Primary education

Dutch children receive primary education (basisonderwijs):

  • between the ages of 4 and 12;
  • it is compulsory from age 5.

Types of primary schools

Primary education lasts 8 years (groups 1-8) and is offered at primary schools and special needs primary schools. These forms of education are jointly referred to as primary education. There are both public and special primary schools; the latter are based around a specific belief and/or didactic principle (e.g. Dalton Plan, Jenaplan and Montessori schools). In addition, more than 1,150 primary schools offer bilingual education (vroeg vreemdetalenonderwijs, VVTO). See Vroeg vreemdetalenonderwijs for more information (in Dutch).

School type recommendation

Pupils subsequently transfer to secondary education institutions at various levels, depending on their results. Pupils in group 8, the final year of primary education, choose a secondary education pathway. This choice will generally be based on the school type recommendation.

    Secondary education

    There are 2 basic types of secondary education:

    General secondary education

      Pupils can choose between 2 types of education:

      • senior general secondary education (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs, HAVO);
      • pre-university education (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs, VWO).

      The exception is VMBO-T. This is the only pathway within pre-vocational secondary education which consists of general education subjects only. You can find the explanation about VMBO-T under Pre-vocational secondary education (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, VMBO).

      Senior general secondary education (HAVO)

      • Duration: 5 years (3 initial lower-level years + 2 upper years).
      • Content: compulsory subjects with a broad orientation during the lower years, followed by common compulsory subjects and subjects for more in-depth specialisation. See also ‘Subject combinations HAVO and VWO’ below and information about HAVO/VWO on the central government's website.
      • Diploma: HAVO diploma, following a national examination in at least 7 subjects.

      The HAVO diploma is classified as level 4 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

      Pre-university education (VWO)

      • Duration: 6 years (3 initial lower-level years + 3 upper years).
      • Content: compulsory subjects with a broad orientation during the lower years, followed by common compulsory subjects and subjects for more in-depth specialisation. See also ‘Subject combinations HAVO and VWO’ below and information about HAVO/VWO on the central government’s website.
      • Diploma: VWO diploma, following a national examination in at least 8 subjects.

      The VWO diploma is classified as level 4+ of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

      Subject combinations HAVO and VWO

      By the end of year 3, pupils must choose 1 of the 4 available subject combinations (profielen) in preparation for the various higher education tracks:

      • culture and society, cultuur en maatschappij (C&M);
      • economics and society, economie en maatschappij (E&M);
      • nature and health, natuur en gezondheid (N&G);
      • nature and technology, natuur en techniek (N&T).

      HAVO and VWO school types

      There are various types of VWO schools:

      • atheneum: VWO subjects;
      • VWO+: VWO subjects + Latin;
      • gymnasium: VWO subjects + Latin and Greek.

      VWO and HAVO pupils can also opt for a technasium. This is a type of school that emphasises research and design, and focuses on the development of sciences-related skills.

      Pre-vocational secondary education

      Pre-vocational secondary education (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs, VMBO) consists of 1 of the 4 learning pathways.

      By the end of year 2, pupils choose 1 of these pathways:

      • basic vocational programme (VMBO-BB/VMBO-basis);
      • middle-management vocational programme (VMBO-KB/VMBO-kader);
      • combined programme (VMBO-GL);
      • theoretical programme (VMBO-TL, more commonly referred to as VMBO-T).

      Please note: VMBO-T is the only pathway in which pupils only follow general subjects. At VMBO-GL, pupils take 1 vocational subject in addition to general subjects.

      VMBO

      • Duration: 4 years (2 initial lower-level years + 2 upper years).
      • Content: compulsory subjects with a broad orientation during the lower years, followed by common compulsory subjects and subjects for more in-depth specialisation. See also information about VMBO on the central government’s website.
      • Diploma: VMBO diploma, following a national examination in 6 subjects.

      The VMBO diploma basic vocational programme (VMBO-BB) is classified as level 1 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

      The VMBO diploma middle-management vocational programme (VMBO-KB), combined programme (VMBO-GL) or theoretical programme (VMBO-T) is classified as level 2 of the Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF).

      After VMBO

      Holders of a VMBO diploma may go on to secondary vocational education (MBO). A VMBO-T diploma or VMBO-GL diploma also grants access to HAVO. A condition for this is that they have passed an extra (general) final examination subject. See also the information on the central government’s website.