Efforts to provide a proper education for all children, including those with special needs, in the normal Dutch school system have not been as successful as hoped.
An official evaluation of the 2014 ‘suitable education’ law, commissioned by the Dutch education ministry, suggests that the system is falling short due to bureaucracy, limited budgets and confusion about whether schools or parents should bear extra costs.
The new law has not led to a substantial increase in children with special needs being provided for in normal education, and teachers do not have substantially more help to support these pupils, the report said.
‘The change in the system, and the promise of a suitable education, has raised expectations among teachers and parents that have not been fulfilled,’ the report concluded. ‘And the effects on pupils and students are difficult to determine.’
Some parents told the NOS broadcaster via Facebook that they believed the law was simply about ‘cuts’, while experts commented that increasing pressure for academic results may be leading to a lack of flexibility in the classroom.
Bert Wienen, psychologist and education expert told the NOS: ‘We need to think hard about what we want if we adopt “inclusive education” as the new norm. The discussion shouldn’t just be about academic performance but also about social norms and the way in which children get lessons.
‘There is steadily more expected of children to be independent and perform optimally, and there is more expected of teachers. But as long as we push these high expectations without really providing investment, we won’t get inclusive education.’
He said, for instance, that children who find it difficult to sit still for long periods might be labelled as having special needs, without an assessment of whether it is realistic for a child to sit still on a chair for half an hour. Teachers have pointed out in another study that large class sizes and a lack of classroom teaching assistants are contributing to the challenge.
Around 1.4m children currently attend normal Dutch primary schools, while 100,000 go to different types of special school.
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