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Portugal - Education and Schools

Education in Portugal is run by the Ministry of Education with the newly appointed Minister for Education Tiago Brandão Rodrigues at the helm. Education and schooling varies per area and autonomous region in Portugal with municipal governments, local authorities, central governments and The Ministry of Education all involved in various ways in funding the public school system.

Public primary schools all over the country follow the same common curriculum as set by the central government and secondary schooling depends on the technical, vocational or general studies undertaken. With a range of fee paying and free education available to new students those relocating to Portugal can certainly find a school to meet the needs of their child.

Nursery- Infantário / Creche. 0-2 years
Nurseries are optional day care services which are not commonly found throughout the country. Due to stay at home Mums receiving decent state financial support, nurseries for local children are more of a rarity. Parents may use other family members, childcare minders and crèches as alternative day care. In larger cities there are international nurseries with fees and English speaking workers but a majority are state funded public nurseries/centres.

Kindergarten Jardim de Infância. 3-5 years
Kindergartens oversee optional education and state provided care for children before they enter compulsory education with an aim at play centred learning and basic numeracy and literacy skills. Officially trained certified teachers work in kindergartens and classes are no larger than 25. State or private options are available. Half days and full days are options and each kindergarten is open 8 hours a day on weekdays. International schools gear their learning towards pre primary learning and many follow the the International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Primary school- Ensino Básico- compulsory education 6-9 years
Primary school is where compulsory education begins. The first phase of primary school which lasts 4 years sees a main class teacher and assistants teach children key numeracy and literacy skills with a range of other subjects. Foreign language learning may start, depending on the school. Public, international and private primary schools are available. Generally, school starts at 9am with lessons and learning until 3.30pm. Depending on each school, there may be activities after 3.30pm. It may be that a primary school works in shifts with AM slots of 8.00 am until 1.00pm or PM slots of 1.15pm until 6.15 pm.

Primary school- Ensino Básico - compulsory education 2º Ciclo - 2nd Cycle 10-11
Middle school- Ensino Básico - compulsory education- 3º Ciclo - 3rd Cycle 12-14

The next two cycles extend the school days by around 2 hours beginning at 8.45 am and finishing at 16.45pm. Children have two breaks, one in the morning and afternoon with a lunch break of more than an hour. The curriculum branches out to a broader study of subjects, and the day is structured in a comparable way to secondary education. Such subjects include music, natural sciences, English, environmental studies and perhaps Catholicism. At the end of middle school the child receives a Certificado/Diploma which paves the way for the next school phase.

Secondary Education- Ensino Secundário 15-18
Secondary education in Portugal aims to provide students with knowledge, skills and qualifications for higher education or the labour market. It lasts 3 years and courses can be taught in secondary schools or vocational schools. All courses contain technological, vocational and technical elements. Vocational and technical courses receive a Diploma de Formação Profissional de Nível III or Diploma de Estudios Profissionais and general courses receive Secondary-Escola Secundária certificates.

Higher education Universities and Polytechnics 18-21 and adult education
Students in tertiary education are usually between the ages of eighteen and twenty five. Adults who are 25+ can apply to go to university or polytechnics without secondary education certificates if they are considered able to undertake the course. Higher education is divided into two categories, Polytechnics and universities. There are 64 polytechnics in Portugal and 36 universities which are private and 20 polytechnics and 14 universities and 6 police and military institutions which are public. University education gets the student for the undergraduate course a bacharelato, for a four year course a licenciatura qualification and doctorates and master’s degrees achieve master's’ degrees and doctorates. Polytechnics also provide licenciatura and bacharelato qualifications.

Public schools

Schooling is inclusive with children with special needs being able to join mainstream education in class alongside others. Lessons are taught in Portuguese, with limited provisions for speakers of other languages.

Private schools

Following the Portuguese curriculum, the schools prepare children all the way to higher education. Boarding is an option with some private schools. There are a range of extracurricular activities and clubs and facilities and resources are well funded and modern. Private schools have uniforms and are not found all over the country but mainly in Porto and Lisbon. An entry exam is necessary to get into private schools and interviews plus the acceptance of school directors influences decisions. Expat children can receive extra help with learning the local language or receiving English speaking and 1 to 1 help.

International schools

International schools are another option for fee paying education. The curriculum can suit students per nationality so they can study the relevant courses for exams of SAT/PSAT, GCSE and the International Baccalaureate. There are many international schools with excellent reputations and competition can be fierce as expat children try to get enrolled. The schools are progressive and have stricter rules on presentation though not all have uniforms. Notable international schools are Aljezur International School in the Algarve, Carlucci American International School of Lisbon and Oporto British School. Expect waiting lists, registration fees, acceptance fees and tuition fees. Portugal also has other international schools such as a Swedish school and Spanish, German and French schools.


When it comes to enrolling in public schools, contact a local school in the area where you live and enquire. They are usually helpful and knowledgeable about the procedure. It is also possible to contact the Direcção Regional de Educação (Regional Education Authority) to see which school your child should attend. The enrolment period is between January and May of the previous school year with the final date usually around mid-July, though if they are coming from a non-Portuguese school then contacting the school's governing body will provide information on enrolment in this case. For private and international schools contact them directly to apply.

Documentation for enrolment is precise so make sure you have originals and translations just in case. Bring passports/ID Card (cédula) or certification from the embassy of the child's home country, their vaccination book, the form filled in by the health centre detailing any problems with sound or sight and a health centre card. Bring a photograph of the child, enrolment form and some patience for the process.

International schools follow the calendar and school year of the country they represent, private schools have their own holidays as per school and differ from set state school holidays and term times.

Generally, state schools adhere to the following dates though variations of days are possible.

First term: 15th-21st September to 15th December (Christmas holidays of 2 weeks - Férias de Natal).
Second term: 3rd of January to two week premature of Easter (Easter holidays of 2 weeks - Férias de Páscoa)
Third term: The first Tuesday after Easter to 15th June (Summer holidays of 12 weeks - Férias de Verão)

Extra-curricular activities in public schools don’t exist as they are known in other countries. There are community schemes run by educational organisations outside of school and activities be it recreational and cultural are designed to help integrate students into their communities. Private schools offer personal music lessons, a wider variety of sports teams and more resources for media and I.T clubs. International schools will offer the largest amount of options with more specialist activities like chess, creative writing, computer programming and theatre/drama.

Read more about this country

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