The Final Year of Basisschool: How to Choose a Middelbare school

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Wasn’t it just yesterday you were taking your little one to their first day of school?  Now all of a sudden, your little one is not so little anymore. They’re in their final year of basisschoolgroep 8, and it won’t be long now until they’re at middelbare school.   You probably have many questions about how it works here in the Netherlands, what you need to be aware of, and how to choose a middelbare school.  Read on for our answers to the most frequently asked questions.

How do we choose a middelbare school?

Usually in January, the basisschool will send out a formal recommendation letter called the ‘advies’.  It includes the level of middelbare education advised for your child, and is based on assessment test results (CITO, IEPS, or Route 8), reports from teachers, and overall development of the child.  You will need this document in order to register for a middelbare school.

Some schools may also provide a pre-advies in groep 7.  If you already received this, it will give you an idea of what level of middelbare schools to look into.

Do we wait until we receive the advies?

It’s best not to leave it until then, because you will only have a month or so between the time you get the advies and the time you need to register for your chosen school.  So if you want to be prepared, start researching online before January. 

Two good school search websites are De VO Gids and Scholen op de kaart. They both provide filters to help you narrow down your choices by distance to postcode, type of school, religion, etc… 

To see Delft school options, take a look at Gemeente Delft’s education webpage.

I have a shortlist of schools.  Now what?

Visit school websites.  Besides marketing folders and video tours, look out for open days (open dagen) and school-in-session afternoons (school-in-bedrijf-middagen).  These opportunities take place in January and February.  Mark them on your calendar and go.

What will the advies tell me?

The advies will state the level of secondary school education recommended for your child. 

Sometimes it may be the case that two choices(een dubbel advies) are advised – with this type of advies, schools will typically offer admission based on the lower level.  This gives the school a chance to assess your child in their first year.  If your child shows potential for a higher level, the school will move them in their second year.

 What are the different levels of middelbare education?

Ready for it? There are a lot of acronyms to digest.  Get to know these and you will be well-versed in Dutch middelbare education talk.

  • PRO (praktijkonderwijs) – practical education such as cooking, gardening, woodworking, etc.
  • VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs)  – pre-vocational education.  There are 4 learning paths: vmbo-b (basic), vmbo-k (framework), vmbo-gl (mixed learning), and vmbo-tl (theoretical).  All of these paths lead to further vocational education (MBO).  An exception is vmbo-tl (also known as MAVO).  With this path, there is the option to continue on to HAVO.
  • MAVO (middlebaar algemeen voortgezet onderwijs) – This is the same thing as VMBO-tl.  See above.  Yes, it’s confusing, but you will find schools use different terms, even though they mean the same thing.
  • HAVO (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs) – higher general secondary education, takes five years, and is followed by HBO (Hogeschool/University of Applied Sciences)
  • VWO (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk) – pre-university education takes six years, and students can continue to university (WO).

I don’t think the advies is right for my child.  What can I do?

Talk to your child’s teacher.  Let them explain to you how they came to the decision.

When you visit middelbare schools, voice your concern with the first year bridge class (brugklas) director and ask what action they take when a child is placed in a level not right for them.

What other school choices do we have?

Besides the classic public education, you have many other choices.  A few examples are:  private education, international schools (taught in English or other languages and where you can acquire an IB or International Baccalaureate diploma, bilingual Dutch/English education (be aware that the bilingual part is usually limited to the first three years; from the 4th year on, most classes are taught in Dutch), Topsport talent schools for top athletes, STEM focused schools, etc…

Check out the school search websites mentioned above for a full listing. 

Anything else?

We would like to wish the best of luck to all parents and children in their school transition.  Enjoy the last year of basisschool and good luck with your decision.  Congratulations on your move up to middelbare school student and parent!

Other interesting posts

If you would like to read a personal story, check out our blogpost, Interview with Andrea: the Transition to Dutch Middelbare School. Yildiz Middel talks to expat mom Andrea about her and her daughter’s experience with the transition to middelbare school.

In the blogpost, School Endings and New Beginnings, Oriana van der Sande writes about her daughter’s final year of basisschool.

Or for a personal overview of alternative educational concepts available in Delft, check out Lynette Croxford’s blogpost, Children & Schools in Delft:  School Options and What to Expect.

Useful resources explaining the Dutch education system

Wikipedia’s article on ‘Education in the Netherlands

Expatica’s post, ‘A Guide to the Dutch Education System

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