What's it like to go to school in Holland?

When Headmaster Andrew Harvey was asked if two pupils could go to school in Holland, he readily agreed. Scott and Elena, brother and sister, had the chance to spend three months at Jozefschool in Hillegom, near their family.

The opportunity arose as their parents were keen for them to improve their spoken and written Dutch and to engage more fully with the Dutch culture. We caught up with the children once they returned to The Paragon and asked them what it was like.

Elena, age 7, who is in Year 3, made some very quick observations that seemed close to her heart; “You can wear whatever you like, the homework is really easy, but there’s no fish & chips.”

Ten-year-old Scott didn’t seem so thrilled with the fact that there were tests everyday, but was happy to report that there were half days on Wednesdays and Fridays. “You don’t do sport at school in Holland and there was no art or music or French. There were English lessons – I was good at them.”

It seems that sport is organised outside of school and Elena tried handball which she loved and Scott played football three times a week as well as rugby – all on top of PE sessions at school.

It may seem like a cliché when talking about the Netherlands, but both children commented a lot about cycling and the canals. Everyone cycles – it’s so flat and easy. There are a lot of canals and they were able to swim in them and also to ice-skate – in the side sections where the boats and barges rarely travel.

In true younger sister fashion, Elena told how Scott went home on his own. Mum Claire clarified;

“Children have much more personal freedom in the Netherlands than in the UK. Partly that’s afforded by the fact the country is set up for cyclists so it’s safe for children to cycle alone (no one wears helmets, by the way!) but it’s also just more accepted. Scott cycled to school on his own and often met a friend on the way. I cycled with Elena. Scott was allowed to come home on his own as long as we had agreed it in advance. Elena wasn’t. Although she was allowed to go and play with friends in the neighbourhood alone. They also take their rowing boat to the other side of the canal to play unsupervised in the park. They have telephones and we make sure they take them with them.”

We felt they would benefit from understanding that things are done differently in other places: that there’s never one right answer or one approach.

It is evident that both children enjoyed the experience enormously and made friends easily, but they both said they preferred The Paragon. “The playground is bigger and better.” said Elena. Scott reported; “It was good to learn more Dutch and it was fun making new friends. I liked the teachers, but I like the teachers at The Paragon more.”

What does mum think?

“I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly they slipped into the rhythm of Dutch school. Fortunately, the Dutch system works slightly differently and both children found they were well ahead in maths for their year group making the transition easier. Dutch was obviously a different matter and while they’re both fluent speakers, their spelling and grammar is behind for their age group. That said, in the space of the three months, they both improved greatly and Elena, in particular, was taken with the different formation of letters she had to learn in hand writing.”

We think it sounds like a wonderful experience.

You can wear whatever you like, the homework is really easy, but there’s no fish & chips.

Elena, age 7, on her experience at school in The Netherlands