Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Netherlands


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  Last update 28 October 2014  
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Netherlands’s educational context

Students:  The Netherlands is an overall high performer in PISA 2012 in mathematics, reading and science, although mathematics performance has decreased across PISA cycles. Students’ socio-economic background had a lower impact on performance than the OECD average in PISA 2012. Policies in place aim to increase participation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in programmes such as early childhood education and care. Starting at age 12, students can choose from among seven different programmes (the highest number in OECD countries), with flexibility to transfer between them. The proportion of students reported in PISA 2012 as having repeated a grade is above the OECD average. There is open school choice (somewhat restricted by the school guidance given at age 12), with control applied at the local level to mitigate imbalances in school composition. Flexibility, guidance and counselling are available to support Dutch students as they transition into further education and the labour market. Enrolment in vocational education and training (VET) is above the OECD average. Labour market perspectives for young people are positive, with one of the lowest unemployment rates among OECD countries. According to the 2012 OECD Survey of Adult Skills, adults have above-average literacy skills (Figure 1).

Institutions: Schools in the Netherlands are characterised by great autonomy. All teachers receive initial training, and most school leaders take additional professional training while they are on the job. Teachers’ salaries are relatively high, but lower than other highly-trained employees in the Netherlands, and the teaching workforce is ageing. There has been an increased focus on the use of evidence from assessment and evaluation. Results from school self-evaluations, monitoring reports from the Dutch Inspectorate of Education and student assessments can provide information to schools on areas for improving school quality and student learning.

System: The Dutch education system combines a centralised framework and policies with decentralised administration and school management. This framework provides standards with broadly-formulated attainment targets and supervision, while schools are highly autonomous on matters related to resource allocation, curriculum and assessment as compared to other OECD countries. School boards are responsible for governance of schools and implementation of national education policy. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science provides funding to all levels of education. Public and private schools are funded on an equal basis through a lump sum allocation. Students pay tuition fees in secondary vocational and higher education institutions. Targeted funding for schools with specific student needs is available through the government or municipalities.

Key policy issues

The Netherlands' high education performance and equity can be supported with continued policy efforts to support low performing or disadvantaged schools and students, within the context of system-level characteristics such as academic selection and grade repetition, which can hinder equity and quality. Growing student diversity requires teachers to be able to adapt their practice to meet diverse student needs. In a context of high autonomy for schools, a priority in the Netherlands is to attract, train and retain quality teachers. Another priority is to strengthen the steering capacity and responsibility of school boards so that they can address student needs consistently, develop positive learning environments and use resources more effectively. Better use of results from school, teacher and student assessments can also support school improvement and student learning.

Recent policy responses

Multi-annual voluntary agreements (2012-15) draw from the initiative Drive to Reduce Dropout Rates (2006), which aims to improve student outcomes through various initiatives to reduce the proportion of early school leavers. The Vocational Professionalism Agenda (Focus op Vakmanschap, 2011-15) aims to strengthen the focus on resilience to adapt to changes in the labour market. Several recent initiatives also aim to increase the number of higher education graduates.

Multiple policies have been put in place to develop teacher quality, including the Teachers’ Programme 2013-2020 (Lerarenagenda 2013-2020).

The government aims to improve accountability of schools through a student monitoring system and compulsory primary education student assessment. There is also a new focus on stimulating further improvement by schools with moderate, average or good results. At all levels of education, the government aims to commit stakeholders to education policy through agreements such as the National Agreement on Education (Nationaal Onderwijsakkoord, 2013), as well as sub-agreements for primary and secondary education.

The Netherlands achieved above-average scores in mathematics, reading and science on PISA 2012. Across PISA cycles, performance in reading and science remained unchanged, while mathematics performance decreased. The impact of students’ socio-economic status on mathematics scores (11.5%) decreased between 2003 and 2012 and remains below the OECD average of 14.8%. Among participating OECD countries, literacy proficiency among adults (16-65 year-olds) is above average on the 2012 OECD Survey of Adult Skills.


In the Netherlands, the share of 25-34 year-olds with at least an upper secondary education is around the OECD average (83% compared to the OECD average of 82%). The proportion of 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary education in the Netherlands is 43%, four percentage points above the OECD average of 39% in 2012 (Figure 2).



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