Taking children out of school during term time

With the summer approaching, you have probably already been daydreaming about visiting your family in your home country. But once you start looking at flights, it turns out that the prices skyrocket once the school vacation starts.

The principal of your children’s school will surely understand how important it is for you to reconnect with your family, right? So you decide to just pop them an e-mail, and inform them on which days your children will not be in school…

Does the above describe your situation and your thoughts? You better read this article before you proceed with your request! Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

The Dutch summer holiday lasts for six weeks, and after every six or seven weeks of school, the pupils are off for one or two weeks. In total, they have at least twelve weeks of vacation per year. The timing of these school vacations you can find on the Schoolvakanties website. You are only supposed to go away during these official vacation days.

Dutch school attendance law

School attendance

You should be aware that the Dutch school attendance law (Leerplicht) is very strict, and is applied in exactly the same way for everyone. This Leerplicht Law, originating in 1969 and renewed in 1994, takes effect on the first school day of the month following a child’s fifth birthday. Children are obliged to attend school until the age of 16, or until they have a diploma for HAVO, VWO or MBO level 2, which is called a start qualification.

Children may only miss school under very specific circumstances, like an important family event, religious celebration, work commitments of their parents, and on the grounds of age (for 4- and 5-year-olds only). And when they are too sick to go to school, of course.

This law is taken seriously; just before and after the main school holidays, truancy officers at Schiphol airport frequently do random checks to make sure that school-aged children have official permission to miss school. If not, the usual fine for the parents is 100 euros per day, per child. In case of multiple offences, the parents might even have to appear in court. After all, they have broken the law. So, don’t think you can get away with this so easily.

Below you will find a brief description of each of the above-mentioned exceptions, and how you can apply for them.

Family events
sick grandfather, exception on the school attendance law

So, when can you take your children out of school to go and see your family?

This is only allowed for important family celebrations or emergencies. Examples are: a wedding, a family member’s milestone wedding anniversary, or when a family member is terminally ill or has passed away. By ‘family members’ they mean a child’s first-, second- or third-degree relatives, such as parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, uncles, and aunts.

For these situations, the truancy officers have created a special form, called Aanvraagformulier verlof wegens gewichtige omstandigheden (LPW art. 11g). ‘Gewichtige omstandigheden’ stands for ‘significant circumstances’ and these are very specific. You can request the form from your school’s admin department, or it may be available on the school’s website.

Take your time to read and fill out this form correctly, as you only get one shot. Don’t call the event a ‘family reunion’ first, and then suddenly declare that your father is getting married for the 5th time after your first request has been rejected. It is also very important to choose your words carefully – for instance, avoid using the word ‘vacation’ if the reason for your visit is a seriously ill grandparent.

Wedding invitation, reason to skip school attendance

For all requests you have to submit proof, for example a wedding invitation. However, you don’t need to prove that your child is actually related to the bride or groom.

Also the maximum duration of leave has been set out in the law, for example, a maximum of 5 days for a wedding abroad.
If a relative is seriously ill, the duration of the leave is established together with the school’s principal. If this leave exceeds 10 days, the principal has to forward your request to the truancy officers, who will take the final decision.

It is also good to know that you are not entitled to those 10 days off. You have to ask permission each time, and the principal could refuse, or reduce the number of vacation days. You should wait until you have received formal permission, in writing, before buying your tickets.

The last valid listed reason on the aforementioned form is ‘other reasons the principal deems important’. This is a bit subjective, and sometimes you have some wiggle room here. Try and figure out what the headteacher of your school finds important enough. In any case, it has to be an important family celebration taking place on a specific date over which the parents have no influence. For example, a family reunion, or visiting a newborn cousin, is not specific enough. The headteacher would ask why these visits need to happen on the specified days, and would generally turn the request down, meaning you will have to wait until the next school vacation.
To give you an idea, our children were allowed five days off when we wanted to celebrate their grandfather’s 80th birthday in the U.S. We had arranged for him to celebrate his birthday in the week after the May vacation, and we combined it with the 75th birthday of my husband’s uncle who had invited the entire family. So, in this case we were allowed to stay a bit longer on the other side of the pond. By itself, the party of their father’s uncle would have not been enough reason to take our children out of school.

Work reasons (of the parents)

Work of parents in an Apple orchard, school attendance exception

You can imagine that parents who work in seasonal jobs, in the tourist sector, or on a farm cannot just go away during peak season. In this case, there is another form, Aanvraagformulier vakantieverlof (LPW art. 11f), which parents need to fill out to take their children out of school for a family vacation during term time.

