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Education in Portugal

24 de October, 2022

Education in Portugal

Learn all about basic and higher education in Portugal, how it works, what the costs are, and how to enroll in the public system.
Reading: 12 min
Knowing how education is and how it works in Portugal is a very recurrent curiosity and doubt for those who are moving with their children. Many even decide to move to the Portuguese country in search of quality education. In this article we will explain everything about primary and higher education, what the costs are, and how to enroll.

Education in Portugal in the basic cycle

How is the education structure in Portugal?

In terms of structure, education in Portugal is not so different from Brazil. The Portuguese education system is divided by levels, being:

  • Day care centers: 0 to 3 years old;
  • Preschool: 3 to 6 years old;
  • Elementary school: 6 to 14 years old;
  • Secondary school: 15 to 17 years old;
  • Higher Education: 18+.

Within each teaching level we also have sub-levels that I will explain further.

Elementary Education

By law, basic education is compulsory for all children from the age of 6 and up and is divided into:

  • 1st cycle: 1st to 4th grade;
  • 2nd cycle: 5th and 6th grade;
  • 3rd cycle: 7th to 9th grade.

This is what in Brazil we call fundamental education.

High School

Secondary school is what we call in Brazil high school. This means that it is the final three years of school – 10th, 11th and 12th grades – and where the pressure to choose a profession, which university to enter and preparation for the National Examination, which resembles our ENEM, begins.

Secondary education includes students between the ages of 15 and 18, but also provides training for adults who, for some reason, have had to abandon school. Therefore, just as we have Youth and Adult Education (EJA) in Brazil, Portugal has Adult Education and Training (EFA).

Higher Education

Higher education in Portugal is a little different from Brazil and the lack of this information is a reason to see many Brazilians complaining here. So, let me clarify this point through each cycle.

Graduation – 1st cycle

There are no Bachelor’s courses. Here all courses are named as either a Bachelor’s degree and comprise 3 years of study or a Bachelor’s degree with an integrated Master’s degree that comprises 5 years of study.

Both work as an undergraduate degree in Brazil, with the difference being the integrated master’s degree. Don’t think that it will prepare you for the academic universe, it just brings a larger workload to comply with the Bologna Treaty and unify the European study, which is 5 years (as in most Brazilian courses).

Master – 2nd Cycle

The master’s degree in Portugal has become a gateway for foreigners looking for a specialization. However, it is important to make it very clear that it is nothing like a master’s degree in Brazil. In Portugal, the master’s degree is geared toward the labor market and is much more similar to our MBA. Therefore, do not expect that you will become a researcher/university professor, because the focus is not to prepare you for academia.

The lack of this information has become the main frustration of Brazilians in Portugal who came with the expectation of deepening their studies and publishing articles in journals, but ended up doing tests and market-oriented work as if it were a small extension of their graduation.

PhD – 3rd Cycle

This is the level of education in Portugal for those who wish to enter the academic world, further their studies and become a university researcher/teacher. Doing a PhD in Portugal will prepare you exactly for this and the universities are of high quality. Then, you can even go on to post-doctoral studies and secure a PhD title, for example.

How do day care centers work in Portugal?

Day-care centers in Portugal operate for newborns to 3-year-olds, with educational staff to stimulate the development of each child. They are divided into two categories:

  • Private;
  • Public-Private*, known as Private Institutions of Social Solidarity (IPSS), where the government pays one part and the parents the other. In this case, the amount is analyzed according to the parents’ monthly income.

Usually, enrollment in day care centers takes place between March and May and the “school year” starts in September. To enroll their children, parents should look for the daycare centers closest to their homes and hope that there are vacancies available, because it is not always that easy.

Newborns and children can stay at daycare centers for up to 40 hours a week, helping parents who need to work in Portugal all day. However, these hours are flexible and depend on the individual’s routine.

*Portugal’s parliament has approved free tuition as of September 2022 for children entering the first year of kindergarten.

How does preschool education work in Portugal?

The pre-school period covers children between the ages of 3 and 5 and is not compulsory by law, leaving it up to parents to decide whether or not to enroll their child. Registration for pre-school education is done online through ePortugal.gov or in person at the school office closest to your home.

Preschool Classroom
In education in Portugal, pre-school is not compulsory.

Pre-school education in Portugal is offered free of charge in the public and private non-profit networks, as it is financed by the Ministry of Education. As for private and corporate educational institutions, payment must be made by the parents.

According to the Directorate-General of Education (DGE), pre-school comprises five hours of activities a day guided by an educator, in addition to animation activities, socio-educational activities, lunch service, and family support.

How do schools work in Portugal?

Education in Portugal takes place in public or private schools, just like in Brazil. However, there is a big difference. Unfortunately, in Brazil teaching in public schools is deficient in much of the country, whereas in Portugal, public schools have excellent teaching and leave nothing to be desired.

