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Netherlands - Reduction of early school-leaving: steps forward!

ReferNet Netherlands

The aim of the Dutch education policy is to equip as many young people as possible for a modern knowledge society. The award of basic qualifications (at least upper secondary level completion) is the main priority.

The Netherlands focuses on the prevention of early school-leaving. The national objective is to reduce the annual number of new early school-leavers by 50 % between 2002 and 2012, i.e. a reduction to a maximum of 35 000 new dropouts by 2012. In 2008/09, the number of early school leavers totalled 42 600 (provisional data). European agreements have been made aimed at a 50 % between 2000 and 2010 in the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds that are no longer in the education system and do not have basic qualifications. This period was recently extended to 2020. For the Netherlands, this means a reduction of 15,5 % dropouts in 2000 to approximately 8 % in 2020. (Source: LFS, Labour Force Survey).

In the Netherlands, each young person enrolled in government-funded education has a personal education number. These identification numbers enable the authorities to monitor pupils and their personal data (age, gender, ethnicity and education level). Based on the personal education numbers, early school-leaving figures are mapped out at national, regional and institutional levels. This calculation method makes it possible to draw a constant and reliable comparison between the years and provides a clear picture of the trends.

The Netherlands is divided into 39 Regional Registration and Coordination Centre (RMC) regions. These regions have agreed to reduce the number of new dropouts in the 2010/11 school year by 40 % from 2005/06. The rate should be reduced each year cumulatively by 10 %: 10 % in 2007/08, 20 % in 2008/09, rising to a 40 % reduction in 2010/11. The result of the 2008/09 school year shows sharp differences between the regions. Fourteen regions – including several large ones – have achieved the covenant target of -20 %. Others have realized a less strong decrease. The number of early school-leavers fell in all regions in 2008/09. High dropout rates are often found in the Randstad regions and in larger municipalities.

Upper secondary vocational education accounts for 74 % of new dropouts. Some 24 % of all dropouts have left secondary school, 42 % of whom after earning lower secondary VET qualifications. In addition, in lower secondary and general secondary education the percentage of new dropouts has fallen nearly three times as much as in MBO, measured in respect of the reference year 2005/06. In the next few years, the focus will be on upper secondary VET.

In the 2008/09 school year, a number of large upper secondary VET institutions have achieved the target of a 20 % reduction. More than half of these VET schools have a dropout rate of less than 10 %. Given the large spread in results across these institutions, a further reduction should be feasible.

Labour market situation

Basic qualifications make a big difference in labour market situations. For example, only 66 % of the total group of early school-leavers aged 15 to 23 find work, versus 83 % of young people with basic qualifications. Some two-thirds of dropouts with a lower secondary VET certificate hold a job. Less than half the young people with only primary education find work.

The unemployment rate among young people without basic qualifications is approximately twice as high as that among young people with basic qualifications. The figures reflect the consequences of the economic crisis when the third quarter of 2009 is compared to previous years. Among young people without basic qualifications, the unemployment rate went up faster. In the third quarter of 2009, more than 21 % in this category were unemployed: an increase of 10 percentage points compared to the same period in 2008. At 3 percentage points, the increase was considerably less among young people with basic qualifications.


Young men constitute the majority of early school-leavers with 60 %. The 18-year-olds account for the largest group of dropouts. Dropout rates are on the rise in this group. Among young people under the age of 18, on the other hand, the dropout rate has fallen significantly compared to 2005/06. As a rule, dropout rates keep pace with age.

More than one-quarter of early school-leavers come from single-parent families, versus 15 % of non-dropouts.

Among ethnic minorities, dropout rates are higher than among native Dutch. However, the number of new dropouts among ethnic-minority young people fell more sharply than among their native Dutch peers (22.5 versus 17.3 %).

Drop-out rates in upper secondary VET by level, first-year students in 2005/06


European target and an international comparison

The Netherlands has reduced its proportion of early school-leavers from 15.5 % in 2000 to 11.4 % in 2008, measured according to the European definition for the aggregate group of (old and new) early school leavers between the ages of 18 and 25. No other country has managed to achieve such a substantial relative reduction in eight years’ time. In the Netherlands, the proportion of young people leaving school without a basic qualification is 5 percentage points below the average for 15 EU member states.