While the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science issues national policy directives, school administration and management is largely decentralized to local school boards. The Ministry is responsible for setting policy for early childhood education as well as primary and secondary education. The Ministry also sets a general framework for instruction and examinations in higher education. In primary and secondary education, Ministry policy determines compulsory and optional subjects; learning “attainment targets” in these subjects; and national examinations and qualifications. Municipal authorities are responsible for overseeing operations of schools.
School boards may be responsible for just one school or multiple schools, and they may be led by parents or professional managers. Boards are responsible for the organization of schools, including management of personnel and resources and ensuring school self-evaluation and quality monitoring.
In both primary and secondary education, almost all educational funding comes from the national government in the form of block grants to school boards. Once the money is distributed to the school, the school is free to spend that money as it wishes. Schools do not need to adhere to any central regulations about class size or number of teachers.
Secondary schools are funded by per pupil allocations for 80 percent of their budgets and another 20 percent based on the number of qualifications they award. This performance-based funding is a recent innovation, intended to reduce the school leaving rates. Additional funding is added for special purposes, like reducing the number of early school leavers, which has been a major priority over the last few years.
Accountability and Incentive Systems
The Education Inspectorate, an autonomous body within the Ministry, is responsible for assessing all schools receiving public funds—both independent and public—on a regular schedule. Inspections are designed to make sure that schools’ funds are being spent appropriately, curriculum is in place for the required subjects and the national-level attainment targets are being met. The government inspects all schools once every four years but intensifies inspections of the small percent of schools deemed to be low-performing. Those schools are required to develop improvement plans and the Inspectorate can withdraw funding if they do not improve. Only about 3 to 4 percent of schools are found to be low-performing each year.
The Ministry has also created incentives for high-performing schools by establishing an Excellent School designation. The number of schools applying for this designation has increased, as has the number of schools earning it. The Inspectorate reports are public, and in addition to school reports they publish a national report each year summarizing their findings on schools across the country.
Support for Low-Performing Schools
The Netherlands has very few schools considered to be low-performing. The Education Inspectorate identifies low-performing schools upon routine evaluation, and within a few weeks of receiving this designation, a school’s name is published publicly. The school then has six weeks to develop and make public an improvement plan. These plans are often conceived with the help of councils representing school boards – such as the Council for Primary Education, the Council for Secondary Education and the Netherlands Association of VET Colleges – which send experts to low-performing schools 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 higher-performing school. If, after two years, a school is still considered to be low-performing, it loses all government funding.
Patrinos, Harry Anthony. (2009). “Private Education Provision and Public Finance: The Netherlands,” prepared for School Choice and School Improvement: Research in State, District and Community Contexts, Vanderbilt University, (Oct. 25-27). (PDF)