The proof is that almost 80% of the students are enrolled in public schools. According to the latest Education in Numbers report, released in 2021 and with reference to the 2019/2020 school year, there are 1,273,979 students in the public network and only 321,333 in the private network.

See the table by school cycle of students enrolled, according to the report from the Portuguese Ministry of Education:

School CycleNo. of students in the audienceNo. of students in private
Preschool133.007118.101
Basic832.208118.656
Secondary308.76484.576

As the data show, only about 20% of students are in the private network, most of them in the pre-school and elementary cycle.

The international schools in Portugal are very prominent in the private network with high standard facilities, small classes, extracurricular and bilingual activities.

In Brazil, this type of international school makes the student learn a second language as a native. It is no different in Portugal, but it is important to say that language learning is also extremely strong in the public school system. Students finish school with a good fluency in English and a third language, which can be French, German or Spanish. Therefore, in education in Portugal you do not learn the verb To Be all your life.

Workload and school vacations

The workload varies according to the following table, based on the curricular matrix informed on the website of the Directorate-General of Education:

Hourly loadSchool Cycle
Preschool25 hours per week
Elementary school – 1st cyclebetween 24.5 hours and 27 hours a week
Basic Education – 2nd and 3rd Cycles30 hours a week
High Schoolcan reach up to 36 hours a week

School vacations take place during the summer months of July and August.

What is basic schooling in Portugal?

As we have already explained, education in Portugal is divided into cycles. Basic school is the one that comprises students from 1st to 9th grade. There are five formative offers, according to the DGE:

  1. Distance Learning (DLT);
  2. Teaching for roaming;
  3. Alternative Curriculum Pathways (ACP);
  4. Integrated Education and Training Program (PIEF);
  5. Individual Teaching and Home Teaching.

In general, the national curriculum in elementary schools comprises the following subjects:

  • Portuguese;
  • Portuguese non-native language (foreign students);
  • Math;
  • Experimental Sciences (natural and human);
  • Foreign Languages (English, German, Spanish or French);
  • Art and technology education;
  • Moral and religious education (optional)
  • School Offering (optional).

Different from what we see in many schools in Brazil, in Portugal there are inclusion actions for foreign students or those who are in international protection shelter – children and young refugees.

In this case, the equivalence of the courses taken in order to offer an adequate education to the student and a reinforcement in the Portuguese language classes (for foreigners who are not native speakers) are some of the school action services that aim at the integration of the students.

What is a secondary school in Portugal?

Secondary school in Portugal comprises students from the 10th to the 12th grade (high school). They are divided into six formative offerings:

  1. Scientific and Humanistic courses;
  2. Courses with Own Plans;
  3. Specialized Artistic Courses (ANQEP)*;
  4. Professional Courses (ANQEP)*;
  5. Secondary Education in the Recurring Education Modality;
  6. Vocational Courses.

The courses offered by ANQEP – National Agency for Qualification and Professional Education – are similar to the technical schools in Brazil (such as IFET), where it is possible to do high school with a focus on a career to enter the job market.

Students in the school hallway in Portugal
In education in Portugal, students can choose between 6 educational offers.

Generally speaking, the national curriculum in secondary schools comprises general education and specific education. In general we have:

  • Portuguese;
  • Philosophy;
  • Portuguese non-native language (foreign students);
  • Foreign Languages (English, German, Spanish or French);
  • Physical education;
  • Citizenship and development;
  • School Offering (History, Culture and Democracy)

As for specific training, it will depend on the training offer chosen by each student, but here are some examples:

  • Applied Mathematics;
  • Latin;
  • Political Science;
  • Law;
  • Economics;
  • Geography;
  • Geology;
  • Materials and Technologies;
  • Sociology;
  • Arts Workshop;
  • Theater;
  • Design Workshop;
  • Chemistry.

It’s quite interesting this separation between general and specific education in high schools, isn’t it? In my opinion, it makes more sense for the students and makes the school environment much more enjoyable.

How much does a school in Portugal cost?

Education in Portugal is free in public schools, however, parents need to pay for food, study visits, and personal school supplies, as books are also provided free of charge through a voucher issued on the MEGA – Free Textbooks website.

The amount of food is stipulated by subsidy brackets, which vary according to family income, as shown in the table below:

StepValue of foodStudy Visits
1st echelonat no chargeat no charge
2nd echelon0.75 per day (50% of the value)10€ (50% of the value)
3 rung1.46 per day (100% of the value)20€ (100% of the value)

It is worth mentioning that school feeding is a complete and balanced meal, with a nutritionist preparing the menus.

Private schools, on the other hand, vary greatly in price. The costs of an international school, for example, can be as much as 25,000 euros per year.

What does it take to enroll a child in Portugal?

To enroll your child in a public school in Portugal, you need to look for the one closest to your home. Here you do not have the option to choose which one you want.

