Cycles and curriculum
Secondary education consists of 7 year levels (S1–S7) and is divided into 3 cycles.
- First cycle (S1-S3)
- Second cycle (S4-S5)
- Third cycle (S6-S7)
Students attend periods lasting 45 minutes each. They attend a minimum of 31 and a maximum of 35 periods in each school week.
First cycle: S1-S3
The first cycle is called Observation cycle) and takes 3 years to complete (S1-S3). Students are offered:
- a common general curriculum;
- teaching in the native language in the majority of subjects;
- a second foreign language (L3) from Year 1 (since 2014/2015);
- Latin as an optional subject in Year 2;
- ICT as an optional subject in Year 3 (or students can continue with Latin);
- Human Sciences and Ethics or Religion in the first foreign language (L2) from the third year.
Second cycle: S4-S5
The second cycle is called Pre-orientation cycle and takes 2 years to complete (S4-S5). It includes:
- Languages (these subjects are taught in that language);
- 2 optional subjects, such as Language 4 (L4), Economics, Latin, Greek, Art, Music or ICT.
At the end of Year 5, the students receive an average grade for that year for each subject. This grade is based on a variety of assignments and 2 tests.
Third cycle: S6-S7
The third cycle is called Orientation cycle and takes 2 years to complete. This cycle ultimately leads to the European Baccalaureate. The curriculum includes a minimum of 10 subjects, which students complete with written and oral examinations as well as continuous assessment.
The subjects for the final examination include a combination of
- compulsory subjects;
- optional subjects; and
- supplementary subjects (where applicable).
Compulsory subjects are: 2 languages (L1 & L2), Mathematics, 1 science subject (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Philosophy, History, Geography, Physical Education, Ethics or Religion.
- Students can choose to study each subject for 2 periods, 4 periods or at an advanced level.
- Students are taught History and Geography in a language other than L1, usually French, English or German.
Students can choose between 2 and 4 subjects for a maximum of 4 periods each per week. Optional subjects include Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, History, Economics, Latin, Music, Art, Philosophy or a language (L3 or L4).
Supplementary subjects can be 2 periods per week in Photography, Political Science, Sociology, a fourth foreign language (L5), Technical Drawing and Drama.
To pass, students must successfully complete a minimum of 31 and a maximum of 35 periods each week. If they have chosen to take fewer periods of a certain subject, they must take supplementary subjects to reach the minimum of 31 periods.
We compare the European Baccalaureate Certificate to a diploma.
Pre-university education (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs, VWO). A VWO diploma is awarded upon successful completion of a 6-year programme of pre-university education. VWO is the highest level of general secondary education available in the Netherlands.
As much as possible, students are taught in the section of their native language. However, not all European Schools offer all languages.
Usually, a European School will have between 3 and 16 language sections. There are 20 sections in total:
- Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovakian, Spanish and Swedish.
Students without a language section in their native language (SWALS) follow a specific curriculum. They are normally enrolled in the English, French or German (L2) language section. These students are entitled to a certain number of hours per week of instruction in their native language, provided the school has a qualified teacher.
Six possible language subjects are offered within the curriculum of the European Baccalaureate:
- Languages 1 to 5 (L1-L5);
- Other National Language (ONL).
Language 1 is the student’s native language. Generally speaking, this is also the language of the section in which the student is enrolled, unless he or she is a SWALS student.
Language 1 (L1):
- starts as a subject in primary school and is compulsory for all students (S1–7);
- follows the national curriculum set by the country to which the language belongs (for example, students whose L1 is Dutch follow the curriculum set by the Dutch government).
For the subject ‘Language 2’, students choose one of the 3 EU working languages (English, French and German). The chosen language must always be different from Language 1.
