Information about the Dutch secondary school (high school) educational program in the Netherlands, including explanations of the three streams: VMBO, HAVO and HBO.
TYPES OF DUTCH SECONDARY SCHOOLS
Secondary education in the Netherlands comes in different forms and is provided by various types of school. Many are based on a specific educational philosophy or religious/ideological principle (such as Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Montessori). These schools are categorized as private schools. Schools which follow standardized, non-religious teaching methods are categorized as public schools. Private and public schools are funded by the government.
Schools for Elite Athletes
There are also training and education facilities for young elite athletes involved in high-level sport. These schools provide the usual secondary education curriculum, but in an adapted form that allows pupils to focus on sport. In order to attend a special programme at one of these schools, official elite athlete status is required.
Special education schools cater to students with a physical or psychological disability, hearing or visual impairment or chronic condition.
DUTCH SECONDARY SCHOOL EDUCATION PROGRAM
Once a student in the Netherlands has completed primary school, they move on to secondary school (high school) following one of three programs:
- Pre-vocational (VMBO) followed by vocational training (MBO)
- Senior general (HAVO) followed by higher professional training (HBO)
- Pre university (VWO) followed by university education
The stream a student follows in secondary school is primarily determined by the student’s past primary school scholastic performance, their performance on the primary school leavers attainment test, advice from the school’s administrator(s) and, to a lesser extent, input of the parents. Although it is possible for a student in one stream of secondary school to petition to be moved into a different stream, this does not happen frequently.
The VMBO/VMBO-T is a 4-year education program. The first couple of years of secondary school covers a broad curriculum. By the end of their sophomore year…
- VMBO-T students choose one of four industry sectors (1-care and welfare, 2-engineering and technology, 3-business and 4-agriculture)
- VMBO students choose from one of ten industry fields (1-building, housing and interiors, 2-engineering, fitting out and energy, 3-transport and mobility, 4-media, design and IT, 5-maritime and technology, 6-care and welfare, 7-business and commerce, 8-catering, baking and leisure, 9-animals, plants and land, 10-services and products).
VMBO students must attend school until they turn 18 or until they obtain a basic qualification (at least MBO level 2).
HAVO / VWO CURRICULUM
HAVO and VWO prepare students for higher professional education (HBO) and university studies (Bachelor, Master), respectively.
HAVO is a 5-year education program, VWO is a 6-year education program
The first 3 years of both programs include a wide range of subjects. Before the 4th year, the student chooses from one of four combination ‘majors’ (1-science and technology, 2-science and health, 3-economics and society, 4-culture and society). Classes in the chosen major are added to the curriculum in years 4-5 (for HAVO students) and years 4-6 (for VWO students).
The level of instruction used in HAVO program is slightly easier than that used for the VWO program.
The following subjects are mandatory and required to be taught as part of the HAVO years 4-5 and VWO years 4-6 curriculums:
- Physical Education
- Culture & the Arts
- Social Studies
The VWO program also requires the following to be included in the years 4-6 curriculum:
- Foreign Language
School leaving examinations for HAVO students tests 7 subjects while VWO students are tested on 8 subjects. Other subjects are tested in an examination set by the individual school. The knowledge and skills that pupils are required to have by the end of their school career are set out in attainment targets specified by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.
GRADUATING FROM A DUTCH SECONDARY SCHOOL
Students graduate from a Dutch secondary school in the Netherlands by passing attainments exams referred to as school exams and national exams. School exams are usually taken between mid-Fall and mid-Spring of the last year, while national exams are taken from mid to late Spring of the final year (VMBO year 4, HAVO year 5 and VWO year 6).
Schools create their own exams. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science specifies which subjects must be taught during the exam year. The school sets the examination dates and can test pupils in subjects beyond the core mandated subjects. The school exam for a subject usually tests knowledge in two or more different ways (oral, practical or written).
The national school-leaving written exam is standardized per subject per education program stream (for example, there are three versions of the national mathematics exam – one given to all VMBO students, one to all HAVO students and one to all VWO students). The national exam is compiled by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which also specifies the exam dates.
All Dutch secondary school students across the Netherlands find out on the same day in early June if they have passed their school and national exams and will be graduating.
The Dutch have an unusual tradition for celebrating upon hearing their child will be graduating from secondary school. They hang out the national flag and dangle the child’s schoolbag from the flagpole, signifying to neighbors the child will be graduating.
Students who fail a subject exam by a small margin are given the opportunity to retake the exam (later in June), with those results being released at the beginning of July.
Students who fail their exams by a wide margin across multiple subjects are not allowed to graduate and must redo their final year curriculum in the hopes of passing their exams the following year.
DUTCH SECONDARY SCHOOL COSTS
Tuition at Dutch secondary schools in the Netherlands is free for students under 18 years of age. Most textbooks are provided by the school. Nominal secondary school educational expenses, such as gym clothes and shoes, dictionaries and calculators are expected to be paid by parents.
Voluntary parental contribution
Schools may ask parents to pay a voluntary contribution for elective activities such as:
- holiday camps
- school trips
- extra-curricular activities
In some cases, parents may be entitled to an allowance to help with school transport costs if their child is disabled. Information is available from the school or local municipality (‘gemeente’).