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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general upper secondary education


6.Upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary Education

6.1Organisation of general upper secondary education

Last update: 24 January 2024

General upper secondary education in Portugal consists of science-humanities course encompassing grades 10, 11 and 12.

Types of institutions

Science-humanities courses (Cursos científico Humanísticos - CCH) on general upper secondary education are provided in public sector schools, publicly-funded private schools and independent private schools.

According to Article 3 of Law No 9/79, 19 March defines:

  • Public schools - the exclusive responsibility of the State, autonomous regions, local authorities or other public body.
  • Private schools - those which are the responsibility of legal persons regulated by private law.
  • Cooperative schools - those established in line with the respective legal provisions.

Private and cooperative schools in Portugal are regulated by the Private and Cooperative Education Act, approved by Law No 9/79, 19 March, amended by Law No 33/2012, 23 August and by the Private and Cooperative Education Statute of non-tertiary education, approved by Decree-Law No 152/2013, 4 November, in accordance with the Education Act. They are subject to administrative and financial inspections by the Ministry of Education, whose role is more focussed on regulating the education system.

Science-humanities courses on general upper secondary education are taught in upper secondary schools or in schools which provide various levels of education, namely primary and secondary education (primary and secondary schools or schools with both lower and upper secondary).

For the 2020/21 school year, the following statistical data were recorded on educational establishments throughout Portugal, according to the Education Statistics 2020/2021 (DGEEC/DSEE):

  • 967 schools provided upper secondary education, with a total of 399 689 students enrolled at this level. Of these, 297 933 are enrolled in public education and 196 189 in private education (8 114 in State dependent private education and 87 642 in independent private education).
  • Of the total (967) establishments providing upper secondary education, 377 are in the private network (30 state-dependent private schools and 347 independent private schools) and 590 are public schools.
  • 24.3 % of upper secondary school pupils attend private schools.

    Regarding attendance statistics, in the 2020/21 school year, a total of 393 689 students were enrolled, most (209 684) of whom were enrolled on science-humanities courses (CCH). In terms of the network (public or private), 186 623 students were enrolled on public secondary education CCH and 23 061 on the private network (4 107 dependent and 18 954 independent).

For more detailed statistical information, please consult the DGEEC website.

Geographical accessibility

Schools offering general upper secondary education (science-humanities courses) are found throughout the country. However, in some less populated areas, there is a lack of educational provision and students often must attend schools located in towns and cities. When this happens, the local authorities provide transport for students. 

Where public school provision is insufficient to meet demand, the State allocates funds to private schools to ensure the necessary vacancies for all students through association contracts.

According to statistical data collected by DGEEC/MEC “Educação em números - Portugal 2021”, upper secondary education - science-humanities courses provision is guaranteed in all regions of Portugal and is predominant when compared to the other types of provision, as shown in the table below:

Distribution of students enrolled in upper secondary education by type of education and training provision - young people (2020/21):

Education and training provision Percentage of students
Science-humanities courses 53.3 %
Vocational courses 29.2 %
Specialised artistic courses 0.7 %
Apprenticeship courses 4.7 %
Own-school-curriculum courses  0.9 %
CEF courses 0.1 %

Source: DGEEC. Estatísticas da Educação.

Every year, the Ministry of Education organises the education and training provision network in conjunction with the school clusters, municipal and inter-municipal authorities, to offer all children and young people access to school and an appropriate distribution of resources.

The school transport plan is the responsibility of the local authorities who can create special circuits when students have to wait over 45 minutes or travel for over an hour. This transport is free for all students who live over three kilometres from the school, who have problems of mobility and are in special education, regardless of the distance between home and school. This plan must be approved by 1 August to be implemented for the next school year.

Statistical data on student accessibility to schools show that school transport is available for students attending general upper secondary education, in addition to public transport and others. According to data for 2014-15 (DGEEC, Estudantes à Saída do Secundário 2014/2015), about 9.3% of the students attending general upper secondary education (science-humanities courses) used school transportation.

Admission requirements and choice of school

To gain access to science-humanities courses in upper secondary education, students must have successfully completed basic education (9 years of schooling) or possess an equivalent qualification.

Students can register on the internet via an application available on the Portal das Escolas or directly at schools. When enrolling for the initial year of upper secondary education, students must indicate, in order of preference, five schools of their choice and also the intended course(s).

Thus, students can choose the school they want to attend, according to their education and training priorities, taking into account the number of places available at each school.

