Primary education in the Netherlands follows the guidelines set out by the Primary Education Act, first introduced in 1981 under the title WBO and updated in 1998 as the WPO (‘Wet Primair Onderwijs’). It lays out the general education policy for children ages 4-12 years as directed by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (‘Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap’).
TYPES OF PRIMARY SCHOOLS
Article 23 of the Dutch constitution guarantees ‘freedom of education’ which allows for alternative schooling to the standard offered by the government. The government is required to offer these ‘private’ schools the same level of funding as ‘public schools’.
Primary schools (BAO or ‘basisonderwijs’) in the Netherlands are classified as:
- Public Primary School – regular school run by public authorities with no religious affiliation. Classroom instruction is in Dutch.
- Private Primary School
- schools which incorporate religious elements in their teaching (such as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Hindu)
- schools with non-traditional forms of teaching based on specific beliefs (such as Montessori or Dalton)
Other types of Dutch primary schools include:
- Special Schools for Primary Education (SBO) – smaller classes for extra support per student
- Special Needs Schools (SO) – schools providing primary education for students with learning disorders
- International Primary Education Schools (IGBO) – primary schools with classroom instruction in English primarily for Dutch expat families returning to Netherlands with children educated abroad and have little knowledge of Dutch OR foreign expat families who are staying temporarily in Holland and whose primary school-aged children do not speak Dutch.
In addition to the above Dutch primary schools (which all receive government funding), there are Private International Schools which offer a primary education program that follows a different curriculum to that of the Netherlands, such as the American or British primary programs. These schools do not receive funding from the Dutch government and therefore charge substantially higher tuition fees.
DUTCH PRIMARY GRADE LEVELS
Dutch primary schools are usually broken into two or three segments based on grade. Some classify students in grades 1-4 as ‘junior primary’ and grades 5-8 as ‘senior primary’, while others segment grades 1-3 as ‘junior primary’, grades 4-6 as ‘middle primary’ and grades 7-8 as ‘senior primary’. The full 8-year primary education program requires a minimum of 7,520 teaching periods. Schools have the flexibility to decide on the breakout of these, as well as school hours.
DUTCH PRIMARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM
Dutch primary school program focuses on cognitive growth, emotional development, creativity and improving social and cultural interaction as well as physical motor skills. The curriculum emphasizes two key areas – language and mathematics, because competence in these areas is essential for learning additional subjects and providing a strong knowledge base that will help guarantee success as they move into secondary school and beyond.
The Primary Education Act requires the following areas be incorporated into every primary school’s curriculum in the Netherlands:
- sensory coordination / physical education
- arithmetic and mathematics
- factual subjects including geography, history, science
- social and political studies
- creativity including drawing, music, handicrafts, performance, dance
- social and life skills (including road safety)
- healthy living
Schooling in the Netherlands is monitored by the Dutch Inspectorate of Education which is headquartered in Utrecht and supported by 12 regional inspectorate offices. The agency is responsible for maintaining the quality of schools, the implementation of government directives and the adherence of schools to the requirements set out in the Primary Education Act. Problems found with the quality of education in schools is communicated to the relevant school board which is held accountable for correcting these problems. Schools that consistently fail to meet the standards required can have their license revoked.
SKILL ATTAINMENT EXAM
All Dutch primary school students in the 8th grade are now required to take a standardized exam that measures the student’s language and math skills, and may also test knowledge in other areas such as history or science. The exams are taken between 15th April – 15th May. The exam results are used to determine which of the three secondary education programs is likely to be best suited for the student.
The three secondary ‘streams’ are:
- VMBO (prepatory secondary vocational education)
- HAVO (senior general secondary education)
- WO (university preparation education).