Going local: Dutch public schools for expat families
There are huge waiting lists for international schools in Amsterdam. But there are other options, such as local Dutch schools. This is a real story of a family going through this process, supplemented by practical information. [Contributed by Young Expat School]
The family story: entering the Dutch school system
“At the end of last summer, our family moved to Amsterdam from Dubai where we had lived for 10 years. One of the big decisions we faced concerned education for our two boys, ages eight and six. As Dubai does not offer a public school system for expatriates, we sent our children to the American School of Dubai (ASD), a private school following the American curriculum. Tuition was high and accompanied by many other fees to cover capital cost financing, extracurricular activities, etc. Our children loved the school and, aside from the cost, we were also pleased with the experience.
“We started our research on schools in the Netherlands by focusing on international private schools similar to what we knew in Dubai. We applied to an excellent American curriculum school and a prominent international school in Amsterdam. We visited both and were impressed. In fact, the two schools appeared to present a quite similar experience to ASD in Dubai—beautiful facilities, large campuses, a long list of extracurricular activities—and the price tag to match.” - Family Hewitt
Advice from Young Expat School
International schools offer curricula that are recognised around the world. They either work with an IB or an American or British curriculum. If you plan to move around with your family, we would recommend one of these schools. A unique feature in the Dutch school system is the choice in type of education. Among the state-funded schools, there are religious schools and schools that follow a certain philosophic or pedagogic principle, all following the Dutch curriculum. Local Dutch primary schools are for children ages 4 to 12. After the age of 12, children go to a secondary school, which has different levels (VMBO, HAVO, VWO, Gymnasium). The quality of the schools in the Netherlands is high. Young Expat Schools suggests that if you are planning to stay in the Netherlands for a longer period of time, going “local” (a Dutch public school in your area) is certainly a great possibility.
Choosing the best option for your family
“But for my wife and me, the international schools seemed too similar to what we had experienced in Dubai. We did not want another international bubble of wealth and revolving friendships due to the reality of short-term postings. We did not want to be ‘outsiders’ in the Netherlands. Instead, we wanted a different experience: cycling five minutes to an urban location, immersion in language, long-term friendships via integration in the community, school and clubs. Despite the fact there would be some Dutch classes, the administration of both schools made it clear that the level of Dutch instruction would not be sufficient to support a transition in the future to a Dutch school. We have family in Hungary and their advice was simple: if you don’t go to public school, you will always be an outsider. Over the years, we watched with admiration as their children thrived and grew up to be bilingual and were able to seamlessly bridge two cultures. We wanted the same for our kids.
“In Dubai, there was no public option but in the Netherlands, there is. Nonetheless, the prospect of navigating the public school system was daunting and often discouraging. Ahead of a trip to Amsterdam, I wrote several public elementary schools asking if I could schedule a visit. In classic Dutch fashion, they all answered something to the effect of, ‘As we foresee no free spots, we see no point in meeting.’” - Family Hewitt
In the Netherlands, children often go to a primary school no further than 1 km away from their home.
“My initial foray into the public school arena was unsuccessful, but luckily I was introduced to the Young Expat School (YES). On our first call, we were informed it was possible to find a public school with free spots, that the schools were excellent, that the language integration for my six- and eight-year-old was not only possible, but in fact that the Dutch school system had a special programme of language integration. We visited a couple schools accompanied by YES, one near Haarlem and one in Amsterdam.” - Family Hewitt
From the age of six, children follow a Dutch immersion programme (language class or Nieuwkomers class) for about a year before starting a regular Dutch school. After this year, they continue at the Dutch local school. There are immersion classes for primary school and secondary schools. Based on our years of experience, we have noticed that the younger the child, the easier it is for them to pick up the Dutch language. Secondary immersion classes take about 1.5 years, and the child sometimes starts secondary school in a lower age group.
Overcoming challenges and celebrating successes
“We have been with the school of our choice for a few months, and our experience has been excellent. We have nothing but praise for the administration and faculty of the school. As an example, our younger boy started in what turned out to be the wrong group. The teachers and administration took a pragmatic and deliberative approach to observing our son, assessing his level and needs and recommending a change of group, which has proven to be the right decision. Further, the instructors running the Nieuwkomers class have vast experience helping foreign children integrate, and they respond immediately to our queries and concerns.
“Yes, there have been some integration challenges. Learning a new language is not easy. Nonetheless it will come for our kids. They already make fun of my wife and me when we mispronounce words, which must be a good sign. In addition, making friends is probably taking a bit longer than it would have at an international school simply because of the communication barrier.” - Family Hewitt
If your child speaks English, an international school may provide some security. Making friends in an international school with a native English speaker might be easier, so the adjustment period is shorter. Nevertheless, it has been proven that learning another language has many positive effects on the brain.
“In the end, with the help of YES, we believe we found the ideal solution that allows us to cycle four minutes to school, save at least USD 50,000 in fees, integrate into the community and to allow our kids to acquire the gift of language.” - Family Hewitt
School fees and funding
Most Dutch schools are funded and monitored by the government. Except for some private schools, most Dutch primary and secondary schools are free. The parents pay a small contribution, which the schools use for extra supplies. Some international schools are partly funded by the government and others are private. For a subsidised international school the annual fee is between EUR 3,600–6,000, while private schools have a fee of at least EUR 12,000–24,000.
Young Expat School would love to assist you in the process of finding the right school for your children. Let us help you make the right decision.
We look forward to meeting you.
Contributed by The Young Expat School team (school searches and educational consultancy)
Dutch international schools: www.dutchinternationalschools.nl
Dutch immersion classes: www.lowan.nl
School searches and educational consultancy: www.youngexpatschool.nl
Compare schools: www.scholenopdekaart.nl
Overview of studies in English (in the Netherlands) www.studyfinder.nl
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.