Accountability through transparency
Good progress has been made in improving access to data
Public knowledge of the work of school boards - transparency - is a precondition of proper accountability. The Netherlands is in a strong position in this regard, with various online websites (e.g. www.scholenkeuze.nl, www.1000scholen.nl,www.scholenopdekaart.nl) that provide information about schools to parents, students and other potential users. MoECS work in this respect is considered good practice among ministries in the Netherlands by the General Accounting Office (General Accounting Office, 2014). However, there remains scope for improvement (MoECS, 2015; Inspectorate of Education, 2015a; Van Dael and Hooge, 2013). A recent study (GfK, 2015) showed that shared data and information, and their presentation, do not always meet the needs of parents, many of whom do not know where to look for information about schools (MoECS, 2015). In response, MoECS is involving parents in the further development of the website www.scholenopdekaart.nl, and intends to promote its existence to parents in collaboration with the sector councils.
Some internal supervisors and school leaders have indicated that they need more and/or better information to do their job properly. Although a lack of skills and experience to interpret and use data and information plays a part (see also Chapter 6), reports suggest that school boards are not always providing supervisors and leaders with easy-to-use information (Blokdijk and Goodijk, 2012; Honingh and Hooge, 2012; Bekkers et al., 2015).
Annual reports should all be available online
The annual report by school boards should draw together information on resources and what the school boards achieve with those resources. However, although the sector codes of good governance call for making annual reports publically available online, only half of the general secondary school boards, and even fewer primary school boards, did so in 2014 (kersten, 2015; Honingh and van Genugten, 2014). The Netherlands should consider following the examples of England (United kingdom), New Zealand and Victoria (Australia) by making the public posting of annual reports mandatory as this reinforces public accountability and informs stakeholders about school objectives, achievements and use of resources (Tooley and Hooks, 2010; OECD, 2013; OECD/SSAT, 2008).
Lump sum financing creates an additional accountability challenge
Under “lump sum” financing, school boards have full discretion over the funds supplied to them by central government. This approach is similar to that pursued by, for example, the Flemish Community of Belgium, Denmark and Latvia, and contrasts with some other decentralised education systems that earmark at least some funds for specific purposes (Fazekas, 2012). At the time of writing, the Netherlands is exploring alternative mechanisms of school financing. The stated goals of central government regarding funding - for example the Euro 150 million shared with schools in 2013 through the lump sum to recruit new teachers and improve mathematics teaching - is not always backed by earmarking of the funds, or even accountability mechanisms to report how much was actually spent on its stated purposes. While earmarking can be too rigid or an administratively burdensome approach, school boards should account for how they have used additional resources and to what end. This calls for capacity building among school boards and for stronger internal and external transparency, including through publicly available school board annual reporting.
Box 7.2. Peer learning among school boards - examples from the Netherlands
In September 2012, PO-Raad launched a number of activities around the theme “Steering on Education Quality”, including collegial visits. The aim of these visits is to support school boards with professionalisation, and the Code of Good Governance forms the starting point. The rationale of the collegial visitation is that school boards utilise each other’s expertise. Their professional drive gets a boost through structured visits to share knowledge and experiences and prepare their content properly. Until now, 24 school boards have participated in the collegial visitations. From this experience, the Primary Education Council aims to develop a solid, functional and durable visitation for the primary education sector.
In September 2015, Foundation LeerKRACHT presented the LeerKRACHT school boards programme for the coming year with the theme “Every day a little better together” for better education. In this programme, which is a collaboration with PO-Raad, VO-Raad and MBO- Raad, participants visit (large) commercial companies, such as Randstad, Philips, Achmea, Albert Heijn and Bol.com, that are known for their continuous improvement culture. In addition, participants are encouraged to share their experiences. The aim of the programme is for school boards to learn how to establish and maintain an improvement culture in their schools, and the role of leadership in this process.
Sources: Primary Education Council (2015), Bestuurlijke visitatie Spiegel voor bestuurlijk handelen [Governmental Visitations. Mirror for Administrative Action], Primary Education Council, The Hague, https://www.poraad.nl/files/publicaties/publicaties_pdf/brochure_bestuurlijke_visitatie_spiegel_ voor_bestuurlijk_handelen.pdf; Foundation LeerKracht (2015), “Wat moeten we van schoolbesturen verwachten?” [What should we expect from school boards?], www.stichting-leerkracht.nl/blog/ achtergrond/wat-moeten-we-van-schoolbesturen-verwachten/.
The “horizontal dialogue” is underdeveloped in many schools
The codes of good governance call for school boards and internal supervisory councils to organise dialogue with stakeholders at all levels, this is also referred to as the “horizontal dialogue”. Research shows the potential of such dialogue to promote organisational learning (Schechter and Mowafaq, 2013; Senge et al., 2012). While this dialogue needs to take place in an atmosphere of trust and respect (Fullan, Cutress and Kilcher, 2005; Cerna,
2014), this is not always the case in the Netherlands (Frissen et al., 2015; Hooge et al., 2013; Bekkers et al., 2015: Inspectorate of Education, 2015a).