Essay: Applied and Academic English [ENG]

In this essay I will focus on the main statement ‘Compare and contrast the post-primary education system in the United Kingdom with that of  the Netherlands’.

To compare and contrast the post-primary education systems in both countries, I first need to explain some basics according to this topic.

The Netherlands
In the Netherlands you have eight years of primary school, obligated to start at the age of five, children finish (mostly) when they are 12. (Rijksoverheid, voortgezet onderwijs 2011) In the final year of primary school, called ‘group 8’, children have to do an intelligence test with assignments in the categories of the Dutch language, Math’s, World Orientation and study skills.  The obtained points determent in which of the four levels you will pursue on secondary school. (Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs 2011)
In Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) children have to attend primary school at the age of five, in Northern Island kids have to be four. The transfer to secondary school in the UK is normally at the age of 11. (Whittaker’s Almanack, 2008, p362).
In this essay I have to exclude the exceptions of the post-primary systems of the both countries, only the traditional routes and systems will be addressed.

After primary school children in The Netherlands can enter four different levels of secondary education at on one of the 668 schools (Turner. 2008. p914).
Praktijkonderwijs (pratical education) takes four years and all classes are adapted to the individual student. Next to the necessary subject as Maths, Dutch language and PA, the student will be trained for working in restaurants, departments stores or warehouses. That means that when the student graduates from the Praktijkonderwijs at the age of 16, he or she will go straight to work.
Within the VMBO (Preparing Middle Professional Education), also taking four years, the student can be trained as a craftsmen, carpenter or mechanic, but also for social occupations as a nurse or a barber. There are two levels within the VMBO, 3 and 4. With level 4, the student has the opportunity to enter the HAVO (Higher Common Continues Education) after graduation, but he or she can also make the choice to work.
The student will enter HAVO for five years and will choose one of the four profiles. Nature and Technique, Nature and Health, Economics and Society or Culture and Society. These profiles all have their own subjects, according to the strengths of the pupil.
The highest level of secondary school in the Netherlands is VWO (Preparing Scientific Education) and takes six years. The pupil will go to Atheneum or Gymnasium. On the Gymnasium all student will have Greek and/or Latin next to their normal subjects, at the Atheneum the student has the possibility to do Latin. (Rijksoverheid voortgezet onderwijs 2011)

The students who graduated from Praktijkonderwijs can go to work; students from the VMBO can also start working, go to the HAVO (third level of secondary school) or go to the MBO (Middle Professional Education). At the MBO the students can learn to be a secretary, how open their own shop or prepare to enter a higher level of education, the HBO (higher Professional Education). (Rijksoverheid beroepsonderwijs MBO 2011)

The Netherlands has forty HBO schools. Students from the MBO or the HAVO enter these schools, whose bachelor takes four years. A couple of examples of these bachelors are Banking and Insuranse, Teacher English, The Rock Academy, Journalism or HBO Law. If the student passes his or her first year he will get a certificate, called Propeduese (P), which will accept the student into University. When the student graduates from his or her HBO Bachelor again they can start working or study two more years to obtain a master at University.
University is the highest level of study in The Netherlands. The same as at HBO, the bachelor takes four years and the master takes six. The way of teaching is theoretic and most students stay six years at one course. Pupils at University can study to be a doctor, biologist, vet or criminologist. Most student who apply to a University finished their VWO, but there are also students who entered University with their P and there are even student who worked their way up from MBO, to HBO into University. (Rijksoverheid beroepsonderwijs HBO 2011)

United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom children start secondary school at the age of 11, in class seven, and can stay until the age of 18 if they want to, but are obligated to stay until the age of 16. (Whittaker’s Almanack, 2008, P362). When pupils decided to quit at the age of 16, they can go to work and be trained by the company they work for (work-based learning) or enter further education. In 2005, half of the students that entered further education went to higher education afterwards. (Withakers Almanack, 2008, p366)

In class 11 the pupils will enter General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams, the system to investigate if the pupil has a specific basis of the subject. Those subjects are art and design, business, engineering, health and social care, ICT, leisure and tourism, manufacturing and science. These subject are in the end rewarded with a maximum of an A* or with the minimum G. All students at primary school have to take these. The ones who don’t decide to drop out can enter the A-levels (A stands for Advanced) and will stay two years longer at secondary school. The A-levels should be a proper base to enter higher education. (Whitaker’s Almanack, 2008, P365). These specifications were condensed from six to four units to cut the weight of the assessments; Applied A-levels are still six units though. Students need The A-levels to enter University in the UK. (website Biritsh counsil)
When pupils pass their A-levels they can enter one of the 106 Universities in the UK or one of the 46 colleges of higher education. The better the grade on the A-level, the easier to get into one of the top Universities of the country. At University the student can do a 3 or 4 years bachelor, and can afterwards do a two-year master and become a postgraduate student. (Whitakers Almanack, 2008, p370)

Compare and contrast
There are some obvious comparisons to make between the Dutch and the UK post-primary education systems. First of all, in both countries students are obligated to stay into school until the age of 16, and have the opportunity to start work at the age of 16. The bachelor and master system are also equal between the two countries. Another comparison is the ability for student to grow. If you drop out at the age of 16, in both countries you still have the possibility to end up at University.

The interesting part is the differences. In the Netherlands children have to make a lot of decisions at an early age, and through their educational years they have to also make many decisions. At what level do they want and are they able to study at secondary school and what route or profile do they choose when they are in secondary school? This might lead to taking wrong decisions, changing courses, Universities or lead to drop outs. The first big choice UK students have to make is at the age of 16. An age where students know themselves, their strengths and interest a little bit better then at the age of 12. The grading system is also different. In the Netherlands if a student passes her or his secondary school level, he or she can enter the higher education level. In The UK you’re a-level has to be extremely good if you want to study at one of the top Universities. Another difference are the levels of secondary school in The Netherlands. If you are a smart kid in the UK, the less smarted kids might hold you back, while in The Netherlands you will have friends at the same level of thinking and processing. The separating of the student in the UK won’t start until University.


Whitaker, J and Sons Ltd. 2008. Whitaker’s Almanack 2009, Today’s world in one volume. A & C Black Publishers Ltd. Registered Trade Mark Nos. London, UK. 141st edition. pp 362 – 370

Turner, B. 2008. The Statesman’s Yearbook, The politics, cultures and economies of the world. Jones, A (London), Kiely, G (New York). 7th edition. pp 914

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