This report provides an overview of the current situation regarding early childhood education and care provision in Scotland, England, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Slovenia, France and the Netherlands.

9 Country Report: Netherlands[485]

9.1 Key Findings

  • In the Netherlands, ECEC is not integrated across leave, childcare and early education. There is a split system with different ministries responsible for early education and for childcare.
  • 2.84% of GDP is directed toward families and children. Approximately 0.38% of GDP is directed toward pre-primary education and 0.3% devoted to childcare.
  • A high proportion of employed women work part-time (60.5%).
  • Women are not allowed to work between four weeks before the expected date of delivery and six weeks after the actual date of delivery.
  • Paternity leave can be taken by a male or female employee who is the partner of a woman giving birth or who acknowledges the child.
  • In 2011, the responsibility for childcare was reallocated to the Department for Social Affairs and Employment, having for a while been the remit of the Department for Education, Culture and Science. The responsibility for early childhood education programmes remains with the education department.
  • In 2011, the overall municipality budget for prevention and reduction of learning delays was €261 (£209.5) million.
  • Formal childcare provision in the Netherlands is now a fully demand-led financing system.
  • Childcare is largely deregulated, though 2012 saw some re-regulation following amendments to the 2005 Childcare Act.
  • Since 2007, all employers are obliged to pay a percentage of their employees' salaries - of both those with and those without children - to the government to cover a part of the costs of childcare. In 2011 this was 0.34% of the total salary.
  • The Netherlands does not employ a unitary regulatory regime. Inspections for early education services are separate from those for childcare services.

9.2 Concepts and objectives guiding ECEC development

  • The Netherlands does not have an integrated system of ECEC. There is a split system with different ministries responsible for early education and for childcare.

The concepts and objectives guiding ECEC developments in the Netherlands changed profoundly in the course of the last decade and continue to be dynamic. There is no consensus on how ECEC should be organised, and as a consequence, a variety of programmes and methods can be found within the system.[486]

The introduction of the 2005 Childcare Act (amended in 2010 and 2012) reflected the prioritisation of childcare for the children of employed parents, whereas early learning had previously been the main early childhood policy focus. Thus, labour market rather than educational policy became the main driver of system change.

The Netherlands continues to have a split system of early education and care for children from birth to age five, which has been the compulsory school starting age since 1985. Playgroups, now professionally run and receiving substantial public funding, continue to play an important role in Dutch early years provision, especially for children from ethnic minority communities.

Since 2005, there has been a shift to a demand-driven childcare financing system and the introduction of market forces, with policy targeted at public-private partnerships.[487] This has largely led to the disappearance of publicly provided childcare.

9.3 Socio-economic context

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy and a founding member of the European Union (1952). It is economically successful, with the second highest GDP per capita in the EU-27, at 131% of the EU-27 average.[488]

The Netherlands has a population of 16.7 million[489] with about 492 people per square kilometre.[490] The total fertility rate is 1.8.[491] 3.5 births occur for every 1000 women age below 20[492] and the mean age of mothers at first birth is 29.4.[493] 417.6 per 1000 live children born are to non-married mothers[494] and around one in ten are born to a single mother[495]. 17.5% of the population is under 15 years of age[496] and 9% of children live in sole parent households.[497]

Box 9.1: Summary of key population statistics[498]

Total fertility rate: 1.8
Teenage pregnancies (no. of births per 1000 women age below 20): 3.5
Mean age of mothers at first birth: 29.4
Child population: 17.5%
Children in lone parent households: 9%

9.4 Employment patterns

The overall employment rate for 2011 was 77% of those age 20-64; the unemployment rate was 4.4% for those age 15-74. The employment rate for men age 20-64 was 82.6% and for women 71.4%.

