Dutch law strictly enforces compulsory education for all children aged 5 to 18 residing in the Netherlands, regardless of their nationality.
Expatriate parents are faced with educational choices for their children upon moving abroad. International schools can be a good choice for the children of foreign parents who are staying temporarily in the Netherlands.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science sets quality standards, attainment targets and social objectives but individual schools 'fill in the details' of the curriculum and budget allocation. Education policy includes combating school segregation, integrating special-needs children, tackling early school leaving and addressing teacher shortage.
You can find information in English about the Dutch educational system on the Ministry's website
Local or International school?
Your finances, location, nationality, the age of your children, and how long you are likely to stay in the Netherlands are the main factors you should take into account when selecting a school.
The majority of international schools are partly subsidised by the Dutch Ministry of Education and are therefore bound by ministry rules; others are privately operated. Many companies reimburse international school fees as part of their relocation package and the reimbursements could be exempt from income tax (though not for all schools).
Whilst teenagers might appreciate the educational and social continuity provided by an international school, younger children might get a greater sense of belonging by going to a local school. By learning good Dutch they will connect to their new world more easily.
You certainly won't be the only non-Dutch parent in the playground.
Choosing and applying for a school
Register your child as soon as possible at the school of your choice. Technically, public schools are not allowed to refuse admission. Popular schools, however, have waiting lists (you can register a child from the age of three) and the municipality can assign catchment areas based on postcodes. All schools have brochures and websites where they announce 'open days' when you can visit the school.
Most children start school at about four years of age - 98 percent start at three years and 10 months when they come in for five orientation days before they turn four.
Children have to follow a full-time compulsatory education (are leerplichtig (under a learning obligation or leerplicht)) from the age of five onwards for a 12-year period, followed by a one- or two-year part-time course (until acquiring a diploma).
School inspection reports can be viewed online (this applies to state schools and Dutch international schools only) at www.owinsp.nl - select schoolwijzer and enter the name of the school and/or town. The visual representation of green (good) and red (not good) blobs will at least give you some idea of performance.
In the Pisa/OECD international rankings for 15-year-olds in 56 countries (published in December 2007), the Netherlands was "above average" for both mathematics (5th) and reading (10th).
Dutch universities have a reputation of being at the forefront in the development and introduction of new teaching methods. Dutch education is both efficiently run and internationally oriented.
Coming to the Netherlands one can obtain the following degrees at Dutch universities:
- Bachelor degree at universities of applied sciences
- Master degree at classic universities
- PhD degree at classic universities or at special international post-university institutions