As Flanders continues to struggle to fill teacher vacancies with the shortage reaching critical levels, Flemish Minister of Education Ben Weyts is granting schools more freedom to experiment with their own solutions.
In so-called 'experimental gardens', schools can ignore existing regulations for a specific time in order to test concepts in practice.
Some of these experiments could include allowing teachers to spread their teaching hours more freely over the school year; letting teachers specialise, for example in the development of teaching materials; or allowing teachers to be deployed more broadly.
It is the first time in 15 years that such freedom is being given for experimentation in education, and the first time that education legislation is being so loosened, according to Weyts.
“The debate about the shortage of teachers often gets bogged down in a game of yes or no: everyone is firmly convinced of their own proposal and fights other proposals,” Weyts said in a statement.
“I want to overcome this standoff by giving different proposals a chance. What really works in practice, we will use in our fight against the shortage of teachers.”
Teacher shortage reaching critical levels
The teacher shortage in Flanders has been affecting schools for some time now, and measures from the government to address it include a reform that allows teachers to obtain structural raises sooner, carry more seniority from other professions when leaving the private sector for the classroom and enjoy improved support in the classroom.
Weyts’ office says that while many proposals are made to combat the shortage of teachers in Flanders, these are often theoretical ideas that have not yet been tested against reality, which often leads to a discussion between supporters and opponents that “does not really help anyone.”
The teaching profession is seen as less attractive today than in the past, leading to a large number of unfilled positions in schools across Flanders, while schools in Brussels also similarly struggle to attract talent.
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As of next school year, 30 of the 'experimental gardens' will be able to put educational regulations on hold for a while in order to test out solutions in practice.
“We are opening a new front in our fight against the shortage of teachers,” said Weyts, pointing out some of the other measures already taken and adding that, “now we are looking for even more reforms that will bring the best results.”
Schools and social partners can propose concrete experiments and researchers, too, are welcome to come forward with ideas.