The Dutch educational system

One of the key features of the Dutch education system, guaranteed under article 23 of the constitution, is freedom of education, i.e. the freedom to found schools (freedom of establishment of schools), to organise the teaching in schools (freedom of organisation of teaching) and to determine the principles on which they are based (freedom of conviction). Any citizen has the right to found schools and to provide teaching based on religious, ideological or educational beliefs. The constitution guarantees equal public funding for both private and public schools.

Public schools

Public schools are open to all children regardless of religion or conviction and are generally subject to public law. They are governed by the municipal council, increasingly by a board or by a public legal entity or foundation set up by the council. Public schools provide education on behalf of the state.

Private schools

Private schools have the right to refuse to admit pupils whose parents do not respect the belief or ideology on which the school’s teaching is based. They are subject to private law and are state-funded although not set up by the state. Privately governed schools are governed by the board of the association or foundation which founded the school(s). The school boards of public and publicly financed private schools appoint their own principals and teachers. Guaranteed in the constitution is also the choice of textbooks. Teaching in private schools is based on religious or ideological beliefs. These include for example Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, Muslim, Hindustani and anthroposophist beliefs and views.

Educational ideas

Some schools base their teaching on specific educational ideas, such as the Montessori, Dalton, Freinet or Jenaplan method. They may be either publicly or privately governed. There are also combinations, e.g. Protestant or Catholic schools with the Jenaplan method.

What is taught and how

‘Freedom to organise teaching’ means that both public and private schools are free to determine – within legal boundaries - what is being taught and how. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science however, does set quality standards which apply to both public and government-funded private education. These standards prescribe the subjects to be studied, the attainment targets or examination syllabuses and the content of national examinations, the number of teaching periods per year, the qualifications which teachers are required to have, giving parents and pupils a say in school matters, planning and reporting obligations and so on.

Of course, there is a continuous debate in politics and between the Ministry and the national associations of school boards and/or teachers about details in this balance of freedom and regulations.