Part-time work is more common in the Netherlands than in most other countries, for both men and women, but it is especially common among women: 17.1% of employed men work part-time versus 60.5% of employed women.[499]

A high proportion of women's part-time employment is short part-time. In 2010, slightly over half of women working less than 30 hours per week only worked zero to 19 hours per week.[500]

Box 9.2: Summary of employment statistics[501]

Total employment rate: 77%
Total unemployment rate: 4.4%
Women's employment rate: 71.4%
Men's employment rate: 82.6%
Mothers' employment rate: 76.1%
Fathers' employment rate: 94.1%
Employed men working part-time: 17.1%
Employed women working part-time: 60.5%

83.8% of women age 20-49 without children were employed in 2011, compared to 85% of men. The gap between mothers' and fathers' employment is substantially wider. While 76.1% of mothers with a child below the age of six were employed, 94.1% of such fathers were employed.[502]

Encouraging maternal employment, as well as the transformation of part-time into full-time employment, has been a key driver for policy changes in the last decade, including the 2005 Childcare Act. Overall, the change in law seems to have had an impact on medium and highly educated women, whose participation increased. It seems to have had no impact on women with less education or on men.[503]

9.5 Welfare system and social support for families with children[504]

The Dutch social security system is comprised of national insurance, which includes family benefits, old-age insurance and medical care, and employees' insurance, which includes unemployment insurance and sick pay. It is financed through a system of employer and employee contributions and taxation.

Overall government expenditure takes up 51.2% of GDP.[505] As of 2009, public expenditure on social protection made up 31.6% of GDP.[506]

  • 2.84% of GDP was specifically directed toward families and children.[507] Approximately 0.38% of GDP was directed toward pre-primary education[508] and 0.3% devoted to childcare.[509]

Box 9.3: Summary of public expenditure[510]

Total public expenditure: 51.2% of GDP
On social protection: 31.6% of GDP
On families and children: 2.84% of GDP
On preschool education: 0.38% of GDP

The ratio of income inequality between the top 20% and bottom 20% is 3.7,[511] while the at-risk-of-poverty rate for children is 13.7%.[512] Income tax on the average worker made up 38.4% of labour cost in 2010.[513] There are various family benefits in the Netherlands. General child benefit is a tax financed universal scheme covering all residents for children up to 18 years of age.

There is a top up child-related allowance for households with a household income below a certain threshold. The basic amount per child is €92.85 (£75). Households with two children receive €104.42 (£84), and with three €108.27 (£87). Benefits are paid per quarter. Double amounts can be paid in circumstances where the child is not living at home.

A childcare allowance is paid for children cared for outside the home during parental working hours. The amount paid depends on: the composition of the household; the type of childcare; the level of the childcare expenses; and the income level of the parents. In 2012, the maximum benefit amount was €6.36 (£5.11) an hour for day nurseries and €5.93 (£4.76) an hour for out-of-school care.[514]

9.6 Leave policies for families with small children[515]

9.6.1 Structure

Leave in the Netherlands is structured into maternity leave, paternity leave and parental leave.

Maternity leave lasts for 16 weeks, six weeks before birth and ten weeks after birth (with no time deducted if the birth is later than expected). Paternity leave is for two working days and can be taken within four weeks of the birth.

  • Pregnant workers are not allowed to work between four weeks before the expected and six weeks after the actual date of delivery.
  • Paternity leave can be taken by a male or female employee who is the partner of a woman giving birth or who acknowledges the child.

The length of parental leave is calculated as 26 times the number of working hours per week per parent per child, to be taken up to the child's eighth birthday.

9.6.2 Payment and funding

Maternity payment is set at 100% of earnings up to a ceiling equivalent to the maximum daily payment for sickness benefit (€192.55/£155 per day). It is funded from a central unemployment fund, which is financed by employers contributing a percentage (4.15%) of employees' earnings.

Paternity leave is funded at 100% of earnings, with no ceiling on payments. It is paid by the employer. All parents taking parental leave (which must be taken part-time) are entitled to a tax reduction of €723 (£580) a month (i.e. half the statutory minimum wage a month in case of full-time leave) or €4.18 (£3.36) an hour for each hour of leave.

Box 9.4: Summary of payment for leave

Maternity leave 100% of earnings up to a ceiling
Paternity leave 100% of earnings, no ceiling
Parental leave Compensated via a tax reduction

9.6.3 Role of employers

All women employees are eligible for maternity leave. Self-employed women are entitled to a 16 week payment up to a maximum of 100% of the statutory minimum wage. Employers must contribute to a central fund, from which maternity is paid.

Employers cover paternity leave (two days).

