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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Single-structure primary and lower secondary education


5.Single-structure primary and lower secondary education

Last update: 6 February 2024

Cycles of basic education

In Portugal, basic education covers primary (ISCED 1) and lower secondary education (ISCED 2) within a single structure.

Basic education lasts for nine years and is divided into three cycles (see table below).

Cycles of basic education Grades Modal age
1st cycle 1–4 6 – 9 years old
2nd cycle 5–6 10 – 11 years old
3rd cycle 7–9 12 – 14 years old

The first and second cycles together correspond to primary education (ISCED 1); and the third cycle corresponds to lower secondary education (ISCED 2). 

Basic education is preceded by pre-primary education (see Chapter 4 - Pre-primary education and childcare) and is followed by upper secondary education (see Chapter 6 - Upper secondary and post-secondary non-higher education).

General objective

Basic education provides pupils with a common general education, with the learning necessary to continue studies at upper secondary level. There is also a set of values, principles and competence areas considered fundamental for pupils' learning during the 12 years of compulsory education, as found in the Exit Profile of Pupils Leaving Compulsory Education. 

Guiding principles

The principles guiding the organisation and management of the basic education curriculum, as well as learning assessment and curriculum development, are more specifically outlined in Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, which came into force gradually from academic year 2018/2019 onwards, for the following grades:

(i)      2018/2019 – Grades 1, 5, 7 and 10.

(ii)      2019/2020 – Grades 2, 6, 8 and 11.

(iii)     2020/2021 – Grades 3, 9 and 12.

(iv)     2021/2022 – Grade 4. 

Designed to reinforce and consolidate schools’ and teachers’ pedagogical autonomy, thus encouraging them to adopt differentiating measures that facilitate didactic and pedagogical solutions that improve students’ learning conditions, the Ministry of Education advocates some general guidelines to be applied to how school years should be organised through its Regulatory Decree No 10-B/2018, 6 July.

The same legislation contains measures focussed on educational success, ensuring all students can achieve the competences in the Exit Profile of Students Leaving Compulsory Education.
The following measures should be highlighted:

  • a multi-level approach that facilitates the use of universal, selective and additional measures, in cases where specific needs for access to curricular learning are identified
  • hours set aside for educational support for pupils with learning difficulties
  • measures of classroom support to encourage teamwork between teachers
  • study support 
  • complementary provision in 2nd and 3rd cycle curricula to create new subjects to enrich the curriculum and specific tutorial support to students who have repeated the grade two or more times.

Schools should organise career guidance activities at specific times during the school year (announced to the school community in a timely fashion), to prevent school failure and early school leaving.

As part of the National Strategy for Citizenship Education, schools approve its strategy for citizenship education, defining the areas, themes and learning in each cycle and schooling grade, how work is organised, student projects, the partnerships with the community and the assessment of students' learning.

Education and training provision

Basic education in Portugal includes the following education and training provision:

a) General basic education: general basic education aims to provide students with a general education to continue their studies, in accordance with the principles, values and skills areas found in the Exit Profile of Students Leaving Compulsory Education.

b) Specialised artistic courses: the curriculum is strengthened in the artistic area to provide focus on specific training in the areas of dance, music, and Gregorian chant. 

c) Education and training courses (Cursos de Educação e Formação - CEF) prepare young people to continue upper secondary level studies and future qualified status in the job market geared towards concluding compulsory schooling and access to working life. 

Types of institutions

General basic education and specialised artistic courses are taught in:

  • public schools/school clusters.
  • private and cooperative schools.

Education and training courses can run in:

  • private and cooperative schools.
  • public school clusters and non-clustered schools.
  • public or private vocational schools.
  • private and cooperative schools.

The Training Provision Portal provides a list of available courses and schools/ training bodies for all basic education level schooling and training.

Reference legislation on basic education

Law no. 46/86, 14 October - Education Act.

Despatch No 6478/2017, 26 July - Exit Profile of Students Leaving Compulsory Education

Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July - establishes the principles and rules that ensure inclusion. Such inclusion is viewed as a process that responds to the different needs and potential of every student via increased participation in learning processes and the life of the educational community.

Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July - establishes basic and upper secondary education curriculum, the guiding principles of its design, operation, and evaluation of learning to ensure that all students acquire the knowledge and develop the skills and attitudes that contribute to acquiring the skills set out in the Exit Profile of Students Leaving Compulsory Education.

National Strategy for Citizenship Education

Ordinance No 223-A/2018, 3 August - regulates basic education provision, as stipulated in no. 2 of Article 7 of Decree-Law no. 55/2018, 6th July, namely general basic education, and specialised artistic courses. It defines the rules and procedures for the design and operation of the curriculum, as well as the evaluation and certification of learning, as stipulated in the Exit Profile of Students Leaving Compulsory Education.

Ordinance No 181/2019, 11 June - defines the terms and conditions under which schools can manage over 25% of the basic curriculum of basic and upper secondary education and Ordinance No 306/2021, 17 December - makes the first amendment to Ordinance No 181/2019, 11 June.

Ordinance No 359/2019, 8 October - regulates the distance learning modality, provided for in paragraph a) of no. 1 of article 8 of Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, defining the rules and procedures regarding the organisation and operation of the curriculum, as well as the attendance regime.

Decree-Law no. 70/2021, 3 August - approves the legal framework of home schooling and individual tuition.

Ordinance No 65/2022, 1 February – makes the first amendment to Ordinance No 223-A/2018, 3 August, which regulates basic education provision set out in no. 2 of article 7 of Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July, in its current wording, introducing the basic theatre course for the 2nd and 3rd cycles of basic education.

For more reference legislation, see the Directorate-General for Education and the National Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education – ANQEP, I.P. websites.