Primary & Secondary Schools

In the Netherlands, education is compulsory from the age of 5 until the age of 16. This is called leerplicht. Normally children start their ‘educational route’ starting at kindergarten/day care, followed by 8 years of primary school and 4-6 years (depending on the chosen level) of secondary school.

Here we will explain a bit more about primary and secondary education in the Netherlands.

Dutch primary education

In Utrecht region you will find a generous selection of schools with a wide range of educational philosophies and practices. Children are truly put in the forefront here, supported to be competent, confident participants in the modern, connected, multi-disciplinary world we find ourselves in.

In the Netherlands, most children start primary school (basisschool) the day after their fourth birthday, with many children transitioning from Dutch childcare centres. Children are required to attend after they turn 5 years old.

Primary schools consists of 8 grades (groepen), ranging from groep 1 (4 year olds) to groep 8 (12 year olds).

In the final year of Dutch primary school, parents, children and teachers decide together, with the help of a standardised national test (most frequently used is the CITO test), which type of secondary school is most appropriate.

Dutch schools are government funded and therefore free or charge. However, school may require a voluntary parental fee (ouderbijdrage). This does not count for private schools.

Dutch secondary education

After 8 years of primary school, children from age 12 usually start attending secondary school (middelbareschool). Thanks to the CITO test at primary school, the child gets an indication of the type of level they could attend, also depending on the child’s intersts.

There are four types of levels:

  • VMBO: Preparatory socondary  vocational education
    This is an education of 4 years, which leads to vocational training (MBO).
  • HAVO: Senior general secondary education.
    This is an education of 5 years, which prepares students to study higher professional education at a university of applied science, where they can follow a bacherlor’s degree (HBO).
  • VWO/Gymnasium: Pre-university education
    This is an education of 6 years, which focus on theoretical knowledge and leads students to a degree on a research university (WO).

Dutch schools are government funded and therefore free or charge. However, school may require a voluntary parental fee (ouderbijdrage). This does not count for private schools.

More about the Dutch education system

School holidays

In the Netherlands, school holidays differ per region. Dutch schools and subsidised international schools in the Netherlands are divided into three regions: North, Central and South. To avoid a holiday rush, each region has its own vacation schedule. Utrecht Region belongs to the central region. 

Some school holidays such as the summer, Christmas and May vacations, are fixed. Since schools have the flexibility to extend the May holiday by one week and can deviate from the advised spring/autumn breaks, it always pays to check the precise dates with your kids’ school. 

Can I take my child on vacation outside of the school holiday periods? 

The Dutch government does not permit parents to take their children on vacation outside of the school holiday periods (exceptions apply). Parents who do this violate the Compulsary Education Law. 

Check out the official school holidays