Your step-by-step guide to the application procedure of the Amsterdam secondary schools
That time of year has arrived; the Amsterdam group 8 pupils have to select their preferred secondary schools, and take part in the nerve-wrecking lottery procedure. In this guide I’ll describe the steps you’ll have to take as a parent through the secondary school application process. Brace yourself; it is not going to be easy.
Your next steps through the Amsterdam secondary school application process (Amsterdam only):
Almost all secondary schools (middelbare scholen in Dutch) are funded by the government. The handful of private and international schools in the country have each their own application policies.
Below you can read how the application procedure works for the government-funded secondary schools. This procedure, which is called Kernprocedure PO-VO in Dutch, has four purposes:
- Every group 8 pupil gets a fitting advice which matches their abilities, ambitions, and wishes for further education and career.
- The schools for secondary education treat the applications to their school with care, and register the pupils properly at their school.
- The entire procedure needs to be transparent and clear for the pupils, parents, and both the primary and secondary schools.
- All relevant data need to be saved and collected, so they can easily be evaluated, and the procedure can be justified and adjusted, if needed.
Step 1 – teacher’s recommendation for secondary school
Between January 10th and February 4th: the group 8 teacher gives a recommendation for secondary school to each individual student. In Dutch this is called the advies. (This date applies to the Amsterdam schools. For most other cities, the final date for the school advice is March 1st).
The teacher has a meeting with the parents to explain their reasons for the advice, and hands the parents a digital copy of the oki-doc, the educational information document about their child. This document will also be sent to the future secondary school (after application).
Most pupils will have received a pre-advies towards the end of group 7. It seldomly happens that the final advies is lower than the pre-advies.
Possible types of advies
These are the most common types of advies a group 8 teacher would give:
- VMBO – Pre-vocational education (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs). There are four types of VMBO education, which go by the names of basis, basis/kader, kader and theoretisch.
- HAVO – Senior General Secondary Education (Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs).
- VWO – Preparatory Scientific Education (Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs). There are two types of VWO education: Atheneum and Gymnasium. Gymnasium students are obliged to study Latin and Ancient Greek language and culture. They also have to take their final exams in at least one of these languages. In the end, Gymnasium students obtain the same VWO-diploma as Atheneum students.
The teachers may also give a combined advice (dubbeladvies), for example, VMBO theoretisch/HAVO, or HAVO/VWO. Most schools let a pupil take part in the lottery of the lower level of advies (for example, HAVO in case of an HAVO/VWO advies), while some other schools create the classes after the lottery procedure, based on the number of applications per level. Some schools offer ‘bridge classes’ (brugklas), where they combine multiple levels in the same class for the first year. Other schools only offer one level (for example, Gymnasium, HAVO, or VMBO), and can only accept new students with the corresponding advies.
Single level vs. multiple level schools
You should also keep in mind that many schools offer multiple levels (scholengemeenschap or brede school), for which it is easier to move between levels. The so-called categorale schools only offer one level. As a result, a student who wishes to drop Latin and Ancient Greek will have to leave their Gymnasium-only school, and a motivated and bright student who has obtained their VMBO-diploma, will have to move to another school to continue their education at HAVO level.
Schools with special arrangements
Some pupils need special arrangements or support. They could go to the following types of schools:
- Kopklas – an ‘in between’ year for motivated, non-native Dutch pupils who need a boost for their Dutch to achieve a higher level of secondary education.
- Praktijkonderwijs – practical education to prepare students for the job market, with more support and in smaller classes.
- Special needs education – for students for whom the support required is too specialized or intensive to accommodate at regular schools. Read more in this article I wrote for XPat Media.
- Tussenvoorziening – an ‘in between’ solution, between a regular school and a special needs school, where the students get some more additional support.
Still confused? I have made a Doodly video to explain the Dutch secondary school system and the options for higher education. Hopefully this helps.
Step 2 – application deadline for specific types of schools
Children who get the advice for praktijkonderwijs, kopklas, a tussenvoorziening, or a school for special needs, will have to apply before February 11th. In this case, the below steps don’t apply.
Step 3 – school visits
Based on the teacher’s recommendation, parents and their children visit the schools which offer the right type of education for the child. In January and February, the schools organize info sessions and open days. You should make a schedule in advance, as it can be very hectic. You can select the schools of your interest and schedule the open days on the Keuzegids website.
A lot of open days have been canceled, or will take place online because of the coronavirus. Always check the school’s website before you head off.
