In this section, you will find a description of the Dutch primary and secondary school system.

Primary Education in the Netherlands

Children go to primary school in the Netherlands, from the age of four and until they are twelve. Primary education lasts eight years (including two years of kindergarten). In the final year (‘group 8’), pupils are advised on the type of secondary education they should pursue.

This advice is based largely on the leerlingvolgsystem (pupil monitoring system), which is used to register the pupils’ achievements throughout their time at elementary school, and in part on an aptitude test (often referred to as CITO-toets).

Secondary Education in the Netherlands

There are three types of secondary school for pupils to choose from, and they go by the following acronyms: VMBO, HAVO and VWO. All three start with a sort of ‘basic package’ (the level of which varies: see below), which usually lasts two years, and consists of general subjects that most students follow.

At the end of the first year (the brugklas, or ‘transition class’), a final decision is usually made, regarding the type and level of secondary education the student will continue with until graduation. Many secondary schools offer a mixed brugklas (VMBO/HAVO or HAVO/VWO). This gives the pupils one year to make up their minds, and to demonstrate the level at which they are capable of performing. In some secondary schools, this decision is made after two years. For children who are better suited to a less challenging type of secondary education, there is a so-called ‘practical’ learning path. This focusses on practical skills and competencies necessary for employment.

The two programs of secondary education that grant admission to higher education are HAVO, which lasts five years, and VWO, which lasts six years and is considered more rigorous. Pupils are enrolled according to their ability. The VWO curriculum prepares pupils for university (also known as WO), while the HAVO-diploma prepares students for admission to a university of applied sciences, also known as HBO.

VMBO (vocational secondary education) lasts four years, and offers students a range of training levels. Depending on the level they achieve, students who have completed VMBO have the option of either going on to HAVO, or to senior secondary vocational education and training (MBO, middelbaar beroepsonderwijs).

Side Note

Dutch Immersion Class

In Dutch schools, the language of instruction is Dutch. However, non Dutch-speaking four and five-year-olds usually ease in pretty seamlessly. If your child is six years old or older, and does not speak Dutch, you could still enroll him or her in a Dutch school. Then again, many schools will require attendance of a ‘Dutch immersion class’ (schakelklas or nieuwkomersklas) first. After approximately one year of immersion class, the child will transition to a regular school and, if possible, to class of the same age group. A few (usually specialized) schools have their own internal newcomer class. There are also immersion classes at some secondary level schools, which are called: internationale schakelklas.

Cities may offer a ‘kopklas’ too. This class is designed for highly-motivated children, who have finished primary school with high grades for math, but much lower ones for the Dutch language. The aim is for these pupils to follow a higher level of secondary education, in spite of their initial high school advice, after one year of kopklas.

For more information about learning Dutch, click here.

Useful links
For information on International Education in NL, click here

For information on Higher Education, click here

To learn more about Special Needs Education in the Netherlands, click here

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