Skip to main content
European Commission logo
EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of single-structure education


5.Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

5.1Organisation of single-structure education

Last update: 29 March 2024

Geographical accessibility

A free school transport service is provided for students in basic and upper secondary education for whom walking from home or public transport is not an option. These students must live over three kilometres (schools without canteen) or four kilometres away from the school to be eligible.

Free transport is also provided for students with reduced mobility and for those attending benchmark schools for the blind and partially sighted and bilingual education within the framework of the principles and standards defined for inclusive education legislation.

Local authorities work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (ME) and schools to provide transport for all students attending compulsory education.

According to Decree-Law No. 55/2009, 2 March, the organisation and control of the school transport system in primary education is the responsibility of the municipalities of the students' area of residence.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Parents can choose the school they want their children to attend. However, whenever the number of students that wish to enrol or renew their enrolment is higher than the number of existing vacancies in a given school cluster or non-clustered school,  the places available at each education institution for enrolment or re-enrolment are given according to different priority criteria, covering:

  1. students with specific educational needs, as stipulated in Articles 27 and 36 of Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July, as amended by Law No 116/2019, 13 September and by Decree-Law No. 62/2023, 25 July
  2. students who attended pre-school education or basic education in the same school cluster during the previous academic year.
  3. students with a sibling, or other children and young people who are proven to belong to the same household, in the same school or educational institution.
  4. students who are beneficiaries of social school support (Ação Social Escolar - ASE) whose parents/guardians have proof of residence in the educational institution’s catchment area.
  5. student beneficiaries of social school support  whose parents/guardians have proof of working in the education institution’s catchment area.
  6. students whose parents/guardians have proof of residence in the educational institution’s catchment area, with priority given to those students who have attended a school in the same cluster in the previous academic year.
  7. students who attended pre-school education in private social solidarity institutions in the school’s catchment area or in an educational institution of the same school cluster, during the previous school year, giving preference to those who have proof of residence in the chosen educational institution’s catchment area.
  8. students whose parents or guardians are proven to work in the educational institution’s catchment area.
  9. older students, in the case of initial enrolment, and younger students, in the case of re-enrolment, except students who have been retained and have already started the study cycle at the respective educational institution.

With regard to the abovementioned priorities, other priorities and/or tie-breaking criteria can be defined in the educational institution’s internal rules, (see Legislative Order No 6/2018, 12 April, amended by Legislative Order No. 5/2020, 21 April and by Legislative Order No. 10-B/2021, 14 April).

Initial enrolment in the first year of basic education is compulsory for all children aged six by 15 September.

Children that turn six between 16 September and 31 December may also be admitted at the request of parents and depending on the vacancies available at schools. It is not possible to cancel enrolment after a student has entered compulsory schooling.

In exceptional circumstances, the ME can authorise early or late enrolment in the first cycle of basic education, at parents’/guardians’ request. The application must be submitted to the educational institution the student wishes to attend by 15 May of the previous academic year. The application must be accompanied by a duly justified technical opinion, including a psycho-pedagogical evaluation of the child.

Entry to subsequent cycles (second and third) depends on students having successfully completed the immediately previous cycle or having the equivalent qualifications.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Basic education is divided into three sequential cycles (first, second and third cycles) and is typically attended by pupils from the age of six to 14 years old.

Cycles of basic education Grades Modal age
First cycle 1–4 6 – 9 years old
Second cycle 5–6 10 – 11 years old
Thrid cycle 7–9 12 – 14 years old

The class grouping must respect the criteria defined by 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 follows:

  • Heterogeneity (diversity of the school population).
  • Pedagogic criteria defined in the education project and the internal regulation of the educational institution.
  • Other key criteria promoting academic success and preventing school leaving.

In the first cycle of basic education, classes are made up of 24 pupils, while that rises to 26 students in the second, third and fourth grades. 

The number of pupils per class may be reduced to 20 provided that it includes pupils whose technical-pedagogical report highlights the need for integration into a smaller class, which cannot include more than two pupils in these conditions. 

In the second and third cycles, classes are made up of a minimum of 24 and a maximum of 30 pupils (a minimum of 24 and maximum of 28 students in grades 5 and 7, and a minimum of 26 and maximum of 30 students in grades 6, 8 and 9).

