Primary school and secondary school

Last updated: 3/13/2023, 12:28 PM

In the Netherlands, children up to age 16 and sometimes up to 18 have compulsory education: they have no choice but to go to school. They only do not have to attend school if they are ill. They can also request time off from school for special occasions (like Eid-al-Fitr).

Primary school

Children aged 4 to around 12 attend primary school. Primary school consists of 8 year groups.

  • Year groups 1 and 2 are the undefinedkleuterklassenundefined (nursery classes).

  • Starting in year group 3, children learn to read, write and do math.

  • In year group 8, all students must take a final test: the undefinedCitoundefined test. The result gives an estimate of the childundefineds level for secondary school. The teacher uses the results of the undefinedCitoundefined test when providing advice about which secondary school the child should attend. The secondary school adopts this advice.

Most primary schools have special classes for children who do not yet know the language. Usually children go to such a special class first to learn the language. Then they are assigned to year groups.

Newcomer facilities and transition classes

Children who have just arrived in the Netherlands and who cannot speak Dutch can attend certain schools to learn the Dutch language. This way they can prepare themselves to receive education at a primary school or secondary school.

Facilities vary based on the age of the children:

  • For children up to 12 years of, there are newcomer facilities. These can be special schools, or regular primary school with special classes. The website of the organisation LOWAN lists schools that offer this. Parents can register their children at these schools.

  • Children older than 12 who have just arrived in the Netherlands usually first attend an international transition class (ISK) to learn Dutch. After about 1 year, they go to a regular class at a secondary school.

Children do not always manage to enter regular classes before the age of 18. They skip secondary school and often go directly to study at the lowest class of intermediate vocational education (MBO). They then get their diploma here.

Secondary school

After elementary school, children attend high school.

There are 4 levels in high school:

  1. Practical education: this level prepares students for work or further education. Students at this level receive few theory lessons, but mostly practical lessons. After practical education, you can usually start work immediately. You can also continue studying after this level.

  2. Preparatory intermediate vocational education (VMBO): this diploma allows you to go to intermediate vocational education (MBO).

  3. Higher general secondary education (HAVO): this diploma allows you to go to higher vocational education (HBO).

  4. Preparatory academic education (VWO): this diploma allows you to go to a university.

Special education

In the Netherlands, in addition to regular education, there is also special education, both primary and secondary. This is for children with physical and/or mental disabilities who need specialist support. They get the extra support they need there.

Application for special education is always through a regular school. Please contact a school in your area, they will then assist you further with registering for regular education or possibly registering for special education.

Costs of primary and secondary school

Primary and secondary school are paid for by the government. Some school supplies and travel must be paid for by parents for their child. Parents with a low income sometimes get discounts from schools or do not have to pay.