Finding the right school for your child(ren) once arriving in Holland can be a time consuming task. Every school has its own personality and should be considered before making a decision. The best way to get a feel for what a school is like is to visit on a regular school day. This allows you to get a taste for the learning environment in which your child(ren) will be spending many hours of their day. Don’t be shy about asking questions about things that matter the most to you or information that may be unclear from the pre-visit research you will have done.
Even if you will be sending your child to an international school taught in English, familiarizing yourself with key points of Dutch education policy in the Netherlands, can be useful. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science sets forth the required quality standards which must be met, as well as minimum acceptable knowledge levels and various social objectives. There are also mandatory directives on issues like avoiding segregation, stopping bullying, integrating children with special needs, etc.
More information about Dutch education policy can be found here.
It is important for newly arriving expat parents to discuss with each other matters relating to their child’s schooling, such as costs, distance, means of transport, the length of time they expect the child to attend a school based on the job contract, etc.
Below are 5 key points to consider when deciding on a primary school in The Hague:
1 – THE SCHOOL’S LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION
When it comes to choosing a school, the language of instruction is certainly an important consideration. If your child is at the mid or upper range of primary school age when you arrive, it is highly unlikely you will be looking at any local schools which the language of instruction is Dutch. But if your child is only 4 or 5 years old and entering school for the first time, such a school may in fact be a possibility.
Your family language(s)
Depending on your family language(s) you may consider a school that supports it either because lessons are taught in that language or because at some point, your child will benefit from language lessons. You may want to check if these language lessons are part of the curriculum or not.
Sending your child to a school in another language will give him (and you) the opportunity to immerse into another language. Early bilingualism (or even multilingualism) is a great asset in today’s world.
If you send your child to a school in another language, you will have to help your child in that language too when it comes to doing homework. Of course, you will also talk your mother tongue with your child and make sure that language is supported as much as possible, but know your child will need your support in the school’s language of instruction.
If your family moves frequently, an international school is going to be the smartest option. If your stay in the Netherlands is open ended and there is the possibility of becoming a long term expat, it might be best to opt for a local school. Your child would certainly learn good Dutch and be easier integrated.
2 – THE SCHOOL’S ADMISSIONS POLICY
Many schools have long waiting lists, therefore it is essential that you check the admission status of each the schools you’ve chosen. Public schools are usually not allowed to refuse admission, but popular schools have waiting lists and the municipality can assign catchment areas based on postcodes.
In the Netherlands, most children start school at 4 years of age and they have to follow a full-time compulsory education (i.e. they are leerplichtig “under learning obligation”) from age five onwards for 12 years.
3 – THE SCHOOL’S CURRICULUM
Look beneath the labels. “Public”, “private” and “international” don’t tell you much about the school’s curriculum and whether it’s the right one for your child. Gather as much information as possible about school options – via internet, friends, neighbours – and find out which aligns the most with your expectations.
These are some questions which may prove helpful:
- What criteria is used to determine student placement in classes?
- How does the school keep parents informed of school information and activities? How much parent involvement is there at a school?
- What strategies are used when a student is not fluent in the school’s language of instruction?
- What is the student-teacher ratio?
- Are parents allowed to volunteer in the classroom? If so, is it expected of all parents?
- To what extent can you be a partner in your child’s learning?
- What does a typical schedule (day, week, month) look like?
- How much movement or multi-sensory experiences are built into the curriculum?
- Do children get music, art, drama lessons?
- When choosing a primary school, parents often forget to consider the fact that their child may encounter probems at some stage and I always advise to check how the school supports students who have academic, social or emotional difficulties.
4 – THE SCHOOL’S FACILITIES
Do the classrooms look cheerful? Are teachers enthusiastic and knowledgeable? How do the students behave as they move from class to class or play outside? What kind of facilities does the school provide (playground, libraries etc.)? How are the facilities maintained? Are bathrooms clean and well supplied? Is the overall environment safe?
5 – THE SCHOOL’S LOCATION
A school’s location is an important factor in the decision making process. If it does not offer bus service and you are unable to drive your child to the school every day, you’ll need to choose a school that is within walking/cycling distance of where you plan to live or choose a different location to live, one that is within walking/cycling distance of the school you have chosen.
Have you had to make this decision in the past? If so, what were the most important factors when you chose a primary school in The Hague?