Education policy is also made at the local government level. In special cases allowed by law, local authorities can ask for the assistance of the Education Council (for example, regarding issues about school accommodation). Furthermore, recommendations made by the Education Council regularly refer to the roles that the Education Council can play in realising educational goals (in deprived areas, for example).
‘Freedom of orientation' and ‘freedom of design' are two important characteristics of education in the Netherlands. Freedom of orientation is taken to mean the freedom to provide education with a religious or ideological outlook on society. Freedom of design refers to the fact that schools organised along religious or ideological lines have a certain degree of autonomy. Public schools, for example, cannot refuse to accept pupils, whereas religious or ideological schools can. And Tthey are also free to select pupils based on their faith or other beliefs.
The government has a constitutional obligation to treat public schools and religious or ideological schools in the same way. This also means that religious or ideological schools must be supported in a financial and material sense on the same terms as public schools.
In this context, the Education Council has a role in advising local authorities. Both the local authority assembly and the council executive can seek the Education Council's opinion on the accommodation programme for schools or on a specific decision. The Education Council then assesses the programme or decision in the light of the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of orientation (religion or ideology), freedom of design (autonomy in terms of teaching and governance), and also in terms of the principle of equal treatment of public and religious or ideological schools.
The Education Council's opinions are not binding, as we are an advisory body, not a tribunal. As a good advisor, we do not just talk but we also listen. To date, the number of cases in which the Education Council has been asked to advise on school accommodation for local authorities has been limited.
In some of our recommendations, the general role of the local authority in relation to school accommodation is discussed. Accommodation is unarguably an important factor in the provision of good education (see, for example, the recommendation on Leerwerklandschappen (Learning Work Landscapes), 2007.
The Education Council has also made recommendations to the Minister for Education relating to local education policy. These include recommendations on education policy in deprived areas (Beacons for Dispersal and Integration, 2005), on how childcare is organised, and on the role of ‘broad schools' (for example in Een vlechtwerk van opvang en onderwijs (A Patchwork of Care and Education), 2007).
Finally, recommendations relating to administration and governance issues are relevant to local authorities, especially in regard to discussions on the position of public education. Not least because the local authority is the first point of contact in relation to the constitutional guarantee of sufficient public education in a ‘satisfactory' number of schools.