Educational disadvantage

In various recommendations, the Education Council calls for measures aimed at avoiding or reducing educational disadvantage. The principle should be that everyone attending education should be able to develop their talents to the full. Preventing disadvantage is better than seeking to cure it afterwards. It is important that policies are evidence-based wherever possible and encourage integration. Various measures have been proposed by the Education Council.

1. Take action to prevent and reduce (linguistic) disadvantage in primary education

The Education Council recommends that efforts are directed to preventing educational disadvantage and eradicating it as quickly as possible. You need to know the learning outcomes before you can decide whether someone has an educational disadvantage or not. Deciding this can take account of the learning standards for language and arithmetic (Aansturing van onderwijskansen (Controlling opportunity in education), 2000) and a benchmark reading of language development at the age of two (Goal-oriented investments in education, 2006). The education minister has now developed learning standards in the form of reference levels.

The Education Council believes that preschool and early years education for children from the age of three should be provided by primary schools. Preschool and early years education is of particular importance for children from vulnerable groups. To prevent segregation and to give all children the best chance of developing their talents, this facility should be made available for all three-year-olds (Ambities voor het jonge kind voor de basisschool (Ambitions for the young child for the primary school), 2008; Naar een nieuwe kleuterperiode in de basisschool (Towards a new infant school period in primary schools), 2010). The education minister has adopted this final recommendation and pilots were launched in 2011 offering three-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds an education programme[1].

For older children too, additional teaching time and targeted programmes focusing on language, arithmetic and social orientation are important in preventing (increasing) disadvantage (Extended education, 2010).

2. Encourage attainment of a basic qualification and good transfers in secondary and tertiary education

In secondary education and senior secondary vocational education (MBO), investments are being made in preventing pupils leaving school without first obtaining the basic qualification at MBO level 2 or higher. The Education Council recommends that strong efforts are made to prevent pupils from leaving school unqualified because diplomas are increasingly important. For those who do drop out, obtaining and documenting their competencies can help them gain a foothold in the labour market. PLAR procedures (prior learning assessment and recognition) are a useful instrument for this (Tot hier en nu verder (Enough is enough, but what now?), 2004). Good transfer and combination opportunities and a ‘warm handover’ between the various sectors of education could also help prevent drop-outs (Transfer and Talent Development, 2007). This also applies to the transition to higher education (Improved transitions in the education system, 2005; Higher education fit for the future, 2011). The Education Council believes that good advice, eradication of learning gaps, binding students to the organisation and (in certain situations) selection would be particularly useful in combating drop-outs from higher education (A successful start in higher education, 2008).

3. Prevent underachievement

In 2007, the Education Council spoke for the first time about ‘new disadvantage’ (Achieving according to ability, 2007)[2]. It was in this report that the Education Council not only signalled underachievement in expected groups (children of parents with a low standard of education and those from an ethnic background), but also provided evidence that underachievement occurs relatively more frequently among pupils with a high IQ than it does among pupils with an average or low IQ. In the policy response, the state secretary for education took underachievement seriously and reminded school leaders and teachers of their responsibility. By way of a solution, the government developed reference levels for language and arithmetic. Furthermore, the Education Council and the education minister take the view that an outcome-oriented approach and interim assessment are important in highlighting underachievement at an earlier stage (A firm foundation for every pupil, 2011; Towards higher educational performance in secondary education, 2011). In addition, in 2011 the education minister launched new experiments with increases in learning time in the form of broadened school times and an additional year of primary education.[3]

4. Encourage social cohesion

The Education Council believes it is very important that children from differing backgrounds interact with each other. This should ensure that segregation based on ethnicity, socio-economic background or gender will be avoided as far as possible (A school culture that unites, 2007; Beacons for dispersal and integration, 2005; Early or late tracking, 2010). The Education Council therefore advocates a school culture that unites. Schools have a large degree of responsibility in achieving this. There are a number of options open to them, but in all cases it is important that governors and teachers possess intercultural skills and that the school conveys a message of mutual respect. The extension of preschool and early years education to all pupils would also contribute to social cohesion.

Selection for a certain type of education at a young age (group 8, final year of primary school) may actually contribute to segregation (see Early or late tracking, 2010), because pupils from differing socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds then find themselves in different education streams. This could be combated by organising non-assessed subjects jointly and by keeping open opportunities to combine programmes or to transfer to other types of education. The timing of the selection could be postponed for certain groups in junior colleges.

5. Preventing the formation of new disadvantaged groups

In the report entitled Social disadvantage in the future (2011), the Education Council maps out some social developments and the attendant risks of disadvantage. In the future, the importance of education will only increase. It is therefore very important that we continue to invest in as many people as possible attaining a minimum educational foundation (comparable with the basic qualification). Getting the most from people’s talents is a necessity for the labour market. Education can help break away from the traditional choice of subjects and the gender segregation that this causes in the labour market. Finally, the Education Council concludes that employees and citizens of the future will increasingly be required to have competencies such as problem-solving skills, critical thinking, independence, collaboration and social and communication skills. It is important that all school types devote attention to these.

[1] Pilot group experiment (in Dutch):

[2] Education Council (2007). Achieving according to ability. The Hague: Education Council.