Moving to a different country with kids means you have to look for schools as well! If you are planning to stay in the Netherlands long-term, it can be nice to send your kids to a Dutch school instead of an International School. The Dutch school system can be different from what you are used to, so it is good to find out what you can expect from Dutch primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands. Ellen Mouthaan, MVA Certified Expat Broker at Ellen Mouthaan Makelaardij, well tell you more about the Dutch school system in our article below.

Ellen Mouthaan

Why should you choose a Dutch school?

Schools in the Netherlands are very good. Since there are almost no private schools in the Netherlands, almost all Dutch kids go to a public or semi-public school. A semi-public school is a school that’s independently operated and based on a specific religion or educational philosophy. Public and semi-public schools both receive government funding. A benefit of going to a Dutch school instead of an International School, is that there are a lot of them throughout the Netherlands. There is almost always a primary school and a secondary school within walking or biking distance. Therefore, most children can walk or bike to school. Furthermore, sending your kids to a Dutch school means that they will learn the language very quickly and integrate into Dutch society easily. Speaking Dutch will also allow your kids to join a team sport or any other hobby club, since these are very rarely organised in a language other than Dutch. Good to know: Dutch kids are the happiest in Europe! (https://www.uu.nl/onderzoek/kinder-en-jeugdstudies/weten-hoe-gelukkig-kinderen-in-nederland-zijn) And how great would it be for your children to walk or bike to school?

How much does school in the Netherlands cost?

Apart from the fact that Dutch public schools are very good, they are also very cheap, especially when you compare them with the costs of International Schools. Dutch parents call a school expensive when they have to pay a fee of € 500,- a year!

What is the Dutch school system like?

Kids in the Netherlands start school at the age of 4, when they start at a primary school, called “basisschool” in Dutch. They will stay at the same primary school until grade 8. Afterwards, at 12 years old, kids go to a secondary school. Depending on their academic level, this can take 4 years (VMBO), 5 years (HAVO) or 6 years (VWO).

Where can I find Dutch schools?

Most Dutch kids go to a primary school and later a secondary school that is located in their own neighbourhood, so they can walk or bike to school. In most municipalities, you can choose a school yourself, but in Amsterdam for example, you have school districts. That means that your children are only allowed to go to a school in the area you live in. If you can make the choice yourself, it is good to know that there are a lot of different types of primary schools in the Netherlands, including Jenaplan and Montessori schools. On www.scholenopdekaart.nl you can find all the schools in your new neighbourhood. If you find a few schools that you’re interested in, it is a good idea to make an appointment with the school’s principal and see if the school would be a good fit for your children. Be aware that in some cities or neighbourhoods, there are so many children that your kids have to be put on the waiting list. This means that they may be unable to go to your preferred school. In general, the earlier you place your children on a waiting list, the higher the chance that they will be able to go there.

Is attending school compulsory in the Netherlands?

In the Netherlands, children are obliged to attend school after they turn 5. This is called the ‘leerplicht’ (learning duty). Therefore, you are not allowed to take your children out of school besides during the standard school vacations. There are certain circumstances in which you can ask for permission to take your kids out of school during the school year, but this permission is very rarely granted. If your kids do not appear at school, the school can notify a ‘leerplichtambtenaar’ (learning duty officer), who will then try and find out why your kids are not appearing at school. If they find out you have taken your kids out of school for an illegitimate reason, you can receive a hefty fine. Furthermore, kids are ‘leerplichtig’ until the age of 18 years, unless they pass their HAVO final exams at an earlier age.

Primary school: basisschool

What is a Dutch ‘basisschool’ like?

Kids in the Netherlands start primary school at the age of 4, when they go to 1st grade of the ‘basisschool’. Children will stay in primary school until 8th grade. Unlike many other countries, there is no middle school in the Netherlands. In the 3rd grade of primary school, at approximately age 6, kids will learn to read and write. That means that kids can really be kids and play a lot in grade 1 and 2. If they want, there is an opportunity for them to learn reading and writing early, but it is not generally encouraged.

What are normal primary school hours in the Netherlands?

Good to know: Dutch primary schools normally start between 8.30 and 9.00 o’clock in the morning and end around 15.00. The lunch break differs between schools. Some Dutch primary schools have an hour long lunch break, during which the kids can go home. Other schools have a shorter break during which all kids will eat and play at school. Most schools that have a longer break, will also offer an ‘overblijven’ (staying over lunch) service. That means that for a small fee, the kids can stay at school while they are supervised by ‘overblijf juffen’ (lunch supervisors). On Wednesday afternoon, most schools close early. For younger kids, schools will also close early on Friday afternoons. After school ends, kids can go to ‘naschoolse opvang’ (after-school care) or go home to play with friends or go to a sports or hobby club. In general, sports clubs are not part of primary schools.

How much homework do children get in Dutch primary schools?

At most Dutch primary schools, kids will have regular homework starting from 6th grade. This homework won’t be daily, but once or twice a week. In grades 3 through 8, most primary schools assign kids a ‘boekbespreking’ (book presentation) and a ‘spreekbeurt’ (presentation on a subject of your kid’s choice). The dates for the presentations will usually be given at the start of the year, so you will have a lot of time to prepare. Up until 8th grade, kids still do not have daily homework assignments. That will all start in secondary school!

Do kids get English lessons at school?

Something that’s good to know, is that every child in the Netherlands will learn English at school. Some primary schools start when the kids are only 4 years old, while other schools start when the kids are in 6th or 7th grade. In high school, English classes are taught for a few hours each week. Primary schools are free to make their own decisions about the English lessons, but secondary schools are required to teach English for a few hours each week.

Secondary school: middelbare school

What is Dutch ‘middelbare school’ like?

At the age of 12, kids leave their primary school to go to a secondary school. There are different types of secondary schools in the Netherlands, and it depends on the academic level and the interests of your child, what kind of school they will attend. Most secondary schools are within biking distance, but some kids also walk if their school is nearby. Other, but less popular modes of transportation include scooters, which you can drive when you are 16 years old, and public transport. School buses are not common in the Netherlands. With regards to homework, your kids will receive assignments every day, and they will have a special ‘toetsweek’ (test week) a few times a year, usually at the end of every semester. However, throughout the rest of the semester, they will also have tests, assignments and homework.

What are the different school levels in the Netherlands?

In general, there are three different levels of secondary schools in the Netherlands. These are VMBO, HAVO and VWO. VMBO takes 4 years, HAVO takes 5 years, and VWO takes 6 years. In the first few years, kids will be taught a lot of different subjects. At the end of the 2nd or 3rd grade (depending on the level), kids will have to choose a few subjects that they want to continue to study. This process is called choosing your ‘profiel’ (profile). At the end of secondary school, kids will have their ‘eindexamen’ (final exams), which determines whether they can graduate or not. These final exams are the same at every school in the Netherlands, since they are standardised.

Do you have any other questions? Your MVA Certified Expat Brokers can explain the Dutch school system in even more detail to you.