Girls are much more likely than boys to take school leaving exams at a higher level than recommended by their primary school, national statistics office CBS said on Tuesday.
Last year, 16% of girls and 10% of boys were in a higher stream than suggested by the time they reached the third year of secondary school, the CBS said. At the same time, 14% of boys and 9% of girls have moved down a stream by the time they hit 14 or 15.
‘It is extremely difficult to draw conclusions from this,’ researcher Tanja Traag told broadcaster NOS. ‘Is the skill level of girls underestimated or are they judged differently by teachers to their male peers? It is hard to draw conclusions.’
Dutch children are selected for one of three streams at the age of 12: pre-university (vwo), pre-college (havo) and vocational training (vmbo). Since 2015, the role of teachers in deciding what sort of school pupils go to at the age of 12 has been boosted and that of national tests, such as the Cito, downplayed.
Earlier this year, a survey of 2,000 teachers showed three-quarters had faced pressure from parents to recommend children went to a more academic secondary school.
The CBS does point out that girls find it easier to make the move from primary to secondary education because they are more advanced in terms of their neuro-psychological development.
However, University of Amsterdam professor Herman van de Werfhorst told NOS that the statistics are surprising. ‘If we are underestimating performance and giving the wrong advice, then we have a problem,’ he said. ‘We should be more flexible in looking at where pupils end up.’
Some 54% of 12-year-olds currently go to vmbo schools, while 22% are in pre-university streams and 24% in pre-college streams. The proportion of vmbo pupils has been declining in recent years.
The pressure to avoid vmbo schools led school inspectors in 2016 to say there is an ‘unacceptable’ inequality in Dutch secondary schools and the children of well-educated parents are scoring better in final exams than children of equal intelligence from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
For example, well-educated parents are more involved in the choice of school and invest money in tutors, homework classes and training in exam techniques. Their children are also more likely to be labelled dyslexic or as having adhd, which also entitles them to extra teaching time, the inspectors said.
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