Finding the right school for your children: Secondary school

Finding the right school for your children: Secondary school

Perhaps you are returning to the Netherlands with your family after a stay abroad. Or you may be a newly arrived expat in this country along with your family. In this article, I will explain the best way to choose a good secondary school.

Dutch or international education?

Do you opt for Dutch education or do you choose to continue with an international curriculum in a foreign language?

Dutch parents who choose to let their child enter the Dutch education system want their child to integrate into the Dutch community. Not only at school, but also through sports and other hobbies, and in the neighbourhood that they live in.

Parents who doubt whether Dutch education is still an option often think that their child is better off with an international choice because he or she has become accustomed to international education and international culture, having been part of it longer than the Dutch system.

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 up?
  • 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 difficulty?
  • Is your child currently in private education in small classes?
  • Are there particular family circumstances or other reasons for choosing a protected environment?
  • What can you afford, financially?

Types of secondary school in the Netherlands

There are various different options in the Netherlands for secondary education:

  • Dutch secondary schools (funded by the government)
  • Dutch private secondary schools
  • Private international schools (usually with an IB program)
  • Internationally oriented schools (with hybrid funding: funded by the government and via fees paid by parents, usually with an IB program) 

Different educational systems

If you opt for a Dutch primary school, you will have a choice of different educational systems. It’s important to take a closer look at these, as you will want what best suits your child. For example, some educational systems are better suited to 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. 

Three levels of secondary school

There are three types of schools within secondary education:

  • Preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO) including practical education;
  • Higher general secondary education (HAVO);
  • Pre-university education (VWO).

Religious beliefs and teaching methods

Public schools do not base themselves on a specific religion or belief. Anyone from any religion can go to these types of schools, and religion or philosophy may be studied at some public schools.

There are specific schools that are based on certain beliefs, such as Roman Catholic, Protestant Christian and Islamic schools. There are schools dedicated to students who are physically disabled, hard of hearing or visually impaired, and there are also educational options for children with long-term illnesses. Additionally, there are schools for young people who practice sports at a high level.

Different teaching methods that are widely found at primary level exist less in secondary education. The most common methods at secondary level are Dalton and Montessori education.

Important: Let the school climate weigh heavily on your choice! A turbulent period will occur with the move, combined with the various aspects of puberty, so don't underestimate this phase.

How to make a good choice from a distance

How do you find out, remotely, what the ideal school is for your son or daughter in this regard? How do you make a good choice from a distance?

Here are some tips for choosing the right secondary school from a distance:

1. Talk to the school

If possible, go to an open day and talk to the teachers. Try to find out what they don't want to show on the open day. How involved and enthusiastic are the teachers? Also, talk to students: they are usually honest enough to tell people what they think of the pros and cons of their school. You can also contact parents who already have a child at your preferred school: you often learn more from their experiences than from a brochure. 

Ask critical questions that really help you learn more about the school. Try to get insights that go beyond the standard information from websites and open days. Be creative and prepare the conversation well, as though you were conducting an interview. Do not settle for short answers if they do not satisfy your curiosity.

For example:

  • Which teaching methods / books do you use (and possibly which edition) and why these?
  • Does the school allow for sports, creativity and music? What materials / equipment do you use?
  • What ICT resources does the school have and (more importantly) how do they use them?
  • How did your last 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?

The best thing is if you can view the schools and "feel" the atmosphere, but if you can’t go in person, you can look for people who can. Here are some options if you can’t attend:

  • Family members or friends may want to go and have a look for you, listen to conversations in and around the school and / or ask parents who have children at the school some questions.
  • People in the many relevant Facebook groups can be contacted. Some search terms on Facebook include expats in the same city or region.
  • If you speak to the school, you can ask who you can approach, for example, parents with questions. Maybe a member of the parents’ council or another "spokesperson" from the school is worth speaking to.
  • Check the media and social media regarding your child’s potential school.

2. Check the website of the school

What are the admission requirements, what does the school organisation look like, to what extent can the school offer extra guidance for specific learning difficulties if necessary and which teaching method is used? Check online what the school offers. Does the total range of lessons offered by a school suit the interests of your child?

Check extras in advance. Almost every school has something extra, such as science classes, bilingual education, VWO with Latin, or "exotic" electives such as Chinese and philosophy. There may also be cultural or sporting extras. Also, check out the De VO Gids website, the "stappenplan" is especially helpful in making a choice.

Choosing secondary schools in the Netherlands

Whatever you choose, it's important to consider these points and take your time making this important decision.

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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