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The standard of education in the Netherlands comes in for high praise – and that goes for state, private and international schools. And don’t worry if the options seem overwhelming – luckily for British expats, it has many similarities with the UK system. 

Best schools in Amsterdam Netherlands

Education in Amsterdam 

Dutch law states that all children, aged 5-16, must attend school - although in reality most start at 4. This applies to any family living in the Netherlands, either temporarily or permanently. If you think home schooling is the answer, even in the short-term, think again – it’s uncommon and the law makes it quite difficult:

State subsidised schools, which charge minimal or no fees, are a popular option. These include public schools (openbaar) or special schools (algemeen bijzonder). ‘Special,’ in this instance, refers to schools that subscribe to either a specific educational philosophy (eg Montessori, Dalton, Steiner/Waldorf, Jenaplan) or religion (eg Protestant, ecumenical, Catholic, Jewish, Islamic – not usually a problem as most of these schools are only moderately religious and accept children from other faiths or no faith).  

International schools are either government subsidised (Dutch international schools) or private (no subsidies) but both provide a range of curricula across the board. The quid pro quo for the significantly lower fees at the subsidised schools compared to private schools is that they tend to have much longer waitlists. It’s also worth bearing in mind that subsidised schools are intended for children who will only be here temporarily or for those who have already completed a significant proportion of their education overseas. If you are planning to relocate, you may find you are ineligible for a place, although there is often some wiggle room in this policy, so ask the school how they apply this. Note that international schools in Amsterdam are also oversubscribed and can have waitlists, which means it’s worth having a back-up plan. 

Some state subsidised Dutch schools are classed as bilingual schools. In these schools, a certain percentage of the lessons are taught in English but exams are still carried out in Dutch. These schools are part of a programme set up by the Dutch government to improve the level of Enlgish education available to Dutch children and are not suitable for children who do not already speak Dutch. Nearly all have waitlists.  

Compared to countries like the UK and US, there are very few Dutch private schools. ‘Why would you pay for a private school when the local state schools are so good?’ is the general Dutch mentality. Also, private schools are not the status symbol they are in other countries - even the royal family send their children to the local state school. That said, a few more private schools have emerged in the last few years. 

Most Dutch children go to school close to where they live, usually no more than a 10-minute bike ride in primary school and a 30-minute bike ride in secondary school. They also take their own lunch - it is very rare to find a school in the Netherlands that provides lunch. Dutch schools do not typically offer extracurricular activities – even after-school sport is almost always at a local sports club. Similarly, lessons in music, art, drama etc tends to be arranged separately. 

If your idea of a good school is girls and boys in hats and blazers who stand up when a teacher enters the classroom, you’ll have difficulty finding it in the Netherlands except in the international private sector – and even then schools tend to reflect the less formal, more relaxed culture of the country. 

Choosing a school in Amsterdam 

If you don’t plan to remain in the Netherlands for the long term, an international school is probably the best option because it makes it much easier for children to transition to other schools in other countries. Some are tied to a particular country’s curriculum (eg Dutch, British, American, French, Japanese); others teach a blend or just the IB. 

If you are considering a local Dutch school, you will need to consider your child’s age: 

Children aged 4-5 usually manage fine starting in a local Dutch school even if they speak little or no Dutch, as the first two years are focused more on social and emotional development than academics. Formal reading and writing do not begin until age 6. 

Children aged 6+ will need to speak Dutch before joining most Dutch schools. For primary school children (4-11) this usually means spending a year in a special taalklas (language class) or taalschool (language school) first. Some local schools provide these classes, but many don’t. 

Children aged 12+ (secondary school age) would need to attend a language programme called ISK (internationale schakelklas which literally means ‘international switching class’).  

The structure of these programmes varies depending on the school (and between municipalities) but it’s worth assuming it will take your child a year to become fluent enough in Dutch to manage successfully in a Dutch school.  

If you are considering one of the rare Dutch private schools, note that the teaching is in Dutch and they largely follow the Dutch national curriculum, although some will also offer the IB. So children will already need to speak Dutch, although you could ask if the school has an enrolment programme for international students. 

