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   The Netherlands
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Part I Descriptive Section

The nature scope of the assessment:
Since there is no official policy document which specifies the EFA goals and targets in The Netherlands, or the EFA strategy and /or plan of action for that matter, this report focuses on developments and trends in basic education in The Netherlands over the past 10 years. It presents quantitative data regarding enrolments and completion, pupil-staff ratios, government budget, as well as quality issues and shifts in policies.

Part I. Basic education provisions

Early childhood care

The early childhood education and child care (ECEC) system in the Netherlands consists of various types of provision, offering a variety of services to meet the differing needs and demands of parents and children. Changes in society, such as the increasing participation of women in the labour force and the increasing ethnic, linguistic, cultural and religious diversification of the population have affected the way ECEC is organised. Because the consequences of these changes differ for different types of provision, there is also considerable variety in the development of provisions. This is enhanced by the diverging ideas about children, early childhood education and how to meet the needs of children and parents. It is to be expected that discussions about ECEC in political and scholarly circles and in society at large will continue in the near future. This may either lead to a convergence of approaches, based on consensus, or to separate developments in different parts of the system, each within its own context. Several policy documents have been published which provide possible directions for future developments. Depending on the political context, these documents emphasise the social dimensions of ECEC, or its relation to life long learning or the prevention of delinquency. In December 1998 the policy paper Kansen krijgen, kansen pakken, integratiebeleid 1999-2002 (‘Getting opportunities, seizing opportunities, integration policies 1999-2002’) was published, which looks at early childhood education from the integration of ethnic minorities. The paper proposes to develop closer links between early childhood care centres, municipal health centres, pre-school provisions primary schools and secondary schools in order to guarantee a ‘chain’ of provisions that may help foster the continuous development of children.

The most important ECEC provisions in the Netherlands are :

1. Early childhood health care centres

There are about 2,000 of these centres in the country. The centres monitor the physical development of young children (aged 0-4 years) and offer vaccinations. They may also advise parents about child-rearing matters. The centres fall under the direct administrative responsibility of home care organisations. At the national level the centres belong to the policy domain of the Ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport. The centres are financed through the General Act on Exceptional Medical Expenses (AWBZ) and by health insurance companies.

2. Nurseries

Nurseries care for the children of working parents. Children may attend for full days or half days. In 1996 there were 2,300 child care centres (including childminding agencies) in 600 municipalities, with a total capacity of 75,000 places for 140,000 children. As a result of the Child Care Incentive scheme and as a result of company investments, the capacity of child care centres is rapidly expanding.

The governing boards or nurseries are accountable to the municipal authorities (in the case of subsidised nurseries) and/or to other parties that finance the nurseries (companies and parents). At the national level, nurseries belong to the policy domain of the Ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport. The sector is expected to become ‘self-regulating’ (through employers’ organisations, labour unions and parents’ associations) within the framework set by the municipal authorities.

The state (through the municipalities) bears about one third of the costs of nurseries; parents pay over 40 percent and companies 25 percent. Total spending of the state on child care and out-of-school care in 1998 was estimated to be NLG 750 million.

3. Pre-school playgroups

Playgroups offer children 2-4 years the opportunity to play with other children from the same neighbourhood. Playgroup centres may also offer activities specifically intended to stimulate children’s development. They are usually open two to three (fixed) days per week, between 2.5 and 4 hours per day.

In 1995, there were 3,900 pre-school playgroup centres, attended by nearly 200,000 children.

The governing boards of playground centres are accountable to the municipal authorities. At the national level, playgroups belong to the policy domain of Ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport. Playgrounds are funded by municipal authorities. Parents pay a parental contribution determined by the municipal authorities (related to family income level).

Legislation and policy issues

Unlike the education system, there is no general policy on childcare with a clear defined set of terms. Some facilities are specifically ‘child-centred’, like toddler playgroups, while others, like day nurseries, exist to enable parents to go out to work.

