Gifted kids and Dutch education

Dutch school education is characterised by a range of philosophies that inform parents’ school options. It ranges from Montessori, Dalton to Steiner-Waldorf to regular schools. My daughter attends a Montessori school in the city. In the primary system, kids are tested twice yearly using national standardised tests which focus on maths, dutch language, spelling and reading comprehension. The tests are usually rolled out by an organisation called Cito and quite a few parents have opinions on the merits or otherwise of citotests/citotoets–some kids do great on tests and some not so good. If a kid doesn’t show their capabilities on the Citotests, this can have implications for their high-school advies. (See previous blogposts about the highschool process). Which quickly brings me to gifted kids/hoogbegaafde, or rather my kid.

Her maths citos have been declining the last couple of years and we didn’t pay that much attention thinking she is young and will catch up soon. Except she didn’t. And her maths CITO bombed. Her other scores were high so the discrepancy between language and maths was becoming wider. A common problem for bright kids is difficulty with automation, eg. times-tables. (A useful tip to combat this difficulty is skipping or throwing a ball: so they focus on the skipping and saying the times table simultaneously which doesn’t allow for distractions and tangential thoughts). Her teacher had told me she believed M was hoogbegaafde but testing probably wasn’t necessary. Apparently, they would give her work that would stretch and deepen her learning. The idea is to deepen with extra topics rather than move up into the next grade to work on a curriculum that’s a year or two ahead. It was also hoped M could attend a public program called Day a Week school ( literally for one day a week ) for very bright kids but unfortunately there weren’t enough city-wide spots for kids who needed it.

As a result, I began to look into a day gifted program called deDNKRS, run by gifted teaching specialists. Her place was secured and school permission was required. I realised it might be helpful to have her IQ and learning style assessed by an educational psychologist and used an agency suggested by school. After some back and forth emails and frustrating meetings with the parent-teacher mediator/IBer and her teacher, permission was secured for the gifted program. Socially, emotionally and intellectually, she needed to be in a different space where she could feel comfortable, be challenged and learn ‘how to learn’.

It’s a common belief that high IQ kids find everything easy and don’t need any explanations but that’s not necessarily the case. They typically learn very easily and fast and can master difficult topics with ease and ask complex, philosophical questions to seek to understand. But of course they will come across a stumbling block and how this is dealt with by teachers and parents, is key. Test anxiety, under-performance and distractability are not uncommon issues for gifted kids. Luckily, M has no anxiety but she can get blocked when maths is hard and so thinks she can’t do it. We are working on changing this to a ‘can’t do it…yet’ mindset and it’s coming along well.

The maths deficit is being closed quickly with a weekly tutor/bijles which began a month ago. Hopefully, by the start of summer holidays/zomervakantie she won’t need a tutor anymore. Her maths gap seems to have started in Group 3 ( aged 6 ) when she was busy with her own weekly plan ( Montessori kids plan their own work and are encouraged to be independent learners ) and eschewed maths for favourite subjects, like reading Dutch and English books and coming up with creative projects. A strong plus and potential negative of Montessorischools in my opinion, is that kids can plan their own individual work for the week/planning and largely decide in which order they do maths, language, projects and so on. Maths came in as her least favourite activity and so less time was spent on it–to her detriment.

In the deDNKRS class, they work on projects, smart games, puzzles, creative and analytical projects. They learn to collaborate and understand that it’s just fine to make mistakes because that’s how you truly learn and grow. This is a such an important mindset to have and one I wish I had learned when I was young. It’s based on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. We have decided not to pursue the full-time hoogbagaafde school option as our preference is to keep her in her current school that she loves.

Listed below are the current options for gifted kids in Amsterdam

  • There are four full-time hoogbegaafde classrooms in Amsterdam, each located within a regular primary school, called Amos-Uniq classes. Applications require a Total IQ of 130+ and an interview process. So, it’s possible to move your child from their current school to a full-time public hoogbegaafde classroom.
  • Another option is staying in the current school and attending the Day A Week school for one day. Or attending regular school and having a differentiated curriculum and/or accelerate the child into one year ahead.
  • Some schools provide an internal enrichment class/plusklas for kids who need extra challenge.
  • Saturday class in the city called Phi Science Lab.
  • If you are looking for something during the schoolweek ( which requires the school’s permission ), there is DeDnkrs, located in Amstelveen and open to kids from the Amsterdam region.

