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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of centre-based ECEC


4.Early childhood education and care

4.2Organisation of centre-based ECEC

Last update: 29 March 2024

Admission requirements and choice of ECEC setting

The ECEC system in Portugal is organised into different age groups.

ECEC for children under 3 years old

Crèches are designed for children from the age of three months up to three years old. Just like all other ECEC provision, families are free to choose the institution they want their children to attend. A child’s admission to a crèche, whether private not-for-profit or private for-profit organisations, is the responsibility of the institution's management. This is decided in conjunction with parents or guardians. For children with mental or physical disabilities, collaboration with local early intervention teams must be guaranteed in advance. Admission depends on a service contract signed by the different parties.

As part of free creche and childminder services, Ordinance No. 198/2022, 27 July establishes the following criteria for admission and prioritisation in ECEC:

  • Children who attended the creche in the previous year
  • Children with disabilities/incapacities
  • Children of mothers and fathers who are under-age students, or beneficiaries of personal help under Support for Independent Living, or recognised as main informal carer, or children in foster care or in a shelter
  • Children with siblings proven to belong to the same household attending social support
  • Children who are beneficiaries of Child Guarantee and/or family allowance for children and youngsters (1st and 2nd scales) whose parents/legal guardians have proof of residence in the social support catchment area
  • Children in single-parent households or large families whose parents/guardians have proof of residence in the social support catchment area
  • Children whose parents/guardians have proof of residence in the social support catchment area
  • Children in single-parent households or large families whose parents/guardians have proof of employment in the social support catchment area
  • Children whose parents or guardians have proof of employment in the social support catchment area.

ECEC for children aged 3 years and over

Pre-primary education is designed for children from three to five years old in pre-primary institutions within the national network (public, private for-profit and not-for-profit institutions). When registering their children, families should indicate five institutions in order of preference. Within the public network, the registration of children who turn three years old between 16 September and 31December is accepted on a conditional basis until the end of the calendar year, depending on places available. This is done after the rules for prioritising applications defined in legislation have been applied (Legislative Order No. 10-B/2021, 14 AprilLegislative Order No. 6/2018, 12 April, as amended by Legislative Order No. 5/2020, 21 April).

Children who turn three between 1 January and the end of the school year can be registered throughout the year. Provided there is a vacancy, the child is admitted as soon as they celebrate their third birthday after the rules defining priorities are applied. 

The places in each public pre-primary institution are filled according to a set of priorities based on the children’s ages, giving priority to older ones of four or five years old, as defined in Legislative Order No 6/2018, 12 April, in the current wording.

If there is an equal situation after the age criterion has been applied, various priorities are considered regarding the child’s individual situation. These range from specific educational needs, having underage parents, having siblings attending the same kindergarten, receiving school social support, and other criteria defined within the school's autonomy, approved by the school's internal regulations.

In terms of renewing pre-primary enrolment, priority is given to children who attended the establishment during the previous year, applying the priorities legally defined above.

In the case of schools on the private network, the admission criteria are established in the rules of the institution.

Group size and child/staff ratios

ECEC for children under 3 years old

In general, crèches accept children from the age of three months to three years old, putting them into different groups based on the specific characteristics of the different age groups.

According to Ordinance No 262/2011, 31 August, the maximum number of children per group is ten until they learn to walk; 16 children between learning to walk and 24 months; and 20 children between 24 and 36 months. In situations where the number of children does not allow groups to be formed, heterogeneous groups can be formed from children who can walk, with a maximum of 16 children per room.

With regard to child/staff ratios in crèches, the limit of children per pre-primary teacher depends on age. For children under age one, the maximum limit is ten children per two professionals in the area of child development or assistants.

For children over one and under two years of age, the maximum is 16 children per pre-primary teacher, with an assistant. For children over two, the maximum limit is 20 children for each pre-primary teacher, with an assistant.

ECEC for children aged 3 years and over

In pre-primary education (children from three years of age), groups are made up of a minimum of 20 and maximum of 25 children.

Groups must not exceed 20 students whenever the technical-pedagogical report identifies the need to include children with special educational needs. No more than two students of this type can be admitted (Legislative Order No. 10-A/2018, 19 June, in its current wording). Such a reduction is dependent on supervision and these children spending at least 60 % of teaching time in the group.

