Choosing a primary school in Haarlem

The process of picking the perfect primary school starts a long time before your child actually heads off for their first day. In the Netherlands, kids start school shortly after turning 4-years old and the application deadline will be 12 months prior to that – and your research will take time too. Outlined here are some points to consider when making this important decision.

If your kid is about to have their third birthday, you will need to be starting the process of finding the perfect primary school. Location, methodology, timetables, class size – there are so many things to consider that making the right decision can be quite hard. Luckily, with a little help from a mother who has just finished this process, you will have all the information that you need to make the best choice. Points to bear in mind are outlined below!

What age must children start primary school in the Netherlands?

Children usually start school the same month that they turn 4 years of age. If their birthday takes place during summer holiday, they will start when the school year begins (around the end of August). Though, school attendance is not compulsory until 5 years of age when the Leerplicht law applies and when parents can be prosecuted for unauthorised absence.

When do parents should start to search for schools?

The process usually begins around the time your child turns 3 years of age. Parents will receive a letter from the municipality (gemeente) with information about the placement policy, along with a registration form. All parents of children born in a certain period will receive the letter around the same time and the application deadlines are staggered throughout the year. For example, for children with birthdays between:

  • August and December, the deadline to deliver the registration form: February
  • January and April, the deadline to deliver the registration form: May
  • May and August, the deadline to deliver the registration form: September.

How many schools can I choose and in which areas?

You can apply to any school in Haarlem, or even outside, but you have to take into account that your child will only have priority for the six schools that are nearest to your home address. This distance is determined by the walking distance between your home and the school. Children also have priority if brothers or sisters are already attending that school or if they go to peuterspeelzaal at that school.
You can use this website to enter your address and the date of birth of your child to get an overview of the priority schools.

Can I visit different schools before I make a decision?

Yes, you can visit as many schools as you want. Check with the schools about their open days (voorlichtingsdagen). Due to the current coronavirus restrictions, there will be limitations on guided tours and you will need to find all the information on the school websites. When you contact them, they will explain how to get to know the school – whether that is via a physical tour or via video or telephone calls, etc. According to the schools that I visited, if you choose schools with distance priority, your kid will get a spot at your first or second choice. So, there is no need to visit six different schools.

What should I bear in mind when choosing schools?

There are different aspects that should be considered when making your decision. I created a list with useful questions that can help you to clarify your priorities and get the right information when you contact schools:

  • Location: Where is the school situated? Many parents prefer schools that are only a short distance from their homes, which makes drop-offs easier and your kid will know other children in the neighbourhood. If this point is important for you, you can check on the map of website to find all the schools around you.
  • Methodology: What type of methodology does the school follow? There are two types of schools – openbare (public school) and bijzondere (independently run) – and both have different  pedagogical/academic approaches. It is important to ask the school about their educational model, vision, mission and core values, and evaluate if they are harmonious with your family values.
  • School and class size: How big are classes? Primary schools can have different classes for Group 1 and each class can have up to 30 children. Some parents prefer smaller classes and schools because they think teachers can give more attention to every student. On the other hand, some parents may prefer larger classes and schools because children can get to socialise with more kids and learn to be more independent. Whatever your preference is, it is important to consider this point when you choose a school.
  • Timetable: What is the school timetable for Group 1? Schools can have different timetables. Some will have the same schedule for five days a week, while other schools finish earlier Wednesdays and Fridays (usually at 12 noon) or may not open at all on either one of these two days.
  • Languages: When do children start to learn English? Does the school have experience with multilingual kids? Can they learn other languages in the school? What languages? Languages are important for international families. Depending on which school you choose, your child will start to learn English at different ages. The time they spend learning English in the classroom every week can also differ. Asking about what experience the schools have with international and multilingual children is also a good idea, as well as what other languages are taught at the school.
  • After school: Check with the school what after school arrangements there are and be sure to make contact with them. It is possible that there will be a waiting list, so don’t forget to register your child as soon as you know the school they will attend.

What other questions are good to ask the school about?

  • Do children use technology in the school?
  • What approach does the school take to behaviour management?
  • Are there children from a variety of countries in the school?
  • How does the school deal with issues such as bullying? Is there a specific protocol?

The schools have been chosen and the registration form submitted – now what?

You will have to send an enrolment form to the school of your first preference. You can hand it in or, now that personal contact should be limited at this time, send it by email. You will get a registration confirmation in 10 days, and after that you will get a letter from the school with a decision about whether your child has been assigned a place.

I hope this information can help you to find the best school in Haarlem for your child. Leave a comment if you have any questions!
2 replies
  1. Marina
    Marina says:

    Hi! This is very interesting, many thanks! Do you know how to choose school when your kids are already 4 years old? I have twins and moving to Haarlem next March, do you have any recommendations? Many thanks in advance!

    • Gala
      Gala says:

      In that case I think the best option is checking closer schools to your house and contact them. They will explain you what steps you need to take and their availability for March.

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