Educational research

Opinions and commentary on educational issues and concerns

Topic: Educational Leadership

New Book: The Dutch Way in Education: Teach, learn and lead the Dutch Way

📥  Educational Leadership, Internationalisation and Globalisation of Education, Management and Governance

The Dutch Way - Teach, Lead and Learn the Dutch Way

Authors: Alma Harris and Michelle Jones

The Dutch way

The global interest in high performing education systems shows no signs of slowing down. The simple and persuasive argument of ‘borrowing from the best’ has placed an international spotlight on a select group of education systems and not others. While undoubtedly there is much than can be learned from cross-cultural comparisons, it is proposed that there is significantly more to be gained from in-depth country specific analysis.

A new book called the ‘The Dutch Way’ looks at an education system that is rarely featured in the global discourse on educational reform. The book includes contributions from a range of Dutch experts with the core aim to illuminate and exemplify different aspects of education in the Netherlands.

It is important to note that the book is not an uncritical celebration of all that makes up Dutch education. Rather, it is an empirically-informed, critically-reflective narrative compiled by those best placed to comment upon what has been achieved and what is still to be achieved within this context.

Overall, the book proposes that the Netherland seems to be 'a best kept educational secret’. The available evidence points to the fact that unlike many other education systems, some of them in the top 5 of PISA, the Dutch system demonstrates equity and excellence (OECD, 2016).

In terms of the percentages of youth who are not in employment, education or training, the track- record in the Netherlands is well below the OECD average. Since 2005, the percentage of young people in this category has not exceeded 5% and on average has stayed at 3.6%. This has profound societal consequences and reinforces the importance of equality of opportunity in Dutch society. The literacy level of adults in the Netherlands is high. The country comes third in international measures after Finland and Japan. The education system in the Netherlands balances strong school autonomy with strong public accountability.

The introductory section of the OECD (2016:11) report states:

‘The Dutch school system is one of the best in the OECD… It is also equitable with a very low proportion of low performers. Basic skills are very good on average while the system minimises weak basic skills among teenagers effectively as the East Asia champions of Japan and Korea. This is supplemented by a strong vocational education and training system with good labour market outcomes. The system is underpinned by a high level of decentralisation, balanced by a national examination system and a strong Inspectorate of Education, school financing which supports disadvantaged students, experimentation and innovation, and good data and research’.

The report concludes; ‘in many respects the Dutch education system stands out from the crowd’ (OECD 2016; 17).
So, what can we learn from the Dutch education system? What can the international community take away? Essentially, the book argues that there are three key lessons from the Dutch education system. First, the Netherlands does not rely on school competition or market forces to secure better educational performance. Conversely, it relies on strong collaboration between teachers, schools and municipalities to raise achievement and attainment.

Second, it does not exclude students from its education system who are disadvantaged, marginalised or are refugees from another country. Instead, it makes every effort to ensure that young people, from all backgrounds, do not leave school early and that they enter the workforce of higher education qualified to participate.
Third, the Dutch system shows that it is perfectly possible to combine educational equity and quality. While some may argue that there is more work to be done in this area, compared to many other countries the Dutch education system is undoubtedly moving in a positive direction.

While the Dutch education system, like all education systems, has shortcomings, its core educational values remain firmly fixed. The fact that the Dutch education system continues to demonstrate that excellence through equity is both imperative and achievable is not only profoundly hopeful but also captures the very essence of ‘The Dutch Way’.


Book Chapter: Understanding Emotions in Mathematical Thinking and Learning

📥  Educational Leadership

By Janet Goodall, Sue Johnston-Wilder and Rosemary Russel

Editors: Ulises Xolocotzin

eBook ISBN: 9780128024898

Hardcover ISBN: 9780128022184

Published Date: 26th May 2017

Available online at -


In our chapter (Chapter 11) in this edited work, we build on ideas of mathematical resilience, that is, becoming resilient, unafraid in the face of mathematics, and illustrate how the notion of mathematical resilience and the growth zone can be used to improve the emotional experience of learning mathematics at home.

We introduce the notion of mathematical safe-guarding as an intrinsic part of the parent's role. We also introduce maths, as experienced typically in the home, as Accessible, Linked, Inclusive, Valued, Engaging (ALIVE) and contrast this with maths as experienced typically in school, as TIRED (tedious, isolated, rote, elitist, de-personalised). On the basis of previous work in the field, we consider that the teaching of maths in many situations may in fact constitute an issue which should be covered by those with a remit for safeguarding.

We demonstrate the power of the 'growth zone model' in bringing parents from mathematical exclusion to inclusion and curiosity, and learning how to apply safeguarding to the practice of learning mathematics.

Based on the literature in the field and an interview process with a mother/child dyad, we suggest that many people have learned to be helpless in the face of maths; it is common to hear people not only proclaim, “Oh, I’m no good at maths” but also to tell their children the same thing, setting maths up as an area of struggle and anxiety, rather than experiential learning. People who experience learned helplessness in relation to maths feel that they have no control over their own learning or work in this area.  This aptly describes the experience of many parents, and was the case for the mother and child whose learning process is described in this chapter.

