Finding the right school for your children: Primary school

Finding the right school for your children: Primary school

Are you returning to the Netherlands with your family after a stay abroad? Or are you an expat, newly arrived in this country with your family? Both situations come with a lot to consider, arrange and choose. Such as choosing the right school.

This is not only of great importance for the further development of your child or children, but it can also determine where you will live or what kind of transportation you and your child will have to use to go to school.

In this series, I will explain how to best choose a good primary school (article 1), a good secondary school (article 2) and the follow-up (article 3).

So, how do you choose a good primary school for your child?

Dutch or international education? 

Choosing a school from a distance can be tricky. You can’t really get by with word of mouth or gossip. Moreover, there is still a tough question ahead if your child has followed an international curriculum: Do you opt for Dutch education or do you choose to continue with an international curriculum in a foreign language?

Dutch parents often choose to enrol their child in Dutch education. They want their child to integrate into the Dutch community, not only at school but also in sports, other hobbies and in the neighbourhood where they live. There are also parents who doubt whether Dutch education is still an option. Their child has become accustomed to international education and international culture.

The following questions can help you to determine whether you should opt for Dutch or international education: 


  • Will your child return to the Netherlands permanently?
  • Is integration within the Dutch community the aim or do you want your child to remain part of an international community and / or school?
  • What is their level of Dutch? Is Dutch spoken at home? Does your child get Dutch lessons?
  • Is the moment of transfer favourable or unfavourable (group 7 / 8 elementary school)? And how heavily should you weigh this?
  • Is the planned continuation in Dutch or English?
  • Does secondary education follow the Dutch examination system and / or IB?
  • Does your child have an educational disadvantage?
  • Does your child have a learning problem?
  • Does your child now follow private education in small classes?
  • Are there family circumstances or other reasons for choosing a protected environment?
  • What can you afford, financially?

Multilingualism when international education is not your choice

Children who come from abroad speak several languages and, as a parent, you usually want to make sure they stay multilingual. How do you do that? And can a primary school be of service?

This depends, of course, on which programmes they offer. IB-oriented programmes provide for this. Other regular schools often teach English, but usually at a different level and quality than children abroad are accustomed to.

Different education systems

If you opt for a Dutch primary school, you will have a choice of different educational systems. These are important to take a closer look at, you will want what best suits your child. For example, some educational systems are better suited for international programmes than others.

Primary schools in the Netherlands are distinguished by the type of teaching method they employ, but also by the belief they base themselves on. The Netherlands also has Special Education schools and the "Brede School" (Broad School).

Different teaching methods

  • Jenaplan
  • Free schools
  • Freinet
  • Development-oriented Education
  • Dalton
  • Montessori

Different philosophies

  • Public education
  • Confessional special education

General special education

  • Special education: some children cannot attend an ordinary primary school, because they need extra attention or care
  • Broad Schools combine education with care, welfare, sports and culture

The difficult thing is that each school can give its own substance to these different methods or considerations. So, how do you choose well from a distance?

Choosing the right school from a distance

Here are some tips for when you need to choose a school from a distance:

1. Talk to the school

Make a telephone or video appointment with at least one of the following people: a care coordinator or internal supervisor, the unit head of the unit your child will be in, a teacher or the person who guides and accepts new pupils (in Dutch: zorgcoördinator, intern begeleider of unithoofd). Ask them critical questions, so that you really get to know more about the school.

Try to get information that differs from the standard information you can get from websites and at open days. Be creative and prepare for this talk as if you were conducting a job interview.

Example questions:

  • Renewal education: How do you give substance to your teaching method and how is it working out for the school?
  • Renewal education: When did the last change in this system take place and why?
  • Which teaching methods do you use and why?
  • Are there different spaces for sports, creativity and music?
  • Which ICT resources does the school have and how do they use them?
  • How did your final assessment by the school inspection go? What do you think is the most important point in this report?
  • What kind of student feels at home at your school?

2. Get information from the "gossip circuit"

The best thing is if you can look around the schools yourself, but if you do not have the opportunity, you can search for people who are:

  • Family members or friends of students
  • People in the school’s Facebook groups
  • A parents' council or other "spokesmen / women" from school

These people may be able to provide you with the "inside scoop", so to speak. 

If you have children going to school in the Netherlands, what school did you choose? And how did you choose it? Let us know in the comments!

Wendy van Dalen


Wendy van Dalen

Drs. Wendy van Dalen. Mother, entrepreneur, and traveling addict. Psychologist, teacher, and director of Dutch for Children and Online Dutch for Expats. Living my best life with our expat family....

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Shayla 16:37 | 30 January 2020

I am wondering since I have a handicap and my husband cannot take our daughter to school. Is it possible to get assistance to bring my daughter to school, and also bring her home when my pain level is too high? Unfortunately we can't depend on family, and my health is not always predictable. Thank you