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FAQ: Schooling for Expat Kids in the Netherlands

FAQ: Schooling for Expat Kids in the Netherlands

Moving houses can be a big upheaval for a young child, but when you are relocating overseas many things can put a strain on your child’s successful adjustment to a new environment – bypassing the language barrier, fitting in with social groups, or arranging a school place. Discover everything you need to know as an expat parent about the Dutch School System.

1. What is the school system in the Netherlands?

The Dutch education system consists of 3 levels – primary education, secondary education, and higher education (university). The compulsory school age is between 5 and 16 years. Children aged between 0 and 4 years of age can attend a playgroup (half-day care) or crèches (all-day care from 08:00 to 18:00).

  • Primary education (‘basisschool’), consists of eight academic years, normally between the ages of 4 and 12.
  • All pupils in the last year of primary school must take a primary school leavers attainment test (‘Eindtoets groep 8’) to get advice on which type of secondary education is the best fit (VMBO – a four-year stream preparing pupils for vocational training, HAVO – a five-year stream preparing pupils to study at universities of applied sciences, or VWO – a six-year stream preparing pupils for university).
  • At the age of 12 children go to one of the above-mentioned types of secondary education (‘middelbare school’). In the first year of secondary school, the three educational paths, chosen based on a pupil’s academic level and interests begin with a generic curriculum. In the second year of study, pupils can select specialist profiles based on academic routes.
  • After obtaining a basic qualification, pupils can begin their careers or apply for higher professional programs (‘HBO’) or research-oriented programs (‘WO’) at universities.

2. Is homeschooling legal in the Netherlands?

Homeschooling is explicitly forbidden in Dutch legislation. At the local level, every Municipal Executive Council appoints an education welfare officer (‘leerplichtambtenaar’) to check whether pupils and parents meet compulsory school attendance requirements. Parents who withhold their children from compulsory education face legal prosecution.

3. What are the different types of schools in the Netherlands?

International newcomers can choose between a subsidized international school, or a local Dutch school based on different social, educational, or demonotational ideologies.

  • The subsidized international schools are intended for children who are staying in the Netherlands temporarily (two to three years) because of their parents’ jobs.
  • In the case of a Dutch school financed by the government, children aged 4 to 5 years can be directly enrolled in a primary school. Children between 6 and 12 years old with no Dutch language proficiency must be enrolled in a newcomers’ class for one year before moving on to regular education. Children aged 12 to 18 can join an international bridging class for a year or two before transferring to the mainstream Dutch educational system.

4. How much does school in the Netherlands cost?

Each year, the Dutch government allocates money for all primary and secondary schools so that all children can attend them free of charge. The parents pay a small contribution–calculated according to the family’s income level–towards the cost of extracurricular activities, BSO (out-of-school care), and TSO (lunchtime supervision). Parents can apply for childcare benefits to help with the costs of schooling to the Tax and Customs Administration.

By contrast, tuition costs at subsidized international schools range from €4,500 to €5,500 annually per child, and many schools are heavily oversubscribed and have long waiting lists.

5. What are the school hours in the Netherlands?

Most schools in the Netherlands run from 8:30 to 15:00, Monday through Friday, with a 60–90 minutes lunch break, during which children can either go home or stay at school and eat a home-packed lunch. For the latter option, parents are obliged to pay a small fee for an external lunch supervisor (‘overblijf juffen’). Typically, classes last between 45 and 70 minutes. On Wednesdays, schools close early at around 12.30 to allow children to participate in extracurricular activities. Additionally, for children between the ages of 4 and 12, school authorities are required to arrange out-of-school care (‘buitenschoolse opvang’/BSO) at parents’ request.

6. Does the Netherlands have a school uniform?

Wearing a school uniform is not very common. Pupils have the freedom to express themselves in school and wear what they choose.

7. How many pupils are in a class?

Most primary schools have a maximum of 28 pupils per class. In secondary education (age 12–18), schools have an average of 25 students per class, and often fewer for elective subjects. International schools have even smaller classes–12 students per class–to focus more on the needs of individual pupils.

8. How much homework do pupils get in the Netherlands?

Children under the age of 10, receive very little to almost no homework so that they can join after-school activities. To stimulate personal development, Dutch primary schools organize traffic safety classes, take their pupils to the fields to learn how to sow, grow and cook food, or offer exciting drama opportunities. Moving from primary to secondary school, children are usually expected to complete 30 minutes to 4 hours of homework per school day in subjects such as mathematics, English, and Dutch.

9. How are pupils assessed in the Netherlands?

At the end of primary school, every February, children are obliged to sit a national aptitude test known as the Central End Test for Primary Education (‘Centrale Eindtoets Basisonderwijs’). The attainment test evaluates children’s language, arithmetic, and mathematics skills. During the final year of secondary education, pupils must take one national written exam regardless of their educational approach, as well as a school examination.

10. What is the grading system in the Netherlands?

The Dutch grading system at both the secondary and higher education level is based on a ten-point system: 1 is the lowest grade, 5,5 (rounded off to 6) is the minimum passing mark, and 10 is the highest. For school leaving examinations, where multiple subjects are assessed, one low grade of 4 or 5 can be condoned if students achieve higher grades in other subjects. Marks 9 and 10 are awarded extremely rarely, with the most common grades being 6 and 7.

11. What rank is the Netherlands in education?

With the support of a strong education system and high levels of tech literacy among individuals, the World Economic Forum has ranked the Netherlands as the fourth-most educated country in the world. The position of the Netherlands is further emphasized in The Campus Advisor ranking which classified Dutch universities within the world’s best 2%, in the 9th place. These results do not come as a surprise, since the Dutch education system caters to the needs of individuals.

12. What are the school holidays in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is divided into three regions (i.e., North, Central, and South) for school holidays to spread out most of the holiday traffic. The school year which lasts 40 weeks in total and runs from August/September to July, is marked by five official holidays:

  • Spring break (‘carnavalsvakantie’): 1 week;
  • May holidays (‘meivakantie’): 1 or 2 weeks;
  • Summer (‘zomervakantie’): 6 weeks;
  • Autumn holidays (‘herfstvakantie’): 1 week;
  • Winter holidays (‘kerstvakantie’): 2 weeks.

Outside of these holidays, The Dutch government does not permit parents to keep their children at home. In case of school absenteeism, the school will notify the municipality, and young people over the age of 12 can be fined, receive a study order, or be jailed.

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