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16 Life Hacks for Dutch Primary School

In my 10 years of experience as an independent education consultant for international families in the Netherlands, many international parents want to know the same 16 things before possibly enrolling their child at a Dutch school. So here are those sweet sixteen for you.

When you click on the links, you will arrive at articles and videos with more info about this topic.

kindergarten children

1.Most children start primary school the day after their 4th birthday, and they don’t need to wait until the beginning of the new schoolyear.
2. From the first school day of the month after your child’s 5th birthday, he or she is obliged to go to school. The Dutch school attendance law is pretty strict. This also applies to children who have recently moved to the Netherlands. You should try and arrange a school before your arrival in the Netherlands.
3. The first two years of primary school (groups 1 & 2) are like kindergarten. They focus on learning through play, social skills, structure, independency, and gradual preparation for reading and writing. In group 3 (age 6) the ‘real’ academics start.
4. Although there are many different approaches to teaching (among others, Montessori, Waldorf, Dalton, and religion-based), all schools have to give their pupils the same standardized tests, and adhere to the same basic standards (core objectives or attainment targets) set by the Dutch government.
parental contribution school
5. Apart from a very few exceptions, Dutch schools are funded by the government, and are (almost) free for the parents. They do ask for a small voluntary ‘parental contribution’ (Ouderbijdrage) for school trips and some extra things. Most of the time this isn’t more than 100 euros per year. Parents don’t need to pay for schoolbooks, and most schools also provide all school supplies, although also here there are some exceptions.
6. At most schools, the teachers have a break during lunchtime, and the school hires external lunch supervisors to watch the children during this time. Parents have to pay extra for this supervision, called TSO or overblijven. The pupils have to bring their own (simple) lunch, a fruit snack, and something to drink from home. Many schools also allow parents to pick up their children for lunch at home.

7. Schools may decide on their own school hours. Many schools are off on Wednesday afternoon, which gives children the chance to attend a sports club, music school or one of the many other activities in their neighborhood, or to have playdates or birthday parties with their friends.

Vacation during secondary school days, New2NL

8. The specific dates for the summer vacation change every year, and depend on the region of the Netherlands you live in (North, Central, or South). The summer vacation always lasts six weeks, and the schools are closed for six more weeks throughout the year. Always check the school calendar of your children’s school to make sure, as dates may vary from school to school.
9. When the school calendar mentions ‘studiedag’ or ‘lesvrij‘, it means that the teachers have to go to school for a teacher training day, but the pupils are off.
10. When the school is closed, the (external) after-school care (BSO) is open. If you want to make use of this service, you need to find a BSO that picks up children from your school. You have to arrange and pay for the BSO separately. When both parents work (or when a single parent works), you might qualify for a tax rebate for childcare (kinderopvangtoeslag). Many BSOs have a waiting list. You should apply asap.
11. Especially in the bigger cities, you will find many international families in Dutch schools. You don’t have to speak Dutch as a parent, but of course it helps if you do. The way the teachers communicate with international parents varies from school to school. Always ask the school if they have any experience with children who don’t speak Dutch at home.
12. 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 as early as group 1. This usually doesn’t exceed more than 1 hour per week, and is taught at a very basic level. If your child is a native English speaker, you should ask the teacher what they can offer him or her instead. Outside of school there are many ways to learn and speak English in the Netherlands, so you don’t depend on school for this. Most children learn English outside of school through international friends, travel, TV (which is usually shown in the original language with Dutch subtitles), iPad, internet, YouTube, gaming, etc. etc.
13. Most bilingual schools are Dutch schools where part of the curriculum is taught in English. All tests are in Dutch, and the pupils need to be fluent in Dutch. So, while being taught less time in Dutch, their pupils still need to achieve the same level of Dutch as the fully Dutch schools. When a child does not speak Dutch at home, and only part of the time at school, parents often need to arrange for more exposure to the Dutch language after school. You should also be aware that bilingual secondary (TTO) schools commonly switch to fully Dutch after the 3rd year to prepare for the final exams, which are the same as at the 100% Dutch schools. This is already a big change for native Dutch pupils, let alone for Dutch learners.
14. When non-Dutch speaking children are six or older (in some cities, four or older), and they want to attend a Dutch school, they are usually referred to a specialized newcomer class first to learn the language. This also applies to the bilingual schools. The newcomer program takes oHomeworkn average one year, depending on the child’s progress. In most cases, they move up to the next grade afterwards.
15. Most primary schools don’t give much homework, especially not in the lower classes. If they do get homework, the children are expected to do it on their own, without the help of their parents. Be prepared that in secondary school, students will usually get a lot of homework, commonly about 1.5 to 2 hours per day.
16. In group 8, the last year of primary school at age 12, the pupils take the transition test (usually Cito, Route 8 or IEP). This is not an exam which they can pass or fail. Based on the result of this test, and the recommendation of the teacher, the pupils get a school advice or recommendation (=schooladvies) for the appropriate level of secondary education. The assessment of the teacher is the decisive factor. The test is a sort of 2nd opinion. The teachers base their recommendation on various elements, including the pupil’s test scores from groups 6-8, their intelligence, attitude towards learning, eagerness to learn, interests, and motivation. Many secondary schools combine multiple levels in the first year, or even in the first two or three years (brugklas). With a diploma of one level, you may move up to the next level. There are many roads that lead to Rome.
Do you want to know more? Read this detailed article for DYNAMIS about the Dutch education system and the challenges it is facing, and watch this mini-documentary about the Dutch education for International Newcomers Amsterdam (IN Amsterdam) and the municipality of Amstelveen.
Also check our FAQ section and News articles, or book a call for one-on-one support through the New2NL website.
Best wishes,
Annebet van Mameren, New2NL
Independent education consultant for international families in the Netherlands

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