, according to education minister Van Bijsterveldt, care will become more precise. No more expensive programmes for children who don’t really need them, she says. A growing number of children are labelled ‘special needs’ for no reason at all, she says, and that’s not a good thing.
So what are the teachers protesting about?
The teachers are complaining about the fact that this reform goes hand in hand with a €300m cutback on special needs education from next year. They are afraid that special needs education will not be so much about suitability but about one size fits all, i.e. more special needs children in the main stream schools where class sizes are a problem anyway. Moreover, thousands of special needs staff will be laid off, ‘a carefully built, specialist structure blown up just like that’, as AOb chairman Walter Dresscher put it. Apart from the loss of expertise it means that special needs teachers are having to cope with larger class sizes as well.
Will the strike do any good?
Probably not. The minister feels the teachers haven’t understood very well what’s going on. The impression among teachers is that we’re doing away with special needs education altogether, she said a little disingenuously. But, in an open letter to the Volkskrant today, teachers, unions and organisations for the disabled maintain that many vulnerable children will be left without ‘ a safe haven’.
Will any coalition politicians come to the Amsterdam ArenA?
No. The union has stipulated they are welcome but as members of the audience, not as speakers. The PVV has said that it is sorry it won’t be able to explain that this is a ‘very good plan’. ‘Numbskull Ton Elias’, as the VVD education spokesman is known among teachers, is not coming either but for those interested he has prepared a little press package with indignant reactions from parents, mostly VVD voters.

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