All employees who have completed one year's continuous employment with the present employer are eligible for part-time parental leave. With the agreement of the employer, leave can be taken in blocks of time, or over a shorter or longer period. Employers are permitted to deviate from the statutory entitlements by Collective Labour Agreements, which may lead to both more or less than the amounts specified above.

All employees with a year's continuous employment have the right to increase or decrease their working hours, though there are situations in which an employer can refuse to grant such a request. Other employment-related measures include possibilities for short-term care leave, emergency leave and long-term care leave.

9.6.4 Uptake of leave

As maternity leave is compulsory, take up will be close to 100%. Estimates from 2004 (most recent available data) are that 90% of eligible men took up some sort of leave, around 50% taking the statutory paternity leave, the others using holiday entitlement. Estimates from 2010 suggest that 43% of eligible women and 23% of eligible men took parental leave. As is common across countries, take up is higher among workers with higher levels of education and income.

A bill has been put forward [Law on modernising leave arrangements and working times] to change the Working Hours Adjustment Act to protect employees taking parental leave. The changes in the bill were meant to come into force per 1 July 2012, but as an effect of the fall of the cabinet and elections forthcoming in September 2012 at the time of writing, the bill has not yet been discussed. The bill includes: more flexibility in the uptake of parental leave and an extension of the entitlement to employees starting in a job.[516]

Box 9.5: Summary of leave arrangements

Maternity leave 16 weeks: 6 weeks before birth and 10 weeks after birth; 10 weeks of which are obligatory
Paternity leave 2 days
Parental leave 26 times the number of working hours per week per parent per child, to be taken up to the child's eighth birthday.

9.7 National framework of ECEC

  • In the Netherlands the ECEC system for children from birth to five is not unified, except at the level of early education between the ages of four and six delivered in the 'Basisschool' (primary school). The compulsory school age is five.

9.7.1 Governance

Responsibility for early childhood services is shared among several government departments at central government level.

  • In 2011, the responsibility for centre-based childcare, family day care and playgroups was reallocated to the Department for Social Affairs and Employment, having for a while been the remit of the Department for Education, Culture and Science. The responsibility for early childhood education programmes remains with the education department.

Local authorities (municipalities) carry the responsibility for the development of preschool education for two and three year olds which is provided in play groups and day nurseries, and the boards of primary schools carry the responsibility for the early education of four and five year olds within the first two years of primary schools.[517]

Responsibility for playgroups until recently had remained for over 40 years with the Department for Health, Welfare and Sport. At a national level responsibility for policy and provision has traditionally been shared between local, provincial and national government.[518] The impact of the 2005 Childcare Act has been to prioritise the role of central government over the other two tiers of government. Legislative responsibilities remain with central government.

Children of unemployed parents and those whose development may be at risk because of language delay or other forms of disadvantage are catered for in playgroups and sometimes in childcare provision. In this and other forms of preschool provision they are offered a compensatory early education programme: 'voorschoolse educatie' at the discretion of local authorities. Since 2006, a similar compensatory programme, 'vroegschoolse educatie,' is also available for such children as part of the early education delivered in the first two years of 'Basisschool'. Here, school heads have overall responsibility for this form of provision.

In the past few years a harmonisation track has been put in place, which is aimed at the harmonisation of day nurseries and playgroups.[519] It was also recommended by the Education Board ('Onderwijsraad') to give primary schools the responsibility for the continuous learning line of providing preschool education for three year olds.[520] At the moment there is a pilot project to explore the effects of transferring responsibility for preschool education provision for three year olds from institutions such as day nurseries, play schools and municipalities to primary schools. The project includes 30 primary schools.[521]

9.7.2 Types of services

The early education and care system in the Netherlands is divided between early learning within and outside school, and care. All four year olds are entitled to one year of full-time early education, which is offered in the first form of primary education. There are several different forms of care and/or early education provision for children from birth to age four.

