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Dutch educational system

Daycare and Pre-school (kinderopvang en peuterspeelzaal)

It is much easier to find a free spot for your child in nurseries and kindergartens in the Northern Netherlands than in the west. However, English-speaking childcare is not so common, especially in the smaller villages.

All parents in the Netherlands using formal childcare are entitled to a childcare allowance (kinderopvangtoeslag) if they live in a household where both partners are engaged in gainful employment or are studying, and if they have children aged up to 12 years.

Playgroups (peuterspeelzaal) are for children aged two to four years. Each child is entitled to attend two mornings per week, with each morning consisting of three hours. Some locations also offer three hours in the afternoon. These six hours per week are subsidized, and the price depends on the parents’ income. The child can attend the playgroup more often than two times a week, but the price for additional day(s) is higher.

Primary schools (basisscholen)

Children may start primary school when they turn four, and school is mandatory after the child’s fifth birthday. The schools are divided into public, special (religious), and neutral schools. They are officially free of charge, but usually the parents are asked for a yearly contribution. There are also a few private schools, but they are not common in the Netherlands. Both public and special schools might be based on specific pedagogical movements, such as Montessori, Jenaplan, Vrije School and Dalton. Primary school has eight grades, called groups (groepen).

English is officially taught from group 7, but each year, there are more and more schools that introduce English as a second language earlier in their curriculum.

The progress of a child is checked by regular testing. In the last year (group 8), children take a standardized test called Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs (“Cito final primary education test”), also known as the “Citotoets”. The test is only available in Dutch, and it is designed to determine what type of secondary education is best suited for a pupil. The other factors in deciding on the most appropriate school are the pupil’s opinion, the parents’ opinions, and the pupil’s group 8 teacher’s recommendation.

Secondary schools (middelbare scholen)

There are three types of secondary education in the Netherlands:

VMBO (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs)

  • pre-vocational secondary education
  • lasts 4 years
  • qualifies students for MBO tertiary education (see tertiary education)

HAVO (Hoger Algemeen Vormend Onderwijs)

  • higher general secondary education
  • takes 5 years
  • qualifies students for HBO higher education (see higher education)

VWO (Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs)

  • pre-university education
  • lasts 6 years
  • qualifies students for university

Although qualified to begin university, some students may decide to continue with HBO, which is geared to vocational or applied sciences learning. The VWO is divided into Atheneum and Gymnasium. The program each VWO type offers is similar, except that Latin and Greek are compulsory courses in Gymnasium.

In all secondary schools, English language is a part of the compulsory core curriculum.