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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Support measures for learners in early childhood and school education


12.Educational support and guidance

12.3Support measures for learners in early childhood and school education

Last update: 27 November 2023


Definition of the target group


Early childhood education and care

The aim of early childhood education (VVE) is to prevent very young children from developing language disadvantage. Through supervised play, children can catch up on their language skills so that they can get off to a good start at primary school. Attention may also be devoted to children’s social and emotional development.

Early childhood education

Early childhood education is provided for children aged between two-and-a-half and four through special programmes at playgroups and day nurseries. The municipal authorities are responsible for its provision and for deciding which children are eligible, usually through the baby and toddler clinics.

Early childhood education for four- and five-year-olds is provided in the first two years of primary school. The school itself is responsible for the quality of early childhood education.


Primary education 

Pupils with language disadvantage who already attend primary school may receive extra support through a bridging or top-up class, with funds allocated by the municipal authorities. Schools may receive extra money from central government to tackle educational disadvantage among children from deprived neighbourhoods and the children of newcomers to the Netherlands, such as asylum seekers.


Secondary education

Extra support is available within mainstream secondary education for pupils with language disadvantage. These pupils may be given extra training or receive assistance from a language coach. The funding that schools can receive for this purpose depends on how many of their pupils are the children of newcomers or come from deprived neighbourhoods. Extra assistance is also available for pupils in pre-vocational secondary education who are lagging behind because of other problems.

Pupils from deprived neighbourhoods

Secondary schools with a relatively large proportion of pupils from deprived neighbourhoods may receive extra funding to tackle educational disadvantage and prevent school dropout:

  • practical training and pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO): at least 30% of pupils must fall in this category;
  • senior general secondary education (HAVO): at least 50% of pupils must fall in this category;
  • pre-university education (VWO): at least 65% of pupils must fall in this category.

Recent immigrants and initial reception of immigrant pupils

Schools can receive extra funding to help recently-arrived immigrant pupils learn Dutch quickly. The size of the grant depends on how long the child has already been living in the Netherlands. It is up to the school to spend the extra funding as it sees fit and to select the most suitable type of education for the new pupil.

For children who have been in the Netherlands for less than a year, schools can apply for extra funding of up to €4,500 per pupil. The money provides extra language training for a full school year. Schools can apply for this extra funding twice a year.

Early school leavers                        

Too many young people encounter problems in their school careers and drop out without obtaining a basic qualification, i.e. a HAVO or VWO certificate, or a basic vocational training certificate (MBO 2). Young people with a basic qualification have better prospects of finding a job and their own place in society. This is good not only for young people themselves, but also for society and the economy.

Central government, schools, municipalities, health and welfare services, and businesses have therefore joined forces to ensure that as many young people as possible obtain a basic qualification. The government wants to reduce the number of early school leavers to no more than 25,000 a year by 2016.

Since prevention is better than cure, measures to tackle dropout are preventive and geared to: intervention at source, a flexible transition between types of school, motivation and practical training.

The Eurydice/Cedefop report ‘Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe: Strategies, Policies and Measures’ provides more information on early school leaving in countries in Europe.

More information on early school leaving is available on:




Specific support measures


 Early childhood education and care

Early childhood education is provided through special programmes at playgroups and day nurseries and in the first two years of primary school. The aim is to stimulate children’s development – mainly through supervised play – and prevent them from starting primary school at a disadvantage. Quality standards are laid down in the Opportunities for Development through Quality and Education Act. The Early Childhood Education (Basic Quality Standards) Decree, which is based on the Act, sets out the specific requirements to be met by early childhood education programmes.

Early childhood education may be part of municipal compensatory policy.


Primary education

Schools use individual pupils’ results and the outcomes of observation, tests and pupil monitoring systems to decide whether a pupil is lagging behind because of educational disadvantage or other problems. Measures to remedy this include adapting the syllabus, working in small, same-level groups and remedial teaching.

Pupils with language disadvantage can receive extra assistance in a bridging or top-up class.

Bridging class

In a bridging class, pupils receive intensive language training in small groups for one full school year. Generally, the transition to secondary education will then be smoother. The classes may be held during normal school hours or as part of an extended school day. Children who have not attended early childhood education can also join a bridging class.

There are three types of bridging class:

  • Full-time

The pupil spends the bulk of classroom time in the bridging class.

  • Part-time

The pupil is taught some lessons in the bridging class and the remainder in a regular class.

  • Extended school day

The pupil attends regular lessons and receives extra tuition after school in the bridging class.

Top-up class

The top-up class is a type of bridging class for 12-year-olds who leave primary school with language disadvantage. These pupils are selected for an extra year of intensive language training to enable them to get off to a good start at secondary school.

Better reading skills for one million young children

Tackling poor literacy and preventing language disadvantage are two sides of the same coin. By 2018, the government therefore wants one million children of primary school age to have participated in activities that improve their language skills and promote reading for pleasure.

