Schools in deprived neighbourhoods: 93% regularly see pupils with difficulties in the classroom

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In the Netherlands, pupils at schools in deprived neighbourhoods have a significantly more difficult time than children attending schools in conventional neighbourhoods, with 93% of teachers regularly seeing children with problems at school. The corresponding figure in conventional neighbourhoods is 59%. Breaking down the problems into separate groups reveals an even more worrying picture. For example, 87% of teachers indicate that pupils in deprived neighbourhoods often have underdeveloped language skills, versus 23% in conventional neighbourhoods. For concentration difficulties, the breakdown is 72% versus 57%, and the difference in experiences with large numbers of pupils with learning deficiencies is a staggering 40% (70% as opposed to 30% in conventional neighbourhoods). These are findings from a study carried out by MWM2 for Jeugdeducatiefonds (Education Fund for Children), Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland (Dutch Children’s Charity Stamps Foundation) and ABN AMRO Foundation. Today the organisations present the results at a seminar entitled ‘Unequal Educational Opportunities’.

The study shows that teachers at schools in deprived neighbourhoods feel much more strongly that not all children have the same opportunities. The reason is that parents of children in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to present complicated domestic situations. This impacts their development, behaviour and future opportunities. For example, these children are more likely to start school with underdeveloped language skills because their parents have a poor command of Dutch. They are also more likely to come from broken homes, or from households suffering financial difficulties or social isolation. These circumstances make it difficult to reach out to the parents and maintain communications with them, and the parents are unable to offer their children a sufficiently solid foundation. These factors combine to place a heavy burden on the teachers and demand more from them than teaching alone. These issues are amplified by the typical problems of oversized classes, the shortage of teachers and the heavy administrative burden that teachers have to handle.

Hans Spekman, Director of Jeugdeducatiefonds, says that the results are even more shocking than he had expected. “Looking at the results of this study, it’s clear that equality in education is far from being reality. We really need to change. It’s great that so many parents are taking teachers into confidence about problems at home. So why don’t we, as society, make sure that teachers can then actually do something with what they know? With Jeugdeducatiefonds, I’m doing what I can to make a difference for the kids. Still, it’s very clear something needs to be done by the authorities. I can see that they’re doing what they can, but it’s not enough. Overcoming this imbalance will need to be given priority over the long term.”

ABN AMRO’s CEO Kees van Dijkhuizen adds, “Having identified sustainability as one of our spearheads, ABN AMRO feels very strongly about social inequality. We believe that fostering equal opportunities will lead to a fairer and more inclusive society, and as a result a stronger society. Not only that, everyone deserves the chance to develop their talents and be given the right tools to build a proper life for themselves. That’s why we’ve been supporting Jeugdeducatiefonds for the past three years, and why we helped finance this study into unequal educational opportunities.”

Director Jeroen den Tex of Kinderpostzegels continues, “The problem of unequal educational opportunities is not one that’s impossible to solve. It just requires a comprehensive approach, where input from teachers and school kids is a vital factor. The overwhelming numbers of ideas that we’ve received in response to our challenge for teachers shows that this problem is very real to many people.” The best idea for solving inequality in the classroom will be announced on 8 May.

About the study

The study Unequal Educational Opportunities was carried out by MWM2 for Jeugdeducatiefonds, Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland and ABN AMRO Foundation. The study involved 294 teachers, counsellors and members of school management in primary education.

Infographic: Principal conclusions from the study Poverty in the Classroom (2019)​ (PDF 45 KB) (in Dutch only)

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