Childcare falls under the Social Welfare Act and thus under the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. Responsibility for childcare is delegated to the municipal authorities. In 1990, the Child Care Incentive Scheme was introduced with the aim of considerably expanding the number of childcare places. The scheme, which is implemented by the municipal authorities, is anchored in the Social Welfare act and applies to both new and existing forms of subsidesed childcare. Since January 1996 responsibility for the allocation of government subsidies and thus for policy on childcare has been delegated to the municipal authorities.

The Policy Document on Welfare 1995-1998 refers to the establishment of a national quality assurance system. The minimum standards to be imposed on childcare facilities by the municipal authorities are laid down by order in council. These minimum requirements apply to all childcare centres, whether they are subsidised or not.

There are no formal legal regulations for the goals, contents or design of day nurseries or play groups. Nor is it compulsory to take part in activities during the pre-school or out-of-school education. Attendance is voluntary.

Since January 1st 1996, the General Administrative Scheme for Quality Requirements for child care is effectuated. These regulations enable institutions for child care and childminders which meet the quality standard requirements set, to receive a permit or statement from local authorities, attesting to the fact that they meet these requirements. Starting point is that everything developed in the framework of the national quality system will serve as the basis for subsidies provided by local authorities. After a period of five years the General Scheme will expire. The local governments will then investigate whether the regulatory function of the quality system is successful.

ECEC policies are partly inspired by parental interests and socio-economic developments and partly by the desire to reinforce social cohesion, to reduce educational disadvantages and to prevent delinquent behaviour through early intervention. Provisions for early childhood education and care in the Netherlands therefore serve several objectives and purposes. One important objective is to enable mothers to participate in the labour force. The policy documents do not express views about the educational and pedagogical aspects of these provisions. More explicit child oriented child oriented objectives for ECEC are included in policies on educational disadvantages and crime prevention. According to the Education Council, pre-school, early school and out-of-school activities should contribute to the improvement of children’s learning achievement by focusing on the cognitive domain, language development (Dutch language vocabulary and communication) and socio-emotional development. These ideas fit in with the tradition of Dutch educational priority policies, where fostering the development of young children was always considered crucial.

There is some debate as to where ECEC policies should cover the age range of 0-4 years or 0-6 years. Since nearly all children enter primary school at age 4, and since most provisions and programmes for children aged 0-4 fall under the responsibility of municipalities and the Ministry of Health, Welfare & Sport, whereas primary education is the prime responsibility of the Ministry of Education, it would seem obvious to define the 0-4 age range as the domain of ECEC policy. However, since growing importance has come to be attached to the continuous development of children in national and local policies, it seems more practical to opt for the 0-6 age range as the domain of ECEC policy. This choice is supported by a recent development in educational policy making, as a result of which schools now have the right to organise activities for 3-year-old children. This opportunity, which has been created by recent laws on primary education, encourages co-operation between primary schools and child care centres.


Establishments and numbers of children in childcare facilities






Day nurseries




Half-day nurseries




Company creches*








Out-of-school care




Childminding schemes



Number of children      

Day nurseries




Half-day nurseries




Company creches*








Out-of-school care




Childminding schemes




Source: Statistical Yearbook 1998

* From 1996 onwards included in day nurseries

Local authority spending on childcare (in millions of guilders)

Current expenditure

Current revenue














Source: Statistical Yearbook 1998

Primary education (4-12 years)

Primary education lasts eight years and is for children from the age of 4 to twelve. On leaving primary school, children can go on to pre-vocational education (VBO), junior general secondary education (MAVO), senior general secondary education (HAVO) or pre-university education (VWO).

Primary schools provide formal education to children aged 5-12 years. Compulsory education starts at age 5, but in practice most children enter school at age 4. Recently, schools have been given the opportunity to organise activities for 3-year-olds.

In 1997 there were 7,099 regular primary schools and 741 special primary schools. These schools were attended by more than 1.5 million children, including 211,000 ethnic minority children.

Primary education falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, Culture & Science. At the local level, municipal authorities formulate local compensatory educational policies, in consultation with school boards. The quality is monitored by the Education Inspectorate. In spite of the integration of primary and nursery schools in 1986, there are still wide differences between the education of young children (4-6) and the older children in primary school. To improve the effectiveness of education, class sizes are currently being reduced. Schools report about the quality of education to the Inspectorate (through the school plan) and to parents (through the school prospectus).

