This advisory report offers a commentary on the government’s Good Governance, Good Education Bill (‘Wetsvoorstel goed bestuur, goed onderwijs'). The Bill proposes a number of changes to the law to enable more robust governance of educational institutions.
In general terms, the Education Council considers the Bill a positive step. The Bill allows the minister to take more robust action in cases where there are serious problems in the governance of schools. Such problems could include poor financial management or serious or chronic failings in the quality of the teaching. The Education Council is seeking specific attention for the possibility for the government to place a school under temporary administration. This process would mean that the school is placed under administration for a fixed period of time, during which it would be governed by administrators proposed by the minister and appointed by the court. In the recent past, there have been occasional incidents where such problems have arisen. The instruments provided by the Bill will make it possible to tackle situations like this more effectively.
With regard to the statutory obligation to separate governance and supervision, the Education Council believes that diversity in the way this is done should remain possible. The government needs to indicate what type of set-up would not meet the requirements of fitness for purpose. This should specifically include information on how single-handed education providers can meet the requirements without having to be compelled to merge with a larger player.
In assessing the results of a school, the emphasis in the Bill is placed on a relative approach. In the first place, the results of a school are compared to other schools with comparable pupil populations. In practice, this could mean that the bar may be set lower for schools with a large proportion of children from deprived backgrounds. This could – incorrectly – create the impression that less is expected of these schools. The Education Council advocates a common sense combination of relative and absolute benchmarking. The results should not just be compared to those of similar schools, but should also be assessed against an appropriate average standard.
Assessing schools on the basis of minimum learning outcomes could lead to undesirable side effects. Schools might then be tempted to tighten their admissions policy or to refer more pupils to special needs education. An emphasis on learning outcomes could also be detrimental to the broad formative role of schools. Where necessary, the inspectorate will have to monitor this.
In this context, the Education Council reiterates its call for the introduction of a set of general learning standards for elements of the core subjects in primary education and the initial years of secondary education. The Education Council recommends that current legislation on minimum learning outcomes be expanded with the establishment of a ‘horizon’. This horizon would need to include a time frame for the introduction of general learning standards.