Through work with “Brenda”, the mother and child both began to overcome their helplessness in relation to maths, and took back control of their own learning.  We offer concrete suggestions for supporting both students and parents to overcome maths anxiety and to become maths resilient.


Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Parental Engagement with Children’s Learning

📥  Educational Leadership


This book, due to be published by Routledge in the spring, examines the issues around the achievement gap between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds.  This gap is larger in the UK than in many other places, and seemingly implacable; one of the main arguments of the book is that we’re looking in the wrong place for the solution.  We know from the research that most of the gap arises from issues outside of school, yet so far, we have concentrated our efforts to narrow the gap on school based practices.

Through an examination of the concepts of social and cultural capital, as well as ideas around race, ethnicity, poverty and school effects, the book argues that the achievement gap is systemic, rather than related only to individuals; to do this, it utilises Gramsci’s concept of hegemony.  That constitutes the problem: the book proposes supporting and increasing parental engagement with children’s learning as a good deal of the solution.

One of the main ideas in the book is that we have put up arbitrary barriers around different types of learning, so that we have come to equate education and even learning with “what goes on in school”; this explains why we’ve concentrated our efforts to narrow the gap around schools and also explains why we’ve had less success than one might hope.

Parental engagement with children’s learning (not with schools, but with learning in the home, or at least outside of schools) has the potential to significantly narrow the achievement gap.  However, this relies on understanding what that engagement means, and also on avoiding some of the problems that have plagued the field.  We need to avoid a deficit model of parents and parenting, as well as an ethnocentric model which sees only one “right” way to parent or to engage.  We also need to be wary of seeing “parent” as a synonym for “mother”, and, as much of the literature does, assuming that we can continue to base parental engagement on mother’s unpaid, unacknowledged work.

The book concludes by offering suggestions for the way forward for practitioners, policy makers and researchers.

The book is by no means the final word in this field, as there is still a very great deal to learn and do, but I hope it will be a useful stepping stone.


Parental Engagement Toolkit Research

📥  Educational Leadership




As already reported on the University Blog, together with Wiltshire Local Authority, I recently launched a Toolkit for Parental Engagement.

Through the research in the field, (For example: Goodall and Vorhaus 2011, Goodall 2012, Goodall and Montgomery 2013, See and Gorard 2014, Huat See and Gorard 2015), we know that parental engagement in children’s learning is one of the best levers to support children and, importantly, support disadvantaged learners.  The pilot of this toolkit is part of Wiltshire’s programme of support, particularly around those students who qualify for pupil premium support.

The forms of parental engagement which make a difference to students are those which take place in the home, which support the attitude toward learning in the home, rather than those which aim to get parents into school.  For many schools, this requires a shift in emphasis for their work with parents; the toolkit supports this shift.

The toolkit consists of two main elements.  The first is an action plan, which schools build after looking at where they want to be, and what barriers they might face along the way.  The action plan allows schools to be clear about what they will do, and importantly, how they will know and evidence if they have achieved their aims.

The second part of the toolkit is a detailed evaluation form.  Previous research (Guskey 2002, Goodall, Day et al. 2005, Harris, Day et al. 2006) has shown both that schools often fail to evaluate their interventions, and that one of the main blocks to change is the institution itself.  Based around the framework developed by Guskey (Guskey 2000) the toolkit provides schools with a scaffold to not only see what they have accomplished in relation to parental engagement, but to evaluate whether the school itself has changed in the process, and what changes still need to take place.

The pilot project began in January 2016, and will conclude in January 2017, and is partially funded by the Public Engagement Unit at the University of Bath.  Schools have come together twice so far, and will come together for a final, celebration event early in 2017.

Although we are only part way through the project, schools are already reporting changes in their practices, and in their relationships with parents.

You can follow the progress of the pilot on the  project blog, and by following the twitter hashtag, #wpetk.


Goodall, J. (2012). "Parental engagement to support children's learning: a six point model." School Leadership & Management 33(2): 1-18.

Goodall, J., C. Day, G. Lindsey, D. Muijis and A. Harris (2005). Evaluating Impact of Continuing Professional Development. London, Department for Education and Skills.

Goodall, J. and C. Montgomery (2013). "Parental involvement to parental engagement: a continuum." Educational Review: 1-12.

Goodall, J. and J. Vorhaus (2011). Review of best practice in parental engagement. London, Department of Education

Guskey, T. R. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, Ca, Corwin Press.

Guskey, T. R. (2002). "Does it make a difference?  Evaluating professional development." Educational Leadership: 45 - 51.

Harris, A., C. Day, J. Goodall, G. Lindsay and D. Muijs (2006). "What difference does it make?  Continuing Professional Development in Schools." Scottish Journal of Educational Research 37: 90 - 98.

Huat See, B. and S. Gorard (2015). "The role of parents in young people’s education—a critical review of the causal evidence." Oxford Review of Education(ahead-of-print): 1-21.

See, B. H. and S. Gorard (2014). What do rigorous evaluations tell us about the most promising parental involvement interventions? A critical review of what works for disadvantaged children in different age groups, Nuffield Foundation.