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


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

6.4Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Upper secondary education offers the following education and training provision that confer dual certification:

  • vocational courses
  • specialised artistic courses
  • own-school-curriculum courses
  • apprenticeship courses

Type of institutions

Depending on the type of training provision, dual VET programmes at upper secondary education are taught at different types of public, private and cooperative schools, including vocational institutions. 

Public schools - those that are the exclusive responsibility of the State, autonomous regions, local authorities or other institutions subject to public law.

Private and cooperative schools - institutions created by natural or legal persons, whether for-profit or not, where collective education is provided to more than five students, or where regular educational or training activities are undertaken.

Private vocational schools - schools that predominantly teach dual VET courses (non-higher education), created by private individuals or groups, whether for-profit or not.

Public vocational schools - schools that predominantly teach dual VET courses (non-higher education), which operate under the Ministry of Education and are part of the public school network.

Vocational courses

These courses, which are part of the SNQ, form part of upper secondary education and offer dual certification – academic and professional. Vocational courses are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education (ME) and Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security(Ministério do Trabalho, Solidariedade e Segurança Social - MTSSS) and are taught in public, private and cooperative schools, including vocational institutions. 

They have strong links to the professional world, developing social, scientific and vocational competences to exercise a profession, in conjunction with the business sector, as well as allowing students to continue their studies (in post-secondary or higher education).

Specialised artistic courses

Specialised artistic courses are the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and are taught in public, private and cooperative schools.

Music and dance courses can be taught within an integrated scheme (students attend all the curriculum components in the same school) using a coordinated system between two schools (the teaching of specialised artistic education components is done by a specialised artistic education school, while the remaining components by a general education school) or a school's subsidiary system (attendance is limited to the component of specialised artistic training of the basic music courses or to the components of scientific and technical artistic training in the upper secondary music courses). In this case, attendance is limited to scientific and technical-artistic educational components.

Own-school-curriculum courses

Foreseen in Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, as a form of upper secondary provision, courses with their own curricula are one of the options given to educational establishments as part of curricular autonomy and flexibility. When featuring dual certification, these pathways provide students with initial vocational training and a variety of learning, according to their interests, so they can continue their studies and/or work. These have a solid scientific and technological component, alongside general training and on-the-job training.  Scientific courses are geared towards further studies, but also have a technological component.

This provision is taught in private and cooperative teaching establishments and other training bodies. Currently, there are 65 own-curriculum courses available, taught in 11 schools.

Apprenticeship courses

Apprenticeship Courses are dual certification education and training that focusses on working life and the continuation of studies. They use a alternance approach linked to competence and training reference frameworks associated with qualifications that are part of the National Qualifications Catalogue (CNQ) and lead to a level 4 qualification (National Qualifications Framework).

These courses are organised by directly and partially managed Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP, I.P.) centres, by training bodies certified by the Directorate-General for Employment and Labour Relations (DGERT) and by other entities that, due to their legal status and areas of competence, do not require certification as a training body. Training in a work context is undertaken in companies and other employers (alternance training support), increasingly featured throughout the course.

Statistical data on schools

Existing statistical data on the distribution of provision by school type refer to 2020. The table below shows the number of students studying on the dual VET courses - designated in the table as VOC (vocationally-oriented courses) - taught in basic and secondary, arts and vocational schools:

Table 1 - Young students by type of certification and school type, 2020 (Mainland; school year 2020/2021)



Total            GEN                        VOC





Upper secondary school              




Basic and upper secondary School




Arts school




Vocational school




Source: DGEEC.

Notes: GEN - General courses, which include science-humanities courses and specialised artistic courses; VOC – Vocationally oriented courses, which include own-school-curriculum courses, specialised artistic courses (excluding music courses, as they do not have dual certification), vocational courses, apprenticeship courses and education and training courses. 

In terms of provision by type of school network (public or private), data for dual VET, referred to as vocationally oriented courses (VOC), show the following distribution:

Table 2 - Young students by type of certification and type of school network, 2020 (Mainland; school year 2020/2021)




Total                   GEN                              VOC













Source: DGEEC.

Geographical accessibility

There is no specific legislation regarding geographical accessibility for dual VET courses in vocational upper secondary education. It is the local authorities' responsibility to assess the need for this type of educational provision, and to propose the creation of institutions to teach them to the relevant central authorities.

In the case of VET schools, local authorities are heavily involved in assessing the needs of their catchment areas and creating provision to match (with the involvement of local authorities covering not only vocational schools but also public schools with vocational courses).

