Dutch education law

In principle, every child that resides in The Netherlands is subject to compulsory school attendance for his education from his fifth birthday on. This means that s/he must:

  1. be enrolled at a government approved school;
  2. attend this school whenever it is open, barring certain circumstances such as illness.

The Compulsory Education Law (dutch: Leerplichtwet) is enforced by a Compulsory Education Officer, (dutch: leerplichtambtenaar, hereafter LPA), who is employed by the municipality. The LPA regularly extracts a list of school-aged children from the municipality’s registry of residents and compares it to the lists of enrolled children provided by the local schools. When a discrepancy is found the LPA sends a letter to the child’s parents inquiring where the child is enrolled. This in itself is fairly common and does not have to be a cause for concern. As parents have a great deal of freedom of choice in schools, many children are enrolled in schools outside the municipality in which they live. When the LPA receives the information about the school in which the child is enrolled from the parents, s/he verifies it by checking with the school.

Children who do not appear in the registry, such as tourists and illegal residents, are not subject to this procedure. Although the police can legally pick up children from the streets during school hours and bring them to the school they are enrolled in, in practice no cases of this happening to home-educated children are known.

The tourist status is extended for a maximum of three months, after which the tourist is required to leave the country. It is not legal or even possible to avoid registering a child with resident status. A child born in the country must be registered within three days from birth.

Dutch law and home education

Although home education in itself is not literally recognized by law in the Netherlands, a growing number of families have qualified for an exemption from compulsory school registration. The ease with which such an exemption is attained depends largely on the personal disposition of your LPA and/or your municipality’s policy, on the wording of your exemption call, and a bit on your personal presentation.

Once such an exemption is acknowledged, the authorities have no more legal way to regularly supervise your child’s education. Reading article 5 of the Compulsory Education Law, one might think that in the case of a school exemption education would not be mandatory at all. However, article 1:247 Civil Code (Burgerlijk Wetboek) states that parents must care for their children’s personality development and well-being. This means you are bound to provide your child some sort of a suitable education anyway, in accordance with your own principles.

The legality of voluntary home education is mostly based on article 5, clause b, of the Compulsory Education Law, which exempts parents from registering their child at a school if they object to the orientation (richting) of the education given by all schools located within a reasonable distance from their home (from around 6 km for primary schools to around 20 km for secondary schools, depending on the child’s age). Court precedents have made clear that richting stands for the religious or life-philosophical orientation on which the school has been founded. Parents may object to public schools as well as other schools with a neutral orientation. These schools mostly entertain the secular norms and values of the majority of the Dutch population. However, expressing objections against educational methods or the legal set-up of schools does not qualify for exemption.

In order to apply for the exemption you must submit a letter as mentioned above to the municipality of your residence before the first day of the month in which the child turns 5 years old, or immediately after the child is registered as a municipal resident, whichever comes first. The exemption is valid for (the remainder of) one school year, which runs from the first of August till the 31st of July. You’ll have to submit a new exemption letter each year before the end of June to prolong the exemption. Do not forget to adapt the letter date in concordance to the coming school year.

If you think of home-educating him/her based on the exemption of article 5, clause b, of the Compulsory Education Law, you better not try enroll your child at a school first, as article 8 of this law specifically rules out exemptions in case the child has attended a school during the previous year that propagates an orientation the parents have to object against in order to qualify. Currently, the only way to overcome this is to move to an area in the country where no school of the previously accepted orientation is available, or to move to another country for more than a year.

A child’s special needs or the fact that he is unhappy or bullied in school does not easily qualify the child for exemption from compulsory school enrollment. In those cases the municipality officials will at first point you to another regular school or to one of the different special needs schools in the region. Only if an expert declares the child unfit to be admitted by any school at all, he/she qualifies for an exemption based on article 5 sub a of the Compulsory Education Law. The child’s condition then has to be assessed by a medical doctor, a psychologist or a pedagogue, assigned by the municipality to do this job. It may make a difference in the assessment if the assigned expert knows about the effectiveness of home education found by researchers.

In a small but growing number of cases families have been able to negotiate an exemption for a child from regular school attendance, legally based on article 11, clauses d or g, of the Compulsory Education Law. In some of those cases the education is provided for by the parents, assisted by a correspondence school.

This information is of a general nature. While every effort has been made to ensure the appropriateness and accuracy of this page, the NVvTO accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage howsoever caused.

The NVvTO does not provide legal assistance, but we can refer you if you contact us.