Reference level in primary and secondary education. The reference level is an important indication of the level your child has mastered and from which further education he can choose in the Netherlands.

In the Dutch education system, we strive for clear and understandable language and numeracy levels for pupils in primary and secondary education. This is crucial to understanding what your children should know and be able to do. Below we discuss these reference levels in Dutch education in a little more detail.

What is a reference level?

The reference levels for Dutch language and mathematics serve as guidelines for what students should achieve in language and mathematics. These reference levels apply to primary education, special education, secondary education and intermediate vocational education. In this article we focus mainly on the Dutch language, as this is our core subject at Dutch for Children.

Different reference levels primary education and secondary

Within the reference framework we distinguish the fundamental levels (F-levels) and the target levels (S-levels):

  • The fundamental level (F-level) is the basis that students must master.
  • S-level, the target level, is intended for pupils who can handle more challenge.

The following final levels apply to pupils in primary, secondary and vocational education:

  • Primary education: level 1F
  • Vmbo, mbo-1, mbo-2 and mbo-3: level 2F
  • Havo and mbo-4: level 3F
  • Vwo: math level 3F and language level 4F

Reference level Dutch language

Within the reference framework for language, there are thus specific reference levels that prescribe what students must know and be able to do in the area of the Dutch language. The reference levels for the Dutch language include four main subjects (domains):

  1. Oral language skills (conversation, listening and speaking).
  2. Reading skills (including reading business and literary texts)
  3. Writing skills (e.g. writing an essay or job application letter)
  4. Comprehension (for example, knowledge of concepts such as vowel, noun or proverb) and language care (correct application of language).


Differences in language levels

There are two different designations for language levels, depending on whether a student’s native language is Dutch or not:

  1. For Dutch-speaking students, the reference levels from the Standards and Learning Outcomes (Instroom, 1F, 2F) are used. These language levels vary in difficulty. For example, if a Dutch speaker reaches level 2F, he has also mastered the lower levels (Instroom and 1F).
  2. For foreign-language learners, the ERK levels from the Raamwerk NT2 (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2) are used. Again, the language levels vary in difficulty. For example, if a non-native reaches level B2, he also masters the lower levels (A1, A2 and B1).

It is important to note, however, that not all language users will reach the highest level.

You can also find more information about the different levels in our blog on how long it takes to learn Dutch.

Explanation school types in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands we have different types of secondary schools. These schools help prepare students for their future careers.


Age: Usually for children aged 12 to 16.
What it is. VMBO teaches you practical and theoretical skills for all kinds of professions and training.

There are four types of VMBO:

  1. BB (Basic learning pathway): Students learn basic skills for simple occupations.
  2. KB (Kader learning pathway): A step up from BB with more practical skills.
  3. GL (Mixed learning pathway): A mix of practical and theoretical subjects for broader career choices.
  4. TL (Theoretical learning pathway): More focused on theoretical subjects and prepares for further education.



The vmbo prepares you for the mbo. Even if you have a havo diploma, or have previously obtained another diploma, you can study at the mbo. Are you in a practical school or did you not get your vmbo diploma? The mbo has an education for you. You can do an entrance course.

The MBO courses prepare you for practicing a trade or profession. There are many professions in, for example, healthcare, construction, engineering, green or art. These professions are divided into around 500 courses in which you can get an MBO diploma.
Continuing education. You can start work with your diploma, but you can also continue learning within the mbo or further in the hbo (higher professional education).



Age: For children aged 12 to 16.
What it is. HAVO is more general and prepares you for higher education and different fields of study.
What do you learn. You take subjects such as math, languages, physics, history, and more.



Age: Usually for children aged 12 to 18.
What is it. VWO is the highest level and prepares you for university education.

Types of VWO:

  1. Athenaeum: Many subjects and suitable if you like exact sciences and humanities.
  2. Gymnasium: Similar to atheneum, but with classical languages such as Latin and/or Greek.

Choosing the right type of school is important because it determines what subjects you take and what your future options are. VMBO prepares you for professions and further education, HAVO for higher education, and VWO for university studies. For all types of schools, you must have the right level of Dutch.

What your child can do with the different types of schools

In our next blog we will explain further what your child can do with the different types of schools in terms of further education or professions. Want to get instant notification of our latest articles? Then follow our facebook page or sign up for our newsletter through our contact page.