Annex A. Terms of reference: OECD education policy review of the Netherlands


The OECD Directorate for Education and Skills will perform a review of the Dutch education system. This review is intended to provide policy makers, educators and other stakeholders with an external analysis which combines an international comparative perspective and quality analysis with an independent view.

The review will be performed through a customisation of the standard OECD review methodology and is expected to result in new insights into how the Netherlands’ education system is functioning and performing. The review is expected to provide a comprehensive analysis and function as a “stress test” of the Netherlands’ education system to identify strengths and challenges to the system, the potential to cope with these and to identify opportunities for further improvement. The system review will be based on relevant data and evidence which the OECD has accumulated since the last system review in the Netherlands (1989-1990), together with other published material (see section 2 below).


The Dutch education system is considered to be among the best performing across OECD countries. The Netherlands is a high performer in PISA 2012 in mathematics, reading and science, although mathematics performance has decreased across PISA cycles. Also, the 2012 Survey of Adult Skills, a product of the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), showed that Dutch adults have above-average literacy.

As with many high performing education systems, the issue is where and how to invest in order to further improve the performance and effectiveness of the system. To this end, the OECD review of the Dutch education system will inform the government on the strengths and challenges and provide policy options for moving the system forward.

It is important to take into consideration that there are a number of relevant and complementary reports and evaluations that can feed into the OECD Education Policy Review of the Netherlands:

  • National evaluations of the system: There have recently or will be several national evaluations of the system, some of which may run simultaneously to the system review.

  • A number of policy reports by state advisory bodies have been recently published, which will serve as input to analysis of the review.

  • OECD reports and data: 1) the recent OECD report on Evaluation and Assessment in the Netherlands; 2) outcomes of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Progress in International Reading Literacy Survey (PIRLS) and PISA; 3) the Education Policy Outlook, notably the country profile of the Netherlands; and 4) the recent Skills Beyond School Review of the Netherlands.

Main questions and specific themes

The OECD review of the Netherlands’ education system will analyse the functioning of the education system, as well as the methods and the potential to assure and enhance education quality and the potential to deal with challenges to the system and/or to education quality. This implies that four basic questions will be addressed:

  • How is the Netherlands’ education system functioning and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

  • Which characteristics may explain the way in which the system functions?

  • Is the governance and financing of the system effective and appropriate for enhancing education quality?

  • How can the performance of the system be sustained in the future (opportunities and challenges)?

Within the framework of this approach, specific attention will be given to a selection of themes which at present claim priority within the Netherlands’ political and public debate on education. These themes are:

  • How can the quality and outcomes of the system be further improved, and moved from “good” to “great”?

  • How can students’ motivation be improved?

  • In what way can the quality of teachers and school leaders be optimised?

  • What potential does the governance system have to enhance its agility and responsiveness to changes?

The specific approach to each of these four themes is given below. In each case, the approach is chosen to increase insights on how policy input and/or funding affect educational outputs and outcomes.

Improving the quality and outcomes of the system, and moving from “good” to “great”

The review will address:

  • The degree to which the system realises the general aims of quality (effectiveness), efficiency, equity and access.

  • The functioning of the early tracking for enhancing student performance and motivation (system’s position on the scale between a comprehensive and a categorical system).

  • The interaction and collaboration among the various stakeholders of the system in realising – through mutual support and synergy – an effective day-to-day functioning of the system.

The review will inform the Netherlands on how it can enhance the performance of its education system and move it from “good” to “great”. Therefore, the review will identify ways for policy makers, educators and other stakeholders to mobilise the fast increasing amount of evidence to actually achieve this aim.

Of particular relevance in this respect is the assurance and enhancement of educational quality. The international comparison should inform the Netherlands how its education system is performing compared to other systems. Addressing this and similar questions, the review will contribute to a definition of educational quality of relevance for the Netherlands (and other countries).

Besides this, the review will provide views on how the quality of education may be monitored/evaluated, assured and enhanced. In this context, the role of the Inspectorate of the Netherlands will be addressed. Particular attention will also be given to new forms of accountability, with a view to stimulating as well as monitoring the quality of education.

Improving student performance and motivation

The review will analyse the ways in which the Netherlands’ education system accommodates students, focussing on – amongst other things – how the system motivates and supports them to better (individual) performance. At present, the Netherlands is performing satisfactorily in accommodating low-achieving students, but evidence has shown that students with a higher potential tend to under-achieve. An overarching aim of the Netherlands’ education policy is to motivate and challenge all students, regardless of their background or their talents, to fully realise their potential.

The current effort to revitalise vocational education and to strengthen its position regarding general education is a crucial element in this overarching aim. The review will take these policies into account and provide guidance on how to motivate students and also how to commit them to match their educational achievement with their talents and potential.

In addition, attention will be given to the question of how a school system with early-tracking actually performs regarding equity and student motivation.

Optimise and strengthen the quality of teachers and school leaders

The review will analyse the position of teachers within the system and specifically focus on their potential to be carriers of innovation, to help them develop from “good” to “great”, and to motivate and commit students. The review should provide guidance on how to further enhance the teachers’ potential to differentiate their didactic approach in accordance with the needs of their students.

In addition, the review will evaluate potential progress in policies aimed at strengthening the professionalism and competences of teachers and to stimulate schools to become learning organisations.

With regard to school leaders, the review will analyse how the demand of changing governance and financing modalities (regarding central steering vs. school autonomy) influence their position and role within the system. The review will also take into account the position of school boards in their role as competent authority and employer.

Enhancing the system’s governance and financing in order to improve responsiveness to change

The review will provide guidance on how the Netherlands’ education system may enhance its sustainability and prepare for future challenges and opportunities. The focus will be on methods to enhance the system’s governance and financing, including its agility and its sensitivity to changes in demand. The review will draw on expertise gathered by the OECD work on Governing Complex Education Systems, which aims at creatively using and optimising governance mechanisms and knowledge options.

In addition, the review will analyse new leadership modalities as they are brought about by the application of system level steering which is characteristic of the Netherlands – that is to say: steering at system level while leaving a lot of autonomy to individual institutions. It will provide guidance on how the system’s potential for demand sensitivity may be developed by a balanced application of this “detached steering”.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has recently started a reappraisal of the school curriculum (in the form of a public debate initiated by the government) which represents another approach. The review will take this reappraisal into account.


The review includes primary education, secondary education, and vocational education and training. Higher education is excluded from the review, but it will include the transition from upper secondary education to higher education, as well as teacher training institutes.