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Education in the Netherlands

31st January 2014, Comments4 comments

Education in the Netherlands
Our guide on education in the Netherlands takes you through schooling in the Netherlands up until higher education and university level.

The Netherlands is committed to choice in education, and you'll find a range of schools to choose from when considering your child(ren)'s education in the Netherlands.

Compulsory education under Dutch law applies to children of all nationalities from 5 to 18 years who are residing in the Netherlands. The school system in the Netherlands is, however, quite unusual.

Choosing a school

There’s a commitment to educational choice in the Netherlands. Schools following particular religious or pedagogic principles have had equal state funding to public schools since 1917 and the number of privately run schools more than doubles public ones, with one in five schools comprising less than 100 pupils. International education is available at both Dutch and private schools throughout the country.

Local or international school?

Your finances, location, nationality, the age of your children, and how long you are likely to stay in the Netherlands are the main factors you should take into account when selecting a school.

Many companies reimburse international school fees as part of a relocation package, and the reimbursements could be exempt from income tax (though not for all schools).

While teenagers might appreciate the educational and social continuity provided by an international school, younger children might get a greater sense of belonging by attending a local school if you plan to stay for a while.

By learning good Dutch they will connect to their new world more easily. You certainly won’t be the only non-Dutch parent in the playground.

Applying for a school

Register your child as soon as possible at the school of your choice. Technically, public schools are not allowed to refuse admission.

Popular schools, however, have waiting lists (you should register your child as soon as the school allows) and the municipality can assign catchment areas based on postcodes. All schools have brochures and websites where they announce ‘open days’ when you can visit the school.

Some 87 percent of children attend early education at the age of three, and most children are enrolled by the age of four (when children are invited to attend five orientation days). Children are leerplichtig (under a learning obligation or leerplicht) at five years old for 12 years full-time education and one or two years part-time (until the attainment of a diploma).

School inspection reports can be viewed online (this applies to state schools and Dutch international schools only) at www.owinsp.nl: under Zoek Scholen, enter the name of the school and/or town. The visual representation of green (good) and orange/red (weak/not good) will at least give you some idea of performance. In the Pisa/OECD international rankings for 15-year-olds in 75 countries (published in December 2010), the Netherlands was ‘above average’ for mathematics (11th), reading (10th) and science (11th).

Types of schools in the Netherlands

Source schools at www.scholenlijst.nl or via your city’s website (onderwijs = education).

Public (openbare) schools
State-run schools (non-denominational) provide secular education, but they can also offer teaching around specific philosophic or pedagogic principles (Montessori, Steiner etc.). Public schools are governed by the municipal council or a public leg legal entity or foundation set up by the council.

Private schools
Most private schools are denominational (Roman Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Hindu) or follow specific philosophic principles, as above. Private schools are governed by a board or the foundation that set them up. Financially, they have the same status as public schools and are basically free, although all schools ask for a small contribution for things such as school trips.

Special schools
By August 2014, all schools will be required to cater to any child’s needs under the ‘All inclusive Act’, although participation in mainstream schools has been encouraged through other policies for several years. Additionally, there are schools for children with special needs and also special needs teachers at Dutch schools.

Lighthouse Special Education caters to the international community with special needs children providing extensive assistance in English. Entry is by referral.

Ipad schools
Under a new teaching model ‘Education for a New Era’ (Dutch acronym: O4NT), 11 so-called ‘Steve Jobs Schools’ opened in the Netherlands as of August. Ipads and educational apps will replace everything from books to blackboards, and teachers will act as ‘coaches’ to help students direct their own learning.


Primary and secondary state education is free, with parents being asked to contribute a ‘voluntary’ nominal amount, which varies from school to school with additional payments for lengthier school trips and lunchtime supervision (tussenschoolse opvang) and after-school care (naschoolse opvang), which the school is supposed to provide or sub-contract.

Education policy

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science sets quality standards, attainment targets and social objectives but individual schools ‘fill in the details’ of the curriculum and budget allocation. Education policy includes combating school segregation, integrating special needs children, tackling early school leaving, addressing teacher shortage and raising the quality of schools that do no meet the Education Inspectorate’s standard.

Dutch Primary education (primair onderwijs or basisonderwijs)

There are eight years of primary schooling. Children are placed in group one upon entry, and move up a group every year; different age groups may therefore be in the same class depending on when each child started. In the last year, children are tested on their numeracy and language skills in a test made mandatory in 2013 (held in April). Additionally, ‘Group 8’ children in 85 percent of primary schools (basisscholen) sit the CITO test (www.cito.nl) in February, which advises their next level of education. The government sets attainment targets in six curriculum areas: Dutch, English (taught in Groups 7 and 8), arithmetic and mathematics, social and environmental studies, creative expression and sports and movement. New targets include citizenship, technology and cultural education.

