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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of private education


2.Organisation and governance

2.4Organisation of private education

Last update: 28 March 2024

Private and cooperative education statute

Law No 9/79, 19 March established the basis for private and cooperative education (Lei de Bases para o Ensino Particular e Cooperativo), placing it on an equal footing with public education. The approved Statute (Decree-Law No 152/2013, 4 November, which revokes Decree-Law No 553/80, 21 November) is based on the structural principles that, in recent years, have been the subject of debate and negotiation with the sector’s representative bodies. This aspiration is focussed on five main structural areas. These are, primarily, the freedom to teach and the inherent freedom to establish private schools. The state is also committed to monitoring and supervising them, according to the typology of existing contracts and the new nomenclature, which has since been consolidated in legal terms.

In non-higher private and cooperative education, the state guarantees the freedom to create and operate private and cooperative schools, the pedagogical and scientific quality of teaching, as well as support families’ access to such schools, offering freedom of choice.

It is incumbent upon the Ministry of Education:

1. to help families exercise their rights and fulfil their obligations, in relation to their children.

2. to approve the creation of private and cooperative schools and authorise their operation.

3. to supervise the regular operation of private and cooperative schools.

4. to assess the pedagogical and scientific quality of teaching.

5. to encourage greater teacher qualification and their continuing education.

6. to encourage and support pedagogical improvement in private and cooperative schools to boost student success.

7. to monitor experimental pedagogical initiatives and the creation of courses with their own curricula and syllabi.

8. to provide technical and pedagogical support for private and cooperative schools, when requested.

9. to allow families access to private and cooperative schools via contracts and financial support, ensuring proper application, gradually allowing access to private schools under the same conditions as public schools.

10. to supervise compliance with the law and apply penalties in the case of infraction.

Contracts between the state and private schools may take the following forms:

a) standard family support contracts: related to families’ right to choose their children’s education, these contracts facilitate attendance of private and cooperative schools by students in basic and upper secondary education not covered by other type of contract. In other words, they cover pupils from 1st cycle to upper secondary education.

b) family support development contracts: these are designed for pre-school education and provide financial support to families.

c) association contracts: these make it possible to attend private and cooperative schools under the same conditions as those in public schools, while respecting the educational project in underprivileged areas of the public school network. With these contracts, funds can be allocated to classes from 2nd-cycle basic education to upper secondary education.

d) sponsorship contracts: these contracts encourage and support education in areas with little or no coverage by the public network, the creation of courses with specific syllabi and pedagogical improvement.

e) cooperation contracts: these are signed with private and cooperative schools that cater for pupils with special educational needs resulting from severe or total disabilities, and proven to require a type of provision that does not exist in regular schools.

In addition to the State’s powers and responsibilities, private schools or private and cooperative education must be governed by a set of obligations and duties, which are mentioned in the respective Statute. These involve financial support to families, accountability to the Ministry of Education, educational, curricular and administrative procedures, according to the contract signed between the institution and the State.

Pedagogical autonomy

When it comes to their educational project, private and cooperative schools enjoy pedagogical, administrative and financial autonomy.

Pedagogical autonomy consists of recognising the right of schools to make their own decisions in the fields of pedagogical organisation and operation, in terms of educational provision, curriculum management, study programmes and educational activities, assessment, guidance and counselling of students, class organisation, management of school facilities and instruction times and the management of teaching staff.

Within the terms and boundaries foreseen in the non-higher private and cooperative education statute and the contracts signed with the state (represented by the Ministry of Education), private and cooperative schools’ pedagogical autonomy includes competence to decide on the following aspects:

a) the approval of an individual educational project and internal regulation.

b) internal organisation at the level of management bodies and pedagogical management, without prejudice to the rules set out in this Statute.

c) pedagogical operation and organisation regarding the curricular project, syllabi and content.

d) knowledge assessment regarding the rules set at national level in terms of external assessment and final assessment of courses, grades, levels and types of education and training.

e) methodological guidance and the adoption of teaching tools.

f) enrolment, issue of enrolment, educational achievement and qualifications diplomas and certificates.

As part of their autonomy, and notwithstanding full compliance with total instruction time officially established for each year, cycle, level and type of education and training, private and cooperative schools can adopt flexible curriculum management. This is undertaken according to the terms set by ordinance by the government member responsible for education, under the same conditions as public schools with autonomy contracts.

Private education is considered to be state dependent when it is provided by an institution where over 50 % of its regular operating funds come from state bodies/public administration (of any level) or whose teaching staff is paid by a government body - directly or via direct administration. "Regular operating funds" are those allocated to schools’ basic educational services, not including those funds specifically allocated for research projects, payments for services rendered or contracted by private organisations, or fees and allowances received for ancillary services rendered, such as lodging and meals.

In contrast, independent private education is provided by an institution where less than 50 % of its regular operating funds come from national bodies / public administration (of any level).

More information is available on:

Despatch No. 6478/2017, 26 July

Decree-Law No. 55/2018, 6 July

Ordinance No. 181/2019, 11 June

Decree-Law No. 152/2013, 4 November

Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July

Ordinance No. 306/2021, 17 December

Despatch No. 8356/2022, 8 July

Law No. 36/2021, 14 June