Special Needs Education in the Netherlands

Information about the provisions for children with special needs in the Netherlands...

The Dutch Constitution prohibits discrimination on any grounds and therefore children with special needs (however serious) are entitled to education of the same level and quality as that given to other children. In later life (for example in the workplace) there are similar rules governing equal opportunities.

Responsibility for meeting the educational needs of all children in the area rests with the relevant municipality. It is always advisable to make them aware of any special needs as soon as possible after arrival in a district.

Nationally and locally there are support groups which aim to bring together parents and children with disabilities. Local information is available from the municipal authority.

Special Needs Education

Central government funding for special schools essentially works in the same way as for mainstream schools. Responsibility for providing places at and transport to and from these special schools rests with the municipality.

Registration with the municipal authority on arrival in the Netherlands will involve providing information regarding any school age children. This is the first place to go with regard to enrolling children in any type of school.

Children who are physically fit but perhaps have learning difficulties or mild behavioural problems will normally begin their schooling in a mainstream primary school. This may change as a result of assessment and they could move either to a special school or alternatively be catered for by a "Community School".

Community schools

Community schools are a recent development started in Rotterdam, but spreading around the country. The school plays a central role by providing education and working to develop social skills. The school is then backed up by other agencies and institutions with welfare expertise as well as community-based support.

Education in mainstream schools

Wherever possible, children with special needs are given the chance to be included in mainstream schools, but the final decision is always left to the parents. Where it is the parents' wish that their child attend a mainstream school every effort is made to ensure that this is possible. Local authorities have a duty to take steps to ensure that appropriate staff are in place and any physical impediments removed so that children can attend a mainstream school.

Mainstream schools can apply for extra funding to meet the costs incurred in accommodating children with special needs (such as modifications to the building).

Special schools

A separate system of primary and secondary education exists where this is deemed to be the most suitable approach for a particular child. Special primary and secondary education is intended for the same age groups as mainstream schools. However, children as young as three can be admitted to a special primary school and children up to age twenty may remain in a special secondary school under certain circumstances.

There are different state-funded schools available according to specific needs. Currently there are ten categories of "special" school including schools for the deaf, the visually impaired, physically disabled, severely mentally disabled and pupils with serious behavioural problems. There may also be specialist departments within a given special school. For example there may be a department for children with severe speech impediments within a school for the deaf.

International schools with special needs departments

Among parents of non-Dutch speaking children with special needs there is some debate as to whether or not their child is better served by an international school with a special needs department. Obviously, at such an establishment education can continue in the mother tongue. This may be especially relevant where the child has a learning disorder such as dyslexia or concentration problems such as ADD or ADHD.

Registering and Enrolling for Special Needs Education

Deciding that a child has special educational needs happens in two ways:

Referral by parents or consultatiebureau

Firstly it may be clear even before a child begins school (for example in the case of a physical disability) that they will probably be best served by a school with special resources. Parents can refer their child for special education alone or in conjunction with medical specialists or child welfare workers. Disabilities that are present from birth will be overseen by the Child Health Clinic (consultatiebureau) and appropriate referrals for support will be given.

Schools for those with sensory, physical and mental problems and/or severe behavioural problems have admission boards. These typically include a psychologist, a doctor, a social worker and the school head teacher. It is also common for another "expert" to be included, for example an audiologist at a school for the deaf. Each case is assessed independently and there are no clearly defined admission criteria and ultimately the decision is left to the parent.

Assessment tries to examine the whole picture including family and cultural background and to formulate an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for the child.

Referral by a teacher

Secondly under the "Together to School Again" initiative, which favours inclusion and integration, the classroom teacher is responsible for assessing children with learning difficulties and mild mental impairments. If the class teacher alone cannot meet the needs of the child, they can be assisted within a mainstream school by the school's own special needs co-ordinator or by support teachers from the regional school support team. This is the most commonly used approach where children are identified as having dyslexia or ADHD.

If this additional support is still not effective then the class teacher, in conjunction with the head teacher and support staff, may ask the parents' permission to refer the child for assessment.


The assessment team (similar to the admissions boards of special schools) will normally consist of a psychologist, doctor, social worker and one or more experienced special needs teacher.

Depending on the result of the assessment, a child may then move into a special education establishment or remain where they are - perhaps with additional support.

All children admitted to special schools are re-assessed after two years. They may be transferred to another type of special school or reintegrated into mainstream education, if appropriate.


Anyone living or working in the Netherlands with children under the age of 18 is entitled to child benefit. Child benefit is paid quarterly at the end of each quarter.

Children born in the Netherlands are reported to the municipal authorities at birth and an application form for child benefit is issued automatically. Claims can be submitted via the Internet.

Parents who arrive in the Netherlands with children should apply for child benefit (kinderbijslag - AKW). Go to the Dutch Social Insurance Information Centre (Sociale Verzekeringsbank - SVB)

Carer's allowance

The Dutch government recognises that disabled children may require special care at home and therefore a carer's allowance (TOG) may be awarded.

To apply ask for a claim pack from the TOG department of the SVB office in Roermond. The English version of the SVB website has an online questionnaire which potential applicants can complete to see if they are likely to qualify.

Essentially, the benefit is paid to parents or carers of disabled children aged three to seventeen living at home. The disability needs to be a physical or mental illness or disorder that causes restrictions resulting in the child being significantly more dependent on care and supervision than a healthy child of the same age.

Finally, some low income families may qualify for additional help whilst their child remains in full-time education. Consult the SVB for more information.

Older Children

The organisation handicap studie + (website in Dutch) aims to help older children with disabilities so that students can successfully participate in higher education.

Students aged over 18 normally have to pay for their education (tuition fees) but would be entitled to a basic state grant.

Getting About

Nationally facilities for the disabled are good. The national rail network, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) has an English version website which allows route planning and checking of timetables. Systems are in place to help wheelchair users, the visually impaired and other disabled travellers at more than 100 stations throughout the country.

Tourist information Points (TIP) or the local and national tourist websites such as Holland.com have details of which museums or sporting facilities are easily accessible to those with disabilities.