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. An early school leaver is a young person between 12 and 23 years of age who does not attends school and who has not achieved a basic qualification (i.e. a senior general secondary, pre-university, or level-2 secondary vocational diploma).
The Netherlands is adopting a 'prevention is better than cure' approach to the problem. Young people have better prospects on the labour market if they have a basic qualification. Partly due to the decreasing early school leaving rate, youth unemployment in the Netherlands is increasing only slightly and is in fact compared to neighbourhood countries relatively low. Studies show that finishing school has the effect of reducing the number of crimes and other offences against property.
Reducing the early school leaving rate is not a project with a beginning and an end. For long-term success, preventing pupils dropping out of school will need to become one of the primary processes at schools and within municipalities. It demands a long-term perspective, systematic efforts and resources, an integrated approach focussing on prevention, and tight organisation at regional level. All the various links in the chain - education, the labour market, and care – need to form a good basis for preventing young people dropping out of school.
The Dutch ESL-programme has been successful in implementing various measures at national level:
Since 2002, the 'Drive to Reduce Drop-out Rates' approach has already led to a reduction in the number of early school leavers from 71,000 in 2001 to 38,600 (provisional result for the 2010-2011 school year). The objective of the former Balkenende II Government was to reduce the number of new early school leavers to 35,000 by 2012.
These results are partly achieved by long-term performance agreements ('covenants') between schools, municipalities, and national government, joint action by professionals in each region (schools, municipalities, youth care workers, business and industry) and a 'no cure no pay' performance-related funding policy per early school leaver less. An extra incentive for the period from 2008 to 2011, funding has been made available for educational programmes and for setting up plus facilities especially for 'overburdened' young people i.e. those who are unable to gain a qualification due to a combination of financial, social, material, and often also judicial problems.
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'.