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Netherlands - Teacher training - basic and specialist teacher training

Pre-service training programmes

In the Netherlands, it takes four years to gain a mainstream teaching qualification. Primary school teachers study at higher education institutes. They are trained to teach all curriculum subjects, but also a specialist subject. The initial teacher training includes an introduction to educating pupils with special needs. Current government policy requires more knowledge of educating pupils with special needs within teacher training, but the programme is oversubscribed and adding special needs programmes is not easy. 

Students can enter primary school colleges with a secondary school certificate (HAVO/VWO) or vocational diploma (MBO). Because of concerns regarding disappointing results of first-year teacher training students, a compulsory mathematics and language test has recently been introduced. Research showed that a large group of students in teacher education was not able to perform in mathematics at the level that is required for pupils at the end of primary education. All students at the end of the first year of the teacher training course are now required to complete the test. Failing the test means they cannot continue with the next year of their programme.

Another initiative related to primary teacher training is the start of an academic teaching training course. In order to motivate students with academic ambitions to enter the teaching force and to raise the academic potential of the force, initiatives have been taken to start a teacher training course for primary school teachers at academic level. For example, the University of Utrecht offers a combined course of teacher training for primary education and educational science for VWO graduates.

Though supplementary training for teachers in special education is optional, the majority of special teachers undertake two-year, part-time training. The course assumes the students are already working in education and focuses upon both theory and practice. There are several specialist fields including visual impairments, behavioural problems, intellectual disability, remedial teaching and peripatetic teaching. Although not obligatory, a growing number of mainstream teachers have a special education certificate.

As for secondary education, two forms of teaching qualification exist:

  • Lower-secondary qualification: this so-called ‘grade two’ qualification qualifies teachers for the first three years of HAVO and VWO and all years of secondary vocational education (VMBO/MBO). Courses for this level are provided at higher education institutes.
  • Full qualification: this ‘grade one’ qualification qualifies teachers for all levels of secondary education.
  • The grade one qualification courses are provided at higher education (hbo) institutes and at universities. The hbo courses are available for general subjects, art subjects, technical subjects and agricultural subjects. Students specialise in one subject and the course prepares them to meet the required standards of competence (see below). At university, courses are offered for university graduates with a master’s degree. Students can take a postgraduate training course or begin while they are still undergraduates. Courses are available for all subjects in the secondary curriculum.

Common framework of teacher competence

The Dutch government has the constitutional duty to provide high quality education for everybody. This reasoning caused the Dutch Parliament to pass the ‘Professions in Education Act’ in the summer of 2004. The essence of the act (abbreviated as the ‘BIO-Act’) is that educational staff – teachers, assisting staff members, school managers – must not only be qualified, but also competent. For this reason, sets of competences and requirements have been developed for teachers, and are being developed for assisting staff members and (primary) school managers. The competence requirements for teachers are accepted by the government and have been operational since August 2006. Schools are obliged to take competent staff into their employment and subsequently enable them to keep up their competences at a high level and further improve them. Teacher training colleges use these competences as a guideline to their educational programme.

There are three versions of the competence requirements:

  • for teachers in primary education;
  • for teachers in secondary and vocational education; and
  • for teachers in the last two classes of higher general secondary education (HAVO) and the last three classes of pre-university education (VWO).

The differences between the three versions are only marginal. In fact, all Dutch teachers are required to have the same basic competences. The framework of competence requirements specifies four professional roles that teachers have:

  • interpersonal role;
  • pedagogical role;
  • organisational role; and
  • the role of an expert in subject matter and teaching methods.

The teacher fulfils these professional roles in four different types of situations, which are characteristic of a teacher’s profession:

  • working with students,
  • colleagues,
  • the school’s working environment, and
  • with themselves.

The latter refers to their own personal development. The framework specifies competence requirements for each role and in each situation (see the Education Co-operative website for more details).

In-service training

On 30 June 2006, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science concluded the ‘Agreement on the professionalisation and support of staff in primary and secondary education with education sector employers’ and employees’ associations’. As a result of this agreement, since 1 August 2006, primary and secondary schools have received additional resources for the professionalisation and support of education staff. The agreement is mainly aimed at expanding the possibilities for further development for teachers and other education staff within the school. The agreement contains arrangements about maintaining competency requirements and about training and professionalisation in relation to the Education Professions Act and the competency dossier. These arrangements have been further developed in the decentralised collective labour agreements.


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