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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Teaching and learning in general secondary education (HAVO, VWO)


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.2Teaching and learning in general secondary education (HAVO, VWO)

Last update: 27 November 2023

Curriculum, subjects, number of hours

The government, schools and teachers shape the curriculum together. Recent criticism created a new dialogue and the necessary to renovate the current curriculum. These sentiments stimulated the origin of a new platform, called ‘Curriculum now' (only available in Dutch). Important aspects that gain attention are ICT- literacy, problem solve- skills, critical thinking, and the forming of social competences.

In the lower years of secondary education the attainment targets (in Dutch) specify the standards of knowledge, understanding and skills pupils are required to attain in the lower years of secondary school. These targets describe:

  • What the pupils should learn to function well in the society as a person, a civilian or as an employee
  • The school decides in which schoolyear which programme is followed. The exact information can be found in the school plan.
  • On average, two-third of the of the first two years need to be spend on education focused on the attainment targets. Besides that, havo and vwo pupils need to follow next to English two opther foreign languages (mostly French and German).
  • In general, one- third of the time is available for own choices.  The school needs to prepare the pupils for the upper secondary school and be accountable about the optional component to parents, pupils and staff.
  • Via the participation council the parents are able to influence the implementation of the optional component.

The Secondary Education Act (WVO) states, for the upper years of each type of education, which subjects must in any event be included in the curriculum. The Secondary Education (Organisation of Teaching) Decree prescribes the number of periods to be spent on each subject or group of subjects in the form of a study load table.

Every school must have a school plan, updated every four years.

  • This plan describes the steps being taken to monitor, improve quality and indicating the school’s policy on educational matters;
  • It includes staffing and education quality.
  • Through this document, the school accounts to the Inspectorate and the participation council for its policies.
  • A school plan may cover one or more schools in secondary education and one or more other schools which share the same competent authority (school board).
  • It must be approved by the participation council (MR). 

The school prospectus: is a compulsory guide.

  • which must be updated every year
  • contains information for parents and pupils about the school’s objectives, how it intends to achieve them and the results already achieved.
  • It also gives details about the voluntary parental contribution and the rights and obligations of parents and pupils.
  • The prospectus has to be approved by the parents, staff and pupils before publication.

The right of complaint supplements the existing opportunities for participation in decision-making and the management of the school. The school board is obliged by law to draw up a complaints procedure. Every school must also have a complaints committee with an independent chairperson.  

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science publishes an annual national guide (only avaible in Dutch) on secondary education on its website:

  • The guide contains information for parents and pupils on their rights and obligations vis-à-vis the school.
  • It is designed to help parents choose the right school for their child and be more involved in school matters.

Curriculum in the lower years VMBO, HAVO, VWO

The Secondary Education Act sets certain requirements of the curriculum, and contains:

  1. provisions on time spent in school
  2. deployment of staff
  3. and participation in decision-making.

It leaves schools free to draft their own policies on other matters. At least two thirds of teaching hours in the lower years must be spent on the 58 attainment targets. The school itself translates these targets into subjects, projects, areas of learning, and combinations of all three, or into competence-based teaching, for example.

The rest of the curriculum is also subject to statutory requirements, which vary according to the type of education. This includes:

  • a second modern language (French, German, Spanish, Arabic or Turkish) in VMBO (in the theoretical, combined and middle-management vocational programmes).
  • French and German in HAVO and VWO (or Spanish, Russian, Italian, Arabic or Turkish, Frisian in Friesland or Latin and Greek in a ‘gymnasium’)
  • and the elements needed for an uninterrupted learning pathway or to enable the school to establish its special profile (e.g. its religious or philosophical character or an emphasis on sports).

Other requirements include:

  • coherence and an uninterrupted learning pathway from primary to secondary education and from lower to upper secondary education;
  • enabling pupils finishing the second year of VMBO to choose from all the sectors available, and pupils finishing the 3rd year of HAVO and VWO to choose any of the subject combinations.

It is up to the schools themselves to group the attainment targets into subjects, projects, areas of learning and so on, to work them out in detail by type of education, to set standards, choose teaching aids and decide what should be taught in the 3rd year of HAVO/VWO.

More freedom does however mean that schools have to account to the Inspectorate for their policies, and show that they have included all the attainment targets in their curriculum and that pupils enter the upper years properly prepared. They render account to the parents, pupils and staff in the school plan and the school prospectus.


HAVO curriculum

The common component in every profile of general secondary education (HAVO) contains:

  1. Dutch language and literature
  2. English language and literature
  3. Social studies
  4. Culture and the arts
  5. Physical education

The profile- specific component in every profile contains:

Nature and Technology

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • An optional course

Nature and Health

  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • An optional course:

Economy and Society

  • Mathematics
  • Economics
  • History
  • An optional course

Culture and Society

  • History
  • Another modern language
  • An optional course, choice from the cultural courses

For optional component of the profile the pupils can choose from the subjects the school board offers. The school board can decide whether the pupils need the follow subjects and other programme components.

VWO curriculum

Pre- university education includes grammar school and pre- university education (VWO).

The common component in every profile of pre- university education consists of:

  1. Dutch language and literature
  2. English language and literature
  3. A second modern language
  4. Social studies
  5. General science
  6. Culture arts (or classic culture for the grammar- school pupils)
  7. Physical education

The profile- specific component of the various profiles is almost the same as the HAVO profiles. One difference is that for the Culture and Society profile HAVO- pupils, mathematics is not compulsory. Another difference is that a second modern language at the profile- specific component is compulsory  for havo- pupils, and this is not the case for vwo- pupils. The relative weight of each of the courses of the final exam are expressed in the normative workload per subject.

Teaching methods and materials

There are no detailed regulations with regard to the curriculum (content, teaching methods and materials). Some schools organize their teaching according to a particular educational theory. These include Montessori, Dalton, Freinet and Jena Plan schools, which may be public-authority or private. For more information see 6.2.

Teaching methods and materials

There are no detailed regulations with regard to the curriculum (content, teaching methods and materials). Some schools organise their teaching according to specific educational ideas or alternative forms of education rooted in different philosophies. These include Montessori, Dalton and Jena Plan schools, which may be public-authority or private.

  • As of the 2009/2010 school year, schools receive money from the government for necessary textbooks and teaching materials, and loan them to pupils free of charge in accordance with section 6 of the Secondary Education Act.
  • The subject matter covered and the teaching methods used must be described in the school plan.
  • The leaving examination regulations provide guidance as to the content of the various curriculums.
  • The National Expertise Centre (NEC) produces a guide to teaching materials which schools can use to compare existing and new products.
  • The NEC is part of the National Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO). The didactical way of teaching in the upper years is focused on active and independent studying for the pupils.

ICT in education

Over the last few years, the number of schools making intensive use of computers has grown steadily. Teachers use computers as teaching aids primarily for communication and cooperation within groups or finding information on the internet. In the school year 2013- 2014 there was an average of one computer for every five pupils. Many schools have a digital library and computer work areas for groups. Many schools in secondary education have electronic blackboards.