Dutch primary school pupils face cancelled classes in new school year

Edition 30 August, by Femke van Iperen

Primary school pupils in the Netherlands are facing a shortage of nearly 1300 teachers in the new school year, Dutch media are reporting. When children return after the summer they may expect unqualified teachers and larger groups, or even be sent home. Remaining teachers will be challenged by a larger workload and the quality of education in the Netherlands as a whole may suffer.

Some of the news followed a study commissioned by the Dutch primary education council (PORaad), conducted this summer. For the 315 Dutch school boards that participated, recommendations were made to request part-time teachers to work longer hours and to hire more teacher assistants and trainees. In an attempt for schools to rehire qualified, previously practicing teachers, otherwise known as a ´silent reserve´, the Dutch ministry of education, culture and science (OCW) has, according the report, made available 1.25 million Euros.

The study indicated that as a result of the shortage, 71 percent of participating school boards anticipate a decline in the quality of education, whilst 41 percent expect to have no choice but to place different grades in one room, with one teacher. School boards are also predicting less available time for educational improvements and for special needs pupils. In addition, they expect unrest among pupils, a negative impact on the reputation of education, angry parents and an increase in teacher absenteeism due to increased workloads. One of the causes of the shortage listed by those who participated were teacher retirements. On a website dedicated to the phenomenon of the decline in teacher numbers, called leerlingendaling. nl (which was developed, among others, on behalf of the ministry of education, culture and science) it is estimated that roughly one third of teachers in secondary education is aged 55+ and will retire in the coming years. Insufficient funding to fill positions caused by long-term absence was also listed as a cause of declining numbers of teachers.

Director Jos van Marken of a school in Haarlem told the NOS this July: “We currently have a colleague who has been absent for six months due to a major operation, and you notice that it is impossible to get good staff for such unpredictable problems.” In the same report, chairwoman Rinda den Besten of the PO-Raad said: “We are faced with a major problem, where not only pupils, but in the long run the whole of society will suffer,” adding there is a need for the government to find structural solutions. This July, news channel AT5 reported that Amsterdam, said to face a quarter of all Dutch primary education vacancies, was the most affected. 8000 pupils in the city lack a teacher, a trend which is said to continue. School directors in the capital were described as ‘searching for teachers day and night’, and Grada Huis, spokeswoman for the association of school boards in primary and special education in Amsterdam, BBO (Breed Bestuurlijk Overleg) said that creative solutions, such as “a school director or parent with a teaching qualification to teach temporarily,” will have to be sought.

The teacher deficit has arisen despite a decline in the number of students in primary education, a trend which is also visible in secondary education, according to leerlingendaling.nl. On a more positive note, it was claimed at the end of July on the website for learning and teaching in the Netherlands, called national education guide (Nationale Onderwijsgids) that the national media attention for the teacher shortage has led to considerably more training applications, ‘particularly in part-time programmes.’ According to the creators of the website, this indicates that there are still teachers who make a conscious decision to make a personal contribution to society. The government (Rijksoverheid) also states on its website that the deficit is growing more slowly than previously predicted, meaning there may be more time to tackle the problems.