Why Dutch children are escaping city schools

29th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

More and more teens in Dutch cities are travelling long distances every morning to schools in outlying districts. Cormac Mac Ruairi looks at why they are running from inner-city schools.

The year 2004 has started badly for pre-vocational VMBO secondary education and VMBO schools in large cities in particular.

Deputy headmaster Hans van Wieren was gunned down by a 17-year-old student in the canteen of the Terra College in The Hague on 13 January. A flood of media reports followed about violence and threatening behaviour in other VMBO schools.

Four students were expelled from a school in Amsterdam West for sending a letter with a bullet to their school threatening the lives of their teachers.

A girl, 15, at another school also allegedly threatened the life of one of her teachers on an internet site a day after Van Wieren was shot.

And another 15-year-old girl came to school with an air pistol to show off to her friends at a VMBO-level agricultural training college in Roermond.

Maria van der Hoeven

Faced with such alarming incidents, Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven has laid part of the blame on school administrators, saying they have not tackled the problem of school violence early enough or tough enough.

Security is being increased. Terra College had already installed cameras prior to the shooting and has since stationed two guards to check students' ID cards and students at several other VMBO schools also need a special pass to enter the building.

But these measures are too little and too late for an increasing number of parents and VMBO students.

Long before the Van Wieren killing, thousands of VMBO pupils in the major cities have been avoiding the school around the corner and travelling long distances to schools in quieter, outlying towns.

Daily newspaper De Volkskrant has reported that 19 percent of VMBO students in Utrecht go to schools in nearby towns, many Rotterdam students go to Bleiswijk and students in The Hague to Rijswijk.

VVO, the organisation representing managers in secondary education, has warned that schools will have to come to some kind of agreement to avoid city schools being bled dry and outlying schools overrun.

Who are these students?

*sidebar1*The 7,000 public and privately run secondary schools are split into those that cater for pre-university education (VWO), senior general secondary education (HAVO), pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO) and Practical Training (PRO).

All four types of secondary education are for children aged twelve and over and all start with a period of basic secondary education. The Ministry for Education says 60 percent of all primary school pupils enrol in VMBO schools.

In the cities, at least, an increasing percentage of the students are from immigrant, and therefore non-white, families. As schools get a reputation as a "black school", a lot of Dutch parents tend to send their children elsewhere.

Black schools, or Zwarte scholen, have become synonymous with poverty, under-achieving, violence and drugs.

The situation in the VMBO schools mirrors the increasing mistrust between the various ethnic communities in the Netherlands.

What is the real problem?

The association of public schools, VOS/ABB, blames violence in schools on a continuation of the hardening of society

But the very fact that some VMBO schools have to post guards, mount check points and install security cameras is off-putting for many parents.

Speaking about the new security measures at Terra College, director Gerard van Miltenburg said on 29 January: "Students and teachers must again have the confidence they are safe here".

But as one parent in Utrecht explained to De Volkskrant, she decided to send her child to a VMBO out of town precisely because the local schools emphasised their security measures.

"The first thing they said to me at the VMBO schools in Utrecht was that they had good contacts with the police, instead of saying 'we will make a person of your child'," she said.

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