Special education needs in Amsterdam 

The current approach, set out by Dutch law, is that wherever possible children should be educated together in the same schools, regardless of whether or not they have special needs. Where a child’s needs can’t be met by a regular school, there are two types or special education school: 

Speciaal basisonderwijs (SBO) – this is ‘special primary education’ and these schools follow the same curriculum and meet the same core objectives as other Dutch primary schools but they have much smaller class sizes and children attend until age 14 (instead of 12). Some children will move on to a special secondary school, others into vocational training.  

Speciaal onderwijs (SO) – this is ‘special education’ and these schools can be at either primary or secondary level. These schools are divided into ‘clusters,’ of which there are four depending on the specific needs of the children (cluster 1 for blind or partially sighted; cluster 2 for deaf or hearing-impaired and developmental language/speech disorders; cluster 3 for physical or mental disabilities or long-term illness; cluster 4 for complex behavioural problems and/or learning differences eg ADHD, autism, ODD etc). 

If you arrive after your child has turned 4 and you already know that they require support, it is important that you mention this when you first register your family with the local gemeente (municipality). The gemeente will then be able to help you with any necessary support or applications. It is also a good idea to contact to register with an onderwijs consulent (‘education consultant’). These independent consultants work for the government providing support for families with an SEN child and have an expertise in supporting children with SEN (free of charge): 

Most mainstream international schools provide some level of SEN support but the level will vary from school to school and almost certainly incur additional charges. The space in these programmes may be limited too. 

Best schools in Amsterdam 

Amity International School   

PYP/ candidate MYP, IB Diploma; ages 3-13; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 185 students

A brand new international school with students and staff from nearly 40 different countries. Grown rapidly from its foundation in 2018 (two pupils) and aiming to expand to include classes up to the age of 18. Run by the Amity Education Group a global, non-profit organisation educating over 150,000 students worldwide. 

Click here to read our full review of the Amity International School.

Amsterdam International Community School (AICS) 

IPC/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-19; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,030 students

International, primary and secondary school with classes taught in English. Now operating on three campuses; AICS South East is a state of the art, eco-friendly campus, the Satellite campus is in a modern building and the Main school is moving to a new purpose-built facility

Click here to read our full review of the Amsterdam International Community School

British School of Amsterdam (The)

National Curriculum for England/ IGCSE/ A Level; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 930 students

Founded in 1978, by British parents aiming to keep their children in the English system whilst posted to the Netherlands. Offering an all-through British education from nursery to A levels. Planning to move into a new purpose-built facility, due to open in 2021. Graduates almost always either move to local universities or to UK institutions, including Russell Group members. 

Click here to read our full review of the British School of Amsterdam

International School of Amsterdam (ISA)  

PYP/ MYP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 1,400 students

Established over 50 years ago and the first school in the world authorised to teach all three original International Baccalaureate programmes. An international all-through school with students from over 50 countries who tend to be around 50 per cent European and 20 per cent North American. Fantastic facilities and an average IB Diploma score in the mid-thirties. Graduates mainly head to university in the Netherlands, the UK and the US.  

Click here to read our full review of the International School of Amsterdam

These schools have been brought to our attention, but until we have more reports from parents, we are unable to consider reviewing them.

Lycée Francais Vincent van Gogh LaHaye - Amsterdam

French curriculum; ages 3-15; co-ed; day; state; 230 students

The other campus, attached since 1989, of the Lycée Vincent van Gogh, based in The Hague. Until recently, only a primary school but they are in the process of expanding to teach students up to the end of Collège. The teaching language is French but Dutch will be taught in Collège. Like its older sister, part of the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) and accredited by the French Ministry of Education.

Winford Bilingual Primary School

Adapted; ages 4-12; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 40 students

Opened in 2005 and one of eight schools in The Netherlands, owned and run by Winford Holding. Literally, just around the corner from the Van Gogh Museum and the Museumplein. The school follows a fully immersive, combined, Dutch, English and International Primary curriculum with one English and one Dutch teacher in each class. Recognised but not subsidised by the Dutch government.

