The Netherlands is renowned for having a strong, well-balanced education system. From age three or four, children go to primary school for eight years and then transfer to secondary school. There is a large variety of schools: regular state schools, Montessori schools, religious schools, international schools… the possibilities are manifold, so everyone can find exactly the right school for their children.
Children living in the Netherlands for any length of time are required to attend school. This means children must attend school from their 5th birthday until the end of the year of their 16th birthday. In practice, almost all children in the Netherlands are in school from the age of four.Every child in the Netherlands receives free education until the age of sixteen. The cost is borne by the government. Schools are permitted to request a voluntary contribution (ouderbijdrage), which is used to fund school activities such as school trips and swimming lessons.
Amsterdam has more than 190 primary schools (basisscholen), including Montessori, Steiner and Dalton schools, various religious schools and special needs schools.
After year 8 (groep 8), the final year of primary school, pupils transfer to secondary school (middelbare school) for secondary education (voortgezet onderwijs). There are three branches of secondary education: VMBO, HAVO and VWO, and a report from the primary school will advise which branch best suits the child. Children also undergo a test in the last year of primary school. Amsterdam has more than 30 secondary schools; some schools only offer one secondary education branch, others several.
Choosing a school
For more information on primary and secondary schools in Amsterdam excluding international schools, read about Dutch education on iamsterdam's website. Furthermore, a school guide (scholengids) can be obtained from your city district (stadsdeel). During the process of choosing a school, it is possible to visit schools – most organise information days (voorlichtingsdagen) or accept private appointments.
Please note that both for primary and for secondary schools, it’s important to register a child with the school of choice in good time as some primary schools have a waiting list and it does happen that a secondary school has too many applicants and must reject some of them. It is therefore important to apply in good time and consider alternatives.
The Netherlands’ already varied and well-balanced education system is further bolstered by a host of options for international schooling, with a number of international schools in and around Amsterdam covering a wide spectrum of learning, languages and cultures. Many international schools that focus on education in English follow the standardised International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, meaning students can receive an internationally recognised education and easily transfer to other international schools around the world.
There are two types of international school: independent international schools (private schools) and those partially funded by the government or municipality (public/private schools). The latter, called community schools, place a lot of emphasis on connecting with Dutch society.
Special needs schools
Alongside special education there are also special needs schools, directed towards handicapped children or those with behavioural problems. These are grouped in so-called ‘clusters’: cluster 1 for children with a visual impairment, cluster 2 for children with a hearing and/or speaking impairment, cluster 3 for mentally and/or physically challenged children and cluster 4 for children with behavioural and/or social difficulties. Click here for more information (in Dutch only).
Please note that school attendance is compulsory for children aged 5-16. If a child is often absent from school, the school will notify the municipality. As a parent you are responsible for compliance with the rules of compulsory education, and if parents consciously allow their children to miss school, they can be prosecuted. Parents and young people over the age of twelve can be fined, receive a study order (leerstraf), or, in extreme circumstances, be jailed. In the case of ‘luxury absence’ (luxeverzuim) (extra holiday during school time without permission) there is a very good chance of an official report being made. If your child has a reason to be absent, you must notify the school.
The municipality (gemeente) employs school attendance officers (leerplichtambtenaren) to check whether children are going to school. Should a student play truant for more than three consecutive days, the school is required to notify the school attendance officer. They will investigate the reason behind the absence and may take action. They can draw up an official report.
Only in exceptional situations can a child be temporarily exempted from compulsory education, e.g. if your profession makes it impossible for you to be free during the school holidays. Your employer must provide proof of this. The period of leave may not take place during the first two weeks of the school year.
Under other special circumstances, a child may also obtain leave-of-absence from their compulsory education. This is for a maximum of ten days. In cases of longer leave, the school attendance officer will decide, in consultation with the school's head teacher. Applications must be submitted to the school's management for exemptions from compulsory education.
Obtaining a diploma
If a child reaches the age of 16 and has not obtained a diploma, they must train for a qualification (kwalificatieplicht). This means they must stay at school until their 18th birthday or until they have obtained a diploma.
For more information about the school system in the Netherlands, visit the website of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, OC&W).
Sources: I amsterdam