The school team is shocked: The white butterfly turns out to be very weak

What a beautiful building, Swaantje de Bekker thinks when she stands in front of the White Butterfly on 25 January. What a joy it must be to go to this school. The education inspector’s primary and lower secondary school inspector comes by for a so-called quality audit. Together with a co-inspector, she talks to the management, gets acquainted with the slightly tense team, observes lessons, talks to students, parents and teachers.

Around 4.30 pm the same afternoon, the entire team gathers in the school auditorium to hear the verdict of De Becker and her colleague. It hits like a bomb: The quality of education at The White Butterfly is ‘very weak’.

This is the lowest score that the inspection can give. Only seventeen of the nearly seven thousand primary schools in the Netherlands are currently on the list of ‘Very weak schools’.

“We have identified serious gaps in the educational process, safety and the school climate as well as in quality assurance,” writes the Danish Education Authority in the research report published this week. Of the seven ‘education standards’ that the regulator controls, six are below par.

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The Authority views the teachers positively: “We have seen in the individual groups that the pedagogical and didactic actions are in order.” But: “We miss the main line in school.” In other words: Whether the students get a good or less good teaching, and which didactic methods are used, depends on which teacher they have.

There is no suitable offer for students who can do more or who need extra care, “which means that the students are not properly prepared for further education adapted to their abilities”.

Heavy school weighing

The results that the school shows are “far below the national average” – also in comparison with schools that have the same ‘heavy school weight’. This weighting, a score between 20 and 40, is calculated based on socio-economic factors, such as parents’ level of education, country of origin, and whether parents are undergoing debt restructuring. The weight of the white butterfly is 38.1.

The White Butterfly team was not fully aware of how big the problem was, says De Bekker. “They did not realize it was five to twelve o’clock.”

And she noted in the conversations that teachers tended to look for the causes outside of themselves. It would be due to the circumstances: students demanding more attention, corona, changes in management. “Everything is true,” says De Bekker. “But then you need to know so much the more what you’re doing.”

The verdict was harsh, says Piet Stuivenvolt. He started here in October as interim director along with his wife Ilonka Waterloo. “We knew it would not be enough. But very weak … Painful.”

He had hoped for a more “generous” view from the regulator. Also because he had already begun to reverse the trend. “We were already digging the foundation, and then the inspectorate says: why did you not replace the window frames?”

“It’s not nice to hear your school score so poorly,” says Master Berrie van den Bovenkamp in front of his classroom, where students in group eight paint the decor for the final musical. “I recognize many things that supervision says, but I did not quite see it coming.”

The disappointment is understandable, says De Bekker. “That’s what it is. We’re there for the benefit of the students. They should get a good education, and they did not.”

Master Berrie teaches math to Group 8 of the White Butterfly.
Photo Dieuwertje Bravenboer

red flags

The White Butterfly had been in the picture for some time during the inspection. And not in a positive way. De Bekker, as the ‘contact inspector’ contact point for Flores Education, the school board to which De Witte Vlinder belongs, saw ‘red flags’: results fell, teachers went or became ill, and there were many changes in management. Stuivenvolt and Waterloo make up the seventh management in ten years. “One principal after another came into the school,” says Inspector Swaantje de Bekker. “Each with a different improvement plan. “It literally makes a school out of control.”

Stuivenvolt: “The school has been neglected. It’s a real shame, because it’s a really nice school with a lot of potential. ”

It is not especially schools like The White Butterfly that get the judgment very weak. The problems and staff shortages are often greater at these schools, but it does not have to hamper the quality of education.

A director at The White Butterfly must say: we must do it like this, and everyone participates, otherwise there is no room for you here

Take, for example, Het Mozaïek in one of the poorest districts in Arnhem and also part of Flores Education. This school has been an ‘excellent school’ for ten years in a row and may get that designation again next Monday.

How is it possible? De Bekker: “Focus, clear leadership, a clear vision of good education. In schools that do well, every teacher knows what they are doing and why. They review each other’s lessons and give feedback. None of that happened to the white butterfly . “

The team has been in “a state of survival” in recent years, says Sylvia Veltmaat, director of Flores Education. They had a hard time: fights in the schoolyard, constant gaps in the team: a negative spiral.

