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The Portuguese Curriculum

Portuguese school system structure

The Portuguese Curriculum system is designed to build school communities in which students of this generation globally build and consolidate a humanist-based scientific and artistic culture. To achieve this, they develop values and skills that allow them to play a full and active role in life, business and society, making free and informed decisions about natural, social and ethical issues. They also have the ability to a participate in society in a civic, active, thoughtful and responsible way.

The Portuguese education system is made up of pre-primary education, Ensino Básico, Ensino Secundário, upper-secondary and higher education. Pre-primary education is optional and is designed for children between three years old and school starting age. Compulsory schooling lasts for nine years, from six to 15 years old. It is divided into three successive cycles that last four, two and three years respectively.

Upper Secondary is structured into three academic years and is organised according to differentiated forms with flexibility allowed. These courses are designed to lead on to further study or to prepare the student for entering the job market. Non-higher post upper secondary is organised into specialised technology courses, which aim to qualify students for the job market and confer a level four vocational training. 

Pre-primary education


Children from four months (the standard period of maternity leave) until they are three years old may attend a nursery (Infantário or Creche). 


Pre-primary education is optional from ages of three to five and is provided in both state-run and private kindergarten schools. 

 Secondary education

Basic Education (Ensino Básico) lasts for nine years which is divided into three stages of four, two and three years respectively. The stages are 1o Ciclo (1st Cycle), 2o Ciclo (2nd Cycle) and 3o Ciclo (3rd Cycle). Students are required to do two exams at the end of each stage: Portuguese and maths. 

Secondary education (Ensino Secundário) has been compulsory since the school year of 2012/2013 and consists of a three-year cycle after basic education.

Access to Secondary education is made through the Certificate of Basic Education. There are three types of secondary education programmes: general programmes, technical/vocational programmes and artistic programmes, providing instruction in technical, technological, professional fields and in Portuguese language and culture. Movement between the programmes is guaranteed and the teaching and practice of technical, technological or artistic programmes are provided by vocational schools and special schools for education in arts.

Programmes are verified by the Certificado de Habilitações do Ensino Secundário/Diploma de Ensino Secundário (Secondary School Credential/Diploma), which is the prerequisite for access to higher education through national access examination.

Teacher science lesson with skeleton

Concluding secondary education

The successful conclusion of secondary education (general, technological or artistic programmes) confers a diploma, which qualifies students for work-oriented programmes leading to specific jobs. All general and technological programmes share the following subjects known as General Formation:

  • Portuguese Language (grades 10, 11 and 12)
  • Physical Education (grades 10, 11 and 12)
  • Philosophy (grades 10 and 11)
  • Foreign Language (grades 10 and 11)
  • Catholic (or other confessions) Moral and Religious Education (Grades 10, 11 and 12)


Every school year there are three types of assessment:

  • Diagnostic
  • Formative
  • Summative (internal)

Summative evaluation is carried out at the end of each term. Assessments take place at least twice per term (internally) and parents receive two full reports per term. National assessment examinations take place in Grades 2, 5 and 8, and there are national exams in Portuguese and maths in Grade 9. Following this, there are four national secondary exams (two in Grade 11 and two in Grade 12) for university application (50%), combined with an average assessment mark for all secondary subjects taken in grades 10, 11 and 12. The combined scores give students their overall grade for university application.