Dutch school types: primary and secondary education

Dutch school types: primary and secondary education

Since the Freedom of Education Act, signed by the government in 1917, educators in the Netherlands have been given a lot of freedom to set their own curriculum and even start their own schools. This encourages performance and innovation while still following a set of core objectives laid out by the Dutch government. The Netherlands consequently boasts a broad spectrum of flourishing educational approaches.

Dutch primary and secondary schools are divided into two categories: regular (openbaar) public schools run by the government; and special (bijzondere) schools that are independently operated and based on a specific religion or educational philosophy. All schools, whether regular or special, receive government funding.

Public schools (openbaar)

Public, or regular, schools have no religious or philosophical affiliation and are run by the government. Since 1996, municipalities have permitted a transition to independent governance, meaning that an increasing number of public schools have become independent. Many public schools incorporate elements of the Dalton educational approach.

Special schools (bijzondere)

About two-thirds of children in the Netherlands attend special schools. Here is a selection of the most common types:

Religious schools

Religious schools in the Netherlands are founded on a specific faith such as Protestant Christian, Catholic, Ecumenical, Islamic or Jewish. Many of these schools are moderate in their religious perspectives, accepting children with a different religion or no religion at all.

Montessori schools

Based on the philosophy of Italian educator Maria Montessori, this educational approach revolves around the principle: "help me to do it myself". The Montessori method supports children’s sense of curiosity and initiative, and encourages the development of their natural abilities, particularly through practical play.

Montessori schools help students to develop at their own pace, learning via activities that involve exploration, manipulation, repetition, order, abstraction and communication.

De vrijeschool (Steiner)

Founded by Austrian social reformer Rudolf Steiner, and known in other countries as Steiner or Waldorf education, the vrijeschool (free school) is a holistic educational approach that supports personal development on an intellectual, practical, artistic and social level.

The vrijeschool emphasises creativity and imagination, and caters to the individual development of each child, helping them to grow and learn at their own pace.

Dalton (Daltonschool)

The Dalton Plan, developed by American teacher Helen Parkhurst, is an educational concept based on the principles of freedom and responsibility.

The Dalton approach, which was influenced by Montessori, gives students the independence to work in a self-directed way at their own pace, while being responsible for the outcome. It also encourages students to teach and learn from each other.


Jenaplan education is based on the ideas of German pedagogue Peter Petersen and is defined by features such as cooperation, independent learning by doing and shared responsibility. Basic activities are often divided into four fields: working/teaching, discussions, playing and celebrating.

International schools in the Netherlands

International schools offer students an English-language education (either wholly or in part), tailored to the children of expat families who may spend their educational years across different countries. They provide students with a tolerant and international outlook, equipping them with the skills and confidence to transition to schools in other countries. Internationally-recognised school certifications, such as the IGCSE and IB diplomas for secondary school graduates, are also offered, enabling them to apply to universities all over the world.

Here are some of the most well-known international schools for expatriates in the Netherlands.

Other Dutch school types

There are also several other school types which follow a variety of (new) educational trends and ideas. These include Freinet schools, bilingual schools and iPad schools.

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