Looking into the Portuguese Public School Learning System
If you are deciding to relocate to the Algarve in Portugal and have children, one of your first decisions will be their
Ensuring your children will continue to receive a quality education will be your main priority.
Below we look at the Public Education options available to families resident in the Algarve, comparing the public and private systems, from preschool to university.
Regulations and options for Education
Education in the Algarve as in the whole of Portugal is compulsory for children aged 6 years to 18 years old. However children can attend preschool from the age of 3, however, this is not compulsory.
The Portuguese education system has 3 levels – Pre-school, Basic and Secondary.
As in most countries, there are state public schools, private schools and international schools.
Universities and Polytechnics in the Algarve can also be private or public.
Current School Education Standards
Overall Portugal ranks average in reading, maths and science, but is one of a few countries showing a positive outlook over the 10 years.
Bullying is significantly less than the European average for children in Portuguese schools. Something of great interest when hearing of the widespread problem in some other countries.
Public School Set Up in Portugal
The Portuguese public education system provides schooling free of charge to all residents and as stated above is compulsory for children aged 6 to 18 years of age.
Basic School / Ensino Básico, 1º ciclo
Years 1 – 4 are for children aged 6 – 10.
Children are taught basic Portuguese, Maths, Science, and Art.
Basic English is normally taught from years 3 to 4. However, it is often available earlier as an after-school activity.
The school generally beings at 8:30 am and ends at 3.30 pm in the afternoon.
Most schools offer after-school activity programmes until later, to help those parents who work.
Basic School / Ensino básico 2º ciclo
Years 5 and 6 is for children aged 10 – 12.
Learning includes Portuguese, English, maths, PE, history, geography, sciences, visual & IT education and music.
Basic School / Ensino Básico 3º ciclo
Years 7 to 9 are for children aged 13 – 15.
Lessons include Portuguese, English, maths, a choice of second foreign language (Spanish, French, or German), history, geography, chemistry, physics and PE.
Secondary Education / High School
Years 10 – 12 are for children aged 15 – 18.
Students are allowed to choose their area of study from Science, Economics, Humanities or Art. The courses are aimed at preparing students for third-level education.
There are also Professional Courses offered for children at this age, which are more practical-based courses and aimed at getting students ready for the rat race as well as for third-level education.
During years 11 and 12 students must take national exams and along with the results from the years, 10-12 determine access to third-level education.
Notes on Public Schools in Portugal
- Schooling is free for all children
- Books and school supplies, around 80-100 euros per year, are not free
- School lunches are available for all at subsidised rates. The food varies from school to school but is always healthy.
- Vegetarian options are always available.
- As in most public schools class sizes can be between 20 – 30 pupils.
- No need for school uniforms.
Creches and Pre-school Options
The public school system only starts for 6-year-olds and onwards, however most schools do cater for younger children. But this is something you would need to check out.
If no public schooling is available there are plenty of creches both public and private. Or of course, you could home-teach if you have the time.
Most Algarve creches accept kids from 4 months to 3 years of age. For 3 to 6-year-olds, there are pre-schools which are similar to a nursery.
While there are free public pre-schools, Jardim de Infancia in Portuguese, places are sometimes limited and do not always meet the demand.
The privately run creches cost around 300-500 euros per month per child. If you only require a few days per week you can negotiate the price.
The Language Barrier
The biggest problem for foreign students joining Portuguese public schools is obviously the language barrier.
All lessons apart from when learning English are in Portuguese so it can be difficult for foreigners at the beginning. However, most of the teachers do speak English so can help.
Furthermore, most schools provide Portuguese lessons for free, which sometimes family members are also invited to attend.
With so many foreigners with families relocating to the beautiful Algarve the teachers are accustomed to adapting to the situation and providing help to those who need it. As do the other kids who have already passed the initial drawbacks.
As we know younger children can pick up a new language quite quickly especially when new friends help them out.
So while in the initial few months they may need extra help and effort, normally they settle in quickly and in general, there is no negative impact on their school performance.
However, for older children who are nearing the end of their school life, the adaption to being educated in another language can be very difficult.
In this case, it is sometimes a better option to look into the international schools in the Algarve.
Choosing Your Algarve Location
As with most public schooling, the Portuguese system is not without issues. The class size can be large, and the children are expected to do a considerable amount of homework, this includes the younger children.
The learning system does tend to lean towards academic lessons rather than practical lessons. However, overall, the level of education provided is high.
Please note that there is some level of choice when it comes to public schools, but it is generally dependent on your location.
When searching to buy an Algarve home take this into consideration and check out the schools before you make your choice.
Private School Options in Algarve
There are many private schools in the Algarve which cover all age groups. The schools referred to as colégios, follow the Portuguese curriculum.
The private schools do need to be paid for to attend. Prices can range from 300-800 euros depending on the school.
International Schools in Algarve
International Schools on the other hand offer a dual system with a mix of Portuguese and international curriculums, however, most lessons are in English.
The Algarve has quite a number of very good International Schools available. Prices range depending on the age of your child and the particular school but expect to pay between 400-1200 euros per month.
Although expensive international schools are the best option for older children studying for GCSEs or A levels.
Google Local Guide for the Algarve. Been living in the Algarve for over 20 years and loving the experience. Now writing about and photographing the Algarve experience to share with others. Contributor to all that is Algarve on Wikipedia