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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Fundamental principles and national policies


2.Organisation and governance

2.1Fundamental principles and national policies

Last update: 14 December 2023


National policies

In the Netherlands, education is regulated by law. There are different education laws in the Netherlands. These are explained in more detail in Chapter 15 Legislation. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has set core goals for education in the Netherlands. This has been established for primary education, lower secondary education and special education. These goals describe what the students need to learn. They are targets that indicate what schools should focus on when developing the level of knowledge and skills of students. 
Primary education and secondary education both have 58 core objectives. Special education has 87 core objectives. 
Overview of core objectives


Legislation in education

Education is governed by a number of Acts of Parliament, see Chapter 15 for Legislation.


The Constitution and freedom of education

One of the key features of the Dutch education system, guaranteed under article 23 of the Constitution, is freedom of education, i.e. the freedom to found schools (freedom of establishment), to organise the teaching in schools (freedom of organisation of teaching) and to determine the principles on which they are based (freedom of conviction). People have the right to found schools and to provide teaching based on religious, ideological or educational beliefs. As a result there are both publicly run and privately run schools in the Netherlands.


Publicly run schools

Publicly run schools:

  • are open to all children regardless of religion or outlook;
  • are generally subject to public law;
  • are governed by the municipal council (or a governing committee) or by a public legal entity or foundation set up by the council;
  • provide education on behalf of the state.


Privately run schools

Privately run schools:

  • can refuse to admit pupils whose parents do not subscribe to the belief or ideology on which the school’s teaching is based;
  • are subject to private law and are state-funded although not set up by the state; 
  • are governed by the board of the association or foundation that set them up;
  • base their teaching on religious or ideological beliefs and include Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindustani and Steiner-Waldorf schools;

Some schools base their teaching on specific educational ideas, such as the Montessori, Dalton, Freinet or Jena Plan method. They may be either publicly or privately run.

The freedom to organise teaching means that private schools are free to determine what is taught and how. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science does however set quality standards which apply to both public and private education and prescribe the subjects to be studied, the attainment targets or examination syllabuses and the content of national examinations, the number of teaching periods per year, the qualifications which teachers are required to have, giving parents and pupils a say in school matters, planning and reporting obligations, and so on.

The Constitution places public and private schools on an equal financial footing. The conditions which private schools must satisfy in order to qualify for funding are laid down by law.


Compulsory education

The obligation to attend school is laid down in the Compulsory Education Act. Every child must attend school full time from the first school day of the month following its fifth birthday; in fact, however, nearly all children attend school from the age of four. Children must attend school full time for 12 full school years and, in any event, until the end of the school year in which they turn 16.


Basic qualification requirement

Under the basic qualification requirement that came into effect in September 2007, all young people up to 18 years must attend school until they attain a basic qualification. A basic qualification is a HAVO, VWO or MBO level 2 certificate. Young people under the age of 18 who are no longer in full-time education will be required to follow a full-time programme combining work and study, such as block or day release in MBO, until they have obtained one of the required certificates.


Criteria to be met by schools

An amendment to the Compulsory Education Act concerning criteria for schools came into effect on 1 September 2007. It provides that privately funded schools must offer the same levels of competence and facilities as government-funded schools. The amendment aims to make a clear distinction between the roles of the Inspectorate and the school attendance officer. The latter assesses whether a privately funded school fulfils the necessary criteria, but must at all times take account of the Inspectorate’s advice. The Act prescribes the steps to be taken by the school attendance officer when a school fails to comply with all the legal criteria, in the opinion of the Inspectorate. If this is the Inspectorate’s conclusion, the school attendance officer will have to inform pupils’ parents that they are not fulfilling their statutory obligation under the Compulsory Education Act.