Teacher Training in the Netherlands By Manuela du Bois-Reymond

Initial teacher training courses in the Netherlands are part of higher professional education or university. Higher professional education caters for full-time, part-time and dual (i.e. work-study) teacher training courses which lead to qualifications as primary school teacher, secondary school teacher grade two (for lower secondary education and first three years of senior secondary and pre-university education), teacher for vocational education, and as a special education teacher (postgraduate course). Universities provide full-time, part-time and dual training courses leading to qualifications as a secondary school teacher grade one (upper secondary education). University students can also follow special courses in pedagogy to qualify for teaching in lower educational levels. Another way of entering the teaching profession is through lateral entry. This allows people with higher education qualifications to enter the teaching profession through an alternative admission procedure. They then receive training and supervision aimed at equipping them with the necessary skills within two years.

Primary school begins with five years and ends after eight years when the pupils are twelve and enter general or vocational secondary education. Primary teachers are qualified to teach all subjects at primary level and in special education, with the exception of physical education. Most teachers working at special schools have also completed a master’s degree course in special educational needs. They may take the course after completing their initial primary or secondary teacher training, or another higher education course, and students can specialise in a particular field of work (e.g., teaching children with hearing disabilities or maladjusted children).

Almost all secondary school teachers have specialised in one subject taught at secondary schools. Courses are available in general subjects, arts subjects, technical subjects and agricultural subjects. The subjects on offer vary from one institute to the next. Courses in technical and agricultural subjects only lead to a grade two qualification. The training courses for physical education and fine arts teachers lead to a grade one qualification. Grade one secondary teachers are qualified to teach at all levels of secondary education. Physical education and fine arts teachers can also work as specialist teachers in primary education.

Teacher training is decentralized; each institute can thus, within basic requirements such as length of study (four years) and first/second grade qualification, determine their own profile. The conditions of service and legal status of education personnel in both public-authority and privately run institutions are determined at decentralised level in sectoral collective agreements. Where possible and desirable, these agreements leave room for further elaboration at school-board level. Staff in schools and institutions under public authority are formally civil servants. The same does not apply to staff in the private sector, who sign a contract with the board of the legal person, governed by private law, whose employment they enter. They fall under the provisions of the civil law, insofar as the relevant educational legislation and the regulations based thereon do not differ from these provisions. Private sector staff can be deemed to share the status of public sector personnel in respect of those conditions of service that are determined by the government (Kosar Altinyelken et al. 2010).

There are pressing teacher shortages; the number of unfilled vacancies in the primary as well as secondary education sector is rising although this problem concerns schools and regions to different degrees (Meesters 2003). There is a shortage of gymnasiums which are supposed to offer the best pre-university education while there is also discussion about a better fit between teacher education and what a teacher will need to know and manage in lower vocational education classrooms. The latest report of the inspection of education offered severe criticism on the inability of teachers in lower vocational education to cater to the needs of their student population, many of whom perform below their intellectual capacities and complain about too low learning demands. Almost one fourth of teaching personnel works without a teaching certificate (Persbericht LAKS 2011).

Dutch teacher training institutes are in the course of thoroughly reforming with the aim of raising the quality of the teacher profession. Although teacher training is decentralized, the institutes are in a process of developing a common “knowledge basis” to determine what ever institute must teach in each subject. Essentially that knowledge consists of two components: a) subject knowledge and b) pedagogical knowledge. This knowledge basis will to a certain extent unify the curriculum of all institutes, but will leave room for special profiles.

One quarter of the teacher training course is devoted to the practical part. Teacher trainers delegate the qualification of students to a very large degree to the schools themselves; they rely on the school’s evaluation of the accomplishments of the students. Already in their first year, students are confronted with the practical part of their studies: they are sent straight to schools for class and individual pupil observation and to getting to know the teaching approach of the team. As they progress, the tasks in schools involve more responsibility, ending with self-responsible teaching in the last year. Practical experiences are intensely reflected and documented in a digital portfolio which every student has to keep and put on an institute website accessible to the teacher trainers. The digital portfolio is the major instrument to assure that students learn and reflect on their achievements and gain insight in their own personality and capacities as future teachers. They constantly evaluate their study accomplishments, individually and in small groups with co-students and under the supervision of their teacher trainers.

In the pedagogical part of the teacher training course, students learn about pedagogical theories and teaching approaches like individualized teaching, but they are not trained in special teaching methods, diagnosing learning disabilities or behavioural problems. Those are regarded as specializations which lie outside the regular teaching curriculum and can be acquired in special courses during or after the teacher training programme and through practical experience at school. Generally, it is assumed that the young teacher will learn about such problems by doing. The same holds for career counselling; some institutes pay attention to this aspect of teaching, others do not. Again, this is something to be learned in the daily practice in school. The inspection report quoted above complains about insufficient career counselling and therefore wrong school choices, especially from lower to secondary vocational education.

