Freedom of choice
By law, people living in the Netherlands have the freedom to choose the type of education they want their children to receive. In essence this translates to having the freedom to choose which school to send their children to, whether the form of education has a specific ideological, religious or generic character, and the degree of autonomy when it comes to educational and organisational structure. In practice, there are both public and private institutions at all levels of education in the Netherlands. The Dutch government is responsible for the quality of our education and underscores this quality by setting quality standards and organisational requirements. A quick overview.
Every child between the ages of 5 and 16 is mandatorily obliged by Dutch law to attend school. Our education system comprises eight years of primary school, followed by four, five or six years of secondary education, after which a student can continue with further education. When students as a 16-year-old have not yet obtained a diploma, they are obliged to follow education up to 18 years. More information.
(Source: Nuffic (2018), Dutch education system: School system in The Netherlands, nuffic.nl)
Generally, students start secondary education at the age of 12, with the choice of school and type of education depending on individual results and preferences (Roman Catholic, Montessori, General particular education). The duration and form of the secondary school programme depends on the differences between the three levels of education:
- VMBO: four years of secondary education that prepare students for a vocational career. During the third and fourth year, the students will opt for a combination of one of several learning streams. They can choose between four thematic sectors and four learning streams to prepare them for different types of vocational careers. VMBO prepares students to enter senior vocational education and training.
- HAVO: five years of senior general secondary education. At the end of year three, students will choose a thematic sector (science, humanics or arts) that will play a central role during the final phase of their secondary education. Passing exams in the subjects in the applicable thematic sector is often a requirement for admission to further education. HAVO prepares students to continue their education in a university of applied sciences.
- VWO: six years of secondary education that prepares students for university. At the end of year three, students will choose a thematic sector (science, humanics or arts) that will play a central role during the final phase of their secondary education. Passing exams in the subjects in the applicable thematic sector is often a requirement for admission to further education. VWO prepares students to continue their education in an academic (research) university.
In Dutch secondary education, all students are mandatorily obliged to sit national exams in the subjects, English, Dutch and mathematics, as well as the specific subjects that form part of their thematic sector (science, humanics or arts). Despite the fact that national exams for subjects are the same for every student, school boards have the freedom to decide for themselves how their curricula will prepare their students for these exams. A pupil may opt to sit the school-leaving exam at a higher level than they have studied for. So, for instance, a HAVO pupil could take the English exam at VWO level. After passing the national exams, a student will receive the applicable certificates, which are prerequisites for admission to an institute of further education.