All the above are facilitated through the dutch language and are aimed at kids attending dutch schools. International schools vary in enrichment options for english-language kids.  The latter two options listed are private so are relatively expensive options for parents. The Day A Week is publicly funded and kids are sent there via school. None of these require an IQ score for admission but it will become apparent quickly if the program does not suit a child. They all facilitate out-of-the-box thinking and are logic and reasoning based and require creative thinking. They provoke philosophical thinking and discussion with a strong focus on ‘learning to learn’ and what to do when things are difficult. I’ve added some links to organisations and groups that may be useful to other parents navigating this path in and around Amsterdam. Some links are also not location specific so are relevant to all parents and google chrome does a good job of translating the dutch websites, some of which have interesting content.

My takeaway from the last 6 months: if in doubt, check it out and be persistent!

International links     Irish website offering advice and resources for gifted kids.     American-based organisation     American organisation for gifted children

Dutch links     National Organisation for gifted children and their families     Amstelveen based organisation offering educational programs for kids and coaching for schools    Advice bureau offering coaching and guidance for gifted kids and parents     Psychological practice offering diagnostics and treatment specialising in giftedness (Utrecht area)      Training centre for teachers concerned with talent development and teaching gifted kids     Amsterdam based psychologist     Amsterdam based platform     Advice/coaching for parents

Amsterdam diagnostic agencies

Amsterdam Gifted classes



High-school in Amsterdam and why my kids love it.


My older kids attend a Gymnasium in Amsterdam, a type of school that offers only a pre-university track. They love their school and here are some reasons why.


Biking to your school is ubiquitious, about as common as sandwiches are for lunch and three kisses are for greeting a fond friend. Biking alone to school generally happens in Group 7 in bassischool when kids are aged 10/11. As young kids live close to their basisschool and have years of practice going on their parent’s bikes, they are confidently capable of doing the journey alone two years later, when secondary school starts. The majority of kids have a short commute, meaning you can leave home on your bike at 0800 and arrive with time to lock your bike and be at your desk with time to spare. Class begins at 0830 and usually runs until 15:35 at my kids’ school. Occasionally, a class is cancelled/uitval and they are free to go wherever, no notifications to are sent to parents and kids manage their time without parents’ intervention.

This can be a little strange in the first year when your 12 year old is suddenly thrust into almost complete independence after leaving cosy primary school just 2 months earlier. During lunch break, they can go to the cafeteria, play football outside, hang in the halls, or the music room to experiment on beautiful instruments or perhaps go to the shop for a dutch sausage roll or sandwich. Guess which one my kids don’t pick? That’s right–music room. Because who would want to jam on a saxophone or jazz piano unsupervised. Bread is a staple of the dutch diet so there’s not much getting away from having a broodje at lunchtime. In short, there’s a lot of freedom to decide how to spend their lunchbreak and also, their lives.


Middelbareschool is a huge change from the safe confines of basisschool but a welcome one that my kids were more than ready for. They love highschool and the freedom it offers. They are expected and encouraged to be responsible for their own learning. They are following a highly academic program that’s on the same level as UK A levels and Irish Honours subjects–and that level starts from the get go in year 1…in each subject. So, it’s pass your exams each year or leave the school. That sounds draconian and admittedly, there is an option to repeat a year ( delightfully called doubling a year in NL ) but no doubt about it, it’s high level and if you can’t keep up, then you have to go and drop down to a lower level. They spend approximately 90 minutes/schoolday working on school stuff. Somedays less. Tests are common so then they ramp it up a little. So far so good, although adjusting to homework was a learning curve, coming from dutch primary school where homework is rarely given. Weekends they might do an hour or two but they have plenty of free time for sports, theatre and generally relaxing. Sleeping in on Saturday mornings is their most recently acquired life-skill. Sundays are sports, fridge-trolling, lolling about horizontally and family stuff.


It is a balanced life which is encouraged by teachers and the general culture here of taking care of oneself and building in relaxation and sports into your week. Frequent tests mean we are aware of how they’re doing in each subject via an online portal called Magister. Most schools use this to record and display results to each individual child and parent. Twice a year we have oudergesprekken/ parent-teacher meetings and what feels like 100 emails ( in dutch!) detailing various activities. Direct contact between parents and teachers isn’t common although teachers are approachable and helpful. What is unusual to me as an foreigner is the element of responsibility and respect that’s given to students. And I really like it. It prepares them incrementally and from a young age for living as responsible adults in the big, wide old world.


