“Education Mirror” identifies problems in secondary schools

Summary

An annual inspection by Flanders’ education ministry identifies both the problems and the successes in secondary schools across the region

Exams don’t adequately evaluate skills

Exams administered in secondary education do not sufficiently measure students’ knowledge and skills that are prioritised in the official learning plans. That’s one of the conclusions of the Onderwijsspiegel, or Education Mirror, the annual report on the state of Flanders’ educational system by the inspection committee of the education ministry.

This problem becomes particularly clear when looking at French courses in the first two years of secondary education, said the report.

The inspection committee has, however, an overall positive impression of the educational system. The report notes that 51% of the 558 evaluated schools last year received a positive score immediately. Only 2% received a negative score, while 47% received a positive report after a second evaluation. Schools that passed a second evaluation demonstrated “the will to improve,” concludes the report.

One major problem identified by the committee is that exams don’t focus enough on evaluating the so-called eindtermen – the final requirements to graduate from secondary school. This limits the capacity of students to choose the right programme in higher education, adapted to their strengths and needs.

In an interview with education magazine Klasse, Flemish inspector-general Lieven Viaene highlighted the areas of improvement on which teachers need to concentrate. “We mostly don’t find any lack of commitment on the part of teachers,” he said. “But teachers should pay more attention to the effectiveness of their lessons, activities and evaluations.”

Viaene declared that teachers should ask themselves repeatedly what exactly they offer to their students, what the link with the final requirements is and what they are precisely evaluating through their exams.

According to Flemish education expert Raf Feys of the magazine Onderwijskrant, the problem in fact lies with the learning plans and the eindtermen themselves, not with teachers and exams. “The learning plans are minimal and formulated very chaotically,” he says in an interview with the daily newspaper Metro. The learning plans, he says, are particularly vague on linguistic subjects.

Increased focus on communication

The Onderwijsspiegel also reports on specific analyses, such as the evaluation of the French courses in the first year of secondary schools during the academic years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. The report concludes that more than half of all schools’ departments have taken initiatives to professionalise their programmes with regard to reaching new eindtermen and learning plan goals.

Thorough planning is a crucial element for the success of schools

- Lieven Viaene

In most schools, sufficient attention is being paid to reading and listening skills, states the report, which also confirms an increased dedication to oral interaction. In eight out of 10 schools, for instance, only French is used during French courses. According to the report, this means that the education method is increasingly focused on communication skills.

The report also finds room for improvement. In 40% of schools, for example, the methods used to teach French need to be improved. Teachers, say the committee, are too focused on theoretical learning and are not teaching practical applications of grammar and vocabulary in terms of both speaking and writing. Because of this, teachers miss opportunities for vocal interactions in the classroom.

An efficient evaluation of knowledge and skills is also what’s missing in first-year French courses. On average, the evaluation methods of about six out of 10 schools don’t provide adequate information on whether or not students are reaching the eindtermen.

According to the report, the inadequate evaluation methods undermine both the teachers’ guidance and the students’ needs. The French course is furthermore often a factor in orienting students towards a certain study choice. Because of the limited evaluation, many schools lack a good basis for a solid certification and orientation of students.

Viaene also reacted to the oft-heard complaint about the administration necessary to pass an evaluation by the inspection services. A major survey of teachers by publisher Plantyn recently showed that about seven out of 10 teachers point to administrative obligations as the most annoying aspect of their jobs.

“Schools and teachers don’t have to produce huge numbers of documents to pass our evaluation,” says Viaene. “But thorough planning is a crucial element for the success of schools and teachers. It’s only when there is no efficient plan that administration becomes a burden.”

Viaene points to the leerlingvolgsysteem, a set of tools through which teachers can regularly determine students’ progress through a series of tests. “You could see that as a potential burden, but it is actually a treasure trove of data that a school can use as an instrument to increase its efficiency.”

photo: courtesy VRT

Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma