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Implementation of assessment policy - Netherlands

The development in the Netherlands towards inclusive education for pupils with sensory, motor and mental impairments and/or behavioural problems has been largely influenced by a white paper published in 1996 (Ministerie van OCW, 1996). It outlined plans to stop financing places for such pupils within special schools in favour of linking the funding of special services to the pupils involved, regardless of the type of schooling (Pijl & Dyson, 1998). The proposal was to change from supply oriented financing to a system in which the means are forwarded to those requiring the services: in other words, demand oriented financing. In short, pupils do not follow the funds, but the funds follow the pupils. This so-called “backpack” approach means pupils take the funding with them to the school of their choice. That makes the new funding system possibly more attractive for potential users. Now the funds can be spent freely in regular or special education and it is expected, or even feared, that more pupils will apply for a “backpack” for a longer period of time. An important factor here can be parents' actions. Parents try to achieve optimal circumstances for their child. In education this is expressed in an attempt to obtain a statement on their child's eligibility, to secure ample resources and to guard against such a statement being terminated.
Until August 2003, decision-making on eligibility was the responsibility of the special schools admission boards. These boards decided on eligibility without any clearly defined criteria since special education legislation (Ministerie van OCW, 1998, p. 9) simply stated that ‘separate special education is intended for children for whom it has been established that a mainly orthopedagogical and orthodidactical approach is most appropriate’.
In the regulations regarding the newly introduced pupil bound budgets the decision to award a budget is thought best to be taken by a small number of so-called indication committees (called: Commissie voor Indicatiestelling or CvI), each responsible for one area of the country. The independent ‘indication’ committees are loosely attached to the newly formed Regional Expertise Centers (REC). All special schools in the Netherlands have been reorganised into four types of Expertise Centers: those for visually impaired pupils, those for pupils with communication disorders, those for physically and mentally impaired pupils and those for pupils with behavioural problems. In total there are 37 RECs and thus 37 ‘indication’ committees.
Parents have to apply for a pupil-bound budget to one of these committees. The parents can ask the regional expertise centre to help them filling in the application forms and to provide the assessment data needed.
The indication committee then decides about awarding a budget. To block further increase in the numbers of pupils deemed eligible for special needs funding, centrally orchestrated criteria were developed in the Netherlands (Hover & Harperink, 1998).
The eligibility criteria for a ‘back-pack’ are largely based on existing practice. Criteria for the visually impaired are a visual acuity: < 0,3 or a visual field: < 30° and limited participation in education as a result of the visual impairment. For hearing impaired pupils a hearing loss > 80 dB (or for hard of hearing pupils 35-80 dB) and limited participation in education are required. The decision to provide extra funding for mentally impaired pupils will be largely based on IQ (< 60), for physically impaired and chronically ill pupils medical data showing diagnosed disabilities/illness are needed. The criteria for behaviourally disturbed pupils require diagnosis in terms of the categories of the DSM-IV, problems at school, at home and/or in the community and a limited participation in education as a result of the behaviour problems.
Means are made available only after a positive decision by the indication committee. If a pupil meets the criteria for a pupil-bound budget, parents and pupil choose a school and take part in any discussions as to how the budget will be used. The regulations do not force regular schools to place special needs pupils even if the parents and the pupil may request this. However, only in cases where a school can clearly demonstrate to the inspectorate and parents that it is incapable of providing suitable schooling for a special needs pupil is placement denied. Two years after being admitted, a re-examination takes place to assess progress in the specific type of education, to decide how pupil's abilities can be further realised and whether the pupil should be transferred to regular or to another type of special schooling.

  • Hover, C. and Harperink, M. (1998) Toelaatbaarheid getoetst. Den Haag: Smets+Hover+.
  • Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur & Wetenschappen (1996). De rugzak, Beleidsplan voor het onderwijs aan kinderen met een handicap. Den Haag: SDU.
  • Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur & Wetenschappen (1998). Wet op de Expertise Centra. Den Haag: Staatsblad: 496.
  • Pijl, S.J. and Dyson, A. (1998) ‘Funding special education: a three-country study of demand-oriented models’, Comparative Education 34(3): 261-279.


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