The ritual


The ritual




It's mid April 2016. Without wanting to act complacent I advise the reader not to delete this piece after reading, but save it. The reason is the annual returning ritual of school advises to pupils from primary schools, regarding follow up schools.

Also for myself I hope it helps to record this event, to see and know for sure this nuisance returns every year. Last year it must have been round this period, but I don't remember extactly.

Our collective memory happens to function in a way we regard this as a 'normal' news item. Just now I called it a 'nuisance' but I would like to emphasise this is a euphemism. For years now, however it feels rather for at least a decade, the media see fit to put this subject in their diary.

With that, 'they' find it necessary to give 130.000 colleagues a slap in the face. This happens by the minister of education acting in this 'play' in a broadcast of 'Newshour' with the talkshow host Twan Huijs. In this case it was Jet Bussemaker but she might be on a different position after the next elections. This scolding must not be mixed up with the pat on the head by the same minister (or the ones that preceded her) addressed to the teachers regarding their beautiful profession. In a period there was a shortage of people in this trade, which had to be 'polished' and popularised by all kind of eulogies and extra funds for primary education.

This 'pat' is in a different part of the year, but I can't exactly say when. I would say:'Keep an eye on it!'

What actually is this all about?

In this case it was about a claim that people in primary school are lead by the degree of education of the parents when they had to advise them on the follow up school for their children after elementary school. It is said that in The Netherlands children are getting an advise that is too high, on a structural basis, when their parents had a higher education. In other words: when father is a GP and mother's a teacher, the child gets an advise that's too high with which it would end up in a scale of a highschool that is inapropriate. A child with exactly the same IQ (this terminology was used) was sent to a lower grade of highschool when the parents had a lower education. This would, again, be a structural phenomenon.

Behold the scapegoat! Or can't we say that? Well I think we can! The minister even dared to reintroduce the CITO tests, which were toppled overboard just recently, to ensure a 'more honest' and safer advise.

(CITO: short for Central Institute of Test development, which provided tests like final exams at the end of primary schools. Country wide. One was, as a school, free to use or not use them as an extra piece of information with the advises at hand. Many highschools demanded such scores. Advises were always given prior to the outcome of these CITO tests)

There was a time, not long ago, one wanted to get rid of these tests because primary schools were said to take into account the outcome 'too much', when advising and now they want them back again, because one doesn't trust 'it' without CITO.

How large do you want it: this no-confidence motion, In the direction of the hardworking, extraordinarily devoted teacher?

To my wife I said:'There we go again. The lament over the schooladvise.' Normally she has an excellent memory, but this time round she hesitated over the month in which the fuss reappears every year. She didn't hesitate over the fact that it resurfaces annually.

There was not a single word about an aspect that was at least equally essential. Had I myself not been in 'this line of work' for a mere 40 years, I would have held my tongue. In this case I have advised parents and their children in the final grade for 10 years.

So there was no single word about the fact that 'the school' (all colleagues involved in the schoolcareer of the child) have an excellent image of every child. It is monitored for at least 8 years! It's not just a matter of test results. It's also got to do with character traits of the child involved. In this broadcast a child appears with an advise that is considered 'too low'. The parents hardly speak Dutch and the girl had risen to a significantly higher degree in highschool (preparing for university). This child is utterung the words: 'I would like to go back to my old primary school, to say I got the wrong, too low advise. Look what's become of me!'

This demonstrates the power, if not the all overriding might of the media. One can make people believe anything one wants. The ignorant man or woman can't possibly know this is Ballyhoo of the topshelf.

In the first place, the child doesn't need to go back to her 'old' school. The people in this primary school already know how their former students fare. Annually former students are monitored and the primary schools are informed on several occasions.

Secondly the media could also have shown a case in which a child would have got an advise that was to high, after which it would go in the opposite direction of the previous case. That was not convenient in this show.

Furthermore there is a long history of negotiation in very close contact, regarding primary and secondary education, between very well known and respected colleagues. This contact always takes place before the outcome of the CITO tests (if there are any). The advise is based on the entire schoolcareer of the child at hand, very extended testresults of the school itself and very reliable data of character traits of the child, with a wealth of examples of course.

Never did it occur to me or my colleagues: 'Oh, Peter's parents aren't that highly educated, so let's give him an advise below his capacities.' Rather the opposite was the case: 'Okay, Peter's parents aren't that highly educated, but I'm sure they can and will stimulate him in his work. Besides he has the character to go for it and take the opportunities.' These kind of things were always point of discussion with colleagues in secondary school. Especially when there were doubts after tests.

The enormous difference between teachers and politicians is that the first group practise their profession for many decades, while the second group are in their position only a few years. Still they are in a position in which 'they' can say whatever they see fit.

In this respect they can lean on the media who are willing to produce a show in which a girl got an advise that was too low.

It's a pitty these media don't think for themselves and visit schools to ask for figures about the general average results of schoolcareers of ex students in secondary school in the long run. Those figures would be interesting. They would demonstrate whether the primary schools did their jobs in advising the right way.

Suddenly I come to think of a 'Peter' I once taught. The boy was bright but very easy going. His parents were of low education and hardly spoke Dutch. Testresults during his schoolcareer showed he could cope with the lessons very well. In the highest grade this decreased. Very high and very low results were alternating. He got interested in the girls and lost his interest in his study.

During the advise I made it very clear to my colleague of the secondary school that this 'Peter' was entitled to a very high grade in Highschool but with a fuzzyness factor because of his attitude. His character was as such that if the boy wasn't guided well nor challenged well, he would fail his school. Next, his primary school career, especially the conclusive year was subject of discussion. Baring this in mind my colleagues went to work with 'Peter'. Seeing the results in the following years we noticed that 'Peter' went down and eventually was sent from school. He ended up somewhere in the middle with low grades, there he got out of sight. What's become of him, I don't know. He had all the oportunities of the world and he didn't grab them.


What I would like to say with this statement is the predictability of the media and last but not least the force of the media, in this particular subject and in other subjects. It is unfair that a complete profession is pilloried. Mainly by a minister who probably has another position after the elections.

It's now 2017. The expected 'slap in the face' of 130.000 colleagues is early. Last January, as expected, there was this news item: teachers didn't do their jobs correctly on a structural basis, if it came to advising their pupils in follow up schooling. Why January and not April? There are elections in mid March, so it's more convenient to execute the scolding prior to that.  

Perhaps until April next year...