Once we had decided to send our children to school in Amsterdam, we were faced with the rather overwhelming prospect of finding a school that would be a good fit. Fortunately, as usual, the internet came to the rescue. There’s a wonderful expat parenting group called Amsterdam Mamas that has the answers to any question you might have when moving to or living in Amsterdam.
Besides the website, there’s an extremely active Facebook group where you can ask questions on anything, including what to expect when giving birth, which local restaurants are most family-friendly, or even what to do when your upstairs neighbor won’t stop banging on the ceiling (ask me why I want to know). There are a number of offshoots to the main Facebook group, including Amsterdam Mamas Book & Film Club, Amsterdam Mamas Write, and Dutch Education. It was to this last that I went to with all my questions about–Dutch education. I spent a couple of weeks poring over past posts and absorbing everything I could.
These are the options for schools in Amsterdam:
- Bataviaschool, a publicly-funded program located in the west of Amsterdam that teaches newly arrived children Dutch to prepare them to stream into Dutch primary school. At Bataviaschool the children continue to study mathematics and other subjects at their own level while focusing on intense study of Dutch. We have several friends who went this route and spoke highly of it. Usually it takes kids somewhere between a year and 18 months to finish at Bataviaschool, although it can also be shorter. To enroll at Bataviaschool, it’s necessary to find a public Dutch school that has a place for the children. In order to facilitate the transition to regular Dutch school, the children spend Fridays at the Dutch school they will ultimately attend, hopefully making friends there and starting to feel more comfortable.
- Pros: There’s a huge focus on language acquisition. I can’t imagine kids NOT ending up fluent in Dutch after pursuing this option, since they are studying it intensively and then go straight into full immersion. It’s also a great international environment. There are kids from all over the world at Bataviaschool.
- Cons: Bataviaschool is pretty far away from the areas where we wanted to live, and the kids would be going to a new school in about a year, so trying to live close by their school was going to a problem either sooner or later. We would have to find a Dutch school with space for both of them (that hopefully we liked). I was also concerned about them falling behind academically at Bataviaschool, and about Axa getting her Dutch up to a good enough level to do well on the CITO exam in two years (see my previous post on Dutch Education Explained).
- Dutch public school + Dutch tutor. I do know some people who put their kids straight in a Dutch school, with support from a language tutor outside of school hours. In some places, there are also special Taal (language) classes for newcomers, that they can attend after school. For someone arriving in the Netherlands with younger children than mine (say, under six), Dutch public school seems like a pretty great option. There are very few private Dutch schools in the Netherlands, and most of them cater to foreigners. Even the King’s children go to public schools. Types of schools that in the U.S. would be private (such as Montessori, Waldorf, or religious schools) are publicly funded here, and Dutch children score well on international assessments. Most of the schools in Amsterdam do have catchment areas, meaning that you need to live within a nearby zipcode to attend.
- Pros: Some of these Dutch schools are pretty cool. There’s an absolutely gorgeous Vrije (Waldorf) school right around the corner from where we live. Again, full immersion. Since the schools serve the kids in the surrounding neighborhood, their friends would live nearby, and they would be Dutch.
- Cons: Full immersion can be pretty overwhelming, and my kids had never even gone to school before. Also, it’s not easy to find a school in Amsterdam that will take kids with no Dutch. Finally, some Dutch schools have pretty serious bullying problems, and I was worried about my kids being the only “different” ones in a monocultural environment.
- International school. There are a few international schools in Amsterdam, of which most teach in English, although there are Chinese, Japanese, and French schools as well. Several of the international schools are in surrounding suburbs to the north or south of Amsterdam. Right in the city the main options are the British School of Amsterdam, which as you might guess follows a British curriculum, and the Amsterdam International Community School, which follows the international primary curriculum and then the international baccalaureate curriculum for high school, and happens to be right across the street from our house.
- Pros: The various international schools obviously offer an international environment, with lots of opportunities for extracurricular activities. International school would probably be the easiest transition for our children. School communication (and homework!) would be in English, and we’d have no language barriers when communicating with teachers and other parents (although to be honest, most Dutch people we’ve met in Amsterdam speak excellent English). None of the international schools use the CITO or track the kids into the three Dutch levels.
- Cons: Dutch is taught as a second language, and the kids would most likely not end up with full fluency. The school population at international schools in general is fairly transient, so we’d have to expect that most of their friends would move away every few years. Also, tuition fees at these schools are designed for people with generous relocation packages that include tuition for their kids, and we didn’t come here with an international company.
- Dutch bilingual school. In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest on the part of Dutch parents in the idea of their children starting to learn English as early as possible. So a few Dutch primary schools have gone to a fully bilingual program, where children learn in Dutch and English from the age of four. Two of these are Europaschool, and De Nieuwe Internationale School Esprit (DENISE for short). Both of these schools have newcomer language classes right at the school, as well as providing immersion schooling environments part of the time in Dutch and part in English.
- Pros: The combination of a (somewhat) immersion environment coupled with supplementary Dutch lessons seemed like a good balance between learning Dutch and not feeling overwhelming for the kids. The focus at these schools is on families who are planning to be here long-term, so (theoretically at least) some of their friends might be around to stay friends for the next several years. They don’t use the CITO or stream kids into different levels at the age of 12. And the kids could continue progressing at their current academic level, without having to put everything on hold until they could speak Dutch well enough to be at grade level.
- Cons: Dutch learning would probably be slower than either of the first two options, since there’s more being taught in English. Places at these schools are hard to come by, since there’s significant demand both among Dutch and international families. They would most likely make a lot of English-speaking friends rather than Dutch-speaking, and those friends wouldn’t necessarily live close by.
It’s no big secret which one we picked, but I’ll just leave it opaque for the moment, because I am curious if it’s obvious to readers which one fits us best, or if other people would have made a different choice. Next up: a post on the kids’ school, and how we feel about it six months in.