The Netherlands has focused reforms in the last decade on raising the quality and quantity of teachers, particularly focusing on primary school teachers, where there are shortages. Traditionally, primary teachers had lower requirements and lower pay than secondary teachers. The Dutch have chosen to invest in the primary teacher workforce by raising both standards and pay.
Teacher Recruitment and Compensation
The Netherlands is currently facing teacher shortages in primary schools as well as in some geographic regions and secondary school subjects. Shortages are in part a result of retirements – more than 20 percent of primary school teachers are over age 55 – and in part a result of an insufficient supply of new teachers. The number of first-year teacher education students declined by more than half between 2006 and 2015. In 2018, the number of first-year students rose by 30 percent compared to the previous year, which is a hopeful sign that the trend is ending.
Recruitment into the profession has been hampered by salaries. Dutch lower secondary school teachers with minimum training can expect a starting salary of US$39,205; at the top of the pay scale, the same teacher can be paid US$69,268. These salaries exceed the OECD average starting salary of US$32,202 and top salary of US$55,122, but they are below the average salary for other Dutch professionals with college degrees. Salaries for primary school teachers are lower; Dutch primary school teachers earn only 70 percent of the average salary of a college graduate, and secondary teachers earn 88 percent. After a series of strikes and protests in 2017-18, the Ministry reached an agreement with teachers’ unions to raise primary school teacher pay by 2.5 percent, with a one-time payment of 42 percent of new monthly salary and a maximum bonus of US$868, depending on hours worked. In addition, as of 2017, tuition is reduced by half for the first two years of initial teacher education, which typically lasts four years.
Initial Teacher Education and Training
The national government is responsible for specifying which institutions will be responsible for preparing teachers, defining the criteria for admitting candidates, and setting curriculum for teacher education. National-level teacher competency standards define skills teacher candidates should develop in areas like collaboration and self-reflection.
The Netherlands has traditionally had two pathways into teaching: one for teachers of primary students, lower secondary students, and upper secondary vocational students (2nd degree qualification), and one for teachers of all grades in all secondary pathways (1st degree qualification). The 2nd degree qualification requires a bachelor’s degree from one of 43 universities of applied sciences in either education, for primary school teachers, or a content area, for all other teachers. The bachelor’s degree in education requires specialization in a subject area, even though primary school teachers are generalists, and about 25 percent of the program includes practical experience. The 1st degree qualification requires a bachelor’s degree in a content area followed by a master’s degree in education from one of 14 research universities. The master’s degree program lasts 12 to 18 months and includes practical experience and theoretical courses in pedagogy.
For admission to a bachelor’s-degree-level teacher education program (to earn a 2nd degree qualification), applicants must hold the highest-level upper secondary vocational qualification , a general secondary diploma or pre-university diploma. As of 2010, primary school teacher candidates must pass tests in mathematics and language during their first year to continue in their programs, and as of 2013-14 all teacher candidates must pass tests for program completion. As of 2015-16, vocational or general secondary graduates applying to primary school teacher education programs must meet additional subject knowledge requirements through scores on admission tests or secondary school subject exams. These new requirements led to a one-year dip in applications to teacher education, but enrollment started to rise again the following year. For admission to a master’s-degree-level teacher education program (to earn a 1st degree qualification), applicants must already hold a bachelor’s degree in the content area. They can come from all three of the secondary school pathways, but they typically graduated from the pre-university pathway.
One of the goals of higher entry requirements for initial teacher education was to raise completion rates in these programs, but one-third of first-year teacher candidates still do not complete their preparation programs. The government is tracking measures of program completion and working with higher education institutions to set goals in this area and implement support measures for all students, like improved guidance on choosing suitable higher education pathways, and for specific groups of teacher candidates, like graduates of vocational secondary school pathways. Recent teacher shortages have created pressure to roll back qualification requirements. Some municipalities are considering hiring teachers-in-training to fill vacant teaching positions, and a 2018 proposal would reduce requirements for teacher specialization to facilitate transferring teachers to fill vacancies.
There is currently no mandatory national induction program in the Netherlands for new teachers. Instead, labor agreements set expectations for the types of support schools will provide, and support programs are developed at the school level. Implementation of these programs is uneven, however, with nearly one-third of new primary school teachers and 14 percent of new secondary school teachers receiving no induction support. The attrition rate of new teachers in the Netherlands is high: 12 percent of primary school teachers and 22 percent of secondary school teachers leave the profession within their first year. In response, the Ministry created a pilot three-year induction program for secondary teachers in 2014. The Ministry is evaluating the pilot before expanding it nationwide. Recent labor agreements have also added funding for schools to provide coaching for new teachers and decrease their instructional time.