Access to primary schools is in principle unlimited. Parents are free in their choice of school, but denominational schools formally have the right to refuse access to children of a different faith. Public schools are obliged to accept all children.

All primary schools receive funding from the Ministry of Education, Culture & Science. In addition, schools may receive funding from their municipal authorities, for example in the context of compensatory education policies. It is also common for schools to ask parents for a voluntary parental contribution to finance extra-curricular activities.

Legislation and policy issues

In 1985, the Primary Education Act (WBO) went into effect. The starting age for primary education is four years (education legislation). Children must legally attend school starting at age five. Primary school consists of a period of eight years. Starting at age four to and including age twelve, pupils may attend primary school. Groups one, two and three make up the ‘infant department’.

The same basic assumptions and goals, established in the WBO for primary education, apply to special education, which is regulated in the Interim Act for Special Education and Secondary Special Education (ISOVSO).

On 1 August 1998 a new Primary Education Act (WPO) went into effect. Until that time ordinary and special schools were governed by separate legislation, namely the Primary Education Act of 1981 (WBO) and the Special Education Interim Act (ISOVSO). The new Act incorporates the statutory provisions on ordinary primary schools and special schools for children with learning and behavioural difficulties (LOM), children with learning difficulties (MLK) and preschool children developmental difficulties (IOBK). LOM, MLK and IOBK schools will be known officially as special schools for primary education. The new Act replaces the former Primary Education Act and the Special Education Interim Act, the latter being replaced by the Expertise Centres Act which regulates the new system of personal budgets for children with special needs.

In 1993 core objectives were established for both primary and all categories of special education. Schools must employ the core objectives at least in their educational activities and in the targets to be attained at the end of primary education. The core objectives provide a description of pupils’ qualities in the areas of knowledge, understanding and skills. At the end of primary education, pupils are not tested to see whether they have achieved the core objectives. Core objectives mare requirements on what schools have to offer. The education inspectorate evaluates whether schools have brought the education they offer in line with the core objectives.


Number of pupils (x1000) - primary education, incl. children of itinerant parents)









Source: Education, Culture and Science Key Statistics 1999

Number of teachers in FTEs (x1000)









Percentage female teachers




Pupil-teacher ratio  



Source: Education, Culture and Science Key Statistics 1999

Special primary and secondary education (3-20 years)

Special primary and secondary schools cater for children who, possibly because of a handicap of some kind, require more help with their development and education than ordinary primary and secondary schools can offer. At the end of special primary schooling, pupils generally go on to a special secondary school or to one of the courses in individualised vocational education, or they may be able to continue their education at an ordinary secondary school.

Special primary schools cater for children aged from 3 or 4 through to around 12 years, while special secondary schools are for children aged 12 and over. The maximum age is 20.

Special education is provided in separate schools catering for either the primary or secondary age group or both. Special education for preschool children with developmental difficulties is provided in units attached to special primary schools.

From 1 August 1998 schools for children with learning and behavioural difficulties (LOM), children with learning difficulties (MLK) and preschool children with developmental difficulties (IOBK) no longer are classified as schools for special education but are known as special schools for primary education. This is the outcome of the Going to School Together Project launched in 1991 which aimed at giving primary responsibility for all children, with or without special needs, to ordinary primary schools, thereby reducing the number of referrals to special schools.

There are both publicly and privately run special schools. Public schools are run by the municipal authorities. In 1994/95, 27% of the 995 special schools were publicly run and 73% were private.


Pupils - special primary/secondary education (x1000)





Primary level




Secondary level  



* Primary and secondary levels combined

Sources: Education, Culture and Science Key Statistics 1999; CBS Educational Statistics 1995.

Number of schools - special primary/secondary education












P and S Combined  



* All levels combined

Source: Education, Culture and Science Key Statistics 1999.


1995 1997      
Number FTEs (x1000)





% female teachers





Sources: Education, Culture and Science Key Statistics 1999.

* CBS, Zakboek onderwijsstatistieken 1992.

