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Taking a leaf out of Blair's book

Netherlands

Mark Fuller reports on the introduction of a new openness in secondary schools

The Dutch government is to rank schools under sweeping reforms to give parents more information about standards.

Until now, it has been virtually impossible for parents to compare schools as the education ministry refused to publish national exam league tables or other "sensitive" information.

However, the ministry was forced to open its files at the end of last year when a newspaper won a legal battle to publish the exam results of secondary schools.

This led to a change of heart, for the reforms, unveiled last week, go much further than league tables. They have been partly inspired by British government plans to compare the performance of similar schools and award grades.

"The public may now know what we know," Ms Tineke Netelenbos, junior minister for education, said.

In the autumn, secondary schools will receive a "quality card" from the inspection service, which will show exam results, performances in individual subjects, the number of drop-outs and a comparison with similar schools in the region.

"The schools will be ranked under each topic - for example, how good they are at teaching languages. But the comparisons will only be between like schools. Schools with a high proportion of ethnic minorities will be compared with similar schools," a ministry spokeswoman said.

Primary schools will be spared for the present because there is no way of measuring performance at that level. A new registration system, giving pupils codes which they will retain throughout their education, will eventually allow a proper comparison of primary schools, the spokeswoman added.

Nevertheless, under the reforms, primary schools will have to publish a "guide", detailing their achievements in all educational areas, from sport to dealing with pupils who need extra help. The accuracy of the reports will be checked by the inspection service.

The ministry said a logical consequence of the drive for openness would be that badly performing schools would lose pupils and eventually be forced to close. However, the ministry was not planning a crackdown on teachers at struggling schools.

"We want to promote learning by good practice. I would like to see directors from weak schools visiting schools that are doing well. The inspection service will help badly performing schools draw up plans for improvement," Ms Netelenbos said.

The ministry has also borrowed an idea from Tony Blair and is experimenting with parental contracts to ensure children go to bed on time, are read to and have time and facilities for homework.

"I really want to expand the scheme. It is currently voluntary but may eventually be mandatory. Then parents, children and schools will be able to make binding agreements," Ms Netelenbos said.

"Over the past few years we have given schools more independence. But this has meant that we have to improve controls and checks to ensure taxes are being well spent and that all children are being given an equal chance. Schools have to be accountable."

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