The Netherlands: mobilisation of education unionists for quality primary education

As public authorities have not yet increased teacher salaries and lowered their workload, the ‘Code Red’ actions for primary education continue; moving to eastern provinces of the Netherlands.

Although Education International (EI) Dutch affiliate Algemene Onderwijsbond) (AOb) was hoping that the 13 April strike in the country’s southern provinces would be the last in the series before the Minister would realise the urgency of better salaries and lower workloads in education, there is still no breakthrough.

For that reason, a follow-up strike took place on 30 May in the East of the country. As during previous actions, nearly all schools for primary education were closed, in this case in the Gelderland and Overijsel provinces.

In the meantime, negotiations for a next collective agreement continue, however, without concrete results. There is still no indication that a substantial salary raise in the public primary education sector is foreseen.

Insufficient funding

The only seemingly positive result comes from the Education Minister's commitment to release a budget that will foresee the reduction of primary teacher workloads earlier than expected. The average primary school will receive 35.000 euros this year, and growing amounts per year until 2021/22. Schools are free to use this fund in the most convenient way for them. Most schools already indicated that they want to use the money to hire teaching assistants or find specialised teachers. The available budget is nevertheless far too small to make substantial changes according to the AOb.

Excessive teacher workload

Especially since the introduction of the new system for inclusive education, workload has grown substantially. This 4th regional strike comes at a time when a political debate has started about whether or not this education system works. When the new system was introduced, most schools for special education were closed, and expert teachers were dismissed. Regular schools were expected to take over their tasks.

The AOb has always been critical about this change, not because of the idea of inclusive schools, but because the system changes were carried out without sufficient and adequate training for regular teachers, and without enough money for the necessary maintenance or adaptation of school buildings.

While a large strike by education unions in 2012, supported by parents’ organisations, led to the postponement of the definitive introduction of the changes, it did not lead to the cancellation of the reform plans. The changes resulted in many children having no school at all, while the number of children in specialised institutions did not diminish as was hoped.

Teachers have long expressed concern about large classes, which makes it more difficult to accommodate students with special needs.

As long as the salaries remain low and the workload stays high, AOb expects that teacher shortages will grow and current teachers will become  even more overloaded, a situation that endangers the quality of education.

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