Education in Utrecht. Could do better?

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Part of last weeks’ fascinating interview with Christine, an Englishwoman in Utrecht, included her thoughts on education in Utrecht.

Christine and Toby’s eldest son, Leon is in Group 8 and will be going to Middelbaar school next year. When they arrived in Utrecht four years ago, they went to the taalschool in Ondiep, Leon (12) is very bright, but also very stubborn, at first, he refused to speak Dutch, saying that everyone spoke English, so why should he bother?

To be honest, that sounds rather logical doesn’t it, especially to a child!

He was lucky that his teacher was amazing, Juf Maloes had a class of 14 children from all over the world, and she persevered and by the December, the three of us were having a conversation in Dutch after school in the classroom.

Leon was also not happy about having to learn the special style of joined up handwriting, he worked very hard though and cracked it through sheer grit and determination. At the end of the year, Juf Maloes let him do the Cito toetsen or as we know them SATs at as high a level as he could and instead of skipping a year, which is common because they have learnt a new language, he went straight into Group 5. With this basis, Christine thinks:

“So Leon is set to go to VWO and Reuben is most likely going to do VMBO-t. VWO prepares kids to go to university whilst the VMBO-t prepares you for practical stuff, you can still work up to HBO (hoge beroeps onderwijs) which is university level, but it includes on the job training so think engineering, teacher, business studies etc.
I think at the moment, Reuben just wants to be a YouTuber, like a lot of 10 year olds nowadays!”

After a year of hard work getting both her kids through the Taal school, Christine had practically become part of the team at the school, she was bieb juf or library mum/volunteer and had got to know lots of kids and teachers there, so was very sad to leave in the summer.  They then found a fantastic school in Overvecht, OBO Watertoren. She joined the Vreedzame Moeders team, trained in Vreedzaam school and did pleinwacht along with a team of amazing mothers there, it was fantastic and she made many mum friends there.

This is obviously a great way to integrate into Dutch society.

“Unfortunately, my boys bright as they are, they both have light Autism and they needed more support than could be given, especially as the school, brilliant as it was, is also in one of the most deprived parts of Overvecht and the support was also needed for a lot of other children in other ways.”

Despite this Christine once again threw her self into School activities and made lasting relationships there.

“I helped my youngest’s teacher, Juf Meta with her extra studies, which were in English, and now a few years later, she is now the Director of the school. That’s also very satisfying.”

Her boys had to move School a year later, and they are both now in a special school in Zeist. They travel everyday by taxibus, which is ironic as they now cycle less than they did in England.

“I also miss my mum friends and that daily chat at school.”

Christine told me that that’s the big down side of Utrecht, the schools, or lack of them. There are no special schools in Utrecht that can cater for gifted autistic kids, which is very strange considering other cities like Nijmegen, Hilversum and Amersfoort, even Bussum all have great facilities for Special education and Utrecht has nothing for children with average or above average intelligence but some form of spectrum disorder like Autism or ADHD.

Christine says,

“Just like in the UK, education here, is a bit of a postcode lottery”

In what seems a wasteful ongoing non-returnable expense thousands of euros a year are spent on transport to take children to special Schools outside of Utrecht. For such a forward thinking, forward moving city, that seems absurd. As Christine observes

“When you see the dozens of taxibusses outside their school, knowing that practically every child in Utrecht at special school has to get to schools in Zeist, Bilthoven, Hilversum, Amersfoort and Houten by taxibus, it seems a very expensive system, the money isn’t being spent on education.”

And as an environmental aside,

“It isn’t helping the air quality in Utrecht either.”

For Christine this has also impacted on her relationship with the School,

“The taxibus might get the kids to school in Zeist, but as a non-driver, getting there for me, for parent teacher talks etc is a three hour round trip by bike or public transport.”

It would be interesting to hear what the municipalities response to this will be. The idea that educational spending turns into transport spending is a nonsense, especially in these days of budget restraint. The problem seems to be that as Autism is a so-called hidden problem that the Municipality feel that they don’t have to address it, but there are also so many other problems that our children face educationally, that only special schools will fit the bill.

On a positive note, let’s end with Christine’s feelings about her home in The Netherlands,

“We have bought a house in Overvecht between the shopping centre and the railway station and are very very happy here, we have the Stad, the shops, the park, the railway station all on our doorstep. My boys really love life in Utrecht. Overvecht is green, peaceful, the kids can play out on the streets, it’s an up and coming part of Utrecht”

Despite having a what she feels is an undeserved negative reputation, she feels that Overvecht has much to be proud of and that Utrecht,

“…continues to show the UK and the rest of the world, how to make city life work for everyone.”


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About the Author

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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