According to statistical information collected by DGEEC/MEC, dual VET in upper secondary education is taught at schools in all regions of the country, most being vocational courses, followed by other types of provision.

Table 3 - Students by type of course attended and region, 2020 (Mainland; school year 2020/2021)

                                           EDUCATION AND TRAINING PROVISION


















































Source: DGEEC.

Notes:  CCH - science-humanities courses; CPP - own-school-curriculum courses; CAE - specialised artistic courses; CP - vocational courses;  CEF - education and training courses.

In terms of accessibility to schools providing dual VET at upper secondary level, school transport is available to students, as well as public transport and others. According to data for the 2016/2017 school year (DGEEC, OTES: Estudantes à Entrada do Secundário 2016/2017), approximately 12.4% of students in this type of programme (VOC – Vocationally-oriented courses) use school transport.

Admission requirements and choice of school

To access any of the dual certification secondary education provision students must have completed the 9th grade of schooling or equivalent training. With the exception of apprenticeship courses, students enrol on the Enrolment Portal. 

Vocational courses

Vocational courses are designed for young people who have completed grade 9 (third cycle of basic education), or equivalent training, and are aged up to 20 years old (at the beginning of grade 10). The typical age of admission is 15 years old.

These courses aim to provide students with initial vocational training and different apprenticeships according to their interests, to enter the job market or continue their studies at tertiary level.

The courses last for three years and has a workload that varies between 3 100 and 3 440 hours. 

Students can choose the school and course they wish to attend.

Students must formalise their application by completing a (pre-registration) form.

Normally, students have an interview, which may include staff from the psychology and guidance services, course coordinators and training in a work context counsellor.

After candidates are selected, they must complete their enrolment by the date defined by the school board.

Specialised artistic courses

These courses are designed for young people who have successfully completed grade 9 (third cycle of basic education). Access to specialised artistic courses in the areas of dance and music at upper secondary level is dependent on a knockout selection process. In the areas of visual arts and audiovisuals, priority is given to the candidates with the best grades in visual arts education.

Own-school-curriculum courses

These courses are intended for young people who have completed the 9th grade of schooling or equivalent qualification and are aged 15 or over. Students must pre-register stating their preferred area of study. Students’ evaluation obeys the criteria established by law for upper secondary education, and other priorities defined in the internal regulations of the establishments may be later considered.

Apprenticeship courses

These courses are designed for young people under 29, who have successfully completed the third cycle of basic education (or equivalent).

Students enrol on Apprenticeship Courses are with IEFP – Training Types - IEFP, I.P.

Age levels and grouping of pupils/trainees

In dual VET at upper secondary level, the training cycle is divided into three years and students/trainees are grouped into classes/training groups according to the different training components. In general, classes/groups can include students/trainees of different ages, and teachers/trainers may teach the same class/group during the three-year cycle.

The specific rules regarding the constitution of classes/training groups are listed below.

Vocational courses

The makeup of classes throughout the three-year CP training cycle obeys the following criteria (defined in the Legislative Order No. 1010 A/2018, 19 June, amended by Legislative Order No 16/2019, 4 June):

  • first-year training cycle classes are made up of a minimum of 22 students and a maximum of 28, except for vocational courses in the following areas: music, performing arts (circus performance and activities), contemporary dance performance and performing arts (scenography, costumes and props), where the limit is 14.
  • second- and third-year training cycle are made up of a minimum number of 24 students and a maximum of 30, except for vocational courses in the following areas: music, circus arts, contemporary dance and scenography, costumes and props, education and performing arts, where the minimum limit is 14.
  • On vocational courses in schools within educational intervention priority areas (TEIP), classes are made up of 22 (minimum) and 28 (maximum) students, except on music, performing arts (circus performance and activities), contemporary dance performance, and performing arts (scenography, costumes and props) vocational courses, where the minimum is 14.
  • On vocational courses, classes have 20 students maximum, whenever the technical-pedagogical report indicates the need for a smaller class to promote access to learning and inclusion for a particular student. Classes cannot include more than two students under these conditions.
  • On these courses, it is possible to add training components or subjects common to two different courses in one class, with the prior authorisation of those services responsible for the courses. Groups should not exceed the maximum or minimum number of students indicated above.

