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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 20 November 2020
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  1. Main trends in young people's participation in education and training
  2. Organisation of the education and training system
  3. Main concepts

Main trends in young people's participation in education and training

Equal Opportunities Alliance

On the 31st of October 2016 the Equal Opportunities Alliance (Gelijke Kansen Alliantie) was announced. During the launch of this collaboration, both Minister Bussemaker and State Secretary Dekker of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science announced the measures. This collaboration of teachers, parents, schools, employers and social organizations strives for equal opportunities in education for all children.

Various studies of the Inspectorate of Education of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the Netherlands Scientific Council of Government Policy WRR, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research SCP and OECD showed  that children with the same talents do not always have the same opportunities in education. Their chances of good education are  determined in part by the education level of their parents or the support their parents are able to offer. Instead of decreasing, the differences between children increase when they start school. Some bottlenecks are the transition between school types and the lack of support for children with low educated parents.


In 2017 the Ministry reserves a budget of € 25 million for the improvement of equal opportunities in education; in 2018 this will be € 32 million, in 2019 € 30 million and as of 2020 € 26 million per year.

More information about the Equal Opportunities Alliance can be found on the website Equal Opportunities (Gelijke kansen), an initiative of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. (See also paragraph 6.6)


Early school leaving

Tackling early school leaving – Truants Pact

A national discussion group of public actors and representatives of three Dutch ministries (Education, Culture and Science; Health, Welfare and Sport; Security and Justice) are meeting regularly to discuss how to reduce early school leaving. Their common goal is to achieve that no youngster  stays at home without education or training for no longer than three months. 

In June 2016 a national agreement was drafted: the so-called ‘Truants Pact’ (Thuiszitterspact) and signed by all the members of the national group. The members committed themselves to shared agreements about cooperation and support and shared measures to tackle early school leaving. This Pact is discussed in more detail in paragraph 6.3.


NEET - young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training

In 2014 over 800,000 Dutch young people  between15 and 27 years old were not in education or training and 183,000 of them (22,9 percent) did not have a job. From this last group four out of every ten young people were not looking for a job and were also not available for the labour market for various reasons. Most reasons  mentioned were health problems, being unable to work, or – mostly young women - because they had to take care of family or household. (Source: CBSStatistics Netherlands).

More information about tackling this youth unemployment of NEET young people in education and training is given in paragraph 6.3.

Organisation of the education and training system

Primary education

Most children start primary school at the age of 4, although they are not required by law to attend school until the age of 5. Primary school lasts till the age of 12 (average).


Secondary education

When leaving primary school at the age of about 12, children are able to choose between three types of secondary education: (1) VMBO (pre-vocational secondary education: four years); (2) HAVO (senior general secondary education: five years); (3) VWO (pre-university education: six years).

Most secondary schools are combined schools offering several types of secondary education so that pupils can easily transfer from one type to another.


Secondary vocational education

VMBO education leads pupils to a specific occupation. After completing VMBO at the age of around 16, pupils can go on to secondary vocational education (MBO). Pupils who have successfully completed the theoretical programme within VMBO can also go on to HAVO.


Higher (tertiary) education

HAVO graduates and VWO graduates can opt at the ages of around 17 and 18 respectively to continue to higher education. A large number of HBO universities of applied sciences (hogescholen) in the Netherlands are government-funded. Others are officially registered but do not receive government funding. There are many universities in the Netherlands offering a broad range of programmes of study, several universities of technology and a number of universities that specialize in a limited range of academic sub disciplines.


Special education

In addition to mainstream primary and secondary schools we also have special education. There are three types of schools in special education:

  • Special (secondary) education: separate schools for children with disabilities of such a kind that they cannot be adequately catered for in mainstream schools.
  • Special primary education: for children with learning and behavioural difficulties who – temporarily at least – require special educational treatment.
  • Practical training: pupils who are unable to obtain a VMBO qualification, even with long-term extra help, can receive practical training, which prepares them for entering the labour market.

Read more at the webgate of Euridyce.

Main concepts

Centralized education policy and decentralized administration and management

A distinctive feature of the Dutch education system is that it combines a centralized education policy with  decentralized administration and management of schools. With due regard for the provisions of the Constitution, central government creates enabling conditions for education through legislation that applies to both publicly and privately run institutions. The involvement of the provincial authorities mainly takes the form of statutory supervisory and judicial duties vis-à-vis public and private schools alike. As the local authority for all schools in the area, the municipal authorities have certain statutory powers and responsibilities with respect to both public and private schools.

