Students at Buitenwijs Primary School in Zwolle will go out first with their class each morning. Everything is, always, rain or light. Ryan Spin sees it all for herself. “They can go for a walk, do yoga or take math lessons on the lawn. Because kids spend so much time indoors. They need outside. Twice playtime is not enough.” So the school will be built on the edge of Zwolle, in a green environment.
On Tuesday, dozens of new school boards heard that they might open a school next August. Fully reimbursed by the central government and municipalities. According to the new law, more space for new schools, anyone can now set up a school. Provided that the founders are able to recruit a sufficient number of parents of young children in the zip code area (and six kilometers around) and have a sound education plan previously approved by the Education Inspectorate.
Monopolies are broken
With the new law, the monopoly of the main ideological sects – such as the Reformers, Catholics and Revelations – was broken. Everyone, in principle, could start a school, but the government did not immediately repay this amount. The founders had to provide the money themselves, often in the hundreds of thousands of euros.
And only after the school was established and operated and approved by the Education Inspectorate, was there a subsidy. This is the number of Islamic schools that have been established in recent decades, and by the way, also how the new schools of the Forum for Democracy, which you want to open after the summer, will start.
In total, 51 schools (14 secondary and 37 primary) want to start in August 2023. This will not work in all cases, according to the letter sent by Minister Denis Wersma (Education, Culture and Science) on Tuesday afternoon. Twelve high schools were rejected. Reason: “Civil Education” plans were substandard, according to the Inspectorate. Of the 37 applications for new elementary schools, 32 were given the green light.
I don’t like keys at all
The two women who attended Buitenwijs Primary School in Zwolle received positive advice and were eager to do so. As of August 2023, their school will extensively mentor each student with a coach. They will read a lot, learn to think critically and will not be tested every time, says initiator Ryan Spane: “We preferred not to have any tests at all, but the inspectorate told us that every child should be tested at least twice a year in order to monitor progress. To measure. So we do. Then the results are only for the teacher and not for the child or the parents.”
They say the new schools are responding to today’s needs with their plans. Take IKC Cadans Primary School in Weesp. Soon the kids will be able to go here from 7:30 in the morning until 6:30 in the evening. No time for breakfast? You can go to school. Swimming lesson? during school. Director Marian Finstra says it’s perfect for kids and parents, but also for teachers.
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By ‘completely integrating’ childcare and primary school, the school wants to alternate between ‘effort and relaxation’ that are ‘in harmony with the children’s biorhythm’. This means, for example, that students at Weesp take cognitive materials between ten and twelve and after homemade lunch they “relax on their pillow to recharge the brain.” Teachers can set up lessons when colleagues cook with the kids, play sports, or provide teaching for the project.
Finstra notes that there is a lot of enthusiasm for this concept at Weesp. The school needed 102 signatures, but got 125 in no time. “And we already have 285 pre-registrations for August of next year.”
Final exam required
Each new elementary school will have eight years to bring in the minimum number of students and prove themselves. Prospective schools have been previously questioned by the Education Inspectorate, particularly with regard to basic skills such as citizenship, mathematics and language. Playing and relaxing outside is great, but the goal is for students to understand fractions, can summarize texts and see how democracy works.
The central final exam, in the eighth group, is also mandatory for every elementary school. This will be the IEP at the new Buitenwijs school in Zwolle, not Cito, Spin says. “We don’t want to constantly compare children to the national average. It’s just about their development.”
Of course, she says, language and math are important. From group 6 onwards, students at Buitenwijs must also meet national ‘reference levels’. They also take lessons in dance, painting and drama. And a lot outside.
Starting a school is not easy. Marek Hamburg, director of the WillemsPoort Children’s Center in Tilburg, went through all the steps, but stumbled at the last minute with the number of digital signatures. Too bad, because her initiative is needed, you think. Many children in the new residential area where school should now be going to school outside Tilburg because there is no place within Brabant municipality.
Hamburg says its initiative, “Project-Based Systematic Catholic Education at the Modern Child Center,” based on the child-centered educational principle Reggio Emilia (developed in the Italian city of the same name), bridges the gap. The plan was positively evaluated by the Inspectorate and the municipality of Tilburg was also enthusiastic. “But just look at collecting enough digital parent data in the time of Corona and in a new, patchy neighborhood.” Hamburg required 136 parental permits, and the counter stuck at 79. “So we’re fishing behind the net.”
A new primary school to be built in Brill in the southern Netherlands arose out of dissatisfaction with the current offer. That’s fairly small, says Wouter Magdenberg. His two daughters, aged five and eight, go to school there. “It’s all geared toward efficiency,” Magdenberg says. Timings are short: 8.30 am to 2 pm. The teachers have so little time and attention for the children.”
There is no option in Braille
Worst of all, he says, there is no choice. Since the administrative merger, all thirty primary schools in the district have come under one council. “There’s a different sign above every door—Montessori or whatever—but the display is the same everywhere. Stingy.”
Last year, he and five other parents began writing the plan for De Verwundering Elementary School. It was forty pages—on topic content, student tracking systems, personnel policy, time allocation—and budget. The council has more than a hundred signatures from parents and the plan has been approved by the Inspectorate.
What does De Verwundering offer that differs from other primary schools? “Caring for every child. We want longer school days with more space for the child and for additional subjects, such as geography, biology and culture. Of course the basics – language and math – are important, but school is more than that.”
Magdenberg stresses that De Verwundering is not only intended for children from aspiring parents who are already registered. “We also want to have kids who don’t take a trip with their parents, for example.”
Tricky Point: Where Do New Schools Get Teachers? The shortage of teachers is serious and will only increase in the near future. Many newcomers also desire small classes, and therefore require a relatively larger number of teachers. Weesper Primary School IKC Cadans will soon have no more than twenty students in the group; Groups of trainers of eighteen children in Zwolle.
She says director Marianne Finstra still comes to teachers. They are already sending open applications. “Our concept appeals to you.”
Nine new primary schools with an Islamic identity
This is reflected in the plans collected on the website of the implementing agency DUO. For example, future students at Amana Primary School in Wienendaal, Gelderland, are “challenged to think about what it means to be a Muslim in the Netherlands”.
The three new primary schools in Ababil (in Vlardingen, Schiedam and Maslus) will soon form “a micro-community where children experience, experience and are able to internalize and express Islamic norms, values and our image of man”.
Extended working hours
Open from 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM
Children can have breakfast, lunch and dinner if needed. In the so-called ‘integrated children’s centers’ – no less than ten of 32 self-proclaimed initiatives – childcare, out-of-school care and ‘regular’ primary school are closely intertwined. Children from 0 to 12 years old are welcome and take turns learning and relaxing. They do their homework at school, sports and culture are also part of the school day.
Learning and Living Schools
For those who prefer not to send children to a traditional school
There is also something to choose from for those who do not prefer a traditional classroom with their peers. A number of new schools will do things very differently. Because, for example, De Gelukstuin wrote in Walre in Brabant, “A child cannot start early enough to live a happy life.”
Like other new schools, the school is abandoning the traditional division into separate subjects and classes. Children are given their own “learning path with appropriate goals”.
At Lief Primary School, in Hoef and Haag near Vianen, children receive “life lessons” from learning coaches. The school believes that it is important that “children are happy and know how to stay that way for the rest of their lives.”
A version of this article also appeared in The June 1, 2022 جريدة Newspaper