Article on developments in Dutch education in The Holland Times

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN DUTCH EDUCATION – New2nl article in the Holland Times 

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Generally, schools in the Netherlands offer high-quality education. For example, the renowned global Pisa/OECD survey among 15-year-olds shows high rankings for Dutch pupils, especially in mathematics. The World Economic Forum, a non-profit foundation, has just ranked the Netherlands as the 3rd most educated country in the world as part of its annual Global Competitiveness Report, and all 13 state-funded Dutch universities score well in The Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Still, many educators, parents and politicians are calling for innovations in the education system. 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.

Many schools have recently added ‘21st-century skills’ to their curriculum. Children need to acquire these skills to become successful members of the current knowledge and network society. They include: critical, computational, and creative thinking, problem-solving, basic IT skills, social and cultural skills, self-regulation, collaborating, and effective communication. Not every school has yet figured out how to put these ambitious plans into daily practice.

English has often been identified as part of the 21st-century communication skills. Recently an increasing amount of schools have begun to teach English as a subject from a young age, and there are growing numbers of bilingual schools.

› Bilingual schools

Bilingual secondary 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 is 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 per cent of the time – most often English.

Although the government has acknowledged that in this global world you can give children a head start by teaching them partly in English, they still worry about a possible decrease in Dutch proficiency. These bilingual 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 per cent of the time.

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. Normally, these children are required to follow a one-year Dutch immersion programme first.

VVTO schools (Early Foreign Language Education)

By law, Dutch schools have to start teaching English by Group 7 (about age 10) at the latest. More and more schools have decided to start earlier, sometimes from Group 1 (age 4). These schools are called VVTO schools: VVTO stand for Early Foreign Language Education.

The difference between a VVTO school and a bilingual school is that at the latter other subjects like history and PE are also taught in English (or another language), while at a VVTO school the foreign language is taught from an early stage, but the rest of the curriculum is in Dutch.

› International Primary Curriculum (IPC)

Another interesting development is the Dutch schools that have introduced the IPC programme. 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 pupils learn a lot by doing their own (group) research, and presenting their findings to the teachers, their peers, and sometimes also their parents.

Next to the schools that have a strong focus on foreign languages, there are also those that have a particular focus on art, science, drama, or music.

Additionally there are a handful of schools that have changed the way of organising their school, for example with flexible opening hours and days off, or no longer having fixed classes.

Especially in neighbourhoods where families of different cultures live together, schools have implemented the concept of ‘the peaceful school’. In such schools, they pay a lot of attention to respecting each other’s differences, creating a positive atmosphere, and handling conflicts. Older pupils have been trained as mediators to help resolve (small) conflicts between other children.

The last interesting development worth mentioning is the sustainable schools, where they try to recycle as much waste as possible, they generate enough energy to meet their own consumption, and the pupils each have their own reusable cup to drink water.

› Starting a new school

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 (state) and Bijzondere (special) schools have had the same financial 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.

But to establish a school with a completely new concept under its own school board has proved to be more difficult, especially in Amsterdam. This became even more apparent after the recent ‘Schoolmakers’ contest, where the municipality asked local people to come up with ideas for a new school, and where the public and a professional jury voted for the schools they preferred. As yet, none of the winning schools has opened under their own board. Only the Alan Turingschool, which wants to prepare its pupils for the future in the spirit of the pioneering English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and theoretical biologist, has managed to find an existing school board that was open to their new ideas.

One of the runner-ups in the contest, Spring High, has begun this school year as the first school to accommodate pupils between 10 and 14, in order to bridge the common gap between primary and secondary education, and give their pupils a chance to develop themselves more thoroughly. To do so, they had to collaborate with not one, but two school boards – one at the primary level and one at the secondary.

Hopefully the other winners will be able to realise their dreams soon. Their ideas include a school with a continuation of the curriculum from 0 to 18 years old, and a multifunctional building where the school, home, and the city meet each other.

› Exciting times

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.



The Holland Times:

The World Economic Forum:

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings:


National bilingual pilot schools:

VVTO schools (Early Foreign Language Education).

International schools in the Netherlands:

Schoolmakers contest Amsterdam:

Alan Turingschool:

Spring High:

IPC: International Primary Curriculum,

Peaceful school:

Independent educational consultant for international families in the Netherlands:


Bilingual schools around Amsterdam

In or near Amsterdam, the following Dutch schools have some kind of bilingual program:

  • De Visserschool (the only national pilot school in Amsterdam)
  • DENISE (International Primary Curriculum: IPC, they also accommodate non-Dutch speakers)
  • School of Understanding (IPC, no fixed classes, in Amstelveen and Amsterdam-West)
  • 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.

Probably the most unique school teaching in foreign languages is the Europaschool (, where children can choose between English, French and Spanish from group 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.


Published in October 2016 in The Holland Times education special

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