Edition 31 October, by Femke van Iperen
First victim of teacher shortage in the Netherlands?
This September it was announced that an Amsterdam Montessori school would close its doors at the start of the new school year. The news of the closure has been linked by some to the chronic shortage of teachers in Dutch primary education, and some media reported the national shortfall to have ‘claimed its first victim,’ whilst the school board itself has said it could no longer guarantee quality education because of it.
In an RTL Nieuws article entitled ‘Anger, but also resignation among parents about closure of Amsterdam school,’ a parent said: “If the school has no teachers, then this is how it must be. This is what the government has caused, it will have to solve it.” It was reported that for parents the news had not come as surprise ‘because the teacher shortage has been going on for a long time’.
Dutch education and its lack of teachers is not a new topic, and on hearing the latest news, MPs expressed indignation. Trouw newspaper summarised the national issue as ‘four-day teaching weeks, whole classes sent home, unauthorised teachers and expensive substitute teachers’, and according to AD newspaper, opposition parties PvdA and PVV spoke about the need for a debate with Minister Arie Slob for Primary and Secondary Education about the school´s closure.
A spokesperson for Slob, who announced that the minister would be brought up to date on the matter as soon as possible, told media: “This school did not report to us before, so we do not know exactly what the underlying situation is. It is very annoying for the students and their parents.” A VVD spokesperson, who reportedly also demanded an explanation from Slob, also said: “Did teachers leave because the school did not meet the requirements? Or did the school not meet the requirements because teachers were leaving? I want to know, before I start shouting how shocked I am.”
Not the whole story
Whilst the teacher shortage has been widely blamed for the closure of the 16th Montessori school in Southeast Amsterdam, some say there may have been more at play. The school is said to have been below the required levels of quality education and have fallen below the minimum required number of pupils. The four-yearly survey by the Education Inspectorate of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, carried out in July 2019, labelled the school ‘inadequate,’ and the school had already been assessed as ‘weak’ in 2007 and 2012, according to Trouw.
According to the Dutch Montessori Association (NMV), which monitors the quality of Montessori education around the country, the teacher shortage cannot be the only reason why a school must close its doors, stating it is “one of the factors that led to this decision at the 16th Montessori school, in addition to the issues that have already been addressed by the Education Inspectorate.” What the closure of the 16th Montessori School Gaasperdam in Amsterdam shows, among other things, “is that the shortage of qualified teachers can stand in the way of good-quality education,” the association stated.
In the Netherlands, Montessori schools (until 1985 only kindergartens and primary schools), were created after the Primary Education Act of 1920 came into effect, according to the NMV, and today there are 163 NMV-accredited schools for primary education, nearly 40 daycare centres, and 17 schools for secondary education. The schools and daycare centres are independently managed, but they are all members of the NMV.
The educational system created by Maria Montessori is known for the encouragement of each child’s individual development, personal responsibility, ability to make independent choices, as well as artistic and creative development. Besides the national diploma for teachers in the Netherlands, a Montessori teacher needs an additional Montessori diploma for primary education.
Whatever the exact causes of the closure of this school, the teacher shortage in Dutch education is no doubt a serious issue. On 4 October, nu.nl reported that at least ‘dozens of Dutch secondary schools are suffering from cancelled classes due to a lack of teachers’, according to a survey among 149 schools. The national union for teachers, Algemene Onderwijsbond (AOb), told nu.nl a similar story: “Especially when people leave during the school year or become ill, it is very difficult to find a replacement.”