  • Day nurseries ('kinderdagverblijf'): for children from six to eight weeks of age until their fourth birthday who might attend weekdays from 8.00 to 18.00.[522] These may be run as either private-for-profit or not-for-profit businesses and a number are part of childcare company chains. None so far have been listed on the Dutch stock market.[523] Parents can get part of the costs reimbursed via childcare subsidies and part from their employers.[524] Unemployed parents are not subsidised to use such provision.
  • Playgroups ('peuterspeelzaal'): for children age between two and four who can attend two mornings or afternoons a week. These institutions' registration and inspection are the responsibility of municipalities,[525] and unless children are considered 'at risk', or disadvantaged in other ways, parents cannot get childcare tax credits to contribute to the cost of sending their children to such settings.[526]
  • Out-of-school care ('buitenschoolse opvang'): for children from four to twelve years of age who are attending primary school. Since 2007, the school board is required by law to organise this type of childcare before and after school, on non-teaching days such as teacher training days and in school holidays (excluding public holidays), from 7.30 to 18.30.[527]
  • Family day care with registered childminders ('gastouderopvang'): for children from six weeks to twelve years of age. Flexible childcare in a family setting, usually in the childminder's home, is also offered.[528] To liaise between parents seeking family day care and family day-carers themselves, there exist childminding brokerage bureaus, 'gastouderbureaus.'

In addition to the provision described above, there is also pre- and early school education especially aimed at young children with language and developmental problems.[529]

Box 9.6: Summary of types of services

Day nurseries (kinderdagverblijf)
Playgroups (peuterspeelzaal)
Out-of-school care (buitenschoolse opvang)
Family day care with registered childminders (gastouderopvang)

9.7.3 Public/private mix of provision

  • Formal childcare provision in the Netherlands is now a fully demand-led financing system.[530]

Until the late 1990s, the Dutch childcare system was essentially characterised by a dichotomy between a market and a social welfare approach. Where both parents had employment, they bought places in a private market of day nursery provision, playgroups or family day care, or alternatively arranged informal childcare at home or with relatives. The informal care share of this market was estimated at 60%, so played a significant role in parental childcare arrangements.[531]

Over the past few years, the types of providers have changed. In 2003, 60% of the settings providing childcare (day nurseries and out-of-school care) were not-for-profit institutions. In 2010, only 30% of the locations providing childcare were not-for-profit institutions.[532]

Growing employer support via 'company places' and a limited amount of fiscal support for private places bought by parents on lower incomes became available through a series of 'stimulus measures' around the new millennium.[533] Local authorities allocated subsidies to formal childcare providers to place children with socio-economic needs. In many cases such places were with not-for-profit providers such as playgroups or nurseries run by charitable foundations. Some 70% of formal providers offered subsidised places. In the early childhood settings and in the first years of compulsory schooling, programmes were introduced to close developmental gaps between these children, notably those from minority ethnic communities, and better off children.[534]

9.7.4 Financing and costs

Childcare financing in the Netherlands is a tripartite system.[535]

Since the adoption of the Childcare Act (2005), the government gives fiscal subsidies directly to parents to cover part of childcare costs.[536]

  • Since 2007, all employers are obliged to pay a percentage of their employees' salaries - of both those with and those without children - to the government to cover a part of the costs of childcare. In 2011, this was 0.34% of the total salary.[537]

Employees are reimbursed by their employer for a third of childcare costs for children under twelve. The employer childcare levy is shared in the case of two employed parents, so that each parent would then receive one sixth of the costs from their respective employers. Because of the increase in costs in recent years (see below), the government has decided that from 1 January 2012 parents can only receive both subsidies for 1.4 times (with regard to day nurseries) or 0.7 times (with regard to out-of-school care) the hours that the partner who works the least has worked.[538]

  • The government also pays an income-dependent subsidy, which is lower for the first child than for the second and further children.

The amount of money the government spends on subsidies for childcare has increased from €0.7 billion (£.6 billion) in 2005 to €3.2 billion (£2.6 billion) in 2011. Almost 40% of this sum comes from the amount employers must pay to the government. It is estimated that this increase is caused by an increase in children using childcare (50% of the increase) and by an increase in the average hourly childcare payment made by parents (causing 15% of the increase).[539] Furthermore, there was a 200% increase in the number of registered childminders.[540]

Local authorities fund playgroups and other early compensatory education, and since 2009 (-2012) have spent €20 million (£16 million) on this sector, over and above the amount received from central government for this purpose.[541]

Parents cannot get childcare subsidies for playgroups.[542] The Dutch government takes the view that families are themselves responsible for the education of children under four years of age and only subsidises the preschool education of those children who have been assessed as being in need of pre-school education.[543]

This leads to the situation that in some municipalities, like Amsterdam,[544] enrolment in playgroups for children who need preschool education is free and in some, like the Hague, a small parental contribution is requested - in this case €20 (£16) a month for four half days a week for the first child and €10 (£8) a month for the second and further children.[545]

  • In 2011, the overall municipality budget for pre- and early school education was €261 (£209.5) million.[546] This figure excludes the budget for playgroup provision held by local authorities.

