The Education Council believes that vocational education is very important. Senior secondary vocational education forms an irreplaceable part of the education system. It is the place where people learn specialised trades to prepare them for key roles in our society. It also represents an important route for social mobility and increases access to higher education for large groups of pupils who learn in a different way than pupils in general education.
In regard to senior secondary vocational education (MBO) and its preparatory phase, preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO), the Education Council holds the following views.
One of the pillars of vocational education in the Netherlands since the introduction of the Adult and Vocational Education Act (Wet educatie en beroepsonderwijs) in 1996 is the three-pronged qualification structure focused on the labour market, transfers and citizenship. The Education Council believes it is important that this three-pronged qualification structure is maintained and, where possible, strengthened. This belief forms the foundation of the first three positions.
The relevance of vocational training to professional practice is essential. Internships form an important element of this. Major reductions in the teaching time available for internships can put pressure on this element. Students, parents and prospective employers must be clear about what profession a student has been trained for (Development directions for senior secondary vocational education (MBO), 2009; About the quality of vocational education, 2011).
Transfer opportunities – from preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO) to senior secondary vocational education (MBO), between the various levels of MBO and from MBO to higher professional education (HBO) – increase the opportunity for society to get the most from the available talent. The Education Council therefore believes that transfers should essentially be possible, both inside and outside the professional field. Students with an MBO background wishing to progress to a HBO programme should not have to meet a different set of requirements than students from a HAVO or VWO background. Furthermore, the various levels within vocational education should follow on from each other seamlessly (see also the section on secondary education; see also Examens in het VMBO (Examinations in preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO)), 2009; The path to higher education, 2009; Development directions for senior secondary vocational education (MBO); About the quality of vocational education, 2011).
Given the age and the prior education of students in secondary vocational education (MBO), it is important that attention is given to citizenship, especially in view of the transfer opportunity to higher professional education (HBO). Citizenship need not necessarily be provided in separate classes, but could rather be integrated into the professional qualification (Education and citizenship, 2003; Development directions for senior secondary vocational education (MBO), 2009). A new report on citizenship is currently being prepared.
The Education Council considers it important that teachers working in vocational education are also educated to master’s degree level. To ensure a smooth progression from MBO level 4 to higher professional education (HBO), it is necessary that pupils successfully complete the general subjects at the same level as the HAVO pupils. This means that MBO level 4 teachers also need to have the same first-level (Dutch: eerstegraads) teaching qualification as their HAVO colleagues. But even for preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO) and secondary vocational education (MBO), the Education Council recommends that a bachelor’s degree should be regarded as the initial teaching qualification. Teachers should then be required to attend post-graduate training and obtain a master’s degree within five years. Because this is not always feasible for vocational subjects, the Education Council recommends that efforts are made to ensure sufficient master’s level expertise is available within each teaching team (Well trained teachers for secondary vocational education, 2011; About the quality of vocational education, 2011).
In the Netherlands, anyone who leaves school without a diploma at senior secondary vocational education (MBO) level 2 is considered to have dropped out of school. Leaving school without a qualification puts people at a disadvantage that is difficult to recover from later. A good safety net in the transition between VMBO and MBO will go a long way in helping prevent pupils from dropping out. The proposed access programmes, which are intended to take the place of the current MBO level 1, may provide this safety net. It is important that the position of these access programmes within the system is clear, for instance, in relation to the various learning pathways in preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO) and in relation to the rest of senior secondary vocational education (MBO). Furthermore, there must be sufficient resources available to provide assistance to the young (often vulnerable) people in question, and an open access programme must be available in every region (About the quality of vocational education, 2011).