However, student enrolment is dependent on certain criteria, according to the order of priority established in Legislative Order No 6/2018, 12 April, amended by Legislative Order No 5/2020, 21 April:

  1. Students who require specific access conditions or differentiated provision within the context of specific types of education.
  2. Students not covered by the conditions referred to in the previous priority and with a specific individual curriculum.
  3. Students with siblings already enrolled at the same school.
  4. Students who receive school social support, whose guardians are proven to reside in the school’s catchment area.
  5. Students who benefit from school social support whose guardians are proven to work in the school’s catchment area.
  6. Students who attended the same school in the previous school year.
  7. Students who are proven to reside or whose guardians are proven to reside in the school’s catchment area.
  8. Students who attended another school of the same school cluster in the previous school year.
  9. Students who work or whose guardians work in the school’s catchment area.

​Re-enrolment takes place automatically in the school students attend.

During enrolment, schools collect the following information from the students: the tax and social security number of students who receive family support paid by social security.

Age levels and grouping of pupils/students

The organisation of classes during the course of the three years of science-humanities courses in general upper secondary education follows the criteria defined in Legislative Order No 10-A/2018, 19 June, amended by Legislative Order No 16/2019, 4 June and by Legislative Order No 6/2022, 16 February.

As such, from the 2021/22 school year onwards, classes for grades 10, 11 and 12 will be reduced to a minimum of 24 and a maximum of 28 pupils.

Organisation of the school year

Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July establishes the guidelines for the organisation of the school year:

  • The school year corresponds to the period between 1 September and 31 August of the following year.
  • The academic year is understood to be the period in which school activities are carried out and corresponds to a minimum of 180 working days.
  • There are breaks at Christmas, Carnival and Easter.

The school calendar and the rules for organising the school year are established by despatch of the member of the Government responsible for education.

Despatch No 8356/2022, 8 July, approves the calendars of public pre-school centres, basic and upper secondary schools, and private special education establishments, as well as the tests and examinations schedule for basic and upper secondary education for the 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 school years.

Organisation of the school day and week

Guidelines for curriculum management and organisation are established by the Ministry of Education according to principles defined in Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, for all the grades in school year 2022/23.

The above-mentioned decree-law establishes the following principles for organising educational activities:

• Emphasis on the interdisciplinary and articulated management and teaching of the curriculum via projects that bring together learning from the different disciplines, planned, undertaken and evaluated by all the teachers of the class council or the year of schooling.

• Contextual flexibility in how students and work are organised, and the curriculum managed, using the most appropriate methods, approaches and procedures for all students to achieve the compulsory education exit profile.

• Designing an integrated curriculum that brings all school activities and projects together, viewing them as a source of learning and skills development for students.

In relation to science-humanities courses in upper secondary education, students’ daily and weekly timetable is organised by schools according to criteria defined by the respective pedagogic bodies, taking into account minimum time per subject and the time stipulated in the national curriculum.

Flexibility regarding how school time is organised at upper secondary level makes it impossible to represent a weekly schedule common to all schools. However, classes are normally taught five days a week (Monday to Friday) and the duration of each lesson is 45 or 50 minutes. Most public schools offer extracurricular activities after school.

The start and finish times of classes on each weekday vary between schools, whether public or private.

For the purposes of example and reference, the weekly timetable is presented for the school year, divided into 45-minute periods for upper secondary science-humanities courses:

Year Teaching Periods (a)
 10 34-36 units
 11 34-36 units
 12 23 units

(a) with 1 or 2 additional 45-minute periods, if students decide to attend the optional moral and religious education.

Merely as an example (as schools have the flexibility to organise teaching times), the following table shows the length of the school day/week in a public/private school:

  Extracurricular activities (before lessons) Morning lessons (start and finish times) (a)(c)

Lunch break


Afternoon lessons (start and finish times) (a) (c) Extracurricular activities (after lessons)
Monday X 8:10 to 12:30 12:30  to 14:30 14:30 to 18:30 (b)
Tuesday X 8:10 to 12:30 12:30 to 14:30 14:30 to 18:30 (b)
Wednesday X 8:10 to 12:30 12:30 to 14:30 14:30 to 18:30 (b)
Thursday X 8:10 to 12:30 12:30 to 14:30 14:30 to 18:30 (b)
Friday X 8:10 to 12:30 12:30 to 14:30 14:30 to 18:30 (b)

(a) Classes usually last 45 or 50 minutes, with intervals ranging from 10 to 15 minutes.

(b) There is extracurricular provision in most public and private schools, with curricular development projects for students in different areas (music, languages, media, citizenship, clubs/projects organised by students, etc.).

(c) At various times of the day, support classes or educational support classes may take place.

Further information on the organisation of school time is available on the Eurydice website, with comparative data for 37 EU countries and those participating in the Erasmus+ programme on the annual report “The Organisation of School Time in Europe. Primary and General Secondary Education – 2022/23”.