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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Special education needs provision within mainstream education


12.Educational support and guidance

12.1Special education needs provision within mainstream education

Last update: 30 March 2024

The principles and rules that guarantee inclusive education for all students are stipulated in Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July (in its current wording, conferred by Law No 116/2019, 13 September and by Decree-Law No 62/2023, 25 July, repealing Decree-Law No 3/2008, 7 January, amended by Law No 21/2008, 12 May) and apply to school clusters and non-clustered schools, vocational schools and private, cooperative and solidarity pre-primary, basic and secondary education establishments.

As part of this system, benchmark schools are created in areas such as visual impairment, bilingual education and early childhood intervention, as specific organisational resources to support learning and inclusion. These benchmark schools should coordinate with the local teams working within the National Early Intervention System, which was created by Decree-Law No 281/2009, 6 October, and applies to pre-primary age children.

Working with health and social security services, these teams should establish the proper mechanisms that ensure universal early intervention, individual plans as early as possible, and improvements to children's transition processes.

Definition of the target group(s)

Pre-primary student support

Support for pre-primary age students with specific needs is provided by the National Early Intervention System (Decree-Law No 281/2009, 6 October) which is designed for:

  • children up to six years of age with physical or functional issues that limit personal growth and learning and participation in typical activities for their age or pose serious risk of developmental delay.

Children attending pre-primary education establishments are also included in the inclusive education legal framework (see below).

Support for pupils in mainstream education

Instead of categorising students with 'special educational needs', or creating a special legal framework based on diagnoses of learning difficulties, the Legal Framework for Inclusive Education (Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July, in its current wording, conferred by Law No 116/2019, 13 September and by Decree-Law No. 62/2023, 25 July) aims to respond to students’ different needs. It focusses on educational responses and mobilising health, employment, vocational training and social security resources, in complementary fashion and whenever considered necessary.

Although this new regime is designed for all students and a wide range of educational needs, when it comes to enrolment or re-enrolment, the priority target group(s) are students:

• who need existing organisational resources in benchmark bilingual education school or in benchmark schools for the visually impaired.

• with an individual education programme.

In terms of how pupils are grouped, the abovementioned decree foresees groups or classes of:

  • students in bilingual education (Portuguese sign language and Portuguese as a second language) attending benchmark clusters for bilingual education.

With respect to the assessment process, schools must ensure that all students are entitled to participate in this process.  Certain changes to the internal and external evaluation process are foreseen, such as a) diversifying information gathering tools, such as surveys, interviews, video or audio records; b) exam papers in accessible formats, namely Braille, tables and relief maps, daisy, digital; c) interpretation in Portuguese sign language ; d) use of support items; e) extra time to take tests; f) transcription of answers; g) reading of statements; h) use of a separate room; i) supervised breaks; j) colour identification code in exam papers.

Specific support measures

Support for pre-primary age children

The National Early Intervention System (SNIPI) was created to guarantee the necessary development conditions for children up to six years of age with physical or functional issues that limit personal growth and learning and participation in typical activities for their age or serious risk of developmental delay (Decree-Law No 281/2009, 6 October).

Early childhood intervention (IPI - Intervenção Precoce na Infância ) is an integrated set of child and family-focussed support measures (including preventive and rehabilitative) in education, health and social work. It foresees coordination among the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education (Ministério do Trabalho, Solidariedade e Segurança Social - MTSSS, Ministério da Saúde - MS and Ministério da Educação - ME), in direct collaboration with families and the community.

The National Early Intervention System is based on three bodies created at national, regional and local level:

(a) the National Early Intervention System Coordination Committee, which is made up of representatives of the three ministries (ME, MS and MTSSS)

b) the regional coordination sub-committees, made up of professionals appointed by the ME, MS and MTSSS

c) the local intervention teams (ELI - Equipas Locais de Intervenção) composed of professionals from health, education, social service, therapists and psychologists, who work at municipal level or parishes.

The work of the local intervention teams is crucial, as they are responsible for:

  • identifying children and families immediately eligible for the National Early Intervention System.
  • overseeing children and families who are not yet eligible but demonstrate risk factors.
  • referring ineligible children and families who need social support.
  • devising and implementing an individual early intervention plan.
  • identifying communities’ needs and resources in their sphere of intervention, organising formal and informal social support networks.
  • coordinating with bodies working in child protection.
  • ensuring suitable transition processes to other programmes, services or educational settings for every child, and
  • coordinating with teachers from creches and kindergartens attended by children involved with early childhood intervention (IPI).

