Compulsory Education: The first legislation making education compulsory was passed in 1900. It prescribed six years of compulsory education (between the ages of six and twelve). The Act was repeatedly amended and eventually replaced by the Compulsory Education Act of 1969, which required children to attend school full time between the ages of six and sixteen. In 1985, the Primary Education Act required compulsory schooling to begin at five years of age. For example, if a child reaches the age of five in March, he or she must start school on April first of the same year. In practice, however, most children in the Netherlands go to school from the age of four. This additional year is especially important for children whose native language is not Dutch.
Full-time education is compulsory up to and including the child's sixteenth year. For example, if a student turns sixteen in February, he or she must complete that school year. In 1971, the Compulsory Education Act was extended to include an additional year of part-time compulsory education two days a week. This may be combined with practical training or employment. Children aged twelve and over may be punished for not attending school. For pupils aged fourteen and over who are experiencing problems with full-time education, a special program can be devised combining general education with some form of light work.
Academic Year: In primary, special, and secondary schools, the school year runs the entire year, from August 1 to July 31. However, primary and special schools have a six week summer holiday and secondary schools have seven weeks. These holidays are staggered across three regions of the country to make vacation traffic and tourism more manageable. All schools have a holiday at Christmas and at the beginning of May (Queen's Birthday and Liberation Day). In addition, there are autumn and spring holidays. The school year contains at least two hundred days between August and June. Schools run Monday through Friday, but Wednesday afternoon is generally free. The minimum number of hours taught a year is 880 (children aged seven), one thousand (age ten) and 1,067 at the lower secondary level.
Language of Instruction: Dutch is the official language of instruction throughout the country. In areas where Frisian or another living local dialect is spoken as well as Dutch, this language can be used as the language of instruction in schools alongside Dutch. In primary schools, pupils from ethnic minorities may receive lessons in their home language and culture, such as Turkish or Arabic, but these are given after regular school hours. In higher, adult, and vocational education, legally classes and examinations must be in Dutch. Exceptions include courses in foreign languages or courses taught by non-Dutch visiting lecturers. In addition, if the native language of the student requires it, an exception can be given. In a number of primary schools close to the border, some experimental teaching is being done in French and German, the languages of the neighboring countries.
Examination & Assessment: Teachers continuously assess students throughout the primary and secondary school years. When children are in their final year of primary school, parents must select secondary schools for them. They are assisted by the head teacher who uses the students' achievement records, and in many cases, results from national tests designed to help guide secondary school choice. Some 70 percent of all Dutch primary schools use tests for primary school leavers developed by the National Institute for Educational Measurement (CITO). These tests assess pupils' level of attainment at the end of primary schooling. Progression depends on student achievement, and students may be required to repeat a year. Secondary students who fail a year twice must transfer to a less demanding type of education.
Public & Private Schools: There are two main categories of schools: publicly run and privately run. Public schools are nondenominational and open to all children. Private schools can be denominational or nondenominational. The former include Roman Catholic and Protestant schools and schools founded by other religious groups. Private nondenominational schools are based on ideological or educational principles. Almost 65 percent of all pupils attend privately run schools. The Constitution requires equal financial support of public and private schools, but private schools must satisfy certain conditions in order to qualify for funding. Some publicly run schools are also based on specific educational principles. The Netherlands has a relatively large number of Montessori, Steiner, and Jena Plan schools, both public and private. The freedom to organize teaching means that public and private schools are free to determine content and methods of teaching. However, this freedom is limited by the qualitative standards set by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The standards state which subjects should be studied, the attainment targets or national examination syllabi to be used, as well as the number of teaching periods per year, and the required qualifications for teachers.
Curriculum Development: The Ministry of Education determines the overall curriculum and details of compulsory subjects. Schools devise their own curricular plan, teaching methods, and they select teaching materials. Compulsory areas of learning at the primary level include sensory coordination and physical exercise, Dutch, mathematics, English, humanities and sciences, expressive activities, social and life skills, and health education. The compulsory core curriculum for the first three years of all secondary education programs consists of core primary subjects and a second modern language, information technology (IT), economics, technology, and arts.
Parental Involvement: There is an extensive amount of parental involvement in Dutch schools. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science publishes guides for parents to primary and secondary education with information about the education system and the rights and obligations of parents. Schools are required to produce a prospectus to inform parents about the school's curriculum and results achieved. Every school must also have a participation council and a complaints committee. The participation council includes representatives of both parents and staff; they discuss matters such as facilities, resource allocation, pupils' rights and obligations, textbooks, holiday dates, and parental involvement in school activities. In addition, many schools also have a separate parents' council or committee.
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