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Back to the dossier TO SCHOOL IN NETHERLANDS


How does that work?

The school system in the Netherlands may differ from the school system in your country of origin. Here you will read more about the organization of education in the Netherlands.

The Dutch education system consists of primary education (‘basisonderwijs’), secondary education (also called high school, ‘middelbare school’) and higher education. Children from 4 to 12 years of age will attend primary education. From their 13th year, children go to secondary education, until they are 16, 17 or 18. After that, they can continue studying in a follow-up programme.


Primary education
Primary education in the Netherlands is divided into eight year layers, also called groups. Groups 1 and 2 are also called the kindergarten (‘kleuterklas’). In some schools, a class consists only of children from the same group, while classes at other schools are combined and consist, for example, from groups 3, 4 and 5.


Transition from primary education to secondary education
At the end of primary school (group 8), each child receives a level recommendation for high school. This recommendation is given by the teacher and results from the learning outcomes, test results and overall development of the child. The recommendation is binding and is sent to the high school for which parents have registered their child.


Read more about primary education on the Dutch government website >


Secondary education
After primary school, children go to secondary education. There are four levels in secondary education:


  • practical education (praktijkonderwijs, PrO; 4 years)
  • preparatory secondary vocational education (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, VMBO; 4 years)
  • higher general secondary education (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs; HAVO, 5 years)
  • preparatory scientific education (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs, VWO; 6 years)


The first two years of study of the VMBO and the first three years of the HAVO and VWO are called the foundation. The last two or three years are called the upper qualification (‘bovenbouw’). In the upper qualification, students choose a field of study; this is called a profile. If they have passed their final exam, children can continue in higher education. What higher education they can follow depends on the level they followed in secondary school and their school results.


In secondary school and at some primary schools, children get homework. In the Netherlands, it is common for parents to help their children with homework at home.


Read more about secondary education on the Dutch government website >

In the Netherlands, it is common for parents to help their children with their homework at home.

Higher education
In the Netherlands, you can continue your studies after passing the secondary school examinations at three levels:


  • Secondary vocational education (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, MBO) is the lowest level. An MBO programme trains people for a practical profession, such as hairdresser, cook or auto mechanic. Most MBO programmes are offered by Regional Training Centres (‘Regionale Opleidingcentra’, ROCs). In addition, there are other institutions offering MBO programmes.
  • Higher vocational education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO) is the middle level. An HBO programme trains people for higher positions in government or in business, such as a nurse, accountant or architectural engineer. You follow HBO programmes at a college (‘hogeschool’).
  • Scientific education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO) is the highest level. You follow a WO programme at a university. At the university, people are trained for professions like a doctor or a lawyer, but also for a career in science.


From transition class to regular class
Foreign-language children attend education in a transition class before they enter regular primary or secondary education. In the transition class, the emphasis is on learning the Dutch language and familiarizing students with the Dutch school system.


See an overview of elementary schools with a transition class >


See an overview of high schools with a transition class >

Read more

As a parent, you can do everything possible to help your child learn Dutch as quickly as possible. You do not even have to speak Dutch yet to do that! On the page ‘What you can do to help your child learn Dutch’, you will find tips for parents.

Read more