The government sets maximum subsidy costs of an hour of childcare. In 2012, this was €6.36 (£5.11) an hour for day nurseries and €5.93 (£4.76) an hour for out-of-school care.[547]

However, in practice the costs of an hour of childcare are often higher. These statistics are not systematically collected across provinces. Statistics from one province - Zuid-Holland - show that with regard to day nurseries, 54% of the locations charge more an hour than the maximum tariff set by the government and with regard to out-of-school care this is 80% of the locations.[548] In this province, day nurseries that have hour tariffs higher than the government's number charge parents on average €0.18 (£0.15) an hour more, and locations that provide out-of-school care that have tariffs higher than the government's number charge parents on average €0.37 (£0.30) more an hour.[549]

Exact numbers of tariffs an hour in other provinces are not available, but estimates of the percentages of children who pay more than the maximum tariff in other provinces suggest that the tariffs in the rest of the country are lower than in Zuid-Holland.[550] With regard to day nurseries, in 2011, 14% of the children paid exactly the maximum tariff and 37% paid more than the maximum tariff. For out-of-school care, 6% of the children paid exactly the maximum tariff and 75% paid more than the maximum tariff.[551]

9.8 Access levels and patterns of use

In the past few years, the number of children enrolled in day nurseries and out-of-school care has increased significantly. In 2004, fewer than 30% of two to four year olds were attending day nurseries; in 2009 this was almost 60%. In 2006, 5% of four to twelve year olds received out-of-school care; in 2009 this was 16%.[552]

Correspondingly, the number of available places in day nurseries has significantly increased, from around 100,000 places in 2003 to around 180,000 places in 2010.[553] The number of places in out-of-school care has increased even more, from fewer than 60,000 places in 2003 to around 210,000 places in 2010.[554] The government believes that the latter is to a great extent the result of a 2007 amendment to the 2005 Childcare Act,[555] which obliged primary schools to organise out-of-school care if parents requested this.[556]

The increasing number of places is due to an increase in the number of providers across geographical areas rather than growth in existing locations.[557] In 2009, there were 54,000 places available for children in playgroups and 48,000 children were placed in them.

Since 2010 local authorities have the responsibility to provide places for all children in need of preschool compensatory education. Estimates are that in 2011, 80% of this 'target group population' were reached.[558]

In a recent reply to a parliamentary question from the Secretary of State for Social Welfare and Employment, figures were provided on the numbers of children in different forms of provision in 2011 whose parents were in receipt of childcare tax credits. This information is summarised below.

Table 9.1: Number of children (in thousands) in different forms of childcare provision and in receipt of childcare credit and % change

2005 2007 2010 2011
Total number of children 375 587 822 851
% change 42.1% 2.5% 3.5%
Childcare (0-4) 224 293 373 382
% change 25% 9% 2%
Out-of-school care (4-12) 121 188 315 343
% change 41% 14% 9%
Childminding (0-12) 30 106 134 126
% change 130% -27% -6%

Source: Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid, Informatiesheet maatregelen kinderopvang - kinderopvangtoeslag, Den Haag: SZW, 2011.

The impact of childcare tax credit changes may be detected in the slowing expansion of places. In particular, the figures for childminding uptake in 2010 and 2011 clearly appear to reflect the changes introduced by the Dutch government in 2010 in the way childminding and childminding subsidies were regulated and financed.

