The most difficult moment of the past year was the beginning of September. Schools had just started one day when I got a message from our special education school. It had been chaos with student driving. Some students were not picked up from home or were picked up very late. Other students had not been picked up from school in the late afternoon and were still in school at five o’clock. Children bored. Parents who have jobs and responsibilities panic. Not much had come out of education. This is not possible with these students.
‘Especially with these students, it’s not possible!’ How many times have I thought that in the past year? I didn’t want to know. Too often.
The other way around also happened.
At one point I was approached as a board member by a group of parents who had decided to raise money. They had read that substitute teachers were very expensive and that they were hard to find at the maximum rate set by the Amsterdam schools. They were happy to make up the difference between the maximum rate and the market price for the day of the week when their offspring could not yet count on a qualified teacher. This was not a school with vulnerable children.
Especially these kids can save a day, I thought. So of course we didn’t agree to that. But in the end, money will always find a way.
Scarcity does crazy things to people. It almost forces them to pursue self-interest instead of seeking cooperation or solidarity.
The state of education in Amsterdam, which is by no means favorable, cannot be seen separately from staff shortages. And not just among teachers. But also among drivers in special education, youth protectors, support workers and childcare.
The common denominator for all these deficits is that they affect parents and children differently. It is the most vulnerable children and parents who bear the greatest consequences of the lack of staff in the public sector.
Another common denominator is that these deficiencies are the result of politics. Lack of investment, sometimes even cuts, tender procedures with the aim of getting the best out of it. For example, you can’t blame drivers for not driving around students for far too low wages in a time of raging inflation, when they can earn more with easier work elsewhere.
Because of course you could have a car at the door within five minutes whenever the special education student was home via an app. It is also Amsterdam.
The youth care waiting list
Vulnerable children spend months and months with serious problems on a waiting list for youth care, but if you have the money and a cooperative GP, a counselor can be arranged for your slightly scared son within a week.
Our city is fighting for scarce resources, where the most vulnerable know a hand tied behind their back. The result is easy to predict.
Recently, former councilor Asscher once again advised the national government about the teacher shortage. This is a good living for consultants to make. Children firstthat report was called. Because that’s what these reports are called. Asscher appeared for Amsterdam in this as best practice to lay down. Because there was such good cooperation between the authorities and the municipality. The latter is true, but it does not make Amsterdam a best practice. It’s not going well here at all. The deficit is rising again, as is inequality. And it’s expanding.
The main line of government policy has been for years: to encourage municipalities and administrators to cooperate even better, to encourage schools to do their best, some extra subsidies and to turn a blind eye if the schools subsequently fail.
A deadly road.
If there are simply too few teachers in the city, is it realistic to wish all schools the best of luck in staffing the schools, to blame them when they fail and sadly note that inequities occur?
It would be much better to recognize that such a scarcity exists and devise a fair and inclusive strategy to deal with it.
For example, by reducing the number of teaching hours for all pupils (except the most vulnerable) by one day a week. It’s painful, but it’s real. That’s what teachers are for. Then the fight for the teachers stops immediately.
There is no shortage of drivers in the city. Surely it must be possible to transport at least the children who need it so badly? Surely it must be possible to put the countless social workers and trainers who work with children, first of all, on the children and families with the biggest problems?
All of this requires difficult and irritating choices. Elections that, in the current situation, will primarily affect the better middle class. Because they are fine now. It is difficult, and therefore it is also good to anticipate that it will be postponed for a while. That further research is carried out or advice is requested. An additional leaflet is printed with best practices or other hurray language.
Let 2023 be the year we break with that mechanism in Amsterdam. Against which children and families are most in need of public services. And the children first.
Arnold Jonk, tuntil October 1 director of Staij, the public elementary school in eastern Amsterdam.