Dutch secondary education (voortgezet onderwijs)

From 12 years, pupils choose from vocational or pre-university diplomas based on their ability. In the first years all pupils study the same subjects (to different academic levels), known as the basisvorming, followed by a second stage (tweede fase) in which specialist profiles are selected.

VMBO (a further four years of school): Prep school for vocational secondary education; those who achieve the highest level (theoretische leerweg) can enter HAVO studies. VMBO graduates must continue studying until age 18 or until they obtain a basic qualification (minimum MBO level 2).

MBO: Secondary vocational education. MBO programmes vary from one to four years depending on the level (1–4). If a student has successfully completed the Dutch VMBO or the international middle school programmes IGCSE or IB-MYP, but is not admitted to the IB-Diploma Programme, the MBO can prepare pupils for work or, if level 4 is achieved, professional studies (HBO). A number of English-language programmes are offered.

HAVO (five years): Senior general secondary education. Provides entrance to higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs HBO) at ‘vocational universities’.

VWO (six years): Pre-university education. Prepares students for academic studies at a research university (Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs WO). VWO schools can be athenaeum, gymnasium or lyceum (a combination of the first two), a difference being that Greek and Latin are core subjects in gymnasium programmes.

Just under a third of the 659 secondary schools are run by the public authority. English is a compulsory subject. VMBO pupils study one modern language and HAVO/VWO pupils at least two. Other core areas include mathematics, history, humanities, arts and sciences.  

School holidays in the Netherlands

Major holidays for state schools are set nationally with staggered start/finish times between three regions. Private international school holidays can be different. For school holidays per region, look up ondrwerpen/schoolvakanties on www.rijksoverheid.nl.

International schools

These provide education for global nomad students of any nationality. Dutch International Primary Schools (DIPS) and Dutch International Secondary Schools (DISS) provide international education at a reasonable fee because of a subsidy from the Dutch government. They are designed for non-Dutch families living in the Netherlands for a limited time, and Dutch families returning from, or preparing for, an overseas assignment. These schools teach either the International Primary Curriculum (4 to 11 years); the IGCSE (11 to 16 years) or the International Baccalaureate programmes at primary (4 to 11 years) and middle years’ level (11 to 16 years). All DISS teach the IB-Diploma programme (16 to 18 years). A new curriculum, IBCC, offers an alternative to the IB-DP in the final two years (www.ibo.org/ibcc).

International schools (private sector)

These schools teach either an international curriculum (as above) or the national curriculum of a specific country (UK, US, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Iranian, Indonesian, Polish), sometimes in native language. Facilities (swimming pools, football pitches) are often spectacular compared to the Dutch schools. View our listing of international schools in the Netherlands.

Bilingual education (tweetalig onderwijs TTO)

There are 101 schools with a VWO bilingual stream, plus more than 25 HAVO. Only students that master the Dutch language at an appropriate level will be admitted. (www.netwerktto.europeesplatform.nl)

School holidays

Major holidays for state schools are set nationally with staggered start/finish times between three regions. Private international school holidays can be different. See www.minocw.nl for school holidays.

Higher education in the Netherlands

Read our guide to the higher education system in the Netherlands.


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Updated from 2012.

4 comments on this article Add a comment

  • 31st August 2012, 14:31:57 Father posted:
    Hi folks! We moved to the NL a year ago, and currently reside in Almere. We were advised to enroll our children to the Taal Centrum Almere - this is a special school for foreign children or for those who were born in NL in a non-Dutch speaking families. This school is designed to upskill the Dutch language within a relatively shorter time (normally, a year). And, it's free!!! After successful completion, the child can be transferred to a regular Dutch school. Needless to say that the whole attitude and care given to my children are amazing!!! Trust me on this! My children were absolutely happy, and I found myself a bit silly not to be able to catch up with them in Dutch. They started communicating in Dutch with each other in just a couple of months. And we have not faced any harassment or disrespect (so far), as some posters have indicated above.

    As a next step, we have chosen the Letterland in Almere. This is a dual-language school with both Dutch and English (International) departments. We chose the Dutch department as we are intending to stay here longer, so it'd be easier for my kids to integrate with the locals.

    Recently, I heard some rumors about the Letterland that children might have been treated badly or not much of a tailored attention is given to kid's development, etc. I hope it's not true!!!! I'm very curious to find out more insight and experience of others. Any thought is very much appreciated. Thank you, all!
  • 8th January 2014, 11:34:00 Kelly posted:
    Hey there wonder if anyone can help... i was born in holland.. Moved to the uk ten years ago... 3children who are going to uk schools.. I was wondering if there is a online dutch education my kids could follow!?
  • 13th February 2014, 12:14:56 Bella posted:
    @Kelly, I'm not sure how it works but you could always consider "wereldschool"

  • 29th September 2014, 11:46:30 Mark posted:
    Is it possible to choose only English language in a primary school in Netherlands?

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