Special education is needed for a variety of reasons. Every child is unique and some need extra support in their education. If you are an expat or a returning Dutch family, it is crucial to understand what to expect from the Dutch education system anno 2023 regarding your child’s learning needs.

In this article, we dive into the concept of appropriate education and what it means for children in the Netherlands. First, we discuss the support that can be offered at regular schools. Then the options available for special education, the four clusters. Finally, we discuss the different ways to arrive at a diagnosis if your child has a care need.

Support at regular Dutch schools

All schools in a specific region provide basic support to their students, known as basic support. If your child is experiencing challenges in their learning, the school takes the first step in understanding and addressing these issues.

Basic support includes:

help for students with dyslexia
management of behavioral problems
extra support for students with different levels of intelligence
necessary resources and accessible school infrastructure
protocols for medical interventions as needed

School Support Profile

Each school describes its approach to student support in the school support profile. This document includes details about staffing, such as hiring remedial teachers or teaching assistants, to meet the various needs of students.


Education clusters: the 4 clusters

Special education in the Netherlands is divided into four clusters based on the nature and extent of support needed.

  • Cluster 1: Education of blind and visually impaired children
  • Cluster 2: Education of deaf, hard of hearing children and children with severe speech and language problems
  • Cluster 3: Education of children with physical or mental disabilities and long term sick children
  • Cluster 4: Education of children with severe behavioral and psychiatric problems


Age and transition

Special education is available for children as young as 4 years old. Exceptions are children with hearing loss who may attend a cluster 2 school from the age of 3. In general, children can stay in special education until the end of the school year in which they turn 14.


Admission and obligations of schools.

For admission to special education, a child needs a certificate of eligibility from the partnership. However, it is important to note that cluster 1 and cluster 2 schools are not legally required to admit students, but are required to make efforts to find a suitable alternative if they cannot accommodate the child.


Special learning needs: Diagnosis and investigation

Below are the most common diagnoses from which special learning needs arise.

Dyslexia: children with dyslexia have difficulty learning and accurately and/or fluently applying word-level reading and/or spelling skills.

Dyscalculia: children with dyscalculia have difficulty learning and accurately and/or fluently applying math skills and mathematical knowledge.

ADHD: ADHD is the abbreviation for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, known in Dutch as attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

Autism: autism is a developmental disorder in which children develop differently from other children. They find it difficult to process information, which can lead to anger or withdrawal. Typically, children with autism have little or difficulty connecting and may be fixated on one subject or activity. These children are sensitive to stimuli that cause stress and anxiety.

Autism is considered one disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with severe or less severe features. Previously, different autism spectrum disorders were distinguished, such as classic autism, Asperger’s or PDD-NOS.

Giftedness: a gifted student has a very high general intelligence that can be expressed by an IQ score higher than 130. Gifted students can quickly process a lot of information and develop faster than average intelligent students. They may have a great developmental advantage in cognitive, social, emotional, moral and motor areas, as well as in personal development.

Many of these children have a strong sense of justice, think deeply about life questions and are sensitive to signals and moods from their environment.


Research to come to a diagnosis

There are two options: the school conducts research or parents can have their own research done. Both possibilities are explained below.

Research by the school

If you have concerns about your child at school, it is best to discuss it with the teacher, mentor, the internal supervisor or care coordinator.

School support plan

What the school can do for your child is described in the school support profile and school guide. If this guidance does not lead to a solution, the school may, with your permission, engage the help of a school counseling service or educational advisory service.

Research in cooperation with the school can provide insight into the underlying causes of the problems and offer leads for possible solutions.

An examination can be didactic (focusing on school knowledge and skills) or psychological (focusing on intelligence and personality). The school examination shows whether a child meets the criteria for receiving a diagnosis. Inform the school in advance what will happen with the examination data.

Care budget

The school has a care budget that can be used for research and extra care in the classroom. Generally, this budget is sufficient for the care needed at school. Sometimes parents may be asked to contribute to the costs. In that case, parents can ask their own health insurance company or the municipality for reimbursement of guidance or resources.

Do your own research

Parents can also have research into learning problems done outside of school. If you think that an examination would provide more clarity about your child’s learning problems, but the school is not cooperating, you can consider doing your own research. For this you can contact a psychologist or pedagogue.


If you decide to have research done yourself, you cannot claim the school’s care budget. In that case, the costs are for yourself. If a disorder is suspected, the costs of examinations for clients up to the age of 18 are reimbursed from the GGZ by the municipality. A referral is required for this.

Special education 2023: knowledge of the system helps

Understanding the nuances of adapted education and the support systems available is critical for parents with children who are experiencing challenges in their learning journey.

Whether your child needs extra help within regular schools or specialized education in specific clusters, the Dutch education system focuses on a tailored approach to meet diverse needs. It is essential to be well informed, work closely with the schools and thus be able to ensure that your child develops in their best way.

Questions about special education 2023

If you have any questions as a result of this article, you can always email us using our contact form or email. Or check out the point of contact in your area or association for parents with children who have special learning needs,


Contact point for special education

After the school itself, the partnership of education in your city or region is the first point of contact about appropriate education. Each association has a parent and youth support center where you can go for more information and support in finding appropriate educational offers. Here you can search for the partnership by city.

Association ‘Balans’

Balans supports and represents parents as best they can by sharing information and knowledge in various ways. On their website you can find a lot of information.