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Coping with Very Weak Primary Schools: Towards Smart Interventions in Dutch Education Policy

Listed author(s):
  • Mark van Twist

    (Netherlands School of Public Administration)

  • Martijn van der Steen

    (Netherlands School of Public Administration)

  • Marieke Kleiboer

    (Netherlands School of Public Administration)

  • Jorren Scherpenisse

    (Netherlands School of Public Administration)

  • Henno Theisens

    (The Hague University for Applied Sciences)

Registered author(s):

    This case study looks at the effectiveness of policy instruments aimed at reducing the number of underperforming primary schools in a system with a long tradition of school autonomy. It reviews relevant Dutch policy developments in education since 1998 and provides an in-depth analysis of five selected schools and their responsiveness to the policy instruments under study. Interviews with relevant stakeholders explore a key issue: what happens after a reform is introduced, and what are the elements that make it successful (or not)? The study suggests that there is not a linear cause and effect driving changes in educational performance of schools. For example, even the assignment of the label ‘very weak’ can elicit a positive response from one school and a negative response from another, depending on the local context, history and staffing situation at the school. The same intervention can thus create a vicious cycle that triggers increasing deterioration of schools or a virtuous cycle that improves conditions to an extent that surpasses the original goal of the reform. This goes some way to explaining why some reform measures unintentionally backfire while others quickly (‘virally’) spread over the system and set a virtuous cycle in motion that engages all parts of the system. Cette étude a pour objet l’efficacité des instruments d’action destinés à réduire le nombre d’écoles primaires aux performances insuffisantes dans un système où les établissements scolaires sont autonomes depuis longtemps. Dans cette étude sont passés en revue les faits importants qui ont marqué la politique néerlandaise de l’éducation depuis 1998, et examinées de façon approfondie cinq écoles et leur sensibilité aux instruments d’action considérés. Des entretiens ont eu lieu avec certaines parties prenantes au sujet d’une question de premier plan : que se passe-t-il après la mise en place d’une réforme et quels sont les facteurs qui en assurent la réussite (ou l’échec) ? L’étude montre qu’il n’y a pas de relation de causalité linéaire qui détermine l’évolution des résultats de l’enseignement dans les établissements scolaires. Par exemple, la simple appréciation « très faible » peut susciter une réaction positive de la part d’une école et une réaction négative de la part d’une autre, selon le contexte local, l’histoire de l’établissement scolaire en question et sa situation quant à l’effectif de son personnel. Ainsi, une même intervention peut engendrer un cercle vicieux de détérioration de la qualité des écoles, ou un cercle vertueux qui se traduira par des progrès supérieurs à l’objectif initial de la réforme. Ce phénomène contribue à expliquer pourquoi certaines mesures de réforme ont des effets contraires à ceux qui sont attendus tandis que d’autres se « propagent » rapidement dans l’ensemble du système, enclenchant un cercle vertueux dans lequel sont entraînés des secteurs de ce système qui n’étaient nullement censés être touchés.

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    Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Education Working Papers with number 98.

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    Date of creation: 13 Dec 2013
    Handle: RePEc:oec:eduaab:98-en
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