Inspiring students to reach their full potential

Karen Whitten, originally from Scotland, and Sílvia Catarino, who was born near Aljezur, are the proud owners and directors of two unique schools in the Algarve:  Barlavento International Primary School and Aljezur International School.

They met in 2003 while teaching together at a local international school and are passionate teachers as well as a strong and supportive management team. They both consider themselves extremely lucky to work with such a dedicated team of professional, like-minded colleagues from rich and diverse backgrounds.

The aim in both schools is to guide and inspire students to reach their full potential, academically and socially, in an atmosphere of willing cooperation, mutual respect and trust.

As class sizes are small and there are close connections with families and the local community, teachers have the privilege of knowing and understanding each child’s strengths, passions and goals. Their mission is to provide each student with the social confidence and academic qualifications needed to achieve these goals.

The Secondary School

Aljezur International School was established in 2010 and offers international secondary education for students aged 11 to 18, leading to Cambridge IGCSE and A level qualifications.

It is situated in an idyllic farmhouse 5km south of Aljezur and located within three acres of unspoilt national park. With a meandering river running through the land and a healthy, ever-growing vegetable garden and food forest, the students have plenty of opportunities to enjoy outdoor learning.

Lessons take place in English and cover a broad curriculum, including a wide array of languages, sciences and humanities as well as weekly mindfulness, sports and agriculture classes.

Inclusion is a core value which is embedded in the ethos of the school and the student population of 75 children includes 25 nationalities.

Over the years, the school has supported many local and international charities including Alwan Kindergarten in Syria, From Kibera With Love education project in Kenya as well as local animal charity AEZA, and students frequently interact with representatives of these organisations. In fact, one of the students from the project in Kenya is studying at Aljezur International for the second year and is entering her A levels in May.

The school also produces an annual outdoor theatre performance, ‘Play in the Parque’, which has become a popular highlight of the Algarve calendar involving a cast of over 70 people including students, teachers, parents and members of the local community. This year’s performance will take place on Friday, July 7.

School trips are an essential part of the curriculum and students recently visited Lousal Science and Mining Museum. Some students also travelled to Rome last month to take part in the Model United Nations (MUN) conference which they found to be a life-changing experience.


To celebrate International Earth Day, the school is holding a fair on Saturday, April 22, which will include arts and crafts stalls, food trucks, fun rides for children, live music all day and much more.

Since 2015, Aljezur International has been a member of UNESCO which provides the opportunity to link with other UNESCO schools around the world for joint projects. The school also continues to be a partner in the Blue School Project and there are many exciting projects and activities lined up as part of this initiative.  As part of a cross-curricular Human Rights project, students are currently preparing presentations which will be included in a symposium on May 9.

Aljezur International is the only Algarvian school which accepts external candidates for Cambridge exams. More information can be obtained from the Examinations Officer, Ali Turner at [email protected]

 The Primary School

Building on the success of their secondary school, in September 2020 the school family grew when Sílvia and Karen took over the guardianship and management of Barlavento International Primary School near Lagos.

The ‘Barlavento Family’ creates a caring and supportive environment where children thrive and develop a thirst for lifelong learning. Barlavento’s mission is for the children to grow into confident and empathetic young people who have the knowledge, skills and attitudes which are essential to become respectful and tolerant individuals, making effective contributions to their local and global communities.

The school garden continues to expand, and children take home fresh produce which they have grown. The children also help to care for the school animals which include ducks, chickens and guinea pigs.

Barlavento has recently joined the Blue School Project and all students have been studying the oceans and its inhabitants.

An exceptional and experienced teaching team is assisted by dedicated support staff, and their aim to improve the school community and ensure that the children’s learning experiences are valuable and inspiring.

The curriculum, based on the National Primary Curriculum of England, is adapted for the international community and their lives here in Portugal. A ‘thematic’ approach is used through topics which are interlinked with the core skills of Reading, Writing and Maths.

The Spring term has included a focus on History with topics such as Explorers and Adventurers and the Roaming Romans.

The school also runs a football academy and have recently played against other local schools as well as the Benfica junior team.

The school building includes an impressive gymnasium hall, two large playgrounds and an all-weather sports pitch. Since last September, many improvements have been made including a long jump, shot put throwing area and a beach volleyball court. Plans are underway to create a forest area where students can relax and be in close contact with nature.

Due to their continuing success, both schools are currently full with short waiting lists. For more information or to put your child on the waiting, please visit or

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