It is compulsory for children in the Netherlands to attend school from the age of five until the age of sixteen. There are numerous public schools around Amsterdam, and these are subsidised by the Dutch government. Although education is offered for free for children from the age of 5 until they age of 16, public schools in the Netherlands are allowed to ask for contribution from parents (called an ouderbijdrage) to cover the cost of school activities, such as trips for the students and swimming classes, which are common in primary schools. In primary and secondary schools, parents are also responsible for the cost of students’ materials that are necessary for their education.
While they are not all considered equal in terms of the quality of education, it is difficult to rate schools in Amsterdam objectively, since they vary so widely in what they offer, and some are more specialised in certain areas than others. Another interesting divergence among schools in Amsterdam is the level of diversity among students, with some schools obviously very multi-cultural and others lacking apparent diversity.
Therefore, when you move to Amsterdam, and if you will be sending your child to a public school, it is very important to begin to look early for the right academic environment. There are over 190 public schools in Amsterdam, and your municipality will be able to provide you with a complete list of the schools in your area and the information that you need to contact them. For the urban districts in Amsterdam where you can obtain a school guide, visit http://www.iamsterdam.com/en-GB/living/city-of-amsterdam/amsterdam-city-districts.
Many are so concerned about where their children will go to school that they enroll them for the first year of school before the child is four years of age. Since there are not restrictions that are based on where you live within the city, and since there are not restrictive costs for these schools, many parents sign their children up early for the schools of their choices, and therefore there are frequently waiting lists at more desirable schools (for example, in the old south, which is a very popular school district among Dutch parents). Since where your child goes to school is an extremely important decision, many of the schools organise information days (voorlichtingsdagen), where you can learn about the specific academic environment. Since these days vary every year and between institutions, it is best to contact the schools in your area to find out if they hold open days and when these are. It is also common for schools to accept individual appointments to discuss your desires for your child.
Since Amsterdam has a large international population, it is common for children to enter primary school without a perfect understanding of Dutch, when it is not their first language; however, since every school approaches this challenge rather specifically and individually, it is worth it to discuss the available options with the administrators of the institutions. While you will find that some public schools are expressly accommodating to the language needs of all children, others are cautious about admitting students with less competency in the native language. It is important to find the balance that will suit your child, in terms of acculturation and accommodation, so it is worth visiting the schools in your area to get a feel for what they have to offer. Regardless of the individual institution, it will be necessary for children who attend most public schools (unless they are international public schools) to attain an appropriate level of Dutch literacy in the early years of their education.
After children complete primary school, they must continue onto secondary school. There are three branches at this level of the education system: VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs), HAVO (hoger algemeen vortgezet onderwijs) and VWO (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs). In their last year of primary school, all children take an aptitude test, called the CITO-test (CITO-toets). Primary schools send a report for each child, based on the results of this exam, advising the course that they ought to follow for their secondary education.
There are 31 secondary schools in Amsterdam, some of which offer different branches of education and others which are specialized for a certain kind of academic curricula. Your municipality can provide you with a list of the secondary schools in your area. Some of these schools also hold open days and accept appointments. As with primary education, secondary education is free, as it is covered by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Nonetheless, there are similar fees that go along with secondary schools as primary schools, and these also will often ask for parental contributions.