Public-authority and private schools

Secondary education exists in various forms and is provided by various types of school. Many of them are based on a specific educational ethos or on religious or ideological principles.

The difference between public-authority and private schools

Public-authority schools are open to children from all backgrounds, regardless of their religion or beliefs. Although public-authority schools are ideologically neutral, the curriculum may offer lessons in religion or ethics. Private schools are founded on specific religious or ideological principles. They include Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim schools.

Schools with a specific educational ethos

Any school, whether public-authority or private, may teach according to a specific educational ethos. Examples are:

  • Montessori;
  • Dalton;
  • Jenaplan;
  • Steiner/Waldorf education ('Vrije' schools).

Schools offering bilingual education

Secondary schools offering bilingual education usually have programmes that combine Dutch and English. Some schools near the German border have Dutch-German programmes.

Schools focused on STEM education

Some schools for senior general secondary education (HAVO) and pre-university education (VWO) offer a ‘technasium’ programme, which focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

The subject Research and Development teaches pupils to work together in projects aimed at developing solutions to real-world problems. Research and Development is an examination subject, in addition to the regular leaving examination subjects. 

Schools for talented young athletes

Talented Athlete Schools (‘Topsport Talentscholen’) combine regular educational programmes with training and competition schedules. They are open to young people who are at the top of the field in their sport. This includes young people who are deemed to be to exceptionally talented by the national association for their sport and have been awarded the corresponding status (‘selectie-status’). It also includes young people who are among the top 8 athletes in the world for their sport (‘A status’) or are likely to achieve this level soon (‘high-potential status’). Elite athletes are awarded a status by NOC*NSF, the Dutch sports federation.

As of 1 January 2021 talented young athletes can also apply to a regular secondary school for permission to combine lessons with their training and competition schedule. This can be a solution for pupils who live too far from a Talented Athlete School. The school must satisfy a number of conditions and quality requirements.

Schools for talented young performers in dance or music

There are also schools that are specifically geared to talented young musicians or dancers. They combine regular secondary education with preparatory training for admission to a dance or music academy (higher professional education). Pupils are only admitted after auditioning.

Special education and learning support (LWOO)

Children who need specialist or extra educational support can be enrolled in a school for special education or a mainstream school that provides learning support (LWOO). There are many different types of special school, including for:

  • children with visual or hearing impairments
  • children with learning disabilities
  • children with behavioural disorders.