Classes can be reduced to 20 pupils whenever the student’s technical-pedagogical report indicates the need to include him/her in a smaller class for the purposes of learning and inclusion. These smaller classes cannot include more than two pupils under these conditions.

In specific situations, smaller or bigger classes can be opened in specific situations. The first scenario requires prior authorisation from the relevant Ministry of Education department, via analysis of a justified proposal from the school’s head teacher. If the number of students is higher, it requires authorisation from the school pedagogical council, via analysis of a justified proposal from the school’s head teacher.

In natural sciences and physics/chemistry subject areas, classes can be split to undertake practical and experimental work in the third cycle of basic education.

Organisation of the school year

According to Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July:

  • The school year corresponds to the period between 1 September and 31 August of the following year.
  • Both the school and exams calendars are stipulated annually by the Ministry of Education.
  • The school year lasts for a minimum of 180 days.

Every year, before the beginning of the school year, a despatch establishes the school calendar for public pre-primary, basic and upper secondary schools, private special education schools, as well as the schedule of tests and exams for basic and upper secondary education.
Regarding the 2023/24 school year, Despatch No 8356/2022, 8 July determines the calendars for public pre-school, basic and upper secondary education and private special education establishments, as well as the dates for tests and examinations in basic and upper secondary education for the 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 school years.. 

Organisation of the school day and week

As part of its responsibilities, each school has the power to define the general criteria for drafting student timetables, such as the start and end time of each teaching period, management of how daily and weekly instruction time is distributed, student support, curriculum enrichment activities and other criteria important to the school context.

As part of its strategic school management duties, the general council issues an opinion on the general criteria for timetabling, as defined by the pedagogical council. 

Lessons generally start at 9.00 a.m. and finish at 4.00 p.m. from Monday to Friday. As a rule, there are no lessons at the weekend.

In the first cycle of basic education (grades 1 to 4), classes normally start at 9am and finish at 4pm from Monday to Friday. As a general rule, there are no teaching activities at the weekend. There is an average of three or four lessons within the daily curriculum, and there can be an additional 1-hour period for optional curriculum enrichment activities. These activities generally start at 4.30 p.m. and finish at 5.30 p.m.

In this cycle, there is a mid-morning break (30 minutes) and a lunch break (1 or 1.5 hours). There is another break in the afternoon (30 minutes) for those who attend the abovementioned curricular enrichment activities.

Regarding extracurricular activities in the first cycle are mostly organised by municipalities or parents' associations. These activities may include English or other foreign languages, sports, arts, sciences, ICT, community and civic education and school support activities. 

In this cycle, there is usually a family support component during school holidays. Few schools offer such activities to students in the other school grades.

In the second cycle (grades 5 and 6) there are six classes per day. In these grades, the breaks between classes vary between 10 and 20 minutes.

In the third cycle (grades 7, 8 and 9) there are, on average, seven classes per day and the breaks between classes vary between 10 and 20 minutes.

In exceptional circumstances, and whenever school premises do not allow, schools can be authorised to have classes in the morning or afternoon only, operating a double shift system.

Weekly workload - basic education

Cycle of education Number of weekly hours per year
First cycle  Grades 1 to 4: between 25 and 26 hours*
Second cycle  Grades 5 and 6: between 22.5 and.25 hours**
Third cycle  Grades 7, 8 and 9: between 25 and 25.7 hours***

*Depending on whether students opt for moral and religious education. Provision is compulsory but attendance is optional.
** The school may increase instruction time if complementary provision, study support and/or artistic education supplement are offered.
*** The school may increase instruction time if complementary provision is offered.

Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, Legislative Order No 10-B/2018, 6 July and Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July (which establishes the legal framework for inclusive education) reinforce and consolidate schools’ and teachers’ pedagogical autonomy, encouraging them to adopt different measures to improve collaborative work, reflection on practices and students’ difficulties and capabilities, focussing on pedagogical and didactic methods that improve students' learning.

To this end, the following curricular options are defined:

  • Partial or total combination of curriculum or training components, subject areas, subjects or short training courses, using areas of curricular autonomy, organising interdisciplinary working times, with possible schedule sharing between different subjects.
  • Alternating between disciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches for collaborative work throughout the school year.
  • Conducting practical or experimental work with split classes or another organisation.
  • Integration of projects done at school in blocks included in the weekly timetable, on a rotating or other basis.
  • Organisation of subjects by quarter or semester, or another organisation.