Teacher Career Ladders
While there is no formal career ladder in the Netherlands, there is a limited number of national-level senior teacher positions. These positions vary by school – they may include a range of responsibilities, such as department head – and are awarded based on school-determined criteria. Teachers can also be promoted to other higher-ranked positions, like principal. Teachers who choose to remain in the classroom can increase their initial salary by more than 75 percent over their career. Because schools in the Netherlands have a great deal of autonomy, each school’s leadership and school board have almost total control over the school’s staff and their promotion opportunities.
Beginning in 2008, the government has increased the share of teaching positions at higher salary scales to enable schools to grant more promotions to these higher-paying positions. The goals of this policy are to promote teacher retention by rewarding high performance and to facilitate teacher recruitment in shortage subjects or geographic areas. Individual school boards set the criteria for these promotions, which may or may not include additional responsibilities. The government has also funded a set of experiments in performance-based pay for teachers and bonuses for teams of teachers who work together to improve student performance. The government is reviewing the results of these experiments to decide whether to expand them.
Teacher Professional Development
Teachers in the Netherlands must complete 160 hours of professional learning over every four-year period. This is a relatively recent requirement; prior to 2017, teachers received funding and release time to pursue professional learning, but there were no specific annual requirements. Schools have budgets to organize professional learning for their teachers, which must be aligned to national teacher competency standards. Outside organizations, such as higher education institutions, also offer professional learning opportunities.
The Ministry encourages teacher collaboration and continuous learning through a national-level emphasis on “peer review,” or the process of conducting peer observation and providing constructive feedback. As of 2016, about three-quarters of primary school teachers and two-thirds of secondary school teachers reported participating in peer review, and the Ministry aims for all teachers to participate by 2020. To reach this goal, the Ministry subsidizes a nationwide program led by The Education Cooperative, a teacher professional organization, that facilitates voluntary peer review by teams of teachers from different schools. The Ministry also provides funding to incentivize practicing teachers to pursue higher degrees, and as of 2014, about one-fifth of teachers was pursuing an additional qualification.
The Netherlands uses a “registry” to keep track of teachers’ qualifications and professional learning. As of 2017, participation in the registry system is mandatory, and teachers must be fully qualified and meet the professional learning requirements above in order to remain registered. The goal of this reform is to elevate the status of the teaching profession by promoting consistency in qualifications and ongoing professional learning across the teacher workforce.
Central regulations specify that schools should have regular performance interviews with all staff at least once every three years for secondary school teachers and once every four years for primary school teachers, but there is little central guidance on how to structure these evaluations. School boards are free to establish their own frameworks for teacher appraisal and the responsibility for conducting these appraisals is left to school leaders.
School Leader Development
Despite relatively few national-level qualifications requirements for school leadership in the Netherlands, some difficulties filling leadership positions have been reported. This is attributed to school leader salaries, which are only slightly higher than those of teachers at the top of the pay scale.
The only formal requirements for prospective school leaders is that they hold a certificate of good conduct and a higher education degree. School leaders who will have teaching responsibilities must also have a teaching qualification. Most school leaders are experienced teachers. It is up to local school boards to set specific criteria for hiring leadership positions.
School leader preparation programs are not mandatory, but almost all school leaders complete one. Such programs are offered by a variety of institutions, including universities of applied sciences, trade unions, professional organizations, and private providers. Programs are accredited and certified by the Dutch School Leaders Academy (NSA), an independent institute. Professional competency standards for school leaders, developed by the NSA in collaboration with the Dutch School Leaders Association, guide school leader preparation. Induction programs are not required at the national level, so their availability and effectiveness varies at the school level.
As with teachers, there is a registry to track school leader qualifications and professional learning that is run by the NSA. Registration has been mandatory for primary school leaders since 2015, but there are no plans to require this for secondary school leaders. For initial registration, school leaders must demonstrate that they are fully qualified, either through completion of a certified school leader training program or another method, like a written or portfolio-based assessment of competencies. To re-register every four years, principals must be working toward a master’s degree or complete required professional learning around chosen themes, such as “dealing with differences.”