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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of vocational lower secondary education (VMBO)


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.4Organisation of vocational lower secondary education (VMBO)

Last update: 27 November 2023

Pre- vocational secondary education (VMBO)

  • Is intended as a foundation course as regards both the general and the pre-vocational component.
  • Lasts four years and is for pupils between the ages of 12 and 16 (average).
  • The pupils can choose between four learnings pathways:
  1. Theoretical programme (VMBO-T).
  2. Combined programme (VMBO-G);
  3. Middle-management vocational programme (VMBO-K);
  4. Basic vocational programme (VMBO-B).

Learning support (LWOO) is provided for pupils who need temporary help to cope with their chosen programme. It is available for pupils who are lagging behind the rest of the class or have other problems but who are nonetheless deemed capable of obtaining a VMBO certificate.

Practical training (PRO) is a type of education that is separate from the four learning pathways. It is aimed at pupils who are realistically deemed unlikely to obtain a qualification through one of the learning pathways, even with learning support. Unlike the four learning pathways, practical training does not lead on to secondary vocational education but prepares pupils for direct entry into the regional labour market.

Both learning support (LWOO) and practical training (PRO) are part of the special needs education policies.

Since 2003, VMBO pupils who have successfully completed the theoretical programme may transfer from VMBO to the 4th year of HAVO. Pupils with HAVO certificates may likewise be admitted to the 5th year of VWO.

Types of institutions

As already mentioned in chapter 6.1, there are four types of secondary education: VMBO, HAVO, VWO and practical training.  Most secondary school teaching take place in combined schools. For more information on the types of institutions see 6.1 Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education.

Most schools in secondary education are part of a comprehensive school (school community). Most secondary teaching takes place in combined schools offering a number of different types of secondary education (VMBO, HAVO and VWO):

  • Some are narrow-based and consist of only one pathway.
  • Others are broad-based and offer all the different VMBO programmes as well as HAVO and VWO. Schools offering the VMBO theoretical programme only, together with HAVO and VWO, are known as combined schools for general secondary education (AVO).

Geographical accessibility

On average there are 660 schools in the Netherlands. The average distance for all the inhabitants to the closest school for secondary education is 2.4 kilometers. Every year, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science draws up a three-year plan for secondary schools  that aims to guarantee a balanced provision of educational facilities, taking into account the demand for education in each region.

Admission requirements and choice of school

The admission requirements are the same as in lower secondary education, please see 6.1 Organisation of General Lower Secondary Education.

It is possible to transfer from VMBO to another type of secondary education. This phenomenon is called ‘stapelaars’: pupils who get an certificate in secondary education first and then continue with another type of education (for example from VMBO to HAVO). Within the Dutch education system there are various routes. 8% from all the pupils choose to transfer to an upper school type.

For an overview of the development of ‘stapelen’ in Dutch secondary education, please click here (information only available in Dutch).  

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

  • Most schools make the year group system with children of the same age being placed together in the same class. Schools are free to group pupils by type of education or place pupils following different types of education in the same class. Combined schools often group their pupils in combined classes in the first year.
  • The sizes of the groups differ per pathway in secondary education. In general there is no lower and upper- limit. As upper limit most schools maintain 30-32 pupils per  group.
  • More than half of all first-year pupils are in mixed VMBO/HAVO or HAVO/VWO classes. VMBO pupils choose a sector and a learning pathway at the end of the second year.

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 the summer holiday. In secondary education, the school year runs from 1 August to 31 July of the following year.

  • The summer holidays last six weeks and are staggered across the three regions (northern, central and southern) into which the country is divided for this purpose. The length and dates of the summer holidays, and how they are staggered across the country, are prescribed by the Minister. There are two weeks of Christmas holidays and one week of May Holidays. For the autumn holiday and the spring holiday there are advice data.
  • The dates of the shorter holidays (autumn, Christmas, spring and May holidays) can be decided by the competent authority of the school (school board), in consultation with the participation council, without having to obtain the Minister’s consent. The Minister recommends a period of one week’s holiday after every seven to eight weeks of school.
  • Per school year there is a maximum of 55 holidays, 12 rostered days off, and four free (public) days.

More information can be found in the Eurydice report ‘The organisation of School Time in Europe’.

Organisation of the school day and week

The participation council advises the competent authority of the school (school board) on the school timetable and any changes to it. The competent authority also determines when the school day starts and ends, and how long lessons last, with the approval of the parent and pupil representatives on the participation council.

Teaching hours in secondary education: statutory minimum norms (in real hours)

Norm hours in secondary education
Since 2015-2016 there is no prescribed advisory timetable, there is only a norm per field of study. Schools can decide themselves how these hours should be spread throughout the whole school phase. The norm of hours throughout the whole study is:

  • 3700 hours in VMBO

Another compulsory aspect is that there are at least 189 days of education. The MR (representative board) at school must first approve the schedule of the days when there is no education. The length of the lessons can change roughly from 50-90 minutes.   

There is no prescribed timetable or advice table. There is no box for a prescribed minimum number of teaching hours. 

For more information take a look at the Eurydice report ‘Compulsary education in Europe 2016/ 2017’  and the report 'Recommended Annual Instruction Time in Full-time Compulsory Education’.