Central and Eastern Europe, Education, International Journalism and PR

Mismatch of potential and chances for Dutch primary school pupils

Your background and zip code determine the school career of your child

On average 34,7% of primary school pupils follow too low level of the secondary school in the Netherlands. If you live in Almere or Heerlen you have almost 50% chance that your child will be advised to follow a secondary school at the level which is too low for him or her. Move to Amsterdam, there only 19,9 children are ‘’under-advised’’.

Due to corona restrictions Arie Slob, minister of primary and secondary education and media decided to cancel the final tests, the so-called eindtoets at primary schools. He announced that children will be carefully observed at the secondary schools to make sure that they continue their secondary education at the right level. What steps it would involve it is not yet clear.

But does the final test really make a difference? Are their results of the final test not the same as the final recommendation of the teachers of the primary school?

RTL news published its annual research results of the final test results (eindtoets) in 6000 Dutch schools. Almost all primary schools in the Netherlands received a grade. The research shows that pupils from reformational and Islamic schools perform above average on the final test.

RTL news also analyzed the data from Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs organization. Research shows that more than 1 in 3 students score better on the final test than the recommendation from the primary school suggests. In some schools, the recommendation from the primary school for more than eighty percent of the students in the past three years is lower than the test indicated. At 1,300 schools, more than half of the students was recommended to follow the secondary school at a lower level than the final test suggested, it is called ‘’onderadvisering’’. In such a case, a school can adjust its recommendation ‘’upwards’’ in consultation with the parents, but this does not happen in 75 percent of the cases.

Your background and zip code determine the school career of your child

RTL points out that often children from poor families, children whose parents are low-educated are advised by their primary schools to follow too low level at the secondary schools. Additionally various organizations such as PO raad ( sector organization for Dutch primary school ) warns also for ‘’onderadvisering’’ among children with the migration background. This inequality is a problem since it does not give children with equal test score the same opportunities.

The results show also very clearly that your postal address determines the school career of your child and especially the chances of being advised by primary schools to follow the education at a level which is too low for your child or too high ‘’overadvisering’’.

The differences are really shocking because if you for example live in Amsterdam the chances of your child for ‘’onderadvisering’’ amount to 19,3% and in Heerlen 45,6% ( the national average is 34,7%). In Heerlen in the period of last 3 years the recommendation by schools was 45,6 lower than the test indicated. For 22,1 % was the difference of the whole level or even more. Only in 17,1 % of the cases schools adjusted their recommendation. There are schools in Heerlen whose level of adjustment of recommendation equals 0% despite the differences.

So in other words if you live in Heerlen your child has much bigger chances to follow the education at a secondary school at a much lower level than a child in Amsterdam.

The numbers for ‘’overadvisering’’ are for Amsterdam 43,3 % (the national average is 29,5) and for Heerlen 21,3%.

Numbers tell a story of unequal spreading of chances of students in the education field in the Netherlands. We have researched the capital city of every province and added extra a few cities to give a broader picture.

City Onderadvisering (national average: 34,7%) Overadvisering (national average 29,5%) Adjustment of the recommendation (national average 25%)
Almere (Flevoland) 46,6 % 22,1% 33,3 %
Amsterdam(Noord-Holland) 19,9% 43,3% 53,6%
Arnhem (Gelderland)
27,7% 35,6% 32,3%
Assen (Drenthe)
39,6% 24,8% 19,2%
Breda ( Nord-Brabant) 30,6% 29,1% 9,2%
Den Bosch (Noord-Brabant) 30,2% 34,0% 25,1%
Den Hague( Zuid-Holland) 32,1% 31,4% 49,9%
Eindhoven (Noord-Brabant) 33,3% 30,7% 33,5%
Groningen (Groningen)
31,6% 29,9% 24,7%
Haarlem (Zuid-Holland)
21,8% 38,5% 23,2%
Heerlen (Limburg)
45,6% 21,3% 17,1%
Leeuwarden (Friesland)
32,5% 32,5% 16,8%
Lelystad (Flevoland)
33,0% 32,6% 23,0%
Maastricht (Limburg)
37,5% 22,5% 30,5%
Middelburg (Zeeland)
33,8% 28,5% 23,7%
Rotterdam (Zuid-Holland)
36,1% 28,4% 44,1%
Utrecht (Utrecht)
28,8% 34,2% 24,3%
Zwolle (Overijssel)
29,9% 33,0% 21,8%