“The teachers retired to their own classroom. They no longer saw what was happening in the other groups. They are excellent teachers, but the sum of eight good teachers is not a good school. It also does not help if there is no common vision of what good education is for these children. ”

The attempts that Veltmaat and her staff have made in recent years to get out of the negative spiral came to nothing. “We knew that something had to be done. For a long time I thought: if I support myself in craftsmanship, in knowledge, then everything will go well. But the culture in the workplace was not good: Everyone who did not fit into the team dropped out or became ill. A director who did not dare or was not allowed to be a boss was simply ignored. ” Progressive insight, she says: “Culture must change. And a director at The White Butterfly must dare to confront. He must say: we must do it like this, and everyone participates, otherwise there is no room for you here. ”

There is no suitable offer for students who can do more or who need extra care, the supervisor stated.
Photo Dieuwertje Bravenboer


Schools that are very weak are given a year to reverse the trend. Then follows a recovery examination and the quality of education needs to be improved. It usually works, says De Bekker. If not, the supervisor will report the school to the Minister of Education for follow-up. In extreme cases, they may decide not to give the school more money.

This scenario must be prevented with a new pedagogical concept and ‘put your shoulders under it’.

Condition for success: everyone must participate. “All noses must go in the same direction here,” says Stuivenvolt. “Everyone should want to be a shareholder.”

On the wall in his room hangs next to the printed learning results a sheet with a Chinese proverb from Rethink Tear-off Calendar: “He who says that it is not possible should not stand in the way of the one who do. that.”

Stuivenvolt and his wife Ilonka Waterloo both have experience as school leaders in weak schools and were able to bring them up to a satisfactory level. Their motto: nothing has a chance. Not a school, and certainly not students.

“Among these children,” says Stuivenvolt, looking at the schoolyard, “there is a rocket scientist and one with an IQ of 60. It is not a homogeneous group, and one should therefore not approach them that way.”

Waterloo: “The trick is to see every child: who are you and what do you need?”

They were not aware that it was five to twelve o’clock

Stuivenvolt: “You do this by standing at the door in the morning: how are you today? It is not a soft approach. We also set boundaries. ”

community school

In recent months, together with a number of teachers and coordinator Marieke Ligtenberg, they have developed a new educational concept. After the summer holidays, The White Butterfly becomes a community school. In the morning the students do mathematics, read and write and in the afternoon they get ‘broader teaching’ on different themes.

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“These students are being held,” says Stuivenvolt. “All balls to the basic skills. Logically perhaps, given the circumstances, but we think these kids need more.”

Waterloo: “We want to teach them to see from amazement so it sticks.”

Stuivenvolt: “To try things, learn to think independently.”

Waterloo: “That way, they learn to discover who they are and how they can be important to others and the world.”

A summary of the supervision report was sent to the parents this week. They had previously been informed by management by email about the poor assessment. “We received zero response,” says Stuivenvolt. On the parenting evening that followed, there were some parents who “asked in-depth questions.”

“They have a lot of other things to worry about than school,” he thinks.

“But they find it important whether it’s a good school,” Waterloo says. “There are parents who really want to think about our plans.”

Stuivenvolt: “Some parents are worried. They stood in front of me in tears. We asked them: will you form a soundtrack and stay close?

Waterloo: “We need the parents. It’s coming to an end now.”

Stuivenvolt: “It’s okay. The mood is already different. ”

The team must ‘take the step from me to us’, says Sylvia Veltmaat from Flores Education. “If it works, it can go fast.”

In the hallway in front of the eighth grade, Maureen and Bella stand red-cheeked, painting giant letters that together Who steals the show? form, the title of the musical to be performed in five weeks.

“Bella is so good at this, she’s just going to the art academy,” Maureen says. Bella, without looking up: “I want to too.”

Then it goes wrong: A cup of water to clean the brushes falls over the freshly painted plates.


It does not matter, says Master Berrie, gently holding up the dripping paper. “See how cool those letters get. In fact, much nicer that way.”

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