European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network Database, ELGPN Database

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Name of the good/interesting practice/initiative/policy

The approach to Early School Leaving in the Netherlands


the Netherlands

I am proposing that this example will be published also in the KSLLL database


1. Background

What makes this an example of good/interesting practice/initiative/policy?
- The motivation of the initiative (What is the history/background of the policy?)
- Linkages with LLG policy priorities (Please add references to other national/EU policies or documents)
- Participants
Tackling the problem of early school leaving is one of the priorities of the European Commission. Currently,
1 in 7 young Europeans leave school early without gaining a basic qualification. The aim is to reduce the
average percentage of early school leavers from 14.1% to less than 10% by 2020. This will involve all young
people aged between 18 and 25 who are not undertaking education/training. Measured according to the
European definition, the Dutch target is 8% in 2020. The Rutte-Verhagen Government has decided on a
more ambitious target than that for the EU, namely a maximum of 25,000 early school leavers by 2016.
The Netherlands compares well with other European countries. In 2010, the European average fell from
17.6% to 14.1%. In the Netherlands, the figures for 2010 again showed a decrease, from 15.4% in 2000 to
10.9% in 2009 and to 10.1% in 2010, making the country one of Europe’s leaders in tackling the early school
leaving problem. Better cooperation between the EU Member States, exchange of know‑how, best practices,
and focussed use of EU funding can help solve the problem.
Early School Leaving in the Netherlands – Pupils leaving school early – is an economic, social, and individual problem. Each young person has his or her own aims, wishes and ambitions, and having a good education increases the likelihood of achieving them. The Dutch knowledge economy requires well-educated employees, while Dutch society also finds itself confronted by dejuvenation and the ageing of the population, with the pressure on the labour market consequently increasing.
Tackling the problem of pupils leaving school early is one of the priorities of the Dutch government implemented by the “Drive to Reduce Drop-out Rates” approach. The Dutch target is to have no more than 25,000 new early school leavers each year by 2016.

Aims and targets
- Objectives of the initiative (What did the policy set out to achieve?)
- Target group
- Methods applied to reach the objective (technological and /or pedagogical)
In 2010, the Rutte-Verhagen Government tightened up the target, setting it at a maximum of 25,000 new early school leavers by 2016. Efforts to achieve the new, tighter target will primarily be based on what has been achieved so far. This is why that policy will continue to be pursued: systematic improvements in education, support from the youth care, public safety and employment sectors, closer monitoring, and
stricter enforcement. These measures, combined with close coordination by the municipalities, have led to success. It is
an approach that requires long-term policy and the certainty of structured, long-term funding. To achieve the 25,000
target, long-term performance agreements and transparent figures have again been decided on. The motto continues to be “prevention is better than cure”.
Continuing the approach means:
* New agreements for 2012-2015; regional cooperation;
* Truancy policy: improvements are still possible. Agreements with those in the field;
* Improved education, specifically at secondary vocational education levels 3 and 4;
* Early school leaving figures: clear and more thorough;
* Continuous learning pathway from pre-vocational secondary education to secondary vocational education;
* Focus on first year of secondary vocational education;
* Integrated approach by the youth care, public safety, and the labour market

2. Implementation

Strategy and actions (Please describe the approach adopted to make the reform work and any actions taken.)
- Level of implementation (national, regional etc.)
- Implementation (description)
In 2011, the Netherlands set a new and ambitious objective: maximum 25,000 new early school leavers in 2016. To achieve this objective, the current approach will be sustained and strengthened where necessary. The five key measures are:

1. Adequate and complete non-attendance and ESL registration.

2. Long-term performance covenants between the government, municipalities and schools. Schools are held to strict percentage targets and receive a performance bonus if they reduce ESL.

3. 39 regions throughout the country will work together to implement measures to combat ESL. The regions will receive funding to develop policies themselves. Good examples are actively promoted online and during regional and national conferences.

4. Extra facilities for vulnerable youth: a combination of regular education with care and support and vocational training if necessary.

5. In secondary vocational education: intensification of first year teaching, close pupil supervision and career guidance.

Monitoring and evaluation
- What has been put in place for monitoring and evaluation?
- What actors are involved?
The report The approach to Early School Leaving Policy in the Netherlands and the provisional figures of the 2010-2011 performance agreements gives extensive information on monitoring and evaluation

3. Outcomes

Achievements (Please describe the main outcomes/results according to the following headings. Each option can be answered - up to 50 words)
- Specific results
- Cost effectiveness
- Budget
- Innovative aspects
At national level, there were 38,600 new ESL’s between 1 October 2010 and 1 October 2011. This figure is based on more accurate records than previously.1 The national ESL percentage for the 2010-2011 school year has fallen to 2.9%. At secondary schools (VO), that figure has fallen to 1.0% and at schools for (senior) secondary vocational education (MBO) to 7.2%.
None of the regions saw a rise in the number of ESL’s compared to 2005-2006.

Success factors (What key success factors have led to or prevented success?)
- Lessons learnt
- Unintended impacts (Have there been any unintended impacts? Positive or negative?)
The consistent theme of the Dutch approach is the collaboration between the ‘golden triangle’ of the government, municipalities and schools. Together they are responsible for reducing ESL numbers. This collaboration is set down in long-term covenants per region, while the national government initiates, stimulates and co-ordinates.
At the regional level, the approach begins with the day to day assurance of quality education and effective organisation. Inspiring teachers, challenging lessons, reliable schedules, a smooth transition to the labour market, pupils’ self-confidence: these all play a role in motivating pupils to stay at school. Moreover, we approach ESL not only as an educational issue, but as a social issue too. Pupils are frequently faced with various social problems that affect their performance at school, such as debt, addiction or neglect. To combat these issues, schools offer their pupils care tailored to individual needs. More investment in career guidance helps pupils to choose follow-up programmes that offer them realistic perspectives and match their talents.

Strengths and weaknesses
- What areas of the policy can we learn lessons from?
- Are there still challenges ahead?
The collaboration between the ‘golden triangle’ of the government, municipalities and schools is one of the succes factors. Another success factor of the Dutch approach is the reliable Student Number registration system. This makes it possible to track exactly who leaves school and when, so that immediate and targeted action can be taken if necessary.

4. Additional narrative description of the policy/practice/initiative

EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou had this to say about the Dutch approach: “Tackling early school leaving is a challenge because it means so many sectors have to work together. In most Member States, this does not yet happen in a systematic way, though some countries such as the Netherlands show the way forward.”. A number of European countries have expressed an interest in the integrated approach and accurate record-keeping system adopted by the Netherlands.

Additional information

Name of contact
Martine Soethout

Role (in policy initiative)

Organization name
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap. Directie Voortijdig Schoolverlaten (VSV)





Website address

Documents and publications
1. Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (2012). The approach to Early School Leaving Policy in the Netherlands and the provisional figures of the 2010-2011 performance agreements

2. Van Bijsterveldt, Marja. Preventing Early School Leaving: the Secret of the Dutch Approach. Government Gazette.

Attached files


This information was provided/updated by:
Peter van Deursen

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good practice, initiative, interesting practice, policy, early school leaving, career management skills, evidence-based policy, co-operation, guidance in schools, people at risk, qualifications, The Netherlands