We have also analysed our region: Parkstad and then added a few other cities from Limburg to give a more perspective.

Parkstad Onderadvisering (national average: 34,7%) Overadvisering (national average 29,5%) Adjustment of the recommendation (national average 25%)
Beekdaelen (Onderbanken, Nuth, Schinnen) 48,5% 15,6% 20,7%
Brunssum 37,9% 28,9% 17,6 %
Heerlen 45,6% 21,3% 17,1%
Kerkrade 33,3% 30,7% 16,7%
Landgraaf 29,2% 35,9% 6,1%
Simpelveld 34,4% 28,9% 12,5%
Voerendal 33,4% 30,7% 16,7%
Limburg Onderadvisering (national average: 34,7%) Overadvisering (national average 29,5%) Adjustment of the recommendation (national average 25%)
Beekdaelen (Onderbanken, Nuth, Schinnen) 48,5% 15,6% 20,7%
Brunssum 37,9% 28,9% 17,6 %
Gulpen-Wittem 43,4% 18,7% 2,8%
Heerlen 45,6% 21,3% 17,1%
Kerkrade 33,3% 30,7% 16,7%
Landgraaf 29,2% 35,9% 6,1%
Maastricht 37,5% 22,5% 30,5%
Roermond 32,3% 31,7% 19,3%
34,4% 28,9% 12,5%
Sittard-Geleen 29,2% 33,4% 23,8%
Vaals 30,8% 20,3% 4,5%
Venlo 39,7% 30,6% 8,4%
Voerendal 33,4% 30,7% 16,7%
Weert 41,9% 26,8% 16,4%

We see that the differences are enormous. ‘’Onderadvisering’’ is more than twice as high in Almere and Heerlen than in Amsterdam.

Despite the fact that 45,6% children in Heerlen are under-advised the recommendation by the primary school is only adjusted on average in Heerlen in 17,1% cases.

‘’Overadvisering’’ in Amsterdam is almost three times higher than in Beekdaelen. Almost three times as many children in Amsterdam are ‘’over-advised’’ in Amsterdam than in Beekdaelen.

How does it work?

In the Netherlands selection for the ‘’right’’level of the secondary school is based on the recommendation by the primary school of a given pupil.

Generally speaking most schools at the end of class 7 give the so-called temporary recommendation. The recommendation should consist of assessment of soft-skills and learning results. The following elements should be taken into recommendation:

  • talents of a student;
  • learning performance;
  • the development during the entire primary school period;
  • concentration, motivation and perseverance of a student.

Mostly in the second half of the 8th class the final recommendation is given by the primary school based on the same elements.

In April the final test takes place (eindtoets). If the child scores at the test at a higher level than the recommendation of the school then we talk about ‘’onderadvisering’’. The school can adjust its opinion but is not obliged. As the RTL shows in 75% of the cases it does not happen, there are even schools where in 100% of the cases it does not happen!

When the child scores lower than the recommendation of the school the recommendation remains unchanged.

Inequality of chances: how is it possible

As RTL points out mostly children with not affluential background, children whose parents are low-educated are under advised.

As we have already pointed out in our publications the various organizations warn about the ‘’onderadvisering’’of children with migration background, including bilingual children.

It has to do with the objectivity of assessment both the learning results and the soft-skills. CITO tests which are used at Dutch schools are not normalized for bilingual children and therefore are not the objective evaluation of the learning capacities of children.