Language 2 (L2):
- starts as a subject in primary school (P1) and ends in S7: 12 years of instruction in total;
- in S3, students study Human Sciences in their L2;
- from S4, they also study History and Geography in L2;
- in S6, students can change the selected language (for the L2 subject) to another EU language if they pass the language test (but they continue to study History and Geography in the language they chose originally);
- from S6, L2 can also be taken as an Advanced Course, which has more of an emphasis on literature than in the ordinary L2 subject.
It is sometimes difficult for students who are new to the European School to keep up with everything in their second language, because they have not always mastered the language at the required level. These students are given extra support.
Languages 3 and 4
Language 3 (L3) starts in S1 at a beginner’s level and is a compulsory subject up until the end of S5. Students can choose any EU language (except for Irish and Maltese) if a minimum number of students at the school have the same preference.
The most common L3 languages are:
Depending on the group size in S6 and S7, and the demand for the language (minimum of 5 applications), students can take their L3 right through to the European Baccalaureate.
Language 4 (L4) is an optional subject in S4 for beginners and students can take it right through to the European Baccalaureate.
This table shows the number of teaching hours per week, per language subject and per year level:
|Teaching hours per year level (S1-S7)||Language 1||Language 2||Language 3||Language 4|
Other National Language
No school has language sections in Irish and Maltese, but these can be taught as an ‘Other National Language (ONL)’. Few schools have language sections in Finnish or Swedish either. An ONL will be created if a student has fewer than 7 students who speak that language.
Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)
L1 students are native speakers. The following table shows the CEFR level for foreign languages (L2 to L4) at each year level:
Students are assessed regularly through submitted work and examinations. The school issues reports 4 times each year.
For the European Baccalaureate there are written and oral examinations. The written examinations are the same for all students. The examinations cover material from Year 7 as well as knowledge acquired in earlier years, particularly Year 6.
These 3 factors determine the final mark:
- written examinations, 35%
- oral examinations, 15%
- continuous assessment, 50%
There are 5 written examinations:
- Language 1 or Advanced Language 1;
- Language 2 or Advanced Language 2;
- Mathematics (5 periods) or Mathematics (3 periods);
- 2 optional subjects.
Candidates must sit 3 oral examinations, in a combination of these subjects:
- Language 1 or Advanced Language 1;
- Language 2, Advanced Language 2, or History and Geography;
- Advanced Mathematics, Philosophy (2-4 periods), Language 3, Language 4, Other National Language (ONL), Biology (2-4 periods), Chemistry (4 periods) or Physics (4 periods).
Levels of Dutch
What is the minimum level of Dutch of students with a European Baccalaureate?
Dutch L1 language section
Students in the Dutch L1 language section are native speakers. As well as Language 1, they take all science subjects and certain other subjects in Dutch.
SWALS students with Dutch as L1
SWALS students with Dutch as L1 in another language section are also at the level of a native speaker; Dutch is their native language.
SWALS students follow the same L1 curriculum (equivalent to the VWO curriculum in the Netherlands) as students in the Dutch language section. They take the rest of their subjects in L2 (or the language of the host country).
Dutch as L2
Students with Dutch as their L2 acquire a final level corresponding to at least C1 in the CEFR.
Dutch as L3
Students with Dutch as their L3 acquire a final level corresponding to at least B1 in the CEFR.
Levels of English
What is the minimum level of English of students with a European Baccalaureate?
English L1 language section
Students in the English L1 language section are native speakers. As well as Language 1, they take all science subjects and certain other subjects in English.
SWALS students with English as L1
SWALS students with English as L1 in another language section are also at the level of a native speaker; English is their native language. This is a condition of admission as a SWALS student. They follow the same L1 curriculum as students in the English language section. They take the rest of their subjects in their L2 language (or the language of the host country).
English as L2
Students with English as their L2 acquire a final level corresponding to at least C1 in the CEFR.
English as L3
Students with English as their L3 acquire a final level corresponding to at least B1 in the CEFR.
Admission to higher education
With the European Baccalaureate Certificate students are eligible for admission to higher education in the Netherlands. The higher education institutions ultimately decide who they admit.