Center on International Education Benchmarking

Netherlands: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview | Teacher and Principal Quality | Instructional Systems
System and School Organization | Education For All | School-to-Work Transition

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 This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.

Teacher training in the Netherlands continues to undergo an overhaul. In 2008, the government, following the recommendations of an advisory council, formulated an action plan to tackle the teacher shortage and improve the position and quality of teachers. Given the high performance of its students and its teacher salaries, which, at $60,174 for a mid-career lower secondary school teacher far outpace the OECD average of $41,701, there is still a teacher shortage in the Netherlands due primarily to the aging teacher workforce and the decline of the student population. The government projected that there might be up to 4,000 secondary school teaching vacancies in the coming years, and that the shortage may become “severe” by 2017.  The government’s action plan intends to bring a higher quality and broader range of recruits into the teacher training programs and into the classrooms by creating new pathways into teaching for those already holding higher education qualifications interested in completing a formal teacher training program at a college or university, providing salary increases for teachers holding PhDs and those at the top of the pay scale who continue to perform at high levels, and improving mentorship and professional development for current teachers to improve the retention rate.

Recruitment and Compensation

To become a primary school teacher in the Netherlands, any student who has completed upper secondary school may apply and be considered for admission to a teacher education program. Prospective teachers over the age of 21 who did not complete upper secondary school may apply if they have passed an entrance examination. Teachers are educated either in Hogeschools or in universities. Hogeschools are institutions that provide HBO programs. HBO means “higher professional education,” and is different from the academic bachelor’s degrees offered in universities.

In order to be admitted to a secondary school teacher education program, candidates must have, at minimum, completed an upper secondary school program. Some of these programs also require specific secondary school coursework. Applicants who attended vocational upper secondary school must have completed either the middle management or specialist track within that program in order to be considered for a teacher education program.

Dutch teachers with minimum training teaching at the lower secondary school level can expect a starting salary $39,400; at the top of the pay scale, the same teacher can be paid $66,042. For a beginning teacher, this salary is roughly compatible with the Netherlands’ GDP per capita (.95), and at the top of the pay scale a teacher can make 1.65 times the GDP per capita, meaning teacher salaries are quite competitive. They are also high compared to other OECD countries; the OECD average starting salary is $31,687 and at the top of the pay scale is $51,317.

Initial Education and Training

Primary school teacher education programs are considered higher professional education (HBO), meaning students who have completed an upper secondary track may apply for admission. Courses are provided at HBO institutions and are funded by the central government. A full-length HBO program is four years, although students may be allowed to pursue shorter programs depending on previous experience and education. The HBO curriculum is focused on teaching practice, and students also receive practical experience as part of their course. At the end of the first year of the program, all teaching candidates must take an examination in language and mathematics. Students who cannot pass this exam are not allowed to continue in the program. Once coursework is complete, students take a final examination and students that pass receive a certificate of higher professional education. Graduates may teach all subjects and all ages between four and twelve.

Secondary teachers may either elect to pursue a teacher education program at an HBO or take a postgraduate course in education after receiving a subject-based bachelor’s degree at a university. Both HBOs and universities grant bachelors and masters degrees, though only universities can grant doctoral degrees. The central difference between these two types of institutions are the requirements to enter. Any student who has completed some form of upper secondary school may attend an HBO. To attend university, students must have completed the longer academic (VWO) upper secondary track. Consequently, HBO degrees are considered to be at a lower level than the elite university degrees. HBO courses are available in math, science, language, technical, arts and agriculture subjects, with students choosing to specialize in one of these subjects, but required to qualify in two. Teachers receive certification to teach at either grade two (lower secondary) or grade one (all secondary) levels. Students who complete HBO courses in vocational studies can also be certified as teachers in vocational subjects.  Prospective teachers with a master’s or doctoral degree can take a postgraduate teacher training course leading to a grade one certificate. It is not unusual to find teachers with doctorates in Dutch upper secondary schools.  The government of the Netherlands does not require a formal probationary period for new teachers, though it does require as of 2006 that every school establish its own teacher initiation orientation and training program.

Ratio of Lower Secondary Teachers’ Salary to GDP per Capita (2014)NetherlandsTeacherSalary2016Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2016 (Teacher Salaries) and OECD (GDP per capita)

The government is working to establish a common core curriculum for teacher education programs as well as common final examinations. Another new initiative is creating academic teacher education programs (in universities) in addition to the professional ones (in HBOs) that currently exist. The Ministry of Education hopes that creating these academic programs will encourage a higher quality of student to pursue teacher education.

Career Ladders

Teachers in the Netherlands can progress through various pay grades as well as be promoted to higher-ranked positions within the school. Teachers can become deputy head teachers, head teachers, principals and/or school managers. Teachers who choose to remain in the classroom for their entire career may earn seniority through professional development and experience, and can increase their initial salary by more than 75% over their career. Because schools in the Netherlands have a great deal of autonomy, with two-thirds of government-funded schools classified as independent, each school’s managerial staff and school board has almost total control over the school’s staff and their promotion opportunities. The Ministry of Education only requires that teachers be licensed in order to be hired at a government-funded school.

Professional Development

In 2006, the Dutch government implemented the Education Professions Act, which regulates competence standards for all education-related professions. This act required all schools to establish a support program for new staff and to formulate teacher training and induction programs in conjunction with training institutions. The Ministry of Education also furnishes a fund to provide individual training grants to teachers for them to obtain higher or specialist qualifications. This fund also covers the cost of substitute teachers that replace teachers who are in training.

The 2008 TALIS survey of Dutch teachers revealed that the majority of teachers participate in informal, rather than formal, professional development. This generally takes the form of informal mentorships and conversations, courses and workshops and reading professional literature. Similarly, a European Commission study has found that while teachers in the Netherlands are expected to engage in continuous professional development throughout their careers, in practice, it is optional, and that there are no incentives – defined by the study as salary increases and promotions – to complete professional development. In the TALIS survey, teachers suggested that they would like more formal development opportunities in the areas of student counseling, special needs teaching and Information and Communications Technology curriculum. Part of the government’s action plan is the creation of a stronger professional organization for teachers that will be able to evaluate teachers and provide teacher training grants.

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