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

Primary Education in the Netherlands

Children from age four through twelve go to primary school in the Netherlands. Primary education lasts eight years (including two years of kindergarten), and in the final year (‘group 8’) pupils are advised as to 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 achievements of the pupils during their entire elementary school time, and an aptitude test (often referred to as CITO-toets).

Secondary Education in the Netherlands

There are three types of secondary school pupils can choose from and they go by the following acronyms: VMBO, HAVO and VWO. All three start with a sort of ‘basic package’ – adapted to the level of education, see further on – that usually lasts two years and consists of subjects that generally all students follow.

At the end of the first year (called the brugklas, or ‘transition class’), a final decision is usually made regarding the type and level of secondary education in which the student will continue until graduation. Many secondary schools offer a mixed brugklas (VMBO/HAVO or HAVO/VWO), giving 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 requiring a less challenging type of secondary education there is a so-called ‘practical’ learning path, focusing on practical skills and the 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. Pupils are enrolled according to their ability, and VWO is considered more rigorous. 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) last four years and offers various levels. Depending on the level completed, students who have completed VMBO have the option of either going on to HAVO or senior secondary vocational education and training (MBO, middelbaar beroepsonderwijs).

Side Note

Dutch Immersion Class

In Dutch schools, the language of instruction is Dutch. Non Dutch-speaking four and five-year-olds usually ease in pretty easily. If your child is six years old or older, and doesn’t speak Dutch, you could still enroll him or her in a Dutch school. However, many schools will require attendance of a Dutch immersion class (called schakelklas or nieuwkomersklas) first. After approximately one year of immersion class, the child will transition to a regular school, when possible to a class that corresponds with his/her age group. Some schools have their own, internal newcomer class, but usually these are dedicated, specialized separate schools. Also on the secondary level there are Dutch immersion classes, the so-called internationale schakelklas.

Some cities also offer a kopklas. This class is meant 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 compared to 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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