VoxEU Column Education

How immigrant children affect the academic achievement of native Dutch children

Some European media have expressed concerns that the presence of immigrant children in schools may reduce the educational outcomes of native children. Analysing data from the Netherlands, this column finds that after controlling for differences within schools, the educational achievement of native children is almost completely unaffected by the presence of immigrant children.

The large inflow of immigrants into Europe has changed the makeup of school student populations. The impact of this on European school systems is a matter of headlines in some European nations. For example, some of the UK media has been reporting how teachers are under strain as they cope with the influx of immigrants moving into UK (e.g. Loveys 2010). These reports often highlight the possibility that the existence of immigrant students may pose negative educational influence on the native students. Despite the interest of the general public, evidence on this issue is still limited.

Geay, McNally and Telhaj (2013) present new UK evidence using data from the British National Pupil Database between 2003 and 2009 to relate the percentage of non-English speaking children aged 12 in England to the educational performance (reading, writing, maths) of native children within the same school. A raw correlation suggests that there is a negative spillover effect but after accounting for differences in school characteristics, these negative spillover effects disappear.

New research

Similarly to Geay et al. (2013), our present research (2013) fills the gap in the literature by analysing whether the presence of immigrant children in the classroom affects the educational attainment of native Dutch children in the same classroom. The Dutch experience presents an interesting case study, since the immigrant students in the Netherlands generally come from families with lower education. This is a feature shared by immigrants in most European countries and as a result, this paper presents relevant findings to a wider European audience.

The empirical analysis is based on two waves from two datasets. We use the 2001 and 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study for information on the reading abilities of children in the Netherlands. We also use the 1995 and 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, which provides information on the maths and science abilities of Dutch students. The outcomes of all three subjects are studied, since differential levels of linguistic requirements across these subjects may lead us to observe varying degrees of peer effects if linguistic barriers experienced among the immigrant students are the cause of the negative peer effects.

To investigate whether there is a relationship between the share of immigrant children in a classroom and the educational attainment of Dutch children, the graphs on the left in Figure 1 each presents a scatter plot of reading, science, and mathematics test scores against the percentages of immigrant students in each class. Clearly for each of the educational skills, there is a negative correlation with the share of immigrant children. However, this negative correlation may be driven by selective choice. As clearly pointed out by Card (2013), non-random allocation of students to schools is one of the major problems researchers face when studying the topic. For example, it may be that parents of children with higher educational skills have their children going to schools with a low percentage of immigrants. The identification strategy employed in this paper assumes that the allocation of students is random once school specific characteristics are controlled for. Although within the same school there may still be a selectivity issue because resource allocation across classes may depend on the share of immigrant children within each class, we do not find evidence in our data for within school resource allocation.

The graphs on the right-hand side of Figure 1 plot the within transformation of the average test scores and the percentage of immigrant students across classes within the same school. Comparing the left-hand side plots to the corresponding plots on the right-hand side of Figure 1 reveal that the extent of the negative spill-over effects of the immigrant students is reduced once percentages of immigrant students are differenced across classes, except for Science. This suggests that once school differences are taken into account, the sizes of raw correlations between educational skills and the share of immigrant children in the classroom is smaller, at least for reading and maths test scores.

Figure 1. Relationship between percentage of immigrants in a class and academic achievement of native children

Figure 1a. Maths

Figure 1b. Science

Figure 1c. Reading

When we estimate our model by controlling for unobserved school fixed effects, this results still holds. In the main part of the analysis, we find that the presence of immigrant students in the same learning environment has very limited and insignificant impacts on the Dutch students’ academic achievements. For example, a one-percentage-point increase in the proportion of immigrant students in class reduces the average Dutch students’ reading score with 0.21 points in reading scores. Similarly, a one-percentage-point increase in the share of immigrant students reduces the science score with 0.40 points but increase the math score with 0.74 points. Furthermore, we find that female students perform better in reading tests and worse in maths and science. The more books children have at home, the better they perform in their tests. Teachers’ teaching experiences seem to matter little although results suggest that older teachers enhance students’ reading scores, but younger teachers seem to be better at teaching maths and science classes.


Overall, we do not find strong evidence of negative spillover effects on the test scores from immigrant children to native Dutch children. All relevant parameter estimates are small and insignificant. Our findings, therefore, suggest that there is no urgent need to redistribute immigrant children more evenly across classrooms, since the native students’ educational attainment is not affected by the presence of these immigrant children.


Loveys, K (2010, November 28) . “Revealed: The schools where English is a foreign language for 80% of pupils”, Daily Mail.

Card, D. (2013). ‘Introduction’, Economic Journal, vol. 123(xx), pp. xx–xx.

Geay, C., McNally, S. and Telhaj, S. (2013). ‘Non-native speakers of English in the classroom: what are the effects on pupil performance?’, Economic Journal, vol. 123(xx), pp. xxx–xx.

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