A distinctive feature of the Dutch education system is that it combines a centralised education policy with the decentralised administration and management of schools. With due regard for the provisions of the Constitution, central government creates enabling conditions for education through legislation which applies to both publicly and privately run institutions. The involvement of the provincial authorities mainly takes the form of statutory supervisory and judicial duties vis-à-vis public and private schools alike. As the local authority for all schools in the area, the municipal authorities have certain statutory powers and responsibilities vis-à-vis both public and private schools.
All schools, both public and private, are governed by a legally recognised competent authority. The competent authority is the body responsible for implementing legislation and regulations in schools. The competent authority or school board of publicly run schools is the municipal authority. Since 1997 the municipal authorities have been able to choose the form the competent authority takes. The competent authority or school board of a private school is the board of the association or foundation that maintains it.
General administration at national level
See paragraph 1.2 for main executives and legislative bodies. At the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science there are policy departments responsible for developing policy on science and on the various sectors of education. These are:
- the Primary Education Department;
- the Secondary Education Department;
- the Adult and Vocational Education Department;
- the Higher Education and Student Finance Department; and
- the Research and Science Policy Department.
Each department is responsible for a particular field of education and maintains contact with the institutions in that field. Other departments, like the International Policy Department, the Legislation and Legal Affairs Department are responsible for matters affecting all areas of education.
Under various education acts, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science is charged with the inspection of education, which is carried out under his authority by the Education Inspectorate. The Education Inspectorate is an executive agency which falls under the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Its status is regulated in a ministerial order dating from 1998: the Education Inspectorate (Status) Order. The Education Inspectorate performs its tasks on the basis of the provisions contained in the Education Inspection Act.
Tasks of central government
Central government, in the person of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, controls education by means of legislation, taking due account of the provisions of the Constitution. Its prime responsibilities with regard to education relate to the structuring and funding of the system, the management of public-authority institutions, inspection, examinations and student support. Central government also promotes innovation in education. The Minister is, moreover, responsible for the coordination of science policy and for cultural and media policy.
Control may be exercised by imposing qualitative or quantitative standards relating to the educational process in schools and/or attainment results, by means of arrangements for the allocation of financial and other resources, and by imposing conditions to be met by schools.
Matters on which central government decides include:
- the types of school that may exist;
- the length of courses in each type of school;
- for some types of school:
- the subjects that must or may be taught;
- the minimum and maximum number of teaching periods per year;
- the norms for splitting up classes;
- standards of competence for teaching staff;
- the maximum number of teaching periods per staff member;
- the salaries and main elements of the legal status of teaching staff;
- arrangements for admitting pupils to special schools and secondary schools;
- arrangements for examining pupils;
- opportunities for participation by staff, pupils and parents;
- the norms for the establishment and closure of schools.
General administration at regional level
The Netherlands is divided into 12 provinces. The involvement of the provincial authorities mainly takes the form of statutory supervisory and judicial duties. The Provincial Council ensures the availability of adequate numbers of publicly run primary and secondary schools and acts as the appeal body for private schools with regard to decisions taken by the municipal authorities. With regard to the management of schools and the curriculum, the role of the provinces is limited, partly because they cannot be the competent authority of an educational institution.
Registration and coordination at regional level
Since 1995 the municipal authorities have played a key role in the system set up to tackle drop-out at regional level. They are responsible for registering early school leavers under the age of 23 and coordinating regional policy on this matter. In 2002 the Regional Registration and Coordination (Early School Leavers) Act (RMC) entered into force to prevent and tackle early school leaving in ordinary voortgezet onderwijs and special secondary schools voortgezet speciaal onderwijs, secondary vocational education middelbaar beroepsonderwijs and adult general secondary education voortgezet algemeen volwassenenonderwijs. The municipal authorities are responsible for ensuring an integrated approach to the issue of early school leaving. Schools and colleges are required to report all cases up to the age of 23, i.e. beyond school-leaving age.
Young people who drop out of school are channelled back into education or job training. Municipalities network with youth care services, educational institutions and centres for work and income in order to enable early school leavers to return to school and/or work. The aim is to ensure they acquire at least a basic qualification (a HAVO, VWO or MBO level 2 certificate). Steps are being taken to make it easier for young people to enrol mid-course.
If a child of compulsory school age is not enrolled at a school or stays away from school without permission, the parents can be fined up to €2,250 or, in extreme cases, even sent to prison. Young people aged 12 or over who stay away from school without permission can themselves be fined up to €2,250. An alternative measure is usually imposed instead. For pupils aged 14 and over who are experiencing problems with full-time education, a special programme can be devised combining general education with some form of light work that is carried out in conjunction with their school work. This is intended for a small group of pupils only, who cannot be helped in any other way.
The Compulsory Education Act is implemented by the municipal authorities. The municipal executive checks that children below school-leaving age who are registered as resident in the area are enrolled as pupils at an educational establishment within the meaning of the Act. The municipal authorities ensure compliance with the Act in both public and private schools through the school attendance officer appointed for this purpose. The Act requires each municipality to have one sworn attendance officer with specific responsibility for this matter, although in smaller local authorities such officials frequently carry out other duties in addition.