On average there is one primary school per 6.6 km2 in the Netherlands. The geographical spread is such that 97.6% of children can attend a school in their postal code area or live within one kilometre of a school. Almost one hundred thousand children (6,7% of all primary school pupils) live between 500 metres and one kilometre from school and 26% live more than one kilometre away. Only 0.2% of all children have to travel more than 3 km to the nearest primary school. This is most often the case in the northern provinces.
Key statistics for primary school pupils
Number of pupils (x 1000)
Primary education overall
Total BAO + SBAO + (V)SO
BAO + SBAO + SO
Mainstream primary education
Special primary education
Secondary special education
Proportion in percentages
Mainstream primary education
Special primary education
BAO: mainstream primary schools; SBAO: special schools for primary education; (V)SO: special schools (primary and secondary level); SO: special schools (primary level); VSO: special schools (secondary level)
Source and more information (in Dutch): Onderwijs in cijfers.
In the 2017/2018 schoolyear there were 6.806 schools providing primary education in the Netherlands: 6.267 mainstream primary schools, 273 special schools for primary education and 266 special schools (primary and secondary level). Source and more information (in Dutch): Onderwijs in cijfers.
If a child is unable to go to school autonomously, a parent can request transport in the following situations:
The child has a physical, mental, sensual or psychological handicap.
The child is in need of transport to a (specific) primary school based on distance (minimum radius of 6 km).
The child is in need of transport to a special needs school.
Municipal authorities may arrange transport for pupils attending a private school outside the area where they live. Parents may also receive partial reimbursement from the municipality of their children’s travel costs.
Children cannot officially be admitted to primary school until their fourth birthday.
Full-time schooling is compulsory from the first school day of the month following a child’s fifth birthday. In order to help children who have not yet turned four get used to the school environment, children can attend school for (half) days in the 2-month period before their fourth birthday. Usually children leave primary school when they are 12 years and at the latest when they are 14 years..
Freedom of education is enshrined in article 23 of the Constitution, which also distinguishes between public and private schools. (See the website of the Dutch government: 1, 2.)
In the Netherlands there is a distinction between public and private schools. Private schools may have a religious or ideological character, unlike publicly run schools. Either type of school may be based on a specific educational ethos. Both privately and publicly run schools are eligible for government funding, provided they meet statutory requirements on pupil numbers and classroom hours, among other things.
Public schools are open to all pupils and teachers. Their teaching is not based on a particular religion or belief. Under article 23 of the Constitution, local authorities must ensure there are sufficient publicly run schools in their municipality. If there are not enough schools locally, they are obliged to provide access to public schools, for instance by arranging a bus service to a public-authority school elsewhere.
Private schools are established based on religious, ideological principles or a specific educational ethos, such as a Protestant or Muslim school. A private school may refuse a pupil if they do not have enough capacity. The private school can advise in choosing another school. A private school based on religious or ideological principles may require its teaching staff and pupils to subscribe to the beliefs of that denomination or ideology; the schoolboard decides whether or not a pupil can enroll. The requirements may not be discriminatory.
Choice of school
In the Netherlands parents are free to send their children to the school of their choice. This may be a public-authority school or a private school. Parents have access to various sources of information on which to base their choice of school. Many schools hold information evenings for parents of potential pupils and/or others allow parents to sit in on lessons. Moreover, all schools are statutorily obliged to publish a prospectus for parents, setting out the school’s objectives, achieved results, instruction time etcetera. On the website scholenopdekaart.nl (only available in Dutch), one can compare schools. Finally, the Education Inspectorate draws up and publishes reports on the quality of individual schools. These reports can be found in a public database onthe Inspectorate’s website (only available in Dutch).
Age levels and grouping of pupils
Primary schools, including special schools for primary education, are free to decide on their own internal organisation and the grouping of pupils. At most primary schools the pupils are grouped by age. Others have mixed-age groups or group children according to their level of development or ability. There are eight year groups in all, of which the first two are pre-primary. Each child begins in year 1 and, in most cases, goes up a class each year until they reach the top class. Years 1 to 4 (4 to 8-year-olds) are known jointly as the juniors and years 5 to 8 (9 to 12-year-olds) as the seniors. Alternatively, the school may be divided into junior, middle and senior sections (years 1 to 3, 4 to 6 and 7 and 8 respectively).
Primary school teachers and teachers at special schools for primary education are qualified to teach all subjects across the entire age range. Schools may also have additional specialist teachers to teach specific subjects such as sport and movement, religious education, art, music, handicrafts, English or Frisian.
The government does not set any requirements regarding minimum or maximum numbers of pupils to a class, but there are rules on the size of the building in relation to the number of children. In mainstream primary education, the minimum floor space per child is 3.5 m2.
Organisation of the school year
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science determines the dates of the school year and the length and dates of a number of holidays. In primary schools, the administrative school year runs from 1 October to 30 September of the following year. The starting date of 1 October is due to the fact that summer holidays – and some of the shorter holidays – are staggered by region (northern, central and southern), so that schools do not all open at the same time after the summer holiday.
The aim of staggering the school holidays across the three regions is to control peaks in holiday traffic. In primary education, the summer holidays last six weeks. The dates of the summer, Christmas and May holidays are prescribed by the Minister. Schools wishing to deviate from these dates – for exceptional reasons – must apply to the Minister for consent. The dates of the autumn and spring holidays are decided by the competent authority of the school (school board), although the Ministry does publish advisory dates. The school holidays for the each school year can be found here.
Schools are free, within the framework set by central government, to decide how much time is spent on the various subjects and areas of the curriculum. They also have some flexibility regarding the length of the school day so that timetables can reflect the specific needs and wishes of the school and the community. The Primary Education Act requires schools to provide at least 7,520 teaching hours over the eight years that children attend school.
Primary schools are free to organise the school day as they wish. The government does lay down rules on the minimum number of teaching hours that schools must provide (see above), but they decide their own daily timetable. The Primary Education Act (WPO) states that educational activities must be spread evenly over the school day, unless a different distribution is necessary in order to accommodate activities aimed at preventing or reducing educational disadvantage.
Organisation of the school day and week
It is up to the competent authority of the school (school board) to decide when the school day starts and ends and how long the lessons last. Schools are allowed to timetable in a maximum of seven 4-day weeks a year for years 3 to 8 (not counting weeks in which the school is closed for a day anyway, due to a public holiday). The school prospectus must inform parents when these are before the start of the school year. Most primary school pupils also have Wednesday afternoons off, but this is not required by law. Schools may, if they wish, schedule a free afternoon on another day of the week. The Education Inspectorate oversees school timetables and ensures that schools keep to the times stated in their prospectus. It must be evident from the school’s records that it has delivered the required number of teaching hours. The Inspectorate reports schools that fail to provide the required number of teaching hours to the Ministry, and ask schools to correct this in order to comply with the required number of teaching hours. If the school then still does not provide the required number of teaching hours, disciplinary action may follow.
Under the WPO, school authorities are obliged to arrange for out-of-school care at parents’ request. This includes facilities for pupils who wish to stay at school during the lunch break and facilities for after-school care. The costs involved are borne by the parents of children who make use of these facilities. The participation council must agree to the amount of the costs.
Lunchtime supervision can be carried out by parents, volunteers, teachers or external staff. The arrangements are made jointly by the school board, teachers and the parents’ committee. From 1 August 2011, at least half of all lunchtime supervisors at a school must have followed a training course.