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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Fundamental principles and national policies


2.Organisation and governance

2.1Fundamental principles and national policies

Last update: 28 March 2024

Access to education and culture is a legal right, foreseen in Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (articles 43 and 73) and in the Education Act (Law No 46/86, 14 October).

Equally enshrined in law is the duty of the State to promote the democratization of education, to contribute to equal opportunities, to the reduction of economic, social and cultural inequalities, to the development of personality and the spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding, solidarity and responsibility, to social progress and democratic involvement in public life.

Compulsory education is universal, mandatory and free of charge. The freedom to teach and learn is ensured. The State cannot plan education and culture according to any philosophical, aesthetic, political, ideological or religious dictates. State education is non-denominational.

Law No 85/2009, 27 August has defined the extension of compulsory schooling for children and youth – from 6 to 18 years old. Compulsory education is divided into basic education, which lasts for nine years, and secondary education, which lasts for three years.

The main objectives of basic education, as set out in the Education Act, are:

  • to provide a general, common-basis education for all students;
  • to ensure that theoretical and practical knowledge, schooling and everyday life are interrelated;
  • to provide physical and motor development;
  • to encourage manual activities and promote art education;
  • to teach a first foreign language and start a second;
  • to provide the basic knowledge that will enable students to pursue their studies or be admitted into vocational training courses;
  • to develop knowledge and appreciation for specific values of the Portuguese identity, language, history and culture;
  • to develop autonomous attitudes;
  • to provide children with special educational needs with suitable conditions for their development;
  • to create conditions that promote school and educational success of all students.

The Education Act establishes the aims and organization of secondary education, defines it as a single cycle of compulsory education, organized according to different paths, directed both to the continuation of studies and to working life.

Permeability between these two paths must be ensured. This law also establishes the goals, admission requirements and organization models of vocational training, as a special path of school education.

The main objectives of secondary education are:

  • to ensure the development of reasoning, reflection and scientific curiosity, as well as an enhanced knowledge on the key elements of a humanistic, artistic, scientific and technological culture, which will form the appropriate cognitive and methodological basis for further studies and for entering into working life;
  • to provide young people with the necessary knowledge to understand aesthetic and cultural manifestations, enabling the improvement of their artistic expression;
  • to promote the acquisition and application of knowledge, based on study, critical reflection, observation and experimentation;
  • to educate young people interested in solving the country's problems and awareness of the international community issues, on the basis of the realities of regional and national life and the based on concrete reality of regional and national life and appreciation of society’s permanent values in general and in Portuguese culture in particular;
  • to promote contacts and experiences, strengthening the mechanisms of convergence between the school, the working life and the community, and boosting the school’s innovating and participating role;
  • to promote youngsters’ vocational guidance and training through technical and technological support, with a view to their entry into the working life;
  • to create individual and group work habits, favouring the development of attitudes of methodical reflection, open-mindedness, sensitivity, openness and adaptation to change.

In what concerns the higher education policy, and according to the same law, this stage is aimed at ensuring a solid scientific and cultural preparation, providing a technical training that qualifies for the exercise of professional and cultural activities while developing the capacity for conception, innovation and critical analysis.

In accordance to Law No 49/2005, 30 August, that amended the Education Act, the aims of Higher Education are the following:

  • to  stimulate cultural creation and the development of scientific and entrepreneurship spirit, as well as the reflexive thinking;
  • to train graduates in different fields of knowledge, qualified for inclusion in professional sectors and to participate and develop the society, as well as to cooperate in its continuous training;
  • to encourage scientific research, aiming at the development of science and technology, humanities and arts, and the creation and dissemination of culture and therefore develop an understanding of man and his environment;
  • to promote the spread of cultural, scientific and technical knowledge, which constitute human heritage, and to communicate knowledge through teaching, publications and other forms of communication;
  • to stimulate the permanent desire to improve cultural and professional and to enable the corresponding achievement, integrating the knowledge that is acquired in a systematizing intellectual framework of the knowledge of each generation, within a logic of lifelong learning and generational and intergenerational investment, aiming at the unity of the training process;
  • to promote awareness about the problems of today’s world, in particular national, regional and European, in a global perspective, providing specialized services to the community and establishing a reciprocal relationship with it;
  • to continue the cultural and professional training of citizens by promoting appropriate forms of cultural extension;
  • to promote and value the Portuguese language and culture;
  • to develop critical thinking and freedom of expression and research;

Law No 49/2005, 30 August , also defines:

  • the creation of conditions that allow all citizens to access to long-life learning, adjusting the admission requirements to Higher Education to those who didn’t attend it in regular age, giving the higher education institutions the responsibility for their selection, and the creation of conditions to recognize professional experience;
  • the adoption of a Higher Education model with three cycles;
  • the transformation from a knowledge transfer based education system to a skill development based education system;
  • the adoption of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System – ECTS.

Public higher education institutions enjoy statutory, pedagogic, scientific, cultural, administrative, financial, patrimonial and disciplinary autonomy. In this sense, they have the power to create, suspend, abolish and change courses or organic units. These actions only take legal effect once registered in the Directorate-General for Higher Education (Direção-Geral do Ensino Superior - DGES).

The Student Statute and School Ethics, Law No 52/2012, 5 September, which establishes the rights and duties of the student in basic and upper secondary education and the commitment of parents or guardians and other members of the education community to their education and training.

In February 2023, the 23rd Constitutional Government revised the higher education admission system, after a process of reflection and public discussion between the ministries of education and higher education. For more information, see Subchapter 14.4 Reforms in higher education.

As part of its duties, the Institute of Educational Assessment (IAVE) launched the External Assessment Dematerialisation project (Desmaterialização da Avaliação Externa- DAVE) , which foresees all students of basic education taking national tests and exams in digital format within five years.

According to the project schedule, this project has started in school year 2022/23, with the administration of  standardised tests for grades 2, 5 and 8 in digital format for all students, except for artistic expression and physical education. During school year (2023/24), students in grade 9 of basic education will take the final cycle exams in digital format, while students in upper secondary education will take part in this new practice in 2024/25.

This new system was tested in 2018 in an grade 8 maths standardised test, which was taken in both digital and paper format with around 2,500 students completing it via computer. In 2019, another pilot project took place in some schools, where standardised tests were digitalised and grading took place electronically. In 2021, the "diagnostic study of learning for grades 3, 6 and 9 students" also took place in digital format.

For more information, see Subchapter 5.3 Assessment in single-structure education and Subchapter 14.2 Ongoing reforms and policy developments