In one of my interviews with Prof. John Hattie, a famous researcher in education, when asked about the objectivity of CITO tests for children with another language background said: ‘’ One of the standards that all test developers adhere to (e.g., APA, NCME, ITC standards) relates to ensuring that any test is not biased in a way that leads to adverse impact (yes technical language) – but it means that the student should not be disadvantaged by tests not that measure culture, language when they are supposed to measure reading or numeracy.  This is poor testing, this is inappropriate interpretation, this should not happen, this is against the standards of the test community.’’

Also the assesssment of soft-skills as the research by the Inspectie van het Onderwijs a special government organization in the Netherlands controlling the quality of education confirms it is not objective, since it can be based on subjective judgment of teachers and their perspective.

‘’The correctness of advice is influenced by the background and the more visible characteristics of students. This could be the ethnicity. A profile of an immigrant pupil provides a different view than that of a native pupil. The difference is in the way in which teachers (and people in general) form judgments.’’(‘’Kansen(on)gelijkheid beij de overgangen PO-VO).

When these children score better at the final tests in most of the cases as the research says the recommendation is not adjusted.

Lack of objective assessment tools and statistics

The fact that primary schools do not have the right tools to be able to assess objectively the students with a migration background they more often repeat classes and are under advised.

These are the numbers: 15,8%  of children with no migration background repeat the class in the Netherlands as contrast to: 21,6% children with the western immigration background,  21% not western 2nd generation and  27% not western 1st generation. What is also shocking is that children with a migration background more often are advised by primary schools to follow education at a lower level.  So for example: 19,4% of  children with a migration background who are in the Netherlands shorter than 4 years  receive ‘’advice’’ for VMBO-B (preparatory secondary vocational education) as contrast to 5,9% children with no migration background. When we look at the VWO advice ( pre-university level of secondary school) , we see a spectacular change: 8,2 % children with a migration background who are in the Netherlands shorter than 4 years receive the highest advice in contrast to 21,2% children with no migration background. Differences are visible for all children with migration background.

‘’I would become a murderer out of sheer frustration’’

 I asked Prof. John Hattie about what he thinks about this early selection system and its objectivity. And he stated: ‘’You are the only country in the world that claims that you can estimate at the age of twelve what a child can and want to achieve when he/she is 12. After turning 12 children still grow. Look at myself. I was initially advised to do painting and paper hanging. I am so grateful that I could reverse it and continue learning. In your system I would have been papering walls  or become a murderer out of sheer frustration, and I wasn’t even good at painting and wallpapering.

You waste so much talent. I expect that some of your best entrepreneurs and designers don’t exist because they got wrongly classified in your system at too early an age. That’s dramatic.’’

The ‘’onderadvisering’, and ‘’overadvisering’’ prove that the present system does not work and definitely huge regional differences are a serious problem. It is clear that not all children have equal chances at school and the early selection makes it even more complicated. As John Hattie says, lots of talent is wasted. And this is not the purpose of the education.

Professor John Hattie is a researcher in education. His research
interests include performance indicators, models of measurement and evaluation of teaching and learning. John Hattie became known to a wider public with his two books 
Visible Learning
 and Visible Learning for Teachers. Visible Learning is a synthesis of more than 800 meta-studies covering
more than 80 million students.  

Since the publication of his books, John Hattie has continued to collect
and aggregate meta-analyses to the Visible Learning database. His latest
dataset synthesizes 1,500 meta-analyses of 90,000 studies involving more than 300 million students. This is the world’s largest evidence base into what
works best in schools to improve learning.

Times Educational Supplement: TES once called him “possibly the world’s
most influential education academic”.

John Hattie is Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne,
Australia, since March 2011. Before, he was Project Director of 
 and Professor of Education at
the University of Auckland, New Zealand. He holds a PhD from the University of Toronto, Canada. 
He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit  in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to education.

Image: Pixabay  AkshayaPatra Foundation 

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