Is the Dutch preschool system inadequate?

The City of Amsterdam recently announced a plan to send children from two-and-a-half years old to primary school, wanting kindergartens, preschools and childcare organisations to all add a basic provision for children from up to four years old.

The city is calling it Group 0plus, with classes the responsibility of the local primary school and taking place in the same building or near it. Once a child reaches four years old, he or she would then move on to Group 1 in the same school.

The plan closely resembles that presented by the Minister for Social Affairs for rural preschool provision for all children from 2,5 years, regardless of whether their parents work or not.

The plan suggests that in order to finance this change, government funding for childcare should be merged with the municipal funds that currently pay for playgroup and early childhood education.

The initiative is part of an appeal by Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht to end the difference between commercial and subsidised childcare.

Education Inspectorate’s report

Yet in a report to parliament this week, the Onderwijsinspectie (responsible for evaluating the education system in the Netherlands) found that education for pre-schoolers with difficulties is extremely flawed.

The report states that municipalities often do not know if they are reaching the right children, while there is often no strict plan behind the care and parents are barely involved.

It is the first time that such a large-scale investigation into the quality of the Dutch early-childhood has been conducted.

The inspection visited 5.300 locations, more than 60 per cent of the total, and in more than half of those visits the quality in various sections proved insufficient. At 59 per cent of preschools no agreements had been made with the following primary school about the curriculum, meaning that the educational level of more than half of the children was insufficient.

Educational impairment

Each year 335 million euros is spent on educational programmes that are designed to combat disadvantage among children, of which there are 45.000 nationwide. Amsterdam has a relatively high number of children with language impairment: almost half of the preschool-aged children in the city (more than 6.300).

Under the existing arrangements children are entitled to at least 10 hours per week preschool education, paid by the municipality.

Under the City of Amsterdam’s proposal, children with language impairments will receive four free sessions per week for over three hours, while other children will have two per week.

The report concluded, however, that in no situation were the children currently getting the care they needed.

Determining special needs

Municipalities are responsible for helping children with language deficiencies, yet only in 15 per cent of municipalities have any agreements been reached as to what the results of pre- and early childhood education should be. Also, 60 per cent of municipalities create too few education places for disadvantaged children out of the money they receive.

Generally, the child’s health clinic determines whether a child needs special help. For this, it usually relies on the educational level of the parents. The report noted that this was an insufficient measure.

Childcare providers

In Amsterdam, the reaction to the city’s plan was not positive. Jessica Haije, owner of Kids and Zo, spoke to de Volkskrant, saying "I know from experience that schools only do business with the major providers.

"Those are not always the best providers in the field of educational quality for toddlers, something that is affirmed in reports of the Public Health Service. I don’t understand why there will be money for preschool education in primary schools when there is already a whole infrastructure."

Government response

Referring to the Onderwijsinspectie report, the Secretary of Education said it was a "wake-up call for councillors and municipal councils". She also suggested they target their customers better and make better arrangements about the quality of the education offered.

Whether the City of Amsterdam’s new plan will result in better quality childcare or merely reduces the numbers of independent providers in favour of a more centralised system, remains to be seen. Given the current crisis in the numbers of childcare centres, it is clear a number of issues need to be addressed.

Alexandra Gowling


Alexandra Gowling

Alexandra is an Australian citizen and an experienced expat, having spent (quite a bit of) time in Asia before coming to the Netherlands a year ago. She enjoys writing, reading...

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