Saturday, October 16, 2021

What you need to know about the system of schools in Portugal, and how to register your child.

The Primary Education system in Portugal was changed in 2005, with many smaller schools closing. What there is now is a comprehensive and well coordinated system of Primary Education that is being studied by many other European Countries. The other change was to the period of compulsory education.

For children starting in Year 1 in 2006 Compulsory education in Portugal lasts 12 years, taking pupils from the age of six to eighteen. In state-run (public) schools this basic education is free. Financial assistance may be available for extra expenses such as school meals, transport and textbooks, depending on the family's circumstances, but you need to be working and paying Social Security in Portugal to apply for this.

The Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação) is responsible for the administration of state schools in Portugal. crayons

Which School?

Pupils must attend an educational establishment in the area where they live, or in the area where the parents are employed, although exceptions can be made in some cases. Many towns still have village schools for Pre-school and 1st Cycle, the 2nd and 3rd cycles are normally together with The Secondary School in the town. This just depends on the size of town you are moving to. You really need to try to find out as much as you can before you arrive in Portugal, it will make it easier for you and your child when you get here.

Depending on your location you might need to register your child early to guarantee a place at the school of your choice, in the more rural areas there is not usually a problem with space, especially at the village schools. You should register new children with the school of you choice by May/June if they are due to start in September.

A number of documents are necessary to register a child in a school.

Registration papers (available from the school)
Health certificate (this is a letter from the Family Doctor declaring them fit and healthy, they will need to have had all vaccinations that are required in Portugal)
2 passport photos (some now take the photos at he school digitally)
Proof of identity (Passport)
A leaving certificate (if not starting at year 1 then the school might want translated confirmation/report of the last school level attended in their home country)

Pre-school Education (Jardims de Infância)

Now known as Educação Pré-escolar

Pre-school attendance is optional and children may be accepted from the age of three. Pre-schools may be run by State organisations, charitable institutions, private or cooperative organisations.

Basic Compulsory Education

(see also Seconday Education for children who started school in/after 2006)

Escolaridade Obrigatória - Ensino Básico

Open to everyone, compusory and free.

The school year runs from the middle of September to the middle of June. It is made up of 3 terms with holidays in between and public holidays throughout the year. Holiday lists are given out on the 1st day of school, but are usually available from the teacher earlier than this.

Ciclos Ensino Básico (CEB) is divided into three consecutive cycles:

first cycle (1°Ciclo) years 1 - 4 (aged 6 to 10)
second cycle (2° Ciclo) years 5 - 6 (age 10 to 12)
third cycle (3° Ciclo) years 7 - 9 (age 12 to 15)

The first cycle of education is provided in a primary school (escola primário), while the second and third cycles are provided in Basic Schools (escola básica) that are normally joined with a Secondary school (escola secundária).

The teaching of a foreign language (English, Spanish, French or German) is compulsory in the second cycle of CEB. Some schools begin teaching English as a foreign language in the first cycle.

In the second/third cycle, pupils will take on a second foreign language (French, German or Spanish). This means that within their basic education students will have to study at least two foreign languages, and many even learn a third. Blackboard3

Entry requirements

Children who are six by 15 September are eligible to attend the first cycle of basic education. Those reaching this age by 31 December may also be admitted with agreement of the teachers, but priority is given to older children when allocating places.


Pupils are assessed at the end of each school year, and at the end of each cycle. Those who are considered satisfactory will go on to the next year. Pupils who do not meet the required standards may be asked to repeat all or part of the year again. It is quite common in the rural schools to have children re-taking a whole year).

In years 4, 6  and 9 the final, national exams of Portuguese and Maths usually take place in May/June, these must be passed to move up to the next cycle. (The dates are announced each year by the Ministry)

Pupils who achieve the required standard in the general assessment at the end of the third cycle are awarded a certificate of basic education (diploma do ensino básico) by the school.


All lessons are taught in Portuguese in state schools, only in International schools will the lessons be in English, or another language. If your children are young, up to 2nd cycle you will find that they pick up the language very quickly and schools will provide extra support where needed. If your children are teenagers or above they will find it much harder to integrate and learn the language so it is important you try to get them some language tuition before moving to Portugal. If they can speak basic Portuguese they will find it much easier to fit into school..don’t forget we are talking about teenagers here, they can adapt!

International Schools

There are a number of International Schools throughout Portugal. They are well-attended, with a mixture of international and Portuguese pupils. Pupils may study on the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program, or for the British IGCSE examination systems. Term dates and school holidays may differ from those of Portuguese schools.

International Schools are private so you will have to pay. Contact different schools and get their prospectus as soon as possible. You will find them listed in Hey Portugal Business Directory.

More links

Ministry of Education – responsible for the Education System within Portugal from Pre-school to University.

Higher Education in Portugal

Learning Portuguese - Tips