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The educational quality of childcare in Dutch day nurseries has continued to drop, according to a nationwide survey by the Netherlands Consortium for Childcare Research (NCKO).

The NCKO, an alliance between the University of Amsterdam and Nijmegen Radboud University, concluded that teaching staff still lack the requisite skills to stimulate child development. The average number of children per day care group has also risen, with detrimental effects on quality.

The NCKO conducted the study at the behest of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Earlier surveys conducted in 1995, 2001 and 2005 had shown a gradual decline in the educational quality of childcare. The current decline is mainly been observed in two areas, namely ‘Facilities/furnishing (fitting out and furnishing of the day care centre) and ‘Interactions' (interaction between teaching staff and children).

Skill level of teaching staff

The 2008 survey constituted the first detailed assessment of the skills involved in interactions between teaching staff and children. The study showed that most teaching staff have a satisfactory to good grasp of the most basic skills (the ability to respond to children in a sensitive manner, treat them with respect and set out clear rules and boundaries). The educational skills required to stimulate children's development (communication and the ability to explain, developmental stimulation, and the stimulation of positive relationships amongst the children) were less adequately developed, with most teaching staff lacking the necessary skills set. The quality of interactions between staff and children proved to be lower in baby groups than in groups with older children.

Group sizes on the rise

Average group sizes showed a clear rise during the 2005 - 2008 period, most significantly in groups with a vertical age structure (children in the 0 to 4 age group). This is significant because in this type of group there is a direct link between the group size and educational quality: the larger the group, the lower educational quality tends to be. The study also identified that certain groups were in breach of the legal limit for the number of children per educational staff member.

Legislation yet to achieve desired improvement in quality

One major change since the previous quality survey has been the introduction of the Childcare Act in 2005. The law aims to stimulate the childcare market by means of a demand-driven system designed to improve the quality of care. However, the results of the 2008 quality survey showed no improvement in quality since the introduction of the Act. The fact that the childcare market is not yet ‘working' properly may be partly attributable to the lack of clear quality marks for parents and the failure to resolve the issue of waiting lists. Parents also tend to choose childcare facilities close to home and rarely opt for another centre once they have made a decision.

Relatively poor educational quality

The relatively poor educational quality in the Dutch childcare sector would seem partly attributable to a lack of educational support on the ground and a vocational training programme that focuses insufficiently on the skills needed to deal with young children. A recommendation - widely supported by all parties in the childcare sector - has thus been made to improve the training and education of educational staff. Investments must also be made towards the purchase and application of adequate learning materials aimed specifically at stimulating child development.

Over the coming years, the NCKO will be developing, implementing and evaluating training programmes in order to optimally support the educational quality in childcare centres. The NCKO will conduct a new quality survey in 2012 at the behest of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

About the NCKO

The NCKO is a scientific collaborative in which pedagogues and developmental psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and Nijmegen Radboud University study the quality of Dutch childcare for the 0 to 4 age group under the supervision of Professor Louis Tavecchio and Professor Marianne Riksen-Walraven.