When grouping students, the pedagogical criteria defined in the educational project and internal regulation of establishments and institutions prevail.

In pre-primary education, there is a ratio of one assistant and one pre-primary teacher per class, in accordance with the limit stipulated in Ordinance No. 272-A/2017, 13 September.

Number of children per group and per staff member in ECEC settings

Age of children Max. children per group Max. children per assistant Max. children per teacher
<1 year old 10 10/2 --
1-year olds 16 16/1 16/1
2-year olds 20 20/1 20/1
3-year olds 25 25/1 25/1
4-year olds 25 25/1 25/1
5-year olds 25 25/1 25/1

(Data based on Ordinance No. 426/2023, 11 December, which makes the third amendment to Ordinance No. 262/2011, 31 August and Ordinance No. 272-A/2017, 13 September)

Initial teacher training for pre-primary teachers lasts for three years and consists of a first degree in basic education, immediately followed by a master's degree (ISCED 7) in pre-primary teaching that lasts for 18 months or 24 months, which provides fully qualified teaching status (Decree-Law No. 43/2007, 22 February).

Assistants (previously called educational assistants/auxiliaries) must have completed Grade 12 (or equivalent) of general education (ISCED 3). Alternatively, assistants can also have a three-year vocational course, which confers a Level 4 National Qualifications Framework and European Qualifications Framework Qualification, and a certificate of conclusion of the 12th grade equivalent to ISCED 3.

They are involved in supervision of meals and support activities and projects planned and coordinated by the pre-primary teacher.

Annual, weekly and daily organisation

ECEC for children under 3 years old

Time organisation in crèches is the responsibility of the bodies operating the settings. As a rule, annual, weekly and daily organisation of time is adjusted to meet the needs of families. According to 2022 data (Gabinete de Estratégia e Planeamento - GEP/Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security - MTSSS – Carta Social 2022), most crèches (84 %) open from between 7:01 and 8:00 and close between 18:01 and 19:00 (59 %) or between 19:01 and 20:00 (46 %). It is also important to add that in 2022, approximately 87 % of crèches are open for ten to 12 hours a day. 40 % of children attend crèches for six to eight hours a day and 46 % of children stay between eight and ten hours. 

Usually, activities in crèches follow a routine consisting of play, rest, meals, and children’s health care and personal hygiene. Educational, leisure and motor skills activities take part of the programmes depending on the age and specific needs of children. In addition to this, outdoor and family activities are possible.

ECEC for children aged 3 years and over

The school calendar for pre-primary, primary and upper secondary education is published annually by Ministry of Education despatch. This establishes start and finish dates for the academic year and holiday periods. The school year falls between 1 September and 31 August. There are breaks at Christmas and Easter (ten working days each) and at Carnival (three working days). For the 2022/23 and 2023/24 school years, the school calendar is published by Despatch No. 8356/2022, 8 July.

Pre-primary schools provide an operational structure and a flexible timetable, which includes the 25 hours a week (five hours per day) that pre-primary teachers are responsible for, as well as the time dedicated to out-of-hours and family support activities. These establishments are open daily until 17:30 and for a minimum period of eight hours. However, some pre-primary schools provide an extended timetable (which can be from 8:00 to 19:30), adapted to families’ needs. The pre-primary schools opening hours should be communicated to parents or guardians at the beginning of the school year.

LENGTH OF TYPICAL* DAY, EACH DAY OF THE WEEK (start and finish times)

  Out-of-hours provision Morning activities Lunch break Afternoon activities Out-of-hours provision
Monday to Friday 8:00–9:00 9:00–12:00 12:00-13:30 13:30-15:30 15:30–19:30

This table is merely indicative as ECEC settings have the flexibility to adapt their timetable to family needs.  

Pre-primary settings are obliged to provide out-of-hours provision. This is designed to engage children before and/or after the daily period of activities and during the lunch break and holiday periods (supplying meals and extended timetables). The school cluster that the pre-primary is part of is responsible for planning these (timetable and activities) according to families’ needs (Ordinance No. 644-A/2015, 24 August).