Although by law children are not required to start school until the age of 5, most start the first day after their fourth birthday. This means that everyone starts school on a different day throughout the year. At age 4 a child starts in grade 1, which is called ‘groep 1’ in Dutch. Groep 8 (age 11 or 12) is the last grade of primary school, after which pupils proceed to secondary school.

Most schools combine groups 1 & 2. The children in this group are called ‘kleuters’, and the group is known as ‘kleuterklas.’ In ‘kleuterklas’ the focus is on learning through play, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, structure, and gradual preparation for reading and writing. Formal reading and writing starts in group 3 (age 6).

Apart from a few private, fee-paying schools, all schools are funded by the government. In the Netherlands we distinguish between regular (openbare) and special (bijzondere) schools. Regular schools are both funded and run by the Dutch government. Special schools have their own board, which usually consists of parents or the foundation that set the school up. Special schools have equal state funding to regular schools.

Parents are only asked to pay a small ‘voluntary parental contribution’ with which schools pay for extras. These amounts vary from 50 euros per year for regular schools to 800 euros per year (or more) for some special schools.

Most special schools are religious (Catholic, Protestant, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu) or follow specific philosophic or pedagogic principles (e.g. Montessori, Waldorf/Steiner, Dalton, Jenaplan).

Usually religious schools are fairly moderate in terms of religion and are open to non-religious children and those with a different religion. However, as this varies per school, you should always check with the school to be sure.

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.

Home schooling is generally not allowed.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has a dedicated website listing all primary and secondary schools.

The Expat Centre and the Municipality of Leiden organise seminars about Dutch education in general, covering which schools offer English language from group 1, international schools and how to find a school in Katwijk, Leiden, Leiderdorp, Oegstgeest, Voorschoten en Zoeterwoude.

Foreign children in Dutch schools

4- and 5-year-olds who don’t speak Dutch can usually start a regular primary school straight away. They usually pick up the language quickly and are (almost) fluent before the ‘real learning' starts at age 6.

Ask the school about possibilities for extra language lessons for non-Dutch children.

Children aged 6 and older are usually required to follow a Dutch immersion programme first. This takes about one year, after which they can continue their education with children of the same age at a regular school.

There is also an immersion program at secondary level for children aged 12-18, after which the pupils can move into a regular secondary school. Taking this route can be challenging, and children often ‘lose’ a year. In this case it is often easier for your child to go to an international secondary school instead.

The following primary schools in Leiden have a dedicated Dutch immersion class:

And on secondary level:  

Other Dutch immersion classes you can find on: www.lowan.nl