'Now we are looked down upon as jerks'

THE NETHERLANDS. Sunday is World Teachers' Day, but the event is one of protest rather than celebration. The TES reports from around the globe on staff depressed by the decline in their status and pay.

Dutch economic policy, known as the "polder model", has recently won international praise for reducing the country's deficit and creating jobs and sustained growth.

But the education system in the Netherlands tells a different story, having been the target of swingeing budget cuts in recent years.

"Schools have become impoverished. Staff are being asked to do more with less funding and less training. But I still love the job," says Emmie Kaas, a 40-year-old Amsterdam primary teacher, who has been in the profession for 20 years.

She says more and more Dutch teachers are suffering from stress or are running on automatic pilot. "Many are doing the basics and no more. Once the class door is closed at 3.30pm that's it," she says.

She does not blame them but condemns recent government schemes such as the "back-to- school-together" plan. Launched last year the scheme aims to get children with behavoural problems back into mainstream schools.

"This is a fine idea but there is no extra training. The teachers don't know how to deal with these children," says Emmie, who has spent seven years studying to become a specialist in remedial teaching.

Similarly, the ministry's idea of customising education for each pupil is a sound idea that is not being properly financed.

Emmie has been given one morning a week for remedial work and teacher support. "I'm supposed to work part-time, 22 hours a week. But I easily do the same number of hours at home."

Primary class sizes, averaging well over 30 pupils, are also too big to make this possible, although the government plans to reduce numbers to 25 per class.

Meanwhile, salaries are poor compared with other professions. "I've done three university level courses yet my full time net monthly pay would be just over 3,000 guilders (Pounds 1,000). In money terms we are not valued."

Teachers, she says, have lost status: "We're no longer on a par with the vicar and doctor but are looked down upon as jerks."

Teachers are expected to instil morals and social skills. "We always begin each day sat in a circle and find a topic to discuss. This can be anything from a recent foreign holiday to the death of Diana."

Poor salaries and promotion prospects, a heavier workload and rising ill-discipline appear to be putting off trainees. It emerged last week that many teacher-training courses were having difficulty finding candidates and one, German studies, had only one applicant.

Emmie counts herself lucky at least to be teaching at Cornelis Vrij, a wealthy independent school near the capital's museums. Parents, mainly professionals, top up the school's budget with Pounds 300 a year.

The government has implemented a new funding system, giving schools a lump sum which they decide how to use, but, despite the backlog of renovation work, they have to leave the peeling paint and buy books.

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