All schools, both public and private, are governed by a legally recognized competent authority. The competent authority is the body responsible for implementing legislation and regulations in schools. The competent authority or school board of publicly run schools is the municipal authority. Since 1997 the municipal authorities have been able to choose the form the competent authority takes. The competent authority or school board of a private school is the board of the association or foundation that maintains it. Read more on the webgate of Eurydice.


Official definition of early leaving from education and training

Early school leavers in the Netherlands (voortijdig schoolverlaters) (only in Dutch) are pupils and students who leave school without a so-called ‘basic qualification’ (startkwalificatie). This is a diploma at the level of senior general secondary education (HAVO), pre-university education (VWO) or senior secondary vocational education (MBO 2). Young people who leave school without a diploma have fewer opportunities to find  jobs, are more subject to crime and have higher care costs. Central government, schools and municipalities try to prevent early school leaving. Central government wants to tackle early school leaving by funding programmes that stimulate young people to get a basic qualification. Every year the government makes about € 140 million available for regional approaches (more than € 80 million) and rewards for schools based on their good results  (more than € 57 million).


Maximum 20,000 early school leavers in 2021

The government aims at a maximum of 20,000 new early school leavers in 2021. The number of school leavers decreases each year. In 2015-2016 22,948 young people left school without a diploma, while in 2002 there were still 71,000 early school leavers.

In Europe, the Netherlands are among the leaders of reducing early school leaving. When comparing the 28 EU member states as a whole (11% average), the Netherlands has a relatively low percentage of early school leavers (8,2%). This means that the European standard of 8% has almost been reached.  (Source: news item of the central government of 21 February 2017)

At its website central government offers an overview of early school leavers per region, municipality or school in facts and figures (Feiten en cijfers schooluitval)


Whether and how non-formal education is defined in the country

Non-formal education in the Netherlands is defined in an official government document of  as follows:

All learning activities that evolve in the course of one’s life to improve one’s  knowledge, capabilities, and competences from a personal, civic, social and employability perspective.”

 ("Alle leeractiviteiten die gedurende het hele leven ontplooid worden om kennis, vaardigheden en competenties vanuit een persoonlijk, burgerlijk, sociaal en/of werkgelegenheidsperspectief te verbeteren.")


School attendance

School attendance for Dutch children is compulsory from the age of 5 years until they have a ‘startkwalificatie’ (basic qualification) or when they become 18 years of age. The basic qualification may be a HAVO, VWO (secondary education) or MBO level 2 (VET education) diploma. For students from 5 to 16 years this is called  ‘leerplicht’ (compulsory education) and for 16 to 18 year olds this is called ‘kwalificatieplicht’ (compulsory qualification).


Compulsory education  (5 – 16 year olds)

All children between the ages of 5 and 16 years old who live in the Netherlands have to go to school. This also includes children with a different nationality and children of asylum seekers and foreigners. Most children go to school at the age of 4 years, but they are not obliged to until they are 5 years old. Parents of 4 year olds do not get fined when they keep their child at home. The education obligation starts from the first day of the  month following a child’s fifth birthday. From that moment on parents are liable to punishment when their child does not attend school.


Compulsory qualification (16 to 18 years)

Youths between 16 and 18 year old who do not have a basic qualification, are obliged to attend full day education to get compulsory qualification. They are not allowed to work full time, unless they attend professional guided learing  beroepsbegeleidende leerweg (bbl).. There are two varieties: in one learning track the student follows most education in school. In the other track a student works in a company and goes to school 1 or 2 days a week.

Compulsory education and compulsory qualification and all the conditions related  to it are laid down in the Law on Compulsary Education (1969, renewed from the 1st of January 2017).

Read more here (Dutch only).

Sometimes a child can be exempted of compulsory education. This is only allowed in exceptional cases such as a funeral or a marriage. It can also happen that a child is unable to go to school because of physical or psychological reasons.


End of compulsory education

Compulsory education lasts until the end of the school year. A young person who becomes 16 year during a school year has to finish the school year first. A school year in the Netherlands runs from the 1st of August until the 1st of August the next year. When a child has followed school education for at least 12 school years, compulsory education is finished automatically. Skipping a school year counts as a fully followed school year.


Why compulsory education?

According to national government compulsory education is one of the measures to prevent school dropout. The measure has to increase the opportunitites for young people to start at the labour market. Read more on the governmental website (only in Dutch).