Students are treated as individuals who are in charge of their own learning and development and guided by parents and teachers on the sidelines. The hope is that motivation to learn comes from within and rather than aiming for top scores and little downtime, they are encouraged to develop socially and get good enough grades. The grading system is marked from 1 to 10. So 1, 2, 3 are unusual as is 9 and 10. Getting an 8 is an great score, 7 is very good, 6 is satisfactory and less than 5.5 is a fail. 9 is excellent and 10 is outstanding. The latter are rarely awarded unless it’s a more simple S.O. test of vocabulary or multiple choice. In other more complex tests like proefwerken, don’t count on a 9 or 10 even if you do really, really well. In my kids’ academic school, 7 is a good mark and an 8 GPA average is only for the very ambitious.

So why don’t schools award 9s or 10s? It’s probably related to the zesjescultuur, loosely translated as the culture of mediocrity. The idea is that that everyone is equal and deserving of respect no matter what your school grades were or what your job is, so there isn’t a crazy push for excellence and striving for the top. This runs true for the guy stocking shelves at the supermarket to the tram conductor to the taxi driver and to the medical doctor. It’s also related to the pursuit of balance in Dutch society, not too much of anything: work/school/pleasure shouldn’t be overwhelming and aiming for a non-competitive and be normal/doe normaal attitude is good enough.


Children in the Netherlands are expected and encouraged to speak their mind, to their friends and teachers. From the very first day of school, aged four, it begins. Children are encouraged to shake their teachers’ hands on arriving at and leaving school. Eye contact is important and so is speaking up. Childrens’ opinions are sought and heard and Dutch children grow up expecting to have their opinion considered and the adults around them facilitate and encourage this. This results in the most confident, independent and capable teenagers I have ever met. It’s very refreshing and plainly respectful of children’s autonomy and developmental stages.

These are some of the characteristics that are valued here and it starts as early as nursery school/peuterspeelzaal aged 2.5. By the time kids finish middelbareschool, they are ready to unleash their Dutch confidence on the world. My kids have a mix of Dutch confidence and Irish self-deprecation and humour which I am fiercely proud of. Self-belief runs like water through this small country that has fought back against the North Sea and I’m very glad my kids will gain some of it by osmosis.


Stepping out of the Fray

This is a follow on post about our experience of choosing a Dutch middelbare school. We’ve visited nine schools in a month and it’s not even an understatement to say we’ve run the gamut from exciting to frustrating, touching on slightly torturous through to funny times. Rather like my tween’s personality these days. My son’s reluctance for some school trips is due to his desire to chill and play football after school. He also found the sheer choice and number of visits a little overwhelming. Applications are not limited by post code so a child can apply to any school in the city so long as he has the correct advice from his primary school teacher. D got a VWO advice which means he can choose an Atheneum or Gymnasium program, the latter offering Latin and Greek as compulsory subjects. Even after five Openavonds, enthusiasm was dwindling fast ( for all of us ) so being done with it makes us very relieved indeed.

Openavonds are akin to free for alls where the child and parent wander the packed-to-the-rafters school with children clutching free gifts of pens, sweet drink and glossy brochures that had been thrust into their hands by welcoming 2nd Years. I usually make a beeline for the coffee dock and surreptitiously check the english skills of the young servers. Refreshment in hand then off to find the Engels room to check what kind of English program they will offer my native-speaker. A Cambridge or Fast Lane English program is ideal. We begin by popping in to view classrooms and try have a quick word with a teacher while D takes a 5 min fun Greek or maths test. Checking out the the science or teckniek labs are always interesting whereby experiments are informally presented or kids can try their hand at something a little unknown. I check out the canteen offerings and hope there will be healthy food of sorts available, not just tasty Turkish pizza and bread with chocolate sprinkles. Admittedly, Dutch kids do seem to grow out of this hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles ) malarkey by the teen years but one can’t be too careful.

20170217_153539 Stained glass and brickwork in Amsterdams Lyceum

Our last school visit was to Het Amsterdams Lyceum. D had missed the official Openavond because of flu so I mailed to see if we could take a look- with the suggestion that our babysitter who happens to be a Year 5 student there, would be our guide. A prompt one line response ‘Of course it’s possible!’ had us arrive on Friday to the school for our personal tour by lovely 16 year old E, a super smart girl of Polish/Dutch parents who studies eight languages ( some are extra choices ) at Het Ams Lyceum. Yes, eight! Dutch, English, French, Chinese, Italian, German, Spanish and Ancient Greek. And what an atmospheric place it is.

