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In Portugal, the Ministry of Education and Science, has the responsibility for defining, coordinating, implementing and evaluating national policies for education, science and information society, articulating them with the policies of qualification and training. The Ministry performs these responsibilities via direct administration services of the State (central and peripheral services), indirect administration, advisory bodies and other entities. In the Autonomous Regions of the Azores and Madeira, the Regional Governments, via the respective Regional Secretariats for Education, are responsible for defining the national education policy to a regional plan and manage human, material and financial resources. State-run schools are free of charge.

In Portugal, the pre-school education covers children from 3 years up to the age of entry to compulsory schooling. There is a public and a private network of pre-primary education institutions, which are complementary. The Public network is composed of education institutions under the Ministry of Education and Science (MEC) and the Ministry of Solidarity, Employment and Social Security (MSESS). The private network is composed of for-profit and non-profit education institutions. Those are private and cooperative education institutions, in the first case, and private institutions for social solidarity (IPSS), in the second case.

Pedagogical tutelage is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Science. Thus, the Ministry of Education and Science is responsible for ensuring the pedagogical quality of teaching in pre-primary education institutions network.

The main pedagogical objectives of pre-primary education are: to promote children’s personal and social development; to foster children’s integration into diverse social groups; to contribute to equal opportunities; to stimulate children's global development; to promote expression and communication development; to enhance curiosity and critical thinking; to provide children with situations of well-being and security; to identify maladjustments, disabilities or giftedness and to encourage families to participate in the educative process.

Compulsory education begins at the age of 6 and lasts for 12 years. It encompasses Basic Education and Secondary Education. Basic Education lasts for 9 years and is divided into three cycles: the first cycle corresponds to the first four years of schooling; the second cycle corresponds to the next two years (these two cycles together correspond to primary education); and, the third cycle that lasts for three years and corresponds to Lower Secondary Education. The articulation of the three cycles is sequential and each cycle should complete and deepen the previous one, within a global perspective. Specific goals within each cycle are integrated into the overall objectives of basic education, according to their age and stage of development.

Basic education corresponds to the period of nine years of formal education starting for all children at the aged of 6 (completed until December 31). Until 2009 it also corresponded to compulsory education; currently education is compulsory for all students until the age of 18 or untilcompletesecondary education (Law no. 85/2009, of August 27).

The guiding principles of curriculum organisation and management aim at ensuring a common general background education to all citizens, by providing the acquisition of fundamental knowledge and skills that allow the pursuing of studies.

Basic education includes:

  • General Basic Education;
  • Specialized Artistic Courses;
  • Vocational Courses;
  • Recurrent Education.

Secondary education lasts for three years and corresponds to Upper Secondary Education and is organised into diversified forms according to different aims, either focusing on access to further studies or on preparation to active life. This level of education and training corresponds to three academic years and comprises different types of courses (Decree-law no. 139/2012, of June 5).

Education and Training Paths Years of Schooling
Scientific-humanistic courses 10-11-12
Professional courses
Vocational courses
Specialised artistics courses
Recurrent education Adults
  • The scientific-humanistic courses are focused on access to higher education;
  • Courses with specific study plans offered by some private schools submitted to approval of the Ministry of Education and Science;
  • Depending on the artistic area in question, specialized artistic courses are geared towards further study (music) or both entering the workplace and further studies (visual arts, audiovisual and dance);
  • Professional and vocational courses are oriented to students’ professional qualification towards active life, also allowing access to further studies;
  • Recurrent education – addressed to adults who have not completed this level of education at the regular age.

The permeability between courses oriented to working life and courses geared to continue studies is guaranteed.

Decree Law no. 139/2012, of 5 july, also states that, as part of the diversification of training provision, other professional education and training qualification provision can be offered, such as adult education and training courses.

Higher Education is structured according to the Bologna principles to ensure a solid scientific and cultural preparation plus technical training that qualifies students for professional and cultural life while developing their capability to innovate and make critical analysis. The Portuguese higher education system is organized, according to Lei de Bases do Sistema Educativo (law that establishes the general framework of the educational system, briefly designated as LBSE) and Regime Jurídico das Instituições do Ensino Superior (Legal Regime of Higher Education Institutions, briefly designated as RJIES), as a binary system that integrates the university and the polytechnic systems.

Universities have a more academic nature and less professional oriented strand. It is oriented to offer scientific training, joining efforts and skills of teaching and research units and on the creation of knowledge, in order to guarantee a solid cultural and scientific preparation and to give technical training that allows students to exercise all kinds of cultural and professional activities, promoting the development of critical analysis, as well as conception and innovation skills. It is taught at Universities, University Institutes, and all other institutions within university education.

Polytechnic, focused especially in vocational training and advanced technical training, is orientated towards applied investigation and development, focusing on the understanding and solution of problems, aiming to provide a solid technical and cultural training at a high level and to develop the ability to innovate and to critically analyse and teach theoretical and practical scientific knowledge, as well as its applications regarding the exercise of professional activities. It is taught at Polytechnic Institutes, and other institutions within polytechnic education.

Despite this binary division of the Portuguese higher education system, though in exceptional form, there are some polytechnic institutions that are integrated in universities

University and polytechnic education is offered by public, private and cooperative institutions.

For further information, please consult the articles of Organisation and Governance of each educational level: Early Childhood Education and Care, Integrated Primary and Lower Secondary Education, Secondary Education and Post Secondary Non Tertiary Education, Higher Education and Adult Education and Training.

For brief description of the other main topics regarding the national education system, please read the articles of Funding Education, Teachers and education staff, Management and other educational staff, Educational support and guidance, Quality assurance, Mobility and internationalization.

For information on recently adopted or planned reforms and policy measures, please consult the topic "Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments".

While Eurypedia provides comprehensive and comparable information, further information may also be found on the official website of the Ministry of Education and Science.

Structure of the national education system 2014/15

Diagram 2015 Portugal.png

Note: Cursos tecnológicos are no longer provided to new students. However, students enrolled in the 12th grade are still able to complete the courses

Key Notes.3.PNG

source: Eurydice

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