Education and schools in Portugal fall under one of two sectors: state and private. Regardless of the sponsoring body, learning is separated into tiers. Jardim de infância offers education for children between the ages of three and five years old. Children between the ages of six and 15 attend ensino básico, while teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 attend ensino secundário.
Children in Portugal tend to attend school based on the neighbourhood in which they live or in which their parents work. It follows that many of the richer economic areas are linked to higher-quality educational institutions. Rural areas and less economically developed regions of the country are especially notorious for shifty standards, though the larger urban centres and the expat-friendly Algarve area provide some good options.
Public schools in Portugal
Public or state schools in Portugal are free. However, expats will quickly learn that these public institutions have been the subject of much debate. In the past, frequent teacher strikes and a much-bemoaned Ministry of Education was enough to scare off any expat looking to enrol their child.
This serious criticism has led to Portugal's government increasing investment to improve facilities, teaching quality and classroom sizes. Although such concerns are now actively being addressed, expat parents should still be wary of the state system.
Some teachers in Portuguese public schools speak English, but not all of them. The curriculum is taught in Portuguese, and expat parents considering sending their child to a public school should look into what possibilities exist to overcome the language barrier and to support the learning process.
Parents who want to pursue this route should note that Portuguese schools require very specific paperwork and, as bureaucracy can be slow to approve documents, it's necessary to prepare well in advance.
Private schools in Portugal
There is a large network of private schools for expats to choose from in Portugal. Private schools generally have smaller class sizes, a stronger system of extra-curricular activities and more modern facilities than their public equivalents. Many of Portugal's private schools are faith-based.
It's important to note that the teachers in these institutions are paid less than those in the public sector. As such, teachers in private schools can often be young and underqualified.
International schools in Portugal
International schools in Portugal offer a variety of curricula. Most uphold high standards of education, and expats need not be worried about their children falling behind their peers at home while living abroad. There are several international schools throughout Portugal, most of which are in the popular expat regions of Lisbon and the Algarve.
Tuition and fees at international schools can be expensive. Expats should be sure to budget accordingly, or to negotiate with their employer to include an education allowance in their expat package.
Homeschooling in Portugal
Expat parents who want to teach their children at home will be happy to hear that homeschooling, or Ensino Doméstico, is legal in Portugal. It is important to note that expats will first have to obtain authorisation from the local school board before starting their homeschooling program.
Parents will need to submit a written declaration in which they provide information on their children, the family member or person who will be responsible for the children's education and this person's qualifications. It would be best for prospective homeschoolers to contact their local educational offices to find out exactly what the procedures and expectations are before starting homeschooling in Portugal.
Special needs education in Portugal
Special needs education (Necessidades Educativas Especiais or NEE) in Portugal is integrated within mainstream schools. Only in extreme cases or when students are not reaching their individual educational goals will students be referred to specialist schools.
Once students with special needs enter compulsory schooling at the age of six, an individual educational plan is typically set out for them that details changes and adaptations they will need to their learning. These students then have extra support available to them within mainstream schools like specialised professionals, specific equipment or tools or special conditions for assessment.
Almost all students attend mainstream schools in Portugal; however, those who have needs that can't be met in these schools have some options available in terms of special schools. These include schools for the partially sighted, like Centro Helen Keller in Lisbon, or schools for children with developmental disabilities.