Children are allowed to begin school at the age of four, but are not legally required to do so until the age of five. Primary education lasts eight years (of which seven are compulsory), in the last year of which pupils are advised as to the type of secondary education they should pursue.
This is education according to the following principles:
* assist pupils to develop themselves
* take care of a pleasant and save learning environment
* teach several theoretical and practical skills
Secondary education, which begins at the age of twelve and is compulsory until the age of sixteen and is offered at several levels. vmbo programmes (four years) combine general and vocational education, after which pupils can continue in senior secondary vocational education and training (MBO) lasting one to four years.
havo and vwo
The two programmes of general education that grant admission to higher education are havo (five years) and vwo (six years). Pupils are enrolled according to their ability, and although vwo is more rigorous, both havo and vwo can be characterized as selective types of secondary education. Only the vwo diploma grants access to research universities, and the havo diploma is the minimum requirement for access to universities of applied sciences. The last two years of havo and the last three years of VWO are referred to as the "second phase", or upper secondary education. During these years, pupils focus on one of four subject clusters (profielen), each of which emphasizes a certain field of study in addition to satisfying general education requirements. Each cluster is designed to prepare pupils for programmes of study at the tertiary level.
A pupil enrolled in vwo or havo can choose from the following subject clusters:
1) Science and Technology (Natuur en Techniek)
2) Science and Health (Natuur en Gezondheid)
3) Economics and Society (Economie en Maatschappij)
4) Culture and Society (Cultuur en Maatschappij)