Center on International Education Benchmarking

Netherlands: System and School Organization

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 This profile has been archived and is no longer being updated.

Education Finance

A central provision of the Dutch Constitution is that all schools, public and independent, are funded on an equal basis if they observe statutory regulations.  These include having a minimum of 260 students, licensed teachers, and a school plan with attainment targets approved by the government-appointed school inspector. This produces a large degree of school choice in the Netherlands, one of the education system’s primary strengths. Independent schools are very popular, and two-thirds of government-funded schools are independent. The most popular types of independent schools are either religiously or philosophically/pedagogically affiliated; they are generally Roman Catholic or Protestant schools; Montessori schools; Dalton Schools; Waldorf schools; or Jena-plan schools. Teachers in both public and independent schools are paid according to the same salary scales.

Students up to the age of sixteen attend school for free, with occasional supply fees. Students between the ages of sixteen and eighteen pay annual tuition fees, though students from low-income families may apply for grants or loans between the ages of sixteen and twenty-seven. In 2008, the Netherlands spent 5.6% of its GDP on education, just below the OECD average of 5.9%. The same year, the Netherlands spent $10,704 per student in all levels of education; this is higher than the OECD average of $8,831, but comparable to what many other small European countries spend.

School Management and Organization

The Dutch education system is unified, with national policy directives from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science impacting all localities, but school administration and management is decentralized, and the authority over schools is held at the municipal level.  The Ministry’s jurisdiction extends to length of courses; compulsory and optional subjects; lesson frequency and length; class size norms; examination syllabi and national examinations and qualifications; and the salaries, teaching hours and status of teachers. The municipal authorities are responsible for ensuring compliance with Ministry standards, establishing public schools when necessary and planning and coordinating facilities, equipment and staff. They may also determine specific curricula and teaching materials, though the subject matter must fall within the Ministry framework. In 2006, the Ministry decided to provide all funding to primary schools in the form of block grants, so that schools would have total autonomy over spending. This system has been in place for secondary schools since 1996.

Below the municipal authorities are school boards. School boards govern small groups of schools, usually at the primary level. The school board hires the school’s managerial staff and makes decisions about the school’s management alongside the principals. They do not, however, determine curriculum or teaching methods for the schools. The ministry gives school funding to the school boards in a lump sum and they are free to allocate the funding as they see fit.

Accountability and Incentive Systems

Under the Ministry umbrella, the Education Inspectorate is responsible for assessing school performance. Recent policy changes have served to make the Inspectorate more independent from the Ministry. The Inspectorate is responsible for examining and publishing findings relating to school and teacher performance, including outcomes of education and organization of the learning process. If the Inspectorate identifies a problem within a school, specific areas of improvement are identified. At times, the Inspectorate may suggest policies to address the problem. A second inspection occurs at a later date to assess improvement.

Parent and Community Participation

Parents may choose how their child will be educated in the Netherlands. The Dutch education system is made up of three major types of schools: public schools, Catholic or Protestant independent schools and non-denominational independent schools. Each of these groups of schools has national organizations for parents, teachers and school boards.

In addition to these three organizations, there is the Association for Public Authority Education (VOO), a national group that has a membership of about 25,000. This membership includes 2000 parents’ councils, 1000 participation councils, and many thousands of individual members, two-thirds of which are parents. The VOO generally weighs in on issues of school standards, is considered by the government to be the primary parents’ group in the Netherlands, and influences policy on both the local and national level.

Annual Expenditure by Educational Institutions per Student for All Services

NetherlandsExpenditure2016(2013, in equivalent USD converted using PPPs for GDP, by level of education, public institutions only) Source:OECD

Parents in the Netherlands take their role in their child’s education very seriously, electing to belong to one or more of the many national or regional parents’ and teachers’ groups. A VOO survey of 787 parents indicates that the majority of parents are involved beyond group membership. Ninety percent of the respondents said that they performed odd jobs (chaperoning field trips, helping to plan and run school festivals, supervising students, refurbishing the playground, etc.) around their child’s school; 53% said they provided teaching assistance in the classroom; 56% said they were a member of the parents’ council; and 60% said they provided teaching assistance outside the classroom (working in the library, helping with the school newspaper, making teaching materials, etc.).


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