Education the netherlands

Compulsory education in the Netherlands

Education is compulsory for all children residing in the Netherlands, regardless of their nationality. If a child is registered at an educational institute abroad, they still have to attend school in the Netherlands. Compulsory education starts on the first day of the month after the child’s fifth birthday. Most children start going to school at the age of four and it is even possible to attend school at three years and ten months of age.

Preschool in the Netherlands

First going to school can be quite a significant change of pace for children, regardless of whether they are going to school in the Netherlands or elsewhere. Even with the modern, child-oriented Dutch school system, it can be good thing to ease them into it in a playful way. Dutch preschools do just that. This is especially helpful for expat children who are starting to learn the Dutch language. Expatica gives you more information abut Dutch preschool.

Structure of the Dutch school system

The higher and vocational parts of the Dutch education system mostly follow the international educational model and are therefore easy enough to understand for anyone familiar with the international model. The structure of the Dutch school system (primary and secondary school) is quite complicated, however. Below we are going to do our best to explain and keep it brief!

Primary school

Between the ages of four and twelve, children attend primary school (called 'basisschool' in Dutch, from the Dutch word for 'foundation'). Primary school consists of eight groups (grades).

Most elementary schools are based on an educational philosophy like the Montessori Method, Pestalozzi Plan, Dalton Plan, Jena Plan, or Freinet. This is especially true for public primary schools but goes for some special schools as well. It’s difficult to describe all different philosophies that are in circulation at Dutch schools, especially as staff teams are constantly trying to perfect systems and sometimes combinations of methods are used. Most methods are aimed at the social and cognitive development of children and rote learning is mostly a thing of the past: while there are of course many differences between schools, it’s fair to say that the development of skills is valued above the acquiring of factual knowledge. Increasingly, you will also encounter schools that work with ‘fluid classes’. These allow for an individualised curriculum that puts a child in an advanced group for one subject and in a group with additional support for another. That way they’re challenged and supported in precisely the right areas. This includes social skills.

In group 8, most schools administer an aptitude test called the Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs. It is designed to recommend the type of secondary education best suited for a pupil.

Defining the Dutch primary school system in general is not an easy task and might only give you an abstract idea. That’s why we’d advise you to actually contact schools in your vicinity to arrange a visit or go to an open event so that you can get a feel for the place and speak to staff about their educational philosophy. It might also help you to get an impression through the accounts of other expat parents with children going to Dutch schools. Click on the websites below to read interesting blogs on the subject:

Secondary school

While primary school was all about the development of the general skills and behaviour of children, secondary school focuses more on the future. Children will have to take more responsibility, for instance for their homework. While at primary school, they had just a small number of teachers; now they’re confronted with a specialised teacher for each subject. When children start secondary school ('middelbare school') at age 12, they enter one of three different tracks of education. The different tracks represent different educational paths, based on the student’s academic proficiency, interests and possible professional future.

  • VMBO (preparatory secondary vocational education)
    VMBO is vocationally orientated: it focuses on practical knowledge, and after completion, allows the pupil access to vocational training (MBO). It has two qualification levels and students complete the track at the age of 16.
  • HAVO (senior general secondary education)
    HAVO ordinarily takes five years to complete and prepares students to continue onto higher professional education at universities of applied sciences. Students complete HAVO around the age of 17.
  • VWO (university preparatory education)
    VWO takes (at least) six years to complete and focuses on theoretical knowledge. It prepares students to continue onto an academic bachelor’s degree at a research university. Typically, VWO is completed at the age of 18.

    If you compare different secondary schools within the same educational track, they are far more similar than Dutch primary schools. There are significant differences between schools when it comes to the way they are run, extracurricular activities and atmosphere, but the system is more centralised. This is necessary as secondary school concludes with quite extensive, centralised national exams. The results attained influence the options children have for further education.

Rivers International School

The Arnhem – Wageningen – Nijmegen area has one International school: Rivers International School, located in a brand-new building in Arnhem. The school provides preschool, primary and secondary education. Around 45 nationalities are represented in a school population of 200 to 250 pupils. The pupils are mainly from expat families who live and work in the region. Expatica provides a complete list of international schools in the Netherlands.

Bilingual education

Another option that might be interesting for expat parents settling in the Netherlands, are Dutch bilingual schools. These are typically aimed at Dutch children who want to put some extra energy into developing their proficiency in English; part of the curriculum is taught in Dutch, part in English, and pupils are expected to communicate in the corresponding tongue of that class. However, bilingual education could also be a good way for expat kids who speak English to increase their proficiency in Dutch.

Nuffics shows a map with all the bilingual schools in the Netherlands. You should be mindful of the fact that these are bilingual schools, not international schools (and that this is a Dutch website).

So what about me?

Now, the above is all very interesting if you have young children, but what if you are coming to the Netherland to get educated yourself? Read on to find out more…

After school's out

If you’ve graduated from secondary school in the Netherlands, you can start with your vocational training or higher education.

Vocational training (MBO)

MBO stands for middelbaar beroepsonderwijs (which can be literally translated into ‘mid-level professional education’) and is oriented towards vocational training. Many secondary school pupils with a VMBO diploma attend MBO. It lasts up to four years, depending on the chosen level. There are four levels:

  • Level 1 (assistant training): Programmes at this level last up to one year and focus on simple executive tasks. After graduating, the student can apply to MBO level 2.
  • Level 2 (basic vocational training): The programmes last two to three years and focus on a wider range of executive tasks.
  • Level 3 (professional training): At this level, students are taught to achieve tasks independently and programmes last three to four years.
  • Level 4 (middle-management training): These programmes last three to four years and prepare students for jobs with more extensive responsibilities in middle management. Level 4 vocational programmes also provide options for enrolling in higher education.

At all four levels there are two types of MBO training: 1) school-based education, where on-the-job training in a company takes up between 20% and 59% of the curriculum; or 2) apprenticeship-based education, where this type of in-house training represents over 60% of the curriculum. Both types lead to the same degree. After completing an MBO degree, students can enter the job market. If they’ve completed a level 4 course, they can also choose to try and enrol in a university of applied sciences. There are also bilingual MBO courses in the Netherlands.

Higher education

Apart from excellent primary, secondary and vocational education, our region is home to renowned international universities, renowned knowledge institutes and over 70,000 students. Visit our dedicated page on higher education in the Netherlands, with tons of helpful facts, links and articles.

The educational landscape of the Netherlands

The Dutch educational landscape can seem quite complicated. If our expositions above have not yet made everything clear to you, perhaps this video will help. It allows you to see at a single glance how the different forms of education are linked up with each other.

More information on the Dutch education system

There are 806 English vacancies in the Arnhem - Nijmegen – Wageningen area.
In the previous academic year, 7,666 foreign students were studying in Gelderland.
There are approximately 81,700 foreign students in the Netherlands, coming from 61 countries of which Germany, China and Belgium are the top three.
Did you know that every job filled in by foreign talent also provides another extra 1,5 job?