Netherlands slowly losing its top education position, inspectorate says

Kids in Dutch primary- and secondary schools are achieving poorer and poorer results. The average results on subjects like reading, mathematics, science and physical education gradually declined over the past 20 years, the Education Inspectorate concluded in its annual report, the Volkskrant reports.

"On average the Netherlands is doing well", Inspector General Monique Vogelzang said to the newspaper. "But if you look at the long term, you see that we are slowing drifting downward. I'm worried about that."

School performance in the Netherlands does not decline every year and for each subject, the Inspectorate looked at an average over the long term. But because pupils in other European countries started performing better over the past years, the Netherlands is slowly losing its international top position in education, the Inspectorate warns.

The percentage of pupils able to read at target level at the end of primary school fell significantly in 2017 compared to the previous year. Last year 65 percent of pupils read at target level, compared to 76 percent in 2016. The percentage of pupils who left primary school with a low literacy level increased from 1.4 percent in 2015 to 2.2 percent in 2017. 

The Inspectorate also notes that the number of Dutch top talents is decresing - there are fewer and fewer pupils who excel in a particular subject. 

According to the Inspectorate, further investigation is needed to find out why the academic achievements of pupils have continued to decline over the past decades. 

"What we see in any case is that many schools are satisfied with the basic level", Inspector General Vogelzang said tot he Volkskrant. "The ambition to do better, slackens." The government must therefore make better agreements with the education sector on targets and goals, the Inspectorate concludes. "How are we going to ensure that we exceed the basic level that is relatively low? Clear agreements must be made about this." Vogelzang said.

This report "forces us to set clear priorities", Education Ministers Ingrid van Engelshoven and Arie Slob said in a reaction, according to the Volkskrant. "Where in recent years the demands on schoos were expanded, we have to go back to clear learning objectives. We must also resist the Hague reflex to immediately overload education with new action plans."

VO-raad, the organization of secondary school boards, calls the Inspectorate's conclusions "unilateral and therefore unjust". According to the organization, the report also shows that more students are graduating at a higher level, and then continue their studies. The "image" provoked by the Inspectorate "does not do justice to the people in the schools who manage to book these results under difficult circumstances, and with modest funding", chairman Paul Rosenmooller said to the newspaper.

The PO-raad, the organization of primary school boards, called the report "worrisome, but not very surprising", according to the newspaper. "We are facing serious challenges: a shortage of funding and a growing teacher shortage due to too low salaries", chairman Rinda den Besten said to the newspaper. "In spite of that, we also have to look at ourselves to see what we should do better."