Exciting new developments in Amsterdam's schools
While in many places in the Netherlands the population is ageing and schools are either closing or merging, in Amsterdam there is a need for new schools.
In the coming 10 years the Dutch capital expects a 9 percent growth in the number of primary school students and an 11 percent growth in the number of high school students.
Planning for the future
In mid 2015 the municipality of Amsterdam launched the Onze Nieuwe School (Our New School) intitative, requesting locals to suggest ideas for new schools and asking them to describe what their ideal school would look like.
In September the public and a professional jury voted for the school plans they preferred and 15 options made it through to the next round. The plans range from a Latin school and a Trampoline school to advance underprivileged children, to a school that accommodates children from zero to 18-years-old.
Currently, a project group is expanding on all these ideas and eventually three or four of the plans will become reality. The local government has committed itself to providing the support required to actually build those schools.
Regular or special schools
In the Dutch school system starting your own school with a governmental subsidy is nothing new. After a tough national battle that lasted for over 100 years, the government and a group of educational organisations signed the Freedom of Education Act in 1917.
Since then, Openbare (public) and Bijzondere (special) schools have had the same status. Currently about two-thirds of children in the Netherlands attend a "special" school.
These schools are run by their own board (usually consisting of a group of parents or a foundation), and are often based on a religion or an educational philosophy like Montessori, Dalton or Waldorf.
All schools are obliged to adhere to the "core objectives" (kerndoelen) set by the government. They specify what all pupils in all schools need to accomplish each year. The individual schools may fill in the specific details.
Original approaches to education
Some schools are unique in the way they deal with language, school hours or gifted students. Here’s an overview of some of these approaches below.
› Bilingual schools
Bilingual high schools, where half of the curriculum is taught in Dutch and the other half (usually) in English, have been around for a while. A more recent development are bilingual primary schools.
Throughout the country 18 primary schools have been appointed as national bilingual pilot schools, where lessons are taught in another language 30 to 50 percent of the time - most often English.
The national government has acknowledged that in this global world you can give children a head start by teaching them partly in English. Their worry about a possible decrease in Dutch proficiency has held them back for a long time. These pilot schools are therefore being closely monitored, supported and evaluated.
Some other schools have come up with their own form of teaching some lessons in English. As they are not official pilot schools they are more restricted. Usually teaching in English takes place 20 to 30 percent of the time.
Bilingual schools around Amsterdam
In or near Amsterdam, the following Dutch schools have some kind of bilingual program:
- De Visserschool (National pilot school)
- DENISE (International Primary Curriculum: IPC, they also accommodate non-Dutch speakers)
- Kindercampus Zuidas (Openbaar)
- School of Understanding (IPC, no fixed classes, in Amstelveen)
- Little Universe* (Private, bilingual Montessori school with IPC program)
- Florencius* (Private school in Amstelveen which has recently started offering some lessons in English)
- LIFE!* (Private, democratic school based on non-violent communication (NVC))
* These private schools are fee-paying and are not subsidised by the Dutch government, whereas the openbare and special schools only ask for a voluntary parent contribution.
It is important to note that the bilingual schools are Dutch schools, where English is offered in addition to the Dutch curriculum. This means that they usually can’t accommodate children who are six or older and don’t speak Dutch. These children are often required to follow a Dutch immersion program first.
› Early foreign language education (VVTO)
By law Dutch schools have to start teaching English by Grade 7 (about age 10) at the latest. More and more schools have decided to start earlier; sometimes from Grade 1. These schools are called VVTO schools, which refers to Early Foreign Language Education.
The difference between a VVTO school and a bilingual school is that a bilingual school also teaches other subjects like History and Gym in English (or another language), while a VVTO school teaches a foreign language from an early stage, but the rest of the curriculum is in Dutch.
Probably the most unique school teaching in foreign languages is the Europaschool, where children can choose between English, French and Spanish from Grade 1. Foreign children are not allowed to pick their native language, though. On top of that they have also recently started with the IPC program.
› International Primary Curriculum (IPC)
Another interesting development is the Dutch schools that have introduced the IPC program. This is a theme-based International Primary Curriculum that you could previously only encounter at international schools.
Most subjects are offered in an integrated way and the students learn a lot by doing their own (group) research.
› Flexible school hours
One of the first things that international parents of school-going children notice in the Netherlands is that the Dutch school attendance law is very strict.
In the eight years of primary school, children are obliged to attend for at least 7.520 hours. School management may divide these hours over the years at their own discretion, with more hours in the higher grades.
Also the school vacations are pre-established at a national level and you are not allowed to take any other days off during the school year.
Some schools have come up with a more flexible structure where parents have some freedom to take their holidays throughout the year.
Most of these schools are fee-paying private schools, of which the democratic schools are probably most flexible, since their students are free to decide what they want to learn, and when (within the national requirements, that is).
› Gifted children
Given that a common Dutch expression is doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg (just act normal, that is crazy enough), it is perhaps not surprising that until recently people frowned upon children who were more advanced than their peers.
Having students skip a few grades has often proved not to be the right solution and luckily more and more schools have come to realise this.
Many schools have introduced a "plus class" where advanced children get to work on more challenging projects for a few hours per week.
The majority of Amsterdam schools send their highest performing students one day a week to the Day a Week School, where their cognitive and thinking skills are given a harder workout.
We were already familiar in the Netherlands with schools such as Montessori - where children learn to work independently at their own pace in mixed age groups.
Some new schools have taken this to a new level and have all children work in different groups that are formed based on their maturity in each subject, rather than age.
I am very happy to see that our hard-earned freedom of education is expanding and adjusting to our rapidly changing world. I’ll be watching all these exciting developments very closely to find out which schools I should recommend to my international clients.