The BoekStart programme (website only available in Dutch) helps young families regard books and reading as essential to their children’s development. By the end of 2018, all public libraries must be working with the programme. They will also be responsible for running the programme at day nurseries.

The BoekStart programme is part of Kunst van het lezen (the Art of Reading) (website only available in Dutch), an action plan funded by central government to improve children’s language and reading skills.

Pupil weighting system

The purpose of compensatory policy is to improve the educational attainment and school careers of children whose social, economic or cultural background may contribute to educational disadvantage. The pupil weighting system in primary education determines the size of the grant a school receives to tackle educational disadvantage. It is based on the parents’ level of education and the school’s postcode area. Children are weighted when they enrol at school for the first time, or when they change schools, after moving house for example. The child keeps the same weighting once the school has set it.

Parents’ level of education                   

Children whose parents have had little education are more likely to have an educational disadvantage. The municipal authorities decide whether children need extra language tuition on the basis of the highest level of education of one or both of their parents. The school also uses parents’ level of education in determining the pupil’s weighting. If a child is accorded a weighting of 0.3 or 1.2, they are considered to be at an educational disadvantage and the school receives extra funding. This money is part of the block grant awarded to the school for provision of education. When parents enrol their children at a primary school, the school may require them to complete a form stating their level of education.

Table: Primary education pupil weighting system

Parents’ level of education Weighting
No higher than primary or special education

(one or both parents)
No higher than level 1 or 2 of pre-vocational secondary education

(VMBO basic or middle management learning pathways)

(both parents or the parent chiefly responsible for the child’s care)

School’s postcode area

Schools in neighbourhoods with a high proportion of low-income and benefit-dependent households receive extra money for each pupil with an educational disadvantage. These neighbourhoods are designated by postcode.

Remedial teachers                        

Remedial teachers are specially trained to give pupils extra assistance, whether they are gifted, have a learning disability such as dyslexia or dyscalculia, or a behavioural disorder. The remedial teacher decides what support each pupil needs, and tests them on completion of the programme to determine whether the chosen strategy has proved successful.

Schools often also have an internal counsellor to provide children with individual guidance.


Secondary education

Pupils in pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO) who need extra support because of an educational disadvantage or other problem may receive learning support (LWOO). Pupils who are deemed unlikely to obtain a leaving certificate may do practical training.

Learning support (LWOO)

Learning support (LWOO) is for pupils who have the cognitive capacity to gain a qualification, but require a special educational approach. They are enrolled in a VMBO programme at a mainstream school and sit the regular VMBO final exams. It is up to the schools to decide how learning support will be provided, either during lessons or at another location.

VMBO schools may decide for themselves whether and how they provide learning support. Examples include:

  • extra lessons;
  • help with homework;
  • training to improve pupils’ study skills.

Schools in the same region often work together to provide learning support. Some VMBO schools have separate facilities for pupils receiving learning support. Groups are smaller, and pupils are taught at their own speed. The syllabus is the same as in the mainstream VMBO programmes and pupils sit the same final exams.

Practical training

Practical training is a type of secondary education that prepares pupils for the job market. It is intended for young people who are deemed unlikely to obtain a VMBO leaving certificate. The programme duration is four to five years, and pupils learn by doing. Pupils who have completed their practical training receive a testimonial.

Pupils taking practical training are taught the same subjects as in the lower years of secondary school, but the focus is on the job market. The school also teaches personality development and social skills, and prepares pupils for the world of work. Pupils learn practical skills, for example:

  • cooking;
  • jobs around the house;
  • paying bills;
  • completing forms;
  • personal care;
  • dealing with other people;
  • working.

The pupils mainly undergo their training on the job, for example, through work experience placements with companies and organisations. Pupils who have completed practical training receive a testimonial.

Conditions for participation in practical training                   

The regional referral committee decides whether a child is eligible for practical training. In its assessment, the committee takes the following factors into account:

  • the reasons given by the VMBO school, underpinned by the type of secondary education recommended by the primary school;
  • the parents’ opinion;
  • the child’s educational disadvantage;
  • the child’s IQ (between 55 and 80).

A personality test will sometimes be needed, for example if the child has difficulties performing, or is afraid of failing or emotionally unstable.

Special secondary education

Learning support and practical training are not intended for pupils who need special or intensive assistance because they have severe intellectual, mental or physical disabilities, or a severe behavioural disorder. These children attend schools for special education.

Categories of special education

Special education is provided at both primary and secondary level. There are four categories of special schools:

  • Category 1: schools for visually impaired children or for children with multiple disabilities including visual impairment
  • Category 2: schools for hearing impaired children and children with communicative disabilities
  • Category 3: schools for physically or intellectually disabled children and children with a chronic physical illness
  • Category 4: children with mental or behavioural disorders.

Regional consortia

Special schools in categories 3 and 4 have joined up with mainstream schools to form regional consortia. Schools within a consortium reach agreement on which pupils to refer to a special school. The consortium issues a statement of needs for these pupils, which entitles them to a place at a special school.