The Dutch School System

The Dutch school system is quite different from what you have in the USA (or anywhere else for that matter). As I will write a lot about my job as a teacher and what I will have to do it seems logic to me to explain a bit about our school system.

Compulsory education in the Netherlands starts at the age of five, although in practice, most schools accept children from the age of four part time. But every child must attend school full time from the day it turns five.

From the age of sixteen there is a partial compulsory education, meaning a pupil must attend some form of education for at least two days a week until they have obtained a basic qualification (a HAVO, VWO or MBO level 2 certificate – qualifications at ISCED level 3).

From then on all pupils up to the age of eighteen will be required to continue learning by attending an institution or school providing courses for at least two days a week. Those who have a practical training contract in a particular sector of employment attend classes one day a week on a day release basis and work the rest of the week.

In the Netherlands primary education consists of Primary Schools and Special Schools for Primary Education (for children with learning difficulties).

After attending Primary Education, children aged twelve (our grade 8) attend high school (Voortgezet onderwijs, literally “continued education). Depending on the advice of the elementary school and the score of the End Test they take in our grade 8, pupils are assigned either to VWO, HAVO, VMBO, or PRO.
VWO is Pre-university education consisting of gymnasium and athenaeum.
HAVO is Senior general secondary education
VMBO is Pre-vocational secondary education
PRO is Practical training (for those with learning difficulties)

The first year of all levels is referred to as the brugklas (literally, “bridge class”), as it connects the elementary school system to the secondary education system. During this year, pupils will gradually learn to cope with differences such as dealing with an increased personal responsibility.

When it is not clear which type of secondary education best suits a pupil, there is an orientation year for both VMBO/HAVO and HAVO/VWO to determine this. In addition, there is a second orientation year for HAVO/VWO when inconclusive.

Furthermore it is possible for pupils who have attained the VMBO diploma to attend two years of HAVO-level education and sit the HAVO-exam, and for pupils with a HAVO-diploma to attend two years of VWO-level education and then sit the VWO exam.

To make sure all children get the right kind of education we also have different kinds of special schools, such as schools for the deaf and hard of hearing, schools for the blind, schools for children with speech impediments, schools for children with multiple handicaps and schools for children with behavioral difficulties.

And, to make the picture complete, all these primary, special and high schools come in a number of religious and non-religious varieties, all state funded.


Categories: Children, Education, Netherlands, School | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The Dutch School System

  1. A really useful insight, Riete. Thank you. Here in Britain education is based on rich and poor. The rich ironically go to “public school” which means “private and expensive.” The rich go to Oxford and Cambridge and become politicians and spies, respectively. The poor undergo “comprehensive” education – as I did – which is a big building full of disinterested, unruly, undisciplined working class children who then take “GCSEs” which equip them for a life of checkout counters. And then the government wonders why the Germans and Japanese are murdering us in the international markets.

    • Wow, that sounds awful! And here we are, complaining our government doesn’t do enough to give children enough chances as we want to be in the educational top ten.

  2. Reading your post, I realize I don’t know what happens to some types of students here in France such as the blind. I presume there are special schools as there are for those with limited mental abilities.

    Most begin school at age 2.

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