The Dutch educational system

There are a number of things you should know about the Dutch educational system, because they make it easier for you to co-operate with Dutch secondary schools.

Stages in education

  • Children start primary school when they are 4 years old. Since a few years The Netherlands have an integration of kindergarten and primary school. Primary school now lasts for eight years. This means that the pupils change schools at the age of 12.
  • After primary school they attend a secondary school, which lasts for four, five or six years, depending on the kind of school they have chosen. At the end of secondary school there an examination. The diploma allows the pupil the continue in a tertiary type of education.
  • After secondary school they have several option: continue in another kind of secondary school, go to a vocational school or go to university. For all professions there are vocational schools (MBO) or universities. There are more practical universities (Hogeschool) and more theoretical universities (universiteit).

Levels in secondary schools
In The Netherlands there are six different educational levels in secondary school.

  • The first level (PRO) is for those pupils who could reach the level of grade 8 in primary school. In secondary school they are offered many practical lesson and very few theoretical things. The goal of this type of education is to prepare the pupils for a life in which they can take care of themselves and can live on their own. Pupils leave this type of education between the age of 18 and 20.
  • The second level (VMBO B) is for pupils who have finished primary school and who want to learn a profession in which they can work with their hands as soon as possible. They get many practical lessons and besides that they learn the normal school subjects at an easy level.
  • The third level (VMBO K) looks like the second one. The difference is that they get less practical lessons in the first two years and their theoretical lessons are at a higher level.
  • The fourth level (VMBO T) is for those pupils who like theoretical lessons at a mediate level. Many of these pupils try to find a job in shops and offices. Others try to continue secondary school at a higher level (level 5).

The pupils attend the levels two, three and four during four years. At the age of 16 they change to a vocational school or any other type of education.

  • The fifth (havo) and the sixth level (vwo) both prepare for university. Level five for a practical university, where they can study to be a primary or secondary school teacher, a nurse etc. Level six prepares for a theoretical university, where you can become a lawyer, a doctor or dentist, or a teacher in level 5 and 6 in secondary school.

In most cases the pupils are in classes with only one level (streaming), but when there are too few pupils, schools can combine two or even three levels. The goal of this – typical Dutch – system is to provide the pupils with a kind of educational that suits them best and which they can handle best. In grade 8, at the end of primary school, the primary gives an advice about the best choice to make in secondary school, depending on the experience during eight years there. They discuss this advice with the parents and in most cases also with the pupils.

In secondary schools pupils can still change the level they have chosen. The amount of pupils that change their level after the first grade in secondary school is relatively low, less than ten percent. Schools, parents and pupils realize that a wrong level can lead to serious problems. Pupils can get lazy when the level is too low and can frustrated when the level is too high for them.

Types of schools
Until 1920 only state schools were paid by the government. State schools were and are neutral to religious and social items. Before 1920 some parents wanted to send their children to a school where the education was based on religious (= Christian) convictions. These schools existed, but the parents had to pay everything then: building, teachers, books etc.

After 1920 both types of schools had the same financial rights. This means that there are now two types of schools paid by the government, with the same curriculum and the same examinations: states schools (= owned by the government) and privately owned schools (= owned by a group of parents). About 60% of the schools are privately owned schools nowadays. There are many Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and even neutral schools.

What does it mean in practice, when a school states to be a protestant school? As said before, the curriculum and the examination is the same. The differences appear when you look at the people who work in that school. In Gomarus College all teachers and pupils are believing Christians, who want to work according to the Bible. This has its effects on the way they treat each other, the way they teach certain subjects and the way they choose their international partners for exchanges and excursions. Besides these two main types of schools there are also some private schools and boarding schools, where the parents pay a substantial part of the costs of the school.