Below the biology corridor-this part of the school is not unlike a mini natural history museum. Love it.


Het Amsterdams Lyceum is 100 years old and a canal-side building designed in the style of the Amsterdam School. It has gorgeous old brickwork and stained glass windows and visually is one of my favourites. It is a Vwo school and offers an Atheneum stream and a Gymnasium stream. E was a great host and luckily we bumped into a few teachers who were very welcoming and one opened the science labs for us to have a peek. There are theatre and musical clubs to join and the school owns an old country mansion in the NL that hosts every student each year for a week’s activity holiday. There’s a trip to Paris or Berlin in Year 4 and also Rome in Year 5 for the students taking the classic languages. The concierge at the front desk is very helpful according to E and knows many of the students by name. Last year, a modern look canteen was opened in the basement with good food choices and diner seating. Extra languages can be taken also as part of the curriculum and there are after school clubs like rowing, theatre and dance, etching and film-making. This school offers a brugklas ( bridging class ) for first years which means they all take the same subjects in year 1 and then decide if they want to study Latin and Greek once first year is over. So Atheneum and Gymnasium programs are both options at this school. What’s not to love, right? Oh, and it’s 15 mins bike ride from our house. We both agreed it’s definitely going on the list!

Earlier in the week, D attended the Openlessen at Cygnus Gymnasium. An openles is a drop in lesson laid on for the prospective new students. Sometimes you register for one, other times it’s not necessary. He took Latin and maths and came home happy but then declared it too far away to be considered a contender. A bike ride of at least 25 minutes is not within his acceptable criteria. His Dad spent two hours at the information meeting and was particularly pleased that his dutch comprehension skills have increased since he last attended an info session two years ago. Cygnus also has foreign school trips also, a debating club, and a Youth Parliament project in year 4 among lots of other good stuff. An interesting Gymnasium in a 1940’s industrial style building that has official monument status. Unfortunately, it’s too far from our house. Fons Vitae Lyceum, St. Nicolaas Lyceum and Berlage Lyceum were also in our look/see schedule but didn’t make the top 5.


D and his bike as we arrived at Fons Vitae one snowy weekend morning.

Barlaeus Gymnasium in the city centre was impressive in many ways, a gorgeous big old building that has been modernised while keeping the best features, musical and theatre groups, great science labs, a grand looking aula, friendly and dedicated rector for the onderbouw ( years 1-3 ) kids and is located right off busy social Leidseplein, which apparently proves to be a distraction to the students as they get older. For us, it’s a 20 minute bike ride into fairly busy traffic so I’m a little less enthusiastic about that. There’s a Year 1 musical and a school newspaper plus a few days away camp for First Years in the first week of September which seems to be ubiquitous in Dutch middelbare schools. A nice idea that gets kids acquainted with their new classmates very fast. The vibe is almost ‘too cool for school’ but an appealing school overall. D liked this school quite a lot.



Musical presentation during the     Barlaeus Openavond.

Spinoza Lyceum has 3 streams, Havo, Atheneum and Gymnasium although their Gymnasium class is small and at all levels, students use ipads for almost all their work. This is a negative for me, my son isn’t particularly drawn to it either so although he liked the school a lot, it won’t be high on the list for the tech heavy reason alone. It’s only a 6 minutes bike ride from our house so would be a fantastic commute for him though! Also, a very nice building to spend your school days. If he was awarded this school in the lottery, I can’t say I’d be upset as it has an excellent reputation.

Lastly, we went to Ignatius Gymnasium for the Openavond and Openlessen. Great, new bright building in the heart of Oud Zuid. He liked it well enough although the atmosphere didn’t do very much for me and it just goes to show how personal this choosing schools business is. Maybe I’m weird or had school fatigue. It had the usual VWO aspects; foreign trips, homework help and learning support if needed and it’s lessons are unusually of 70 minutes duration. A great gym ( possibly two, I think ), science labs and less than 15 minutes bike ride from our house. Close to his siblings’ schools also not to mention the local ice-cream and bookshops. And a mini football pitch outside. A hit.


Little brother taking a stroll amongst the book sculpture arrangement in Ignatius Gymnasium.

