Center on International Education Benchmarking

The Netherlands was among CIEB’s Top Performing Countries for 2009. This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.

Student Support Systems

In 2000, the Dutch government published a policy document entitled “Education in Place: Power and Creativity for the Knowledge Society.” This document included several provisions to aid struggling students in Dutch schools. In order to address students with special needs, the government established school clusters in which mainstream and special needs schools are grouped together. Within a cluster, the schools share the responsibility of addressing the needs of special students.

The program also included programs to enhance policy at the local level for students who do not speak Dutch as their first language, providing them with extra teacher attention and increased reinforcement in Dutch language classes.

Special education operates on the principle of inclusion in the Netherlands. In 1997, the government introduced the “going together to school” policy, which was intended to increase collaboration and integration between special needs and mainstream schools. Now, children with special needs may enroll either in a special primary or secondary school or choose to attend a mainstream school, where a roving special education teacher assists students with varying needs in multiple classrooms. Special primary schools provide the full six years of compulsory elementary schooling. Special secondary schools are either general or provide practical training for students who will not be able to continue on to higher or vocational education. Parents with disabled children are given education subsidies from the government to enable them to enroll their children in special schools, if they so choose.

According to the Dutch Inspectorate of Education, in 2008-2009, 9% of primary students and 20% of secondary students needed some form of special needs support. The Inspectorate keeps track on the number of students needing special support as well as the ability of mainstream schools to provide this support in their overview of school performance.

Low-Performing Schools

The Netherlands has very few failing schools, with just 1% of schools considered to be “very low-performing.” The Dutch deal with failing schools publicly. The Inspectorate of Education identifies low-performing schools upon routine evaluation, and within a few weeks of receiving a failing grade, a school’s name is published. The school then has six weeks to develop and make public an improvement plan. These plans are often conceived with the help of one of the government education councils, which send experts to the school to help administrators diagnose and begin to address the problems. Generally, schools are able to improve under this system; if not, they may merge with a better school. If, after two years, a school is still considered to be “very low-performing,” it will lose all government funding. Typically, improvement comes at the cost of the school leader’s job and/or the jobs of the school management team.

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