Author: Daniel Boffey
Amsterdam city council has asked civil servants and Syrian refugees with teaching experience to step into the classroom because of a teacher shortage at the start of the school year.
The Dutch capital has been among the areas worst affected by a lack of teachers nationwide.
About 15,000 pupils were sent home from schools in Amsterdam in the past six months because their teacher was sick or absent, while about 8,000 primary school children are yet to be assigned a teacher for the new year.
In response, the council announced on Friday it was drafting in 60 civil servants, of whom just four were qualified teachers, to help in classrooms.
The council also said 15 refugees from Syria who have a residence permit and have worked as teachers elsewhere are being trained to teach chemistry, maths and physics. Students who have not yet qualified may also be offered teaching posts with on-the-job coaching.
Amsterdam’s councillor for education, Marjolein Moorman, said that as a result of the council’s initiatives, “on Monday when schools start, every child will have a teacher”.
“It is an urgent problem. We therefore made a round of our own officials with the question: who can help? Because it’s really a crisis,” she said.
Unions complain that the wages of teachers in the Netherlands, particularly in primary schools, have barely increased in the last decade, driving down recruitment. Primary school teachers on average earn 20% less than teachers at secondary schools, with their maximum wage being about €1,000 (£900) lower a month on average. Last year about 90,000 teachers took part in only the second general strike of Dutch primary school teachers since the 1980s.
The education minister, Arie Slob, said: “Amsterdam is trying to do everything it can to support schools.
“In the big cities, the shortage of teachers is the greatest and so they are working intensively on a solution. It is important that the people standing in front of the class are competent, or are on the way to being so.”
In response to questions about the refugees, he said: “I understand that this can work mainly in a field such as mathematics. It is important to be creative, sometimes the choice is: can we do nothing or something?”
Joke Middelbeek from the primary schools association BBO said the system was “fragile”.
“We hope a flu epidemic will not strike Amsterdam quite yet. We don’t want to send pupils home for lack of a teacher, nor do we want the level of education to suffer because the children are being taught by unqualified staff,” she said.