The Integration of Formal and Non-formal Education: The Dutch “brede school”


  • Manuela du Bois-Reymond University of Leiden


The Dutch “brede school” (BS) development originates in the 1990s and has spread unevenly since: quicker in the primary than secondary educational sector. In 2007, there were about 1000 primary and 350 secondary BS schools and it is the intention of the government as well as the individual municipalities to extend that number and make the BS the dominant school form of the near future.

In the primary sector, a BS cooperates with crèche and preschool facilities, besides possible other neighborhood partners. The main targets are, first, to enhance educational opportunities, particularly for children with little (western-) cultural capital, and secondly to increase women’s labor market participation by providing extra familial care for babies and small children. All primary schools are now obliged to provide such care.

In the secondary sector, a BS is less neighborhood-orientated than a primary BS because those schools are bigger and more often located in different buildings. As in the primary sector, there are broad and more narrow BS, the first profile cooperating with many non-formal and other partners and facilities and the second with few. On the whole, there is a wide variety of BS schools, with different profiles and objectives, dependent on the needs and wishes of the initiators and the neighborhood. A BS is always the result of initiatives of the respective school and its partners: parents, other neighborhood associations, municipality etc. BS schools are not enforced by the government although the general trend will be that existing school organizations transform into BS.

The integration of formal and non-formal education and learning is more advanced in primary than secondary schools. In secondary education, vocational as well as general, there is a clear dominance of formal education; the non-formal curriculum serves mainly two lines and objectives: first, provide attractive leisure activities and second provide compensatory courses and support for under-achievers who are often students with migrant background.

In both sectors, primary and secondary, it is the formal school organization with its professionals which determines the character of a BS; there is no full integration of formal and non-formal education resulting in one non-disruptive learning trajectory, nor is there the intention to go in that direction. Non-formal pedagogues are partly professionals, like youth- and social workers, partly volunteers, like parents, partly non-educational partners, like school-police, psycho-medical help or commercial leisure providers.

Besides that, the BS is regarded by government educational and social policy as a potential partner and anchor for community development.

It is too early to make reliable statements about the effects of the BS movement in the Netherlands concerning the educational opportunities for disadvantaged children and their families, especially those with migrant background, and combat further segregation. Evaluation studies made so far are moderately positive but also point to problems of overly bureaucratized structures and layers, lack of sufficient financial resources and, again, are uncertain about long-term effects.






Special Issue: "Landscapes of Education"