The knowledge basis defines the pedagogical component as consisting of seven competencies which now every teacher training institute conveys to its students and which bridge the theoretical knowledge with practical application in the classroom. The competencies are:

  • 1) interpersonal competency,
  • 2) making school and class a safe place,
  • 3) providing a powerful learning climate,
  • 4) providing structure and a task oriented climate,
  • 5) coordinating own work as teacher with that of the team and the school organisation,
  • 6) establishing a relation with the parents, the living quarter of the students, local economy and other relevant actors, and finally,
  • 7) reflecting on all these competencies with the objective of becoming a professional in teaching.

During the past few years the BA/MA-structure has introduced in teacher training as part of the Bologna Process. The MA-degree is only allowed for a restricted number of colleges and entitles holders to teaching in higher school levels or progress to a Ph.D. programme. Some institutes cooperate closely with universities in this respect. Students, who qualify for MA-degree will later want to teach at higher school levels. That may result in a certain brain-drain of excellent teachers for lower educational tracks.
In interviews with teacher trainers conducted by the author in the context of the GOETE research project (see: Cramer April 2011), some interviewees responded to the question as to how far students are prepared to become teachers in schools of lower vocational education and with students who are disadvantaged in many respects, by arguing that it might be worthwhile introducing special study tracks for those who will eventually work in such schools. For them and their pupils, the approach of primary school teachers with less subject differentiation and more attention for the needs of the individual would be more suitable, it is argued, than subject teachers and a more anonymous school climate.

The more directly training institutes are confronted with schools with high percentages of disadvantaged pupils, the more attention they will pay to those problems in their curriculum and the more directly teacher students will meet all problems involved simply because the attached in-service schools have more pupils with problems than schools in more affluent cities or city quarters.

Although the Netherlands is a society with high numbers of migrant students – in some schools in the larger cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, Utrecht and Den Haag, more than 170 different languages are spoken – the curriculum of teacher training courses does not reflect this diversity, neither in offering courses on these matters – or only by exception – nor is this diversity reflected among the teacher students; there are very few students of migrant background in teacher institutes (15% - Sectorbetuur Onderwijsarbeidsmarkt Juli 2010) and even fewer teacher trainers, accordingly. In a recently published report, the five teaching institutes of Amsterdam commit themselves to pay more attention in their training programs to the ever more diverse student population in multicultural society (Multicultureel vakmanschap 2010).

One of the serious problems of teacher training institutes in the Netherland is the high percentage of drop-out students, especially during the first year of the study. One quarter of students in the sector pedagogy in higher professional education does not finish their study. And while 60% of students with non-migrant backgrounds get their diploma, only 44% of students from migrant backgrounds do so (Multicultureel vakmanschap 2010: 13).

The institutes are not allowed to select their students from the pool of applicants; they must admit every student with accomplished general secondary education. In order to reduce drop-out rates, some institutes work with entry interviews to find out about study motivation and discourage (but not force) beginning students, when they feel they are not truly motivated or apt for their teacher training programme. Teacher trainers also complain about low or even very low language proficiency and math capacities as do educational politicians, who demand to “go back to basics” in disfavour of so-called soft competencies of non-formal education like learning to communicate, work in teams, reflect on their learning process etc. Teacher trainers, although agreeing to the necessity of improving basic knowledge (they would even have to offer special courses for students who perform insufficiently in language and basic mathematic proficiency) would emphasize that social skills have to be taught as well and are of particular relevance for teachers in lower vocational education, where it is most important to establish a sound and stable relationship with the pupils and among the team.

In order to conclude, there is an on-going and broad discussion in the country, not only among educationalists and politicians but also among parents and students, about the misery at schools (too large classes, too low achievement, overworked teachers, too many quasi reforms which do not solve problems but rather aggravate them through hasty implementation and still more work for teachers, etc.). On the other hand, it seems that there is a spirit of renewal and energy among teacher training institutions which are determined to modernize their curriculum to serve the needs of an advanced post-industrial society as the Netherlands. It remains to be seen if they will succeed.

Further Readings:
Cramer, C. (2011) Emerging issues of teacher training, deliverable Nr. 7 of GOETE research.
Kosar Altninyelken, H., du Bois-Reymond, S., Karsten, S. (2010) Country report the Netherlands. Amsterdam.
Meesters, M. (2003) Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers. Country background report for the Netherlands. Paris: OECD.
Multicultureel vakmanschap (2010) >>http://www.multicultureelopleiden.nl<<
Sectorbestuur Onderwijsarbeitsmarkt Juli 2010 >>http://www.stamos.nl<<