Schools in Netherlands

The standard of education in the Netherlands is high. There are plenty of good options in the Netherlands, so expats are sure to find the right school for their children. Most schools in the Netherlands are government-run, though there are a few private and international schools too.

It's important to keep in mind that older children usually find it easier to adjust when they study with peers who speak their home language. Almost all public schools teach in Dutch. However, a growing number of (mostly secondary) public schools across the Netherlands are offering bilingual school programmes. In addition, there are a handful of public schools that offer non-Dutch curricula such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the International Primary Curriculum. Both of these options are good middle-ground choices.

However, if these schools don’t fit a family’s needs, there are numerous independently-run international schools throughout the Netherlands which are well worth considering. These schools offer foreign curricula and teach in either English or another foreign language, such as French or German.

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Public schools are government-funded and all children, including expats, can attend them free of charge. However, most schools will ask for what is known as a 'parental contribution' (ouderbijdrage). This covers activities such as excursions and other extra-curricular activities.

Some public schools offer specialised programmes to help non-Dutch-speaking students learn the language and culture of the Netherlands. Between the ages of six and 12, these are known as newcomers' class (nieuwkomersklas) or reception class (opvangklas). Students between 12 and 18 can join an international bridging class (internationale schakelklas). Students remain in these programmes for a year before integrating with mainstream classes.

After completing primary school, students have three options for public secondary schools in the Netherlands. Primary schools usually make recommendations to ensure students are matched with the avenue that best suits them. The three options are known as VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs), HAVO (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs) and VWO (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs).

Each stream begins with a generic curriculum for the first few years before going on to specialise in different areas. VMBO offers a practical and vocational programme while the HAVO and VWO streams are more academically focused, often preparing students for university.

Teaching standards in Dutch public schools are generally high and schools are efficiently run, albeit with a more laid-back feel than some expats may be used to. The benefit of local public schools is that expat children learn Dutch quickly, which makes it easier to adapt to their new surroundings and make friends with local children.

Private and international schools in the Netherlands have a little more flexibility when it comes to teaching methods and curricula, and expats may therefore find that these are a better option for their children.

Many international schools offer foreign curricula taught in the language of the school’s country of origin. This could be advantageous for children who will return to their home country when they leave the Netherlands. There are also schools offering the International Baccalaureate programme, which is a worthy alternative to any national curriculum and makes for an easy transfer to other IB schools around the world.

Fees at international schools can be extremely high, and parents should budget carefully. Places at international schools can also be scarce, so it’s important to apply as early as possible.