Best schools in The Hague

The British School in the Netherlands 

National Curriculum for England/ GCSE/ A-Levels/ IB Diploma/ IB Careers Programme/ BTEC; ages 3-18 ; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 2,350 students

A group of independent schools on five campuses (three junior and two senior) founded in 1931, all offering a British education to pupils from over 80 different nationalities. Now Europe’s largest international school and unique in offering four alternative pathways post GCSEs; A-Levels; IB Diploma; IB Careers; BTEC. Over the last six years students have achieved places at over 220 universities in 28 countries including Oxford and Russell Group members in the UK.

For a full review of the whole school, giant as it is, go to the overall review of the British School in the Netherlands in this section.

  • British School in the Netherlands Junior School (Diamanthorst) 

Campus of BSN, north-east of The Hague, teaching the National Curriculum for England to 300 students aged 4-11.

  • British School in the Netherlands Junior School (Leidschenveen) 

Campus of BSN, west of The Hague, teaching the National Curriculum for England to 450 students aged 4-11

  • British School of the Netherlands Junior School (Vlaskamp) 

Campus of BSN, north-east of The Hague, teaching the National Curriculum for England to 600 students aged 4-11.

  • British School in the Netherlands Senior School (Liedschenveen) 

Teaching the National Curriculum for England, GCSE, A-Level, MYP, IB Diploma, IB Careers Programme and BTEC to 500 students aged 12-18

  • British School of the Netherlands Senior School (Voorschoten) 

Teaching the National Curriculum for England, GCSE, A-Level, MYP, IB Diploma, IB Careers Programme and BTEC to 500 students aged 12-18

These schools have been brought to our attention, but until we have more reports from parents, we are unable to consider reviewing them.

American School of The Hague (ACS)

Adapted American curriculum/ American High School Diploma/ AP/ IB Diploma; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 1,215 students

American-style school with elementary, middle and high school divisions. Multiple changes of location but now on two campuses in the suburb of Wassenaar. Students can choose between the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Diploma route.  

European School The Hague

European school-developed curriculum/ European Bac; ages 4-18; co-ed; day; state; 1,420 students

One of thirteen European schools. The same curriculum throughout but all classes taught in the student’s mother tongue. A member of the Dutch International Schools network. Teaching students from over 50 different nationalities, the majority being European. 

Haagsche Schoolvereniging International Primary Department

Adapted International Primary Curriculum/ National Curriculum for England/ Dutch curriculum; ages 4-11; co-ed; day; state; 400 students

Run by the Dutch Education Ministry on four locations across The Hague, all offering the same curriculum. Fee-paying. 

International School of The Hague

International Primary Curriculum/ MYP/ IB Diploma/ IB Careers; ages 4-18; co-ed; day; independent; privately owned; 2,000 students

Authorised to offer the original International Baccalaureate programmes since 1985 and now also offering the IB Careers Programme. Located on a green, eco-friendly location in Kijkduin. All lessons taught in English but Dutch compulsory except on the IB Diploma programme. Crash courses in English for beginners as well as support lessons. 

International Waldorf School

Waldorf/ International Primary Curriculum; ages 4-10; co-ed; day; independent; private non-profit; 50 students

The first Waldorf school in the Netherlands and only open since 2018. Established on a campus close to the sea, in Scheveningen. The school is growing upwards and they hope to become a complete primary school by 2023 but keeping the class sizes small throughout. 

Lighthouse Special Education

Adapted National Curriculum for England/ SEN; ages 3-13; co-ed; day; state; 25 students

Part of Haagsche Schoolvereniging since 2008.The only international special needs school in the Netherlands which offers individual programmes for expat children. 

Lycée Francais Vincent van Gogh The Hague

French curriculum/ Brevet/ French Bac; ages 3-18; co-ed; day; state; 250 students

The main campus of the French lycée in The Netherlands, the other one being in Amsterdam. Established in 1948, just after WWII, as a member of the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) network and accredited by the French Ministry of Education. The majority of students are French or hold dual nationality. 

For more information on the schools above, please go to each school’s individual entry on the Good Schools Guide international search.

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