My favourite school is Vossius where my oldest son is a 2nd year student. It’s another 100 year old red- brick building in the style of the Amsterdam School and just east of Beatrixpark. It has a great cultural program including a Cafe Chantant event every Spring where students can show off their comedy, acting and musical talents. There’s also a Christmas concert, school newspaper and school orchestra. I like the slightly geeky atmosphere and cozy feeling and fervently hope my son will put it as number 1. My oldest boy is very at home there and thinks Vossius has a Harry Potterish feel to it. But alas my younger son has his own mind and is not a Harry Potter fan…

So here are D’s school preferences right now based mainly on gut feeling but it’s liable to change over the next two weeks, I suspect.

1. Ignatius Gymnasium

2. Het Amsterdams Lyceum

3. Barlaeus Gymnasium

4. Vossius Gymnasium

5. Spinoza Lyceum

6. Cygnus Gymnasium

7. St. Nicolaas Lyceum

A few tips for anyone facing this in future

  • Be prepared to write off your social life and relaxing evenings for approx a month, mid-January to mid- February.
  • It’s not particularly a stressful month-just exhausting planning your partner’s, kids’ and your own schedules. The really hard part is trying to rank the schools. Too many options!
  • One happy realisation is that Dutch employers are pretty flexible allowing parents of Groep 8 students time off to attend some afternoon open days or lessons. These events are seen as milestones in family life, ie, if you have a Group 8’er, then you will naturally be busy in the months of January and February. And that’s ok. Work is flexible and can wait a day or until later that evening.
  • You will most likely come out of this month-long process with a sense of quiet achievement. You checked out the high schools of Amsterdam with your kid and survived. And you had some fun and bonding moments with your child along the way. See, the hard bits are worth doing-always.
  • Lastly, brush up on your Dutch skills!

Helping your kids integrate into Dutch school

Two years after we moved here, I wrote an article about the early days of my kids’ dutch school experience. There are tips and a few anecdotes and hopefully it might be helpful for new families moving to the Netherlands.

It was published on the website of Amsterdam Mamas, a wonderful international parents’ group based in Amsterdam. I had previously spent about 18 months as a member of the weekend round up team where we each wrote a monthly newsletter about fun family activities in and around Amsterdam. Then I thought an article on education might be a good idea and decided to share my do’s and dont’s. I hope some of you do too! You can read it here via this link.


Once more into the Fray: The Wonderful World of Dutch Schools

When our family moved here in 2012, we decided for a number of reasons to send our kids to a local dutch school instead of international school. This decision was arrived at easily as private school fees for three children were not really a smart financial option for us and instinctively we knew it would be the wrong decision for our family. We wanted the kids to learn a new language and living in the heart of Europe seemed like a gift so why not grasp the opportunity. Learning dutch offers many benefits; dutch friends, cultural integration, eaves-dropping at every turn, and a broad range of secondary (middelbare) schools to choose from. Our eldest child, T is already in Year 2 of dutch middelbare. So, we have been through the fraught, exciting and downright confusing journey of looking for the right secondary school before. But it doesn’t really feel any easier. Here’s a look at our middelbare story so far.

T is an academic child, artistic, musical and a bundle of energy-a lot of energy! He is perfectly suited to his school, a Gymnasium in Amsterdam. A Gymnasium is similar to a grammar school, offering the classic languages of Greek and Latin along with modern languages Dutch, English, German and French plus music, art, science subjects, history, geography, computer science. It’s co-educational ( like all Dutch schools ) and is non-religious. To say he loves his school would be an understatement. It has a broad programme of cultural events throughout the year, including trips to Amsterdam cultural institutions, musical and theatre student group performances. The kids there are friendly, confident and proud of their school and there is a strong scholarly work ethic. In later years, the students take a week long trip to Rome or Greece and other short trips each year. An unusual aspect of the dutch education system is that there are precious little private Dutch school options and so everyone from the King’s children to the man in the street can be in the same classroom { The King does in fact send his kids to their local public school! } thus confirming that equality is important to this small country and it’s citizens.

School fees are low and our middelbare school charges 660Eur per year for everything, which includes school trips and supervised homework after school. Books are free in dutch schools. And as there are no uniforms, schooling here is quite a lot cheaper for us compared to our local school back in Ireland. Even when the older students head to Rome for a week, the fees remains the same so that contributes to financial peace of mind for parents. T’s school has a cosy, gezellig atmosphere in a 1920’s Amsterdam architecture red-brick building and he feels safe and welcome there. Yesterday, at the Open Day his art teacher smiled and said, “Ahh T…I like him very much. I have to tell him to quiet down sometimes but he is great”. She gets him which was really nice to hear. Continue reading