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Education in the Algarve

by SOPHIE MCCARRICK [email protected]

For parents and guardians, finding the right school for a child can be a challenging task due to the many different specifications considered throughout this process.

This decision may be even more challenging to an international family new to the Algarve.

However, due to the wide selection of national and international schooling options available throughout the region, it is more than likely that there is an option suited for everyone.

International education

A number of international schools are located throughout the Algarve teaching in various languages (English, German and Dutch for example) and are attended by a large range of nationalities.

International education systems (when based on the British curriculum) allow children to attend throughout the ages of three until 18, with compulsory years taking place between the ages of five and 16.

Throughout the Foundation Stage in a child’s education process, at ages three and four, a pupil will complete Nursery and Reception.

Compulsory education years are then divided into three divisions, including Infant School (age five to six), Junior School (age seven to 10) and Senior School (age 11 to16).

Upon successful completion of Infant School, pupils receive a Key Stage 1 curriculum certificate.

Pupils then spend four years focusing on the Key Stage 2 curriculum before moving on to three years of Key Stage 3 curriculum and then a final two year course on Key Stage 4, in preparation for the IGCSE examination.

Subjects compulsory for a student include English Language, Mathematics, History, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Information Technology, Physical Education, Musical Education, Art and Design, Geography and a Foreign Language.

Additional subjects such as English Literature, Drama, a third Language and more may be available to a student dependant on the school.

International education also offers students the opportunity to attend Sixth Form (age 16 to 18) where pupils study personally selected subjects to obtain A-Level examination certificates or an International Baccalaureate.

As international schools are private institutions, education is not free and parents must pay a specified fee annually. Tuition fees vary dependant on a chosen school.

An international school year is planned by each individual school but consists of approximately 195 days and starts at the beginning of September and finishes around the end of June or beginning of July.

When enrolling a child at an international school, required documents include a photocopy of a child’s birth certificate and passport, medical certificates, admissions form given by the school and a signed contract between parents and the school.

National education

Compulsory education in Portugal takes place between the ages of six to 15 and is divided into three consecutive divisions of EB-1º, EB-2º and EB-3º.

Pre-school or Kindergarten (Jardim de Infância) is not a compulsory education level in Portugal, however children may be accepted at these establishments between the ages of three and five.

In the Algarve, Pre-Schools may be run by the State, a charitable organisation or a private institute.

Children begin their educational journey at Primary School (Escola Básica – EB-1º) where they spend four years between the ages of four to 10.

This period is followed by a move to a Secondary School (Escola Secundária) where pupils spend two years at ages 10 to 12 completing the second cycle (EB-2º) and three years in the last division (EB-3º) from age 12 until age 15.  

In state-run schools, parents do not have the worry of fee payments as all basic education is free (but school materials have to be paid for), however in order for a pupil to enroll at a national school it is required that they reside in the nearby area, or that their parents are employed within close proximity to the school.

When registering a child at a public schooling establishment, it is necessary for the legal guardian to provide the child’s birth certificate, proof of identification, health certificate, proof of previous education (if over the age of six), and completed registration papers provided by the school.

The school year runs from the middle of September until the end of June for Primary School children and to the middle of June for Secondary School pupils. However, it is compulsory for 180 school days to occur per year.

Compulsory education includes the disciplines of Portuguese Language, Mathematics, History and Geography of Portugal, Foreign Language, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Arts and Crafts, Physical Education, Musical Education and Information Technologies.  

Learning a foreign language (English, French, German or Spanish) becomes a compulsory subject in the second division of education. However, some pupils may begin learning a foreign language (most frequently French or English) in the first cycle.

In the third cycle, pupils are then introduced to learning a second foreign language (English, French, German or Spanish), which means that throughout the national education system, students will have to study at least two foreign languages, and many learn a third.

At the end of each school year, all pupils must complete a National Examination. For those who do not achieve a score that meets the required standards, they will be asked to repeat all or a selection of the past year again.

At the end of the third division, if students pass their final National Examination, they graduate and are awarded with a certificate of basic education (diploma do ensino básico).

Further education (Ensino Secundário) following the completion of the national compulsory 9 years is optional. Tuition fees are varied dependant on the subject choice of a pupil and a student is also expected to pay for enrolment and work materials.

Students that successfully complete the three years of Ensino Secundário receive a certificate (diploma de estudos secundários) indicating the courses and the final marks obtained.

Portugal’s Higher Education system (Ensino Superior) consists of public universities (universidades), polytechnics (escolas politécnicas), and a number of private or cooperative institutions of higher education, and students who have successfully completed the three years of further education, or have legally equivalent qualification, may apply.

Graduates of the Ensino Superior system can receive qualifications including a bachelor degree (bacharelato), which requires three years of study or licentiate (licenciatura) degree, needing four to six years.

For further information, please see the Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação) website at www.portugal.gov.pt

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