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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Secondary education

Secondary education succeeds regular and special primary education. It does not include special schools for disabled children (which fall under the Expertise Centres Act, adult and vocational education or higher education. There are three kinds of secondary education:

- pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO) which takes four years to conclude - ISCED 2;

- senior general secondary education (HAVO) which takes five years to conclude - ISCED 3;

- and pre-university education (VWO) which takes six years to conclude - ISCED 3.

General aims and aims of the lower and upper years

The following general aim has been formulated for secondary education: to ensure that pupils can develop their talents as well as possible as part of a continuous learning trajectory and go on to appropriate follow-up education. Secondary education prepares young people for full participation in society and employment appropriate to their knowledge and skills.

The aims of the lower years of secondary school have been set down in 58 general attainment targets. They apply to all pupils. There are also a number of supplementary targets for modern languages which apply to the majority of pupils. School policy determines how the attainment targets are fleshed out at every level and for each method of learning.

Cooperation between secondary education and adult and vocational education

The Secondary Education and Adult and Vocational Education (Cooperation) Decree allows secondary schools to place certain pupils with other educational institutions. The aim is to provide these pupils with a tailored programme in order to prevent them from dropping out without a basic qualification. By enabling educational institutions to use each other’s facilities, the scheme also allows for greater efficiency.

The Decree defines a framework for cooperation between secondary schools, and between secondary schools and BVE institutions. Schools themselves are free to decide the form and scope of their cooperation within this basic framework. The Decree allows for five possible arrangements, each for a specific type of pupil:

  • Route 1: a secondary school pupil is placed with another secondary school;
  • Route 2: a secondary school pupil is placed with a BVE institution;
  • Route 3: pupil funding is partially transferred in the case of a mid-year transfer;
  • Route 4: a secondary school pupil is placed with an institution for adult general secondary education (VAVO);
  • Route 5: a secondary school pupil is placed with a VAVO institution in order to study for final exam subjects.

The structure of adult and vocational education (BVE) in regional training centres (ROCs)

Vocational education and training provides both theoretical instructionand practical training in preparation for a wide range of occupations for which a vocational qualification is required. There are four qualification levels and various sectors.


MBO Adult Education
Vocational training pathway Educational self-reliance level 3-4
Training to assist level Social self-reliance level 1-4
Basic vocational training Professional self-reliance level 1-4
Professional training (level 3) Professional qualified self-reliance level 1-4
Middle-management/specialist (4) training (level 3) Adult general secondary (VBO/theoritical, HAVO, VWO)

Targets in mbo

Secondary vocational education (MBO) provides both theoretical instruction and practical training in preparation for the practice of a wide range of occupations for which a vocational qualification is necessary or useful. Its main target group is young people from the age of 16. There are three sectors: business, engineering and technology, and personal and social services and health care. Secondary vocational education (MBO) is provided at four qualification levels.

Vocational education

Following an amendment to the Decree, 16 to 17-year-old VMBO pupils with a VMBO certificate for the combined or theoretical learning pathways can be placed with an institution for full-time VAVO, the fourth option listed above, so that they can obtain a HAVO certificate.

BVE stands for adult and vocational education. Before 1996 secondary vocational education (MBO) comprised two strands – the apprenticeship system and institution-based vocational training. The apprenticeship system combined learning at school with work. With the introduction of the Adult and Vocational Education Act (WEB) in 1996, these two strands were drawn together in a single educational institution: the regional training centre (ROC). The Netherlands has over 40 ROCs. There are also 13 specialist institutions that supply training courses for a single occupational field within one sector. There are also 13 agricultural training centres (AOCs), which provide courses for the agricultural sector.