Step 4 – intake for specific types of schools
Pupils who would like to put a school on their list that has an art, culinary, or media profile, have to make an appointment with the school for an intake or audition. This also applies to the schools for which you’ll have to take part in a selection procedure. Usually these intakes take place in February. Check the website of the specific schools to make sure. Only if you have passed the intake, you may put this school on your list. You’ll still have to take part in the lottery.
Step 5 – make your school preference list
After a lot of (online) visits, information gathering, debates, and maybe also arguments within the family, the pupils, together with their parents, establish their Top-12 (for HAVO & VWO) schools. For VMBO-B/K you’ll need a minimum of four schools, and for VMBO-T, six schools. The school you like best, you put in first place, and so on.
Please note that some schools have a profile class (e.g., sports, technasium or bilingual). If you want to apply for one of these profile classes, as well as the regular class of the same school, you’ll have to list both programs separately. Since every school only counts as one, you’ll have to put an additional school on your list – for example 13 schools in total for VWO.
Step 6 – tryout classes
It is a good idea for the pupils to go to the tryout classes at those schools in their Top-3. Then you can experience their way of teaching and the atmosphere. The open classes are often called Lesjesmiddag, Meeloopmiddag, or Open les. You can also find these dates on the Keuzegids website.
Some schools also organize special info sessions for group 7 pupils, or group 8 parents.
Step 7 – create account on ELK
Before March 7th, the parents get an email from a platform called ELK through their child’s primary school. The parents should create an account on this platform.
ELK stands for Elektronisch Loket Kernprocedure (electronic desk for the lottery procedure). They carry out the lottery on behalf of OSVO. OSVO is the umbrella organization for the boards for secondary schools in Amsterdam.
Step 8 – submit final list of schools
Here it starts to get really exciting (or nerve-wrecking, if you wish): between March 7th and 17th, the parents have to digitally submit the list with their schools of preference through the ELK platform. It doesn’t make any difference when you submit the list, as long as you do so on March 17th the latest. The group 8 pupils will get a dedicated form from their teacher.
The parents have to officially confirm that the school admin has entered all details correctly. So, check everything carefully beforehand.
Step 9 – lottery procedure
In the end of March, the lottery, the actual secondary school application procedure, takes place. Officially, this procedure is called Centrale Loting & Matching, and takes place under supervision of a notary. For the connoisseurs among you, this procedure is based on the DA-STB (“Deferred Acceptance, Single-Tie-Breaking”) algorithm.
How it works in practice? First, each student gets randomly allocated a number through a computer system. The computer looks at the student with number 1, and places them at their first school of preference. Then they continue with student number 2, 3, and so on. If they cannot place a student anymore at their #1 school, they will look at school #2. If there is no place at school #2, they will look into #3, and so on. In this short video, OSVO explains how the procedure works (in Dutch).
For parents of twins (or triplets or quadruplets, for that matter) it is good to know that each child gets their own lottery number. So, there is no guarantee they will end up at the same school.
The secondary schools for Montessori, Dalton and Waldorf education give priority to children who have attended a school with a similar concept. Below you can find a list of these schools. A few schools give priority to the younger siblings of current students and/or the children of their employees.
There is no priority based on postcode anymore, as long as you live in Amsterdam, or one of the smaller towns nearby.
The oversubscribed schools try to create extra places for the applicants who couldn’t be placed at any schools on their list. They then only consider the children who have put enough schools on their list.
Have you heard some horror stories about children who were randomly placed at bad schools in the other end of the city? As long as your child doesn’t put these schools on their list, you won’t need to worry about this.
Step 10 – lottery results
On April 7th, the parents will hear through the ELK portal at which school their child has been placed. This is the first time you will also see their lottery number. In case you didn’t get a spot at your #1 school, you’ll stay on the waiting list of this school, and all other ones you had listed higher than the school where you eventually got a spot. Pupils who have listed the required number of schools, are guaranteed to get a place at one of the schools on their list.
Step 11 – end test of primary school
In the period between April 15th and May 15th, most group 8 pupils take the end test of primary school. (CITO takes place on April 20th – 22th).
They will receive the test results between May 16th and June 3rd.
Children who have lived less than 4 years in the Netherlands, are not obliged to take the test.
Step 12 – possible adjustment of advies
If the test results are higher than the teacher’s recommendation, the final advice might be upgraded. The teacher is not obliged to higher their original advies. In this case, they will have to justify why they feel this advies is still the most appropriate. If the test results are lower, the teacher’s recommendation stays. The advice cannot be lowered.
