Education in the Netherlands

Education is compulsory in the Netherlands between the ages of 5 and 16. The instruction language is Dutch, but more and more schools and universities teach in English.

Children in the Netherlands get 8 years of primary education, 4, 5 or 6 years of secondary education (depending on the type of school). After secondary school they can go on to vocational education or higher education.

There are both public and private institutions at all levels of the education system; the private institutions are mostly based on religious or ideological principles.

Primary education

Primary education is intended for children in the age group 4 to 12 and is compulsory for children from the age of 5.

Bilingual primary schools

Most primary schools still teach in Dutch, but there are some bilingual primary schools. At these schools children are taught in English for 30% to 50% of the day, from age 4. This type of education is currently being researched in a pilot with 19 Dutch primary schools.

You can find a list of the 19 participating schools on our Dutch website:

Bilingual primary schools (in Dutch)

Secondary education

At the age of 12 children go to one of the following types of secondary education:

  • preparatory vocational secondary education (vmbo) - 4 years in duration
  • senior general secondary education (havo) - 5 years in duration
  • university preparatory education (vwo) - 6 years in duration

Bilingual secondary schools

There are more and more bilingual secondary schools. At these schools at least 50% of the subjects are taught in English. The children speak English during for instance geography or history lessons, or during physical education.

The schools still follow the Dutch curriculum and the children need to take the Dutch school-leaving exams. Almost half of the curricular subjects are therefore still taught in Dutch.

International focus

The acquisition of a second language (English) is not the only goal in bilingual education. The schools also usually have a more international focus than regular Dutch schools. Bilingual education integrates this international focus into the curriculum: this is referred to as European and International Orientation.

Network of bilingual schools

All bilingual schools in the Netherlands are part of a network, that we coordinate. We monitor and regularly visit schools in the network to see if they comply with the standard for bilingual education.

The standard specifies, for example, the recommended level of English proficiency of teachers, as well as guidelines for international orientation across the curriculum.

Standard for bilingual education‌ (396.9 kB)

Collaboration with a Dutch bilingual school

The European and International Orientation of the bilingual schools includes cooperation and exchange with schools abroad. If your school is interested in working with a Dutch bilingual school you can contact one of the schools to explore options for collaboration and exchange:

Find a bilingual school in an A-Z list of cities (in Dutch)

Find a bilingual school on a map (in Dutch)

Children who attended school abroad

If you are relocating to Holland from abroad and are looking for schools, keep this in mind: at bilingual primary and secondary schools the children still speak Dutch about 50% of the day. Also, the school-leaving exams at the end of secondary school are in Dutch. A very young child who doesn't yet speak Dutch will probably adapt very quickly and pick up the language. But for older children who don’t speak any Dutch it may not be a good option.

Some bilingual schools do offer special programmes for non-Dutch speakers. You can contact a bilingual school in your area to check if they have such a programme. Use the links above to find a school.

Otherwise you can check if there are international schools in your area that teach a completely English curriculum. There is an overview on the website of the Foundation for International Education in the Netherlands.

More information

You can find more information about moving to the Netherlands with children on these websites:

www.access-nl.org/living-in-the-netherlands/learning/education-overview.aspx
www.expatica.com/nl/moving-to/moving-to-netherlands-checklist-move-to-netherlands_1486341.html#Nine

Vocational education and training (VET)

The Dutch term for secondary Vocational Education and Training (VET) is middelbaar beroepsonderwijs. The Dutch usually referred to it by its abbreviation mbo. Pre-vocational education and training is known as voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs (vmbo).

The Dutch mbo sector consists of 70 colleges.

  • Regionale Opleidingencentra (ROCs) are multidisciplinary colleges offering VET in technology, economics, personal/social services, health care and adult education.
  • Agricultural VET colleges offer vmbo and VET in agriculture and food technology.
  • Specialised VET colleges offer programmes for a specific branch of industry, such as graphic design, butchery, house painting, furniture painting and transport.

Duration and levels

The duration of VET programmes varies from six months to four years, depending on the level and the requirements. There are four VET levels:

  • Level 1: entry level
  • Level 2: basic vocational training
  • Level 3: full professional training
  • Level 4: middle-management and specialised training

There are two VET learning pathways:

  1. The school-based pathway (BOL)
  2. The work-based pathway (BBL)

Work Based Learning (WBL) is compulsory in both pathways and can only be offered by a recognised training company.

More information

Infographic - this is VET in the Netherlands (5.7 MB)

Higher education

There are two types of higher education in the Netherlands: research-oriented and profession-oriented:

  • Research-oriented education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO) is traditionally offered by research universities.
  • Higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO) is offered by universities of applied sciences (hogescholen).

Programmes at universities of applied sciences prepare students for particular professions and tend to be more practically-oriented. They lead to either a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Programmes at research universities focus on theoretical aspects of the field of study and prepare students for undertaking independent research. These also lead to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. At research universities you can also pursue a PhD degree.

Credit system and degrees

Degree programmes and periods of study are quantified in terms of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). In this system, 60 credits represent one year of study and one credit represents 28 hours of study. The focus of the programmes determines both the number of credits required to complete the programme and the type of degree that is awarded:

Admission to higher education

For access to bachelor’s programmes at research universities you need a VWO secondary school diploma. Students who have completed the first year at a university of applied sciences are also eligible for admission. For access to bachelor's programmes at universities of applied sciences, the minimum requirement is a HAVO secondary school diploma.

For some programmes, such as those in art education, the institution specifies additional skills as a requirements for admission. Some study programmes are bound by a numerus fixus, meaning there is a maximum number of first-year students they can admit.

More information

Education system the Netherlands ‌ (3.4 MB) (extensive description)
Higher education system in the Netherlands‌ (53.7 kB) (factsheet)
Grading systems in the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom‌ (73.0 kB)

See also

Your foreign diploma in the Netherlands

Did you get your diploma abroad and would you like to work or study in the Netherlands? Then there are a few things you need to know.

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