Supports for Pre-Primary Children and Families
The Dutch guarantee free voluntary preschool for all 4-year-olds. Participation of 4-year-olds is nearly universal. Preschool programs are housed in and funded through primary schools, and teachers are required to have a primary school teaching qualification, which is at the bachelor’s level. Beginning at age 2, children who are “disadvantaged” – which is defined at the municipal level and typically includes low-income and immigrant children – can access free targeted intervention programs (VVE) for 10 hours per week. These programs follow a curriculum that emphasizes development of language skills. Other children below age 4 may attend public “playgroups” (which function as hybrid preschools and social groups for parents and their children) or private daycares, both of which receive government funding through municipalities. Government subsidies typically offset about 65 percent of the cost of care in these settings, and children of working parents are guaranteed access. The Netherlands boasts one of the highest early childhood education participation rates for 3-year-olds in the OECD, with about 83 percent enrolled in 2015, compared to the OECD average of 78 percent. In 2017, the government introduced a quality assessment framework for all programs and a system for measuring progress and school readiness of children.
Supports for Disadvantaged Populations
Students up to age 16 attend school for free. Students between the ages of 16 and 19 pay tuition, but grants or loans cover all or nearly all tuition costs for students from low-income families.
The central government sends local school boards block grants for staffing and operating costs. Additional funding is provided for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, students with special educational needs, and students learning Dutch. Schools are free to spend this funding as they wish, often for additional special courses, more time in school for these students, smaller classes, or tutoring. Some municipalities also allocate additional funding for targeted programming, such as for students at risk of dropping out of school.
All municipalities in the Netherlands are required to accommodate a certain number of refugees. Some regions have special schools that non-Dutch-speaking students attend for one year of intensive Dutch language support before transferring to mainstream schools. The government has also created programs to increase support for non-Dutch-speaking students in mainstream schools, providing them with extra teacher attention and Dutch language classes.
Supports for Struggling Students
As of 2015, 20 percent of students in the Netherlands had repeated a grade at least once in primary or secondary school. This is almost double the OECD average of 11 percent. For the Dutch, grade repetition is often viewed as a way to give students an additional year to catch up with their peers and, at the secondary level, avoid switching pathways. Whereas all other PISA jurisdictions with high rates of grade repetition show significantly lower performance for repeaters than non-repeaters, in the Netherlands there is no significant difference in PISA performance associated with grade repetition.
The effectiveness of grade repetition is subject to debate in the Netherlands, with critics arguing that there is limited evidence that it improves long-term student outcomes. Repetition is most common during the first two years of primary education and is heavily biased toward children from socioeconomically disadvantaged and immigrant backgrounds. In some schools, nearly half of the student population repeats a grade. The Ministry of Education has stated an intention to reduce the rate of grade repetition but has not yet proposed a specific plan to do so.
In secondary school, Dutch students are offered remedial courses to help catch up to their peers without repeating a grade. In fact, many general education secondary schools require some students, especially those transferring from the pre-vocational pathway, to take remedial classes to catch up. More than half of Dutch secondary schools offer after-school remedial classes.
Prior to 2014, students with special needs in the Netherlands received a set amount of additional funding that followed students to a school identified by their parent. The Act on Inclusive Education, which came into effect in 2014-15, was designed to shift the responsibility for finding an appropriate school place from parents to school boards. The Act made school boards responsible for meeting each student’s special needs either by providing necessary services in the student’s current school or by finding a place at another school in the region. School boards do this by working within regional alliances. Alliances are responsible for finding an appropriate school place for each special needs student, coordinating supports for these students, and distributing block grants for special education to mainstream schools and special needs schools. Each alliance has a “support plan board,” which parents and teachers can join, that develops the alliance’s policies and procedures in these areas.
In 2014-15, about 4 percent of primary and secondary school students in the Netherlands received special educational services. At the primary level, about half of these students were enrolled in mainstream schools and about half were in special schools. Distribution across mainstream and special schools is not reported at the secondary level.