Authorisation for splitting classes can be given under the following conditions:

  • Whenever the same class includes pupils studying different foreign languages, regardless of the number of students.
  • In subjects involving laboratory work, up to one teaching period (lesson), whenever the number of students exceeds 20.
  • In subjects that involve laboratory, workshop, computer and artistic work in the technological area, for the total weekly timetable, whenever the number of students exceeds 15.
  • In technological subjects of the music course, where the applicable legislation for other specialised artistic subjects in the coordinated/integrated system should be observed.

Specialised artistic courses

Class make-up in upper secondary level specialised artistic courses (CAE) obeys the following criteria (defined in the Legislative Order No10 10 A/2018, 19 June, amended by Legislative Order No 16/2019, 4 June):

  • From 2019/20, 10th-grade specialised artistic courses in the areas of visual and audio-visual arts are made up of a minimum of 24 students and a maximum of 28, with a progressive application to the remaining grades. To open an optional course requires a minimum number of 20 students and a specialisation course, a minimum number of 15 students.
  • From 2019/2020, 11th and 12th grade classes in the areas of visual and audio-visual arts are made up of a minimum of 26 students and for optional subjects it is 20 students, with a maximum of 30.
  • For schools located in educational priority intervention areas, opening a specialised artistic education class in the areas of visual and audio-visual arts need a minimum number of 24 students.  For optional subjects it is 20 students, with a maximum number of 28.
  • For specialised artistic courses in the areas of music and dance, classes can be opened with a lower number of students than legally foreseen. In the area of music, classes can be split into small groups or individual.

Own-school-curriculum courses

Own-school-curriculum courses are created via Ordinance, published for each school, including the respective course matrices and definitions of their organisation and operation.

Apprenticeship courses

Training groups consist of a minimum of 15 and maximum of 20 trainees.

Organisation of the school year

Organisation of the school year is governed by the following guidelines:

  • The school year corresponds to the period between 1st September and 31st August of the following year.
  • Both the academic and exams calendars are stipulated annually by the Ministry of Education.
  • The school year lasts for a minimum of 180 days of school activity and is divided into three terms, each one lasting approximately three months.
  • Teaching breaks occur at Christmas, Carnival and Easter.

According to Ordinance No 181/2019, 11 June, and amended by Ordinance No 306/2021, 17 December, with regard to the design and development of innovation plans, schools may also adopt their own rules regarding the organisation of the school year.
School+ 21|23 Plan also provides for schools choosing a semester model for the school year.

Teaching establishments close for holidays for 30 days, according to the abovementioned Dispatch. During teaching breaks, schools continue to function and teachers work on their non-teaching duties.

Organisation of the school day and week

Vocational courses

The organisation of the curriculum is flexible, although it is necessary to schedule the training plan, taking into consideration the distribution of subjects, the weekly workload and the training in a work context (TWC) period.

Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, defines a total workload of between 3 100 and 3 440 hours for vocational courses (curricular model) over the three years of the training cycle, ensuring compliance with the hours defined in the training reference framework contained in the National Qualifications Catalogue. These courses are regulated by Administrative Rule No 235-A/2018, 23 August, which specifies that the number of hours foreseen for the different training components should not exceed 35 hours per week, nor seven hours per day.

To find pedagogically suitable responses for each class or group of students, schools can manage up to 25% of each sociocultural and scientific component, redistributing this among the subjects of the respective component.

The training in a work context component workload varies between 600 and 840 hours, being adapted to the working hours of the host company or organisation, and should not exceed, whenever possible, 35 hours a week, nor seven hours a day.

The vocational aptitude project, which is worked upon and defended by students the vocational aptitude test (VAT), foresees the allocation of specific time in the weekly schedule.

Specialised artistic courses

In compliance with the weekly workload included in core curriculum standards for each grade, and according to Ordinance No 232-A/2018, 20 August, in its current wording (Ordinance No 65/2022, 1 February), it is the schools' duty to organise instruction time, to facilitate strategies that achieve pre-determined objectives.

Own-school-curriculum courses

As part of the school's autonomy, the weekly timetable can be organised and distributed differently, according to the nature of the subjects, in accordance with the provisions of the Ordinance that regulates each course.

The subjects that make up the general and scientific training components obey the ME guidelines regarding splitting classes. Whenever justified, technological component subjects are split.

Apprenticeship courses

The weekly timetable should be set between 30 and 35 hours, not exceeding six or seven hours per day.

The school day is between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

For more information on the organisation of dual VET at upper secondary education, see DGEECANQEP I.P. and IEFP I.P. websites.