On the website of the Directorate-General of School Establishments (DGEstE) you will find a list of all of them separated by region.

Enrollment in schools starts in April, but varies depending on the year of schooling. You need to pay attention to the dates announced in ePortugal. The calendar for 2021/2022 is as follows:

  • April 15 to May 14: pre-school and 1st grade;
  • June 18 to 30: 8th to 12th grade;
  • July 10 to 16: 2nd to 7th grade.
Student studying for the exam
Most students in Portugal are enrolled in the public network.

Registration and renewals can be done online through ePortugal (if you have access to the Portal) or in person at the school office closest to your home. Remember that education in Portugal is compulsory for all children from the age of 6.

Required documents

To enroll in the Portuguese school, you will need to present the following documents:

  • Passport or residence permit of the student;
  • 2 Photos 3×4;
  • School transcript and declaration of completion of the year*;
  • Completing the registration form;
  • Vaccination card (anti-tetanus is mandatory);
  • Medical certificate showing visual, hearing, or other problems (if applicable to the school and student’s requirements);
  • NIF – Tax Identification Number of the responsible and the student;
  • Health insurance (registered with the National Health Service) or PB4;
  • Registration form (provided by the school itself);
  • 2 3×4 photos of the student.

*If the student comes from a Brazilian school, the school transcript and declaration must have the Hague apostille.

How to do the equivalence of elementary and high school in PT?

To make the equivalence of primary and secondary education in Portugal you need to look for the school closest to your residence and present the following documents:

  • Certificate of school qualifications completed with academic success:
  • Authenticated by the consular services of Portugal or have the Hague apostille done;
  • With a sworn translation into Portuguese (if applicable);
  • With indication of the year of schooling, school cycle or course completed with the respective final grades;
  • Legible photo of the student’s passport or residence permit;
  • Foreign primary and secondary school qualifications form – equivalence provided by the Portuguese school;
  • Statement issued by the Brazilian school entity with information on the grading scales of minimum marks for approval*;
  • Information about the Brazilian education system (number of years of schooling, entrance conditions, school certification, etc)*.

*Additional documents that are not mandatory, but may be required in Portuguese schools for equivalency analysis.

Which are the best schools in Portugal?

The newspaper O Público in partnership with Porto Business School carries out an annual survey based on the analysis of the scores obtained in the national exam to elaborate the ranking of the best schools in Portugal focusing on secondary education.

The 2021 data has not been released yet, but according to the 2020 ranking we have the top 5:

SchoolCityNational Exam Average
Heralds of the Gospel SchoolGuimarães18,05
Efanor CollegeMatosinhos18,03
Academy of Music of Santa CecíliaLisbon17,95
Our Lady of the Rosary SchoolPorto17,62
D. Diogo de Sousa CollegeBraga17,42

Note: the top five schools are private, whose teaching in Portugal is more rigid.

The top 5 public schools in Portugal rank 40th in the ranking. They are:

SchoolCityNational Exam Average
Oporto Conservatory of Music Artistic SchoolPorto15,46
Eça de Queiróz Secondary SchoolPóvoa do Varzim15,24
Infanta D. Maria Secondary SchoolCoimbra15,20
Agra e Lima Primary and Secondary SchoolViana do Castelo14,95
Paredes High SchoolWalls14,87

When does the school year begin in Portugal?

The school year in Portugal starts in September, regardless of the school cycle and whether it is public or private. This leads many Brazilian parents to choose to have their children repeat the year that had already begun in February in Brazil.

School vacations take place in July and August, but on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve there is a short recess. As well as at Easter, where the students also usually have about 10 days of respite.

What is the school evaluation system like in Portugal?

We have already seen that education in Portugal resembles and differs from Brazil in many aspects, and this also applies to the school evaluation system. The evaluations are divided by modality, as follows:

  • Formative assessment: similar to Brazil, where students take periodic tests in order to “diagnose” their learning;
  • Summative assessment: is a global assessment that gathers all learning to know if the student can move on or not. In Brazil, many schools also have global assessments.
  • Internal summative evaluation: it is an evaluation carried out by teachers and pedagogical staff in order to verify the degree of development of the students’ learning. It is closely linked to school attendance;
  • External summative assessment: aimed at the Scientific and Humanistic courses whose final assessment is the National Exam (a test similar to ENEM).

Grades in Portugal go from 0 to 20 points, and not from 0 to 100 as we are used to in Brazil. From 10 to above in all subjects is considered enough to pass the year. In two subjects with less than 10 points, the student repeats the year.

In the internal summative evaluation whose grade is lower than 10 in two subjects, the student can take a Frequency Equivalence Exam (similar to a Global exam) to try to reach the minimum required to pass the year.

The subjects Physical Education and Moral and Religious Education do not count for approval or repetition.

Article by Lívia Tostes, originally published on our partner site Euro Dicas.

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