In case the advice has been upgraded and the designated secondary school cannot offer this new level, the parents can apply for a new school between June 7th and 9th. At this point of time the most popular schools will unfortunately be full. On June 14th, all placements will be confirmed.
Step 13 – introduction at new school
On June 28th or 29th, the future ‘brugpiepers’ (first year students at secondary school) go to their new school for the introduction event.
Results 2021 lottery:
In 2021, 7.978 group 8 pupils took part in the lottery. This was over 300 more pupils than the year before.
There were 9,881 places available at 81 schools. So, overall there are always enough spots, but some of the most popular schools don’t have enough capacity.
In 2021, 76.8% of the applicants got a place at their #1 school, 91.6% in their Top-3, and 96.8% in their Top-5.
This year, they tried to replace the pupils who got a place at their #9 or lower school, which they call ‘improvement of the tail’ (staartverbetering). They order these students by the worst school placement and worst lottery number, and try and place them at the highest school on their list that still has a spot.
In this way ’only’ 52 children got a place at school #9 – #11. None was placed at their number 12 school.
The most oversubscribed schools of 2021
No guarantee for the coming year, but last year the following five schools were the most oversubscribed:
- Fons Vitae Lyceum (capacity: 168, listed as #1: 477)
- Metis Montessori Lyceum (especially technasium) (capacity: 168, listed as #1: 466)
- Lumion (capacity: 308, listed as #1: 387)
- Spinoza Lyceum (capacity: 230, listed as #1: 349)
- Barlaeus Gymnasium (capacity: 140, listed as #1: 235)
Second lottery round
The children who couldn’t be placed because they had submitted an insufficient number of schools, and those who are not happy with their initial placement, get about 5 extra days to select and visit the schools that still have availability and take part in a 2nd lottery. Usually everyone can get a spot at their new school of preference (in the 2nd round).
For a few specific schools, the prospective student has to show their portfolio during an intake meeting. This meeting takes place before the lottery procedure, and the pupils may only list these schools after they have passed the intake. This intake is needed for the following schools: Hubertus & Berkhoff (culinary school), Mediacollege Amsterdam (Media, Design & IT), IVKO (Arts & Culture). For some schools you’ll have to take part in a selection procedure or audition: The Top Sport class at Calandlyceum, or the Dance or Music classes (DAMU) at Gerrit van der Veen College, Zuiderlicht College and IVKO.
Some secondary schools give priority to group 8 pupils of a primary school with the same concept, for example, Montessori, Dalton or Waldorf. This only applies to your first school on the list. The below schools have these priority rules:
- Caland Lyceum – Dalton
- Geert Groote College – Vrije school (Waldorf)
- IVKO – Montessori
- Kiem Montessori – Montessori
- Metis Montessori Lyceum – Montessori
- Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam – Montessori
- Montessori Lyceum Oostpoort – Montessori
- Spinoza Lyceum – Dalton
- Spinoza20first – Dalton
Keuzegids Amsterdam – very detailed info on the application procedure and all secondary schools in Amsterdam. The group 8 pupils got a paper copy in November through school. They have also built an app.
Schoolwijzer Amsterdam – info on general policies and specific schools (partly in English).
OCO – Information on specific schools and policies in Amsterdam.
Generic info from the municipality of Amsterdam (in English).
Schoolkeuze 020: school choice Amsterdam.
Scholen op de Kaart(select ‘middelbare school’) (national).
10000 Scholen: description of all schools in the country.
Questions or complaints
OSVO: technical questions about the lottery procedure.
Also official complaints about the lottery outcome you should refer to OSVO.
Stichting Vrije Schoolkeuze Amsterdam (VSA): non-profit organization run by parents for improving the application procedure and better matching of demand and supply of the secondary schools in Amsterdam.
OCO: free information and advice about education for Amsterdam parents.
New2NL: personal advice on secondary schools in the Netherlands.
New2NL: articles, podcasts and webinars
I have made a Doodly video to explain the Dutch secondary school system and the options for higher education.
This article I wrote for Expatica is also very informative.
This is the recording of my webinar on the secondary school application procedure in Amsterdam – December 2021.
I explain in this podcast for Amsterdam Mamas how to choose a secondary school in the Netherlands. (I believe this was in 2017, so some things have changed since then).