In this situation, you can ask for maximum of 10 days off per school year. Together with this form, you will need to submit a statement from your employer. Parents who are self-employed must submit a self-written declaration with a plausible explanation as to why they have to work during the school holidays. You have to put in your request with the headteacher at least eight weeks before your planned departure. Also keep in mind that your child may not be absent during the first two weeks of the new school year.

Religious celebrations

A pupil has the right to take a day off when they have obligations arising from their religion or belief. This is only valid for the days of the actual celebration. So, you may not take off the whole week in order to celebrate Eid with your family in your home country, for example. Even if the principal is well aware of your family being religious, you will have to officially inform the school for every single holiday your child needs to observe.
On the officially recognized Christian holidays, all schools, including the non-religious ones and schools of other faiths, are closed.

Four-year-olds

Most children start school the day after their 4th birthday

Most children start school the day after their 4th birthday, which means that for the first year they are not legally obliged to attend school. However, once a child has started school, they are expected to attend every day. If you feel that your child needs to miss a day, you should inform the teacher, so they know where your child is.

If they are going to be absent for multiple days, you should fill out the above-mentioned forms. In this case it is very likely that your request for an extended absence will be granted. They do need these completed forms, so they know in case of a fire how many people were present in the building, or to buy the right number of tickets for an upcoming excursion.

Exceptions for 5-year-olds

Swimming class

Not many parents are aware of the exceptions for 5-year-olds. A 5-year-old child may miss a maximum of 5 hours of school per week. You could use this exemption when attending full school days is still too tiring for your child, or, for example, so they can take swimming lessons during the day, when the pool is not yet crowded. If there is a special reason, you may ask the principal to grant your child a maximum of 10 hours off per week.
I’m sorry to tell you that you may not accumulate these hours over multiple weeks. Furthermore, the exceptions all end the day your child turns six.

Reasons behind the law

school christmas dinner, reason for school attendance

“Why is the law this strict?” I can hear you cry. “In my country, all children can just go on holiday whenever they want”, you might say. Or: “For my child, a few missed days of school does not make any difference. They don’t learn much during the last weeks of school anyway”. Maybe that is all true, but some children would actually miss a lot of vital education if they stayed away for a while. For example, for those pupils whose parents have less formal education and/or don’t speak Dutch, it might be hard for them to catch up.
The law is the same for everyone. The principal cannot make an exception for one child, but not for the other. ‘Regels zijn regels’ (‘rules are rules’) is a phrase that you’ll often hear in this context. Furthermore, it would mean a lot of additional admin for the teacher to keep track of which child has missed which test or activity.

Also from a social perspective, it is important that the pupils experience all celebrations and events together. They start and end the school year together, and the Christmas dinner in their classroom full of lights and decorations is a memorable event that they will keep on talking about in the months that follow.

You should also be aware that the school is obliged to report all non-valid absences. If the principal gives permission for an invalid reason, the school can get fined. In other words, they don’t have a lot of leeway. If you are frustrated by the Leerplicht Law, this hopefully at least provides you with a bit of context.

Attendance of a school abroad

Attending school abroad

If you feel that those few weeks per year are not enough, you could also decide to send your child to a school in your home country (or somewhere else in the world, of course). This is allowed for a maximum of one school year in their entire school career, and for this you should fill out yet another form: Vrijstelling van inschrijvingsplicht bij school/onderwijsinstelling in Nederland/article 5 sub c.

You will also need a declaration from the school abroad that states that your children have been registered there. And at the end of the school year, you will need another statement that confirms that your children have indeed attended the school frequently. See for example this website of the municipality of Amsterdam.

If you want to stay away for longer than one year, then the Dutch municipality assumes that you want to deregister your child from the Netherlands, and they are no longer subject to Dutch Leerplicht. Deregistering will have consequences for your child-related benefits and health care coverage, however, so make sure you research your options well in advance.

Pilot schools for flexible holidays

Stressed teacher because of flexible school attendance

In 2011, eleven schools in the country were designated pilot schools, which were allowed to experiment with more flexible holidays. In Dutch this was called the ‘experiment Ruimte in Onderwijstijd‘. The parents loved this initiative, but as for most of these pilot schools the results went down and the pressure on the teachers increased, the school inspectorate wasn’t overly positive. Nevertheless, in 2020 the pilot was extended until at least 2025, and now includes 20 schools.

Who knows, maybe it will become easier to take time off in the future – at least a few days here and there. As a parent I would be very grateful for that, to say the least!