Education and Schools in Portugal
Expats will find that education and schools in Portugal fall under one of two sectors: state and private.
Regardless of the sponsoring body, learning is separated into four tiers:
pre-primary (jardin-de-infância): ages 3 to 5
basic (ensino básico): ages 6 to 15
secondary (ensino secundário): ages 15 to 17
higher: 18 and up
Public schools in Portugal
Public or state schools in Portugal are free, and expats are allowed to enrol their child in the local catchment school.
That being said, 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; not to mention, the country's high drop-out rates and low literacy rates.
This serious criticism has led to Portugal's government increasing investment to improve facilities, the quality of teaching and classroom sizes. Thus, although such concerns are now actively being addressed, expat parents should be wary of the state system.
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 exemplary options.
Children in Portugal attend school based on the neighbourhood in which they live, or that in which their parents work; it follows that many of the richer economic areas are linked to the highest quality educational institutions.
Some teachers in Portugal speak English, but not all of them. The curriculum is taught in Portuguese; thus 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.
How to enrol at a public school in Portugal
Parents should enrol their children between January and May of the previous year at the school nearest their residence or place of work, whichever will be more convenient.
Portuguese schools require very specific paperwork and, as bureaucracy can be slow to approve documents, it's necessary to prepare well in advance.
The following is required:
The child’s cédula (a type of ID card the child has until school age), identity card or passport, or a certificate from the embassy of the country of the child’s origin
A correctly completed enrolment form, with a photograph. This is supplied by the school. It is possible to ask the school for information on how to fill in this form.
The vaccination book, health centre card and a “connection form”, which is filled in by the Health Centre and allows the immediate detection of visual and hearing problems. It is therefore essential that all expat children are registered at the Health Centre.
Schools are often helpful in organising these documents.
Private schools and international schools in Portugal
There is a large network of private and international 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. It is important to note that the teachers in these institutions are paid less than those in the public sector, thus they can be young and underqualified in some cases.
Some of these schools also have boarding options.
International schools exist, and 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.
The admissions process varies from school to school, some requiring entrance exams, past school records, and even a personal interview.
Tuition and fees can be expensive and, in some cases, astronomical. Expats should be sure to budget accordingly, or to negotiate with their employer to include an education allowance in their expat package.