Secondary education (12-18 years)

Secondary education comprises pre-vocational education (VBO, 12-16 years), junior secondary education (MAVO, 12-16 years), senior secondary education (HAVO, 12-17 years) and pre-university education (VWO, 12-18 years). Since 1993, all four types of secondary education begin with a period of basic secondary education lasting three years (or two years in VBO). Basic secondary education is a new curriculum for the lower years of all the different kinds of secondary education. The emphasis is on acquiring skills and delivering an integrated curriculum. Basic secondary education is for pupils between the ages of 12 and 15 and lasts no more than three years.

Legislation and policy issues

Basic secondary education is governed by the Basic Secondary Education (Attainment Targets and Recommended Number of Periods per Subject 1998-2003) Decree and, with regard to the tests held at the end of basic secondary education, by the VWO-HAVO-MAVO-VBO (Organisation of Teaching) Decree. The Secondary Education Act also applies to special secondary schoolsfor children with learning and behavioural difficulties (VSO-LOM) and for severely maladjusted children (VSO-ZMOK).


Number of pupils (x1000) - secondary education (full time)





Secondary education: total




IVBO /3/4  















HAVO 4/5  



VWO 4/5/6  



Number of passes (x1000)      




Secondary education: total




















Number of teaching staff in FTEs (x1000)  



Pupil-teacher ratio  



Percentage female teachers  



Cost per student (NGL X1000)  



Sources: Education, Culture and Science Key Statistics 1999.

* CBS, Jaarboek Onderwijs 1998

Adult education

Adult education is geared to furthering the personal development of adults and their participation in society by developing their knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes in a way that fits in with their needs, potential and experience and the needs of society. Adult education comprises adult general secondary education (VAVO), courses providing a broad basic education (what used to be known as adult basic education), courses aimed at fostering self-reliance and courses in Dutch language as a second language. The purpose of adult education is to provide a solid foundation for vocational and secondary education and enable adults to participate in society.

Exit qualifications have been formulated for adult education. These describe the qualities in terms of knowledge, understanding, skills and, where applicable, professional attitude, which those completing the course should possess with a view to their future career and role in society and which, in some cases, are necessary for entry to further or higher education. In 1997 the Minister laid down exit qualifications for the most common types of adult education course, i.e. courses at certain levels in Dutch, Dutch as a second language, English, mathematics and social orientation.


The Adult and Vocational Education Act (WEB) entered into force on 1 January 1996 bringing greater unity to the various forms of educational provision within the adult and vocational education sector. The Act has been introduced in stages between 1 January 1996 and 1 January 1998, the last step being the completion of the Regional Training Centres (ROCs). These centres offer the complete range of adult and vocational education courses.

At the heart of the Act are the national qualification structures for adult and vocational education. Each qualification structure is a structured system of qualifications and partial qualifications, each with its own diploma or certificate. Private educational institutions can take part in the national qualifications structure for vocational education subject to the same conditions as government-funded institutions, although they are not entitled to funding.

As of 1 January 1998 all adult and vocational education institutions must be part of a Regional Training Centre (ROC). Forty six such centres, offering a complete range of adult and vocational education courses, both full time and part time, were set up in 1997.

The new Adult and Vocational Education Act (WEB) gives more freedom to the municipalities on how to spend the budget for adult basic education and adult general education. It is expected that the majority of contracts will be between local government and educational institutions in the same region. The local authorities are, however, free to enter into agreements with institutions outside their region, for example if a specific specialisation is unavailable.

Adult basic education is already being financed through local government since 1987, but from 1997 the local authorities also receive the budget for secondary general adult education and Dutch as a second language. Furthermore municipalities have the freedom how to divide the budget between these different forms of adult education.


Number of participants (x1000) in part-time education for poorly qualified adults, 1992-1996.





Basic adult education




Junior general secondary education




Dutch as a second language  



Transition class  



Sources: Baayens, C. et al., Monitoring and Financing Lifelong Learning. Country Report the Netherlands (n.d.); CBS, Key Statistics 1999; CBS Education Statistics 1997.

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