Between 2009 and 2010, the number of parents in receipt of a childcare subsidy for childminding provision was reduced by 25%.[559] This appears to reflect the fact that the expansion of childminders since the introduction of their Childcare Act was primarily driven by grandparents registering to become formal carers for their own grandchildren, rather than by the registration of new childminders incentivised by deregulation to join the profession.[560]

9.9 System of quality assurance in ECEC

Day nurseries, playgroups out-of-school care and registered childminders are the four types of 'formal' childcare available in the Netherlands. These forms of provision are governed by the 2004 Childcare and Quality Standards for Playgroups Act (Wet Kinderopvang en kwaliteitseisen peuterspeelzalen, WKO), unlike informal childcare (minding by friends or relatives, nannies or babysitters) and lunchtime supervision at school.[561]

9.9.1 Inspection, monitoring and quality assurance

As a consequence of the introduction of the 2005 Dutch Childcare Act (Wet op de Kinderopvang 2005) childcare is largely deregulated. Instead there is a system of self-regulation in place by means of an annually renewable national 'covenant' between provider and practitioner organisations and oversight of each group setting by a parent committee.

In 2011 the Dutch government reversed some of the 2005 Childcare Act's provisions regarding quality control in 2011. In a move best described as re-regulation, it introduced national policy guidance concerning maximum group sizes and staff:child ratios for day nurseries and playgroups.[562]

Further legislative changes took place in early 2012. The Dutch government amended the Act to the effect that quality guidance was converted into enforceable regulations. This was the result of legal advice that policy guidance does not allow the enforcement of sanctions in cases where childcare businesses act contrary to such provisions and thereby put children's well-being and healthy development at risk.[563]

The Netherlands does not employ a unitary regulatory regime; childcare provision is inspected by the local public health authorities, on behalf of the local authority (municipality), which undertakes registration and retains overall regulatory responsibility.

The local authority is in turn inspected by the National Education Inspectorate - Inspectie van het Onderwijs, based in the Ministry of Education.[564] In their latest report,[565] this agency was quite critical of the way local authorities discharged their enforcement duties, particularly in relation to childminders, although overall improvement had been demonstrated.

  • The Netherlands does not employ a unitary regulatory regime. Inspections for early education services are separate from those for childcare services.
  • Childcare is largely deregulated, though 2012 saw some re-regulation following amendments to the 2005 Childcare Act. The local government's Public Health Department inspects playgroups and day nurseries on behalf of the local authority.
  • Early education delivered in years 1 and 2 of primary school is inspected by the education inspectorate. Since 2010, the education inspectorate may also inspect the quality of preschool education provided in day nurseries and playgroups, at the local authority's request.

9.9.2 Workforce qualifications

Pre-primary teachers working in 'Basisschool' have a tertiary diploma from a teacher training college attended for four years.[566]

For the rest of the Dutch childcare workforce, an increasing number of low level qualifications became available after 2005. Yet by 2008, only 44% of childcare practitioners were qualified to no more than Social and Pedagogical Worker Level Three (SPA3), which equates to NVQ Level Two in England[567] Country experts have been unable to provide more recent data.

9.10 Historical overview over ECEC policy

1930 Sickness Benefit Act introduces twelve week pregnancy and maternity leave for married women

1990 Extension of maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks

1991 Introduction of parental leave

1997 Paternity leave and emergency leave introduced

2001 Work and Care Act brings legislation on different types of care leave into one Framework

2004 Childcare and Quality Standards for Playgroups Act

2005 Long-term compassionate leave introduced

2005 The Childcare Act - Regulations with regard to the costs and the quality of childcare and childcare facilities

2006 Life-course savings scheme, for funding a subsequent period of non-employment, including parental leave, introduced

2009 Fiscal benefit for parental leave introduced

2010 'Development opportunities through quality and education' Act

2013 Life-course Savings Scheme will be abolished

9.11 Conclusion

Arguably, the Dutch early education and care system has been in a state of flux since the introduction of the 2005 Childcare Act and remains a matter for lively debate in the Dutch parliament, media and elsewhere. Currently there is evidence of a decrease in the number of hours that children spend in childcare as economic austerity also reaches the Netherlands and parental childcare subsidies have been drastically reduced.

The Netherlands has a split and relatively unregulated and uncoordinated system of ECEC. Parental leaves are not designed with ECEC in mind. The role of the employer has been increasing in recent years, and employers are obliged to pay a percentage of their employees' salaries to the government to cover a part of the costs of childcare.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of the quality of early education and care to children's outcomes and the impact on families more generally. Indeed the latest major economic policy report on the impact of childcare reforms on employment recommends that much more research is needed in this area.[568]


Email: Gita Anand

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