Complete Guide on the Education System in Portugal

For the most part, the education system in Portugal works in a similar way to those of most neighbouring EU nations. There is an abundance of friendly and accommodating private and public schools in Portugal for expats. So it should be fairly easy to find the perfect place to enrol kids of all ages.

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What is the Education System Like in Portugal? 

Education in Portugal is regulated by the Ministry of Education (Direção-Geral da Educação – DGE). Mandatory education begins at the age of five/six and continues through secondary school. However, it’s the norm for Portuguese families to send their kids to pre-school before that.

A basic overview of the structure of the education system in Portugal is as follows: 

  • Pre-school education (Educação Pré-escolar): ages 3 to 6;
  • Primary education (Ensino Básico): ages 6 to 15; 
  • Secondary education (Ensino Secundário): ages 15 to 18; 
  • Higher education (Ensino Superior): ages 18 and above

All children aged 6 to 18 are required by law to attend school, unless there are mitigating circumstances that prevent them to do so. While most standard schools in Portugal conduct lessons exclusively in Portuguese, there are plenty of international schools where children are taught in their native tongues. 

Pre-School Education in Portugal 

Children aged between three and six can attend pre-school in Portugal. Doing so is not mandatory, but many parents choose to enrol their kids in pre-school education as it is free. Every child is granted 25 hours per week of free education from the age of three, but this does not apply to most international schools. Specialist schools that cater to kids from overseas in different languages charge tuition fees for their services. 

Basic Education in Portugal 

The basic education school system in Portugal caters to children aged 6 to 15, over the course of three cycles: 

  • First cycle (primeiro ciclo or 1º ciclo): Grades 1 to 4 
  • Second cycle (segundo ciclo or 2º ciclo): Grades 5 to 6 
  • Third cycle (terceiro ciclo or 3º ciclo): Grades 7 to 9 

Public school is free, and therefore the preferred option for the vast majority of Portuguese families. Public schools cover most of the educational costs of the students, depending on their education aid.

Elsewhere, it is estimated that only around 12% of children in Portugal attend private primary schools. Many of them being children of families from overseas.

Secondary School 

It lasts 3 years, from the 10th to the 12th grade. Students need to choose from the following areas: science, art, humanities or economics in general education schools. There are other options in vocational schools, though. Subjects then depend on the area chosen. Four exams must be taken, depending on what the students want to study in university.

education system portugal

Financial Aid and Scholarships 

Children from low-income families may qualify for financial aid to support their education. Also, children with disabilities receive financial support in the form of one or more of these: 

  • Disability bonus (Bonificação do abono de família para crianças e jovens com deficiência);
  • Special schooling subsidy (Subsídio de educação especial); 
  • Support for assistance by a third person (Subsídio por assistência de 3ª pessoa

These grants and bursaries are provided to help cover the costs of children’s special care. Therapy and education requirements are also covered throughout their mandatory and subsequent education.

Scholarships covering some or all of the tuition fees may be available by contacting private schools directly.

Support for Expat Students in Portugal 

Different schools have different policies when it comes to the way they cater to international children. Most local public schools conduct lessons exclusively in Portuguese. It may therefore be overwhelming for children who don’t yet speak the local language. 

However, there are many schools in major towns and cities that have made good accommodations to support expat students, where most lessons (and final exams) can be adapted for those who do not yet speak Portuguese. 

Support for Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Portugal has made huge strides over recent decades to become as inclusive as possible, and to offer children from all backgrounds the best possible educational experience. The country’s inclusive educational system (educação inclusiva) is one of the best in Europe. Most mainstream schools in Portugal now offer their own special educational needs programs in-house. This means that SEN pupils may not need to attend a special school, but can instead learn alongside their peers in a regular  school. 

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