To ensure national coverage of IPI services, the Ministry of Education has created a network of benchmark school clusters, where over 500 teachers are placed annually as part of the IPI that operates in the school cluster’s geographical area. These teachers support children up to the age of six years old in their usual environments, namely, home, childminder, creche, kindergarten or others.

It should be emphasised that, when the child moves on to kindergarten or primary school, the PIIP drawn up by the local intervention teams must guarantee the necessary coordination.

Support for pupils in mainstream education

As stipulated in Decree-Law No 54/2018, 6 July (in its current wording, conferred by Law No 116/2019, 13 September and by Decree-Law No 62/2023, 25 July), which establishes the legal framework for inclusive education, each school should recognise the diversity of its students and identify ways of dealing with it, adapting the teaching processes to the characteristics and individual conditions of each student and mobilising the necessary means to ensure access to the curriculum and to learning.

As such, each school should create a multidisciplinary team to support inclusive education, made up of:

  • permanent members (a teacher assists the headteacher, a special education teacher, three members of the pedagogical council who work as coordinators and a psychologist) and
  • variable members (group/class teacher or the student's form tutor, student’s other teachers, professionals from the inclusion resource centre (IRC) and other professionals involved with the student).

This multidisciplinary team is responsible for defining, implementing, monitoring and assessing support measures.

Identifying the need for learning and inclusion support measures should occur as early as possible and happens at the behest of parents/guardians, early intervention services, teachers or other professionals or services that are involved with the child or student. This is presented to the headteacher, alongside appropriate justifications and relevant documentation (for example, medical opinion on physical or mental health in relation to special health needs).

Within three working days, the headteacher must ask the school's multidisciplinary team to prepare a technical-pedagogical report that outlines the learning and inclusion support measures (universal, selective and/or additional). The multidisciplinary team must listen to parents or guardians while preparing the technical-pedagogical report. This report should be submitted within 30 working days and contains:

(a) identification of the factors facilitating and hindering student's learning, such as school, setting and individual student factors.

b) measures needed to support learning and inclusion.

c) operationalisation mode for each measure, including objectives, targets and result indicators.

d) identification of those responsible for implementing measures supporting learning and inclusion.

e) procedures for assessing effectiveness of each measure and, where relevant, the individual educational programme (if major curriculum changes are proposed).

f) articulation with specific resources supporting inclusion.

The multidisciplinary team should take a participatory, integrated and effective approach, relying on the collaboration of other professionals if appropriate.

Implementation of the measures foreseen in the technical-pedagogical report depends on parents’ or guardians’ agreement (to be achieved within five working days after its conclusion). If parents/guardians disagree, they should justify their position.

The person coordinating the measures proposed in the technical-pedagogical report is the pre-primary teacher, class teacher or form tutor, depending on the case.

This legal framework for inclusive education determines support measures for learning and inclusion, curriculum areas and specific resources to be used to meet all learners’ educational needs throughout their schooling and the different education and training provision.

Learning and inclusion support measures

The different support measures for learning and inclusion represent an integrated continuum of action, divided into three levels (universal, selective and additional):

  • universal measures: schools mobilise these for all students to encourage participation and improved learning, such as (i) pedagogical differentiation; (ii) curriculum adjustments; (iii) curricular enrichment; (iv) promotion of pro-social behaviour; (v) action with an academic or behavioural focus in small groups.
  • selective measures: to meet learning support needs not covered by universal measures, such as, (i) differentiated curricular pathways; (ii) non-major curriculum adaptations; (iii) psycho-pedagogical support; (iv) anticipation and consolidation of learning; (v) tutorial support.
  • additional measures: designed to overcome serious and persistent issues regarding communication, interaction, cognition or learning and which require specialised resources, such as, (i) year’s attendance by subject; (ii) major curriculum adaptations; (iii) individual transition plan; (iv) development of structured teaching methodologies and strategies; (v) development of personal and social autonomy skills.

Curriculum areas

As part of specialised educational provision, benchmark schools for bilingual education and the visually impaired, subjects or specific curriculum areas can be introduced, such as: Portuguese sign language as a first language (L1); written Portuguese as a second language (L2); Braille literacy and application of all specific orthographies; guidance and mobility; daily activities and social skills.

For students who attend benchmark schools for bilingual education, the Ministry of Education has developed Portuguese sign language and Portuguese language 2 programmes.

The Ministry of Education ensures that schools have special education teachers and other professionals with specific training, such as Portuguese sign language teachers and interpreters for teaching Portuguese sign language or specific curriculum areas, such as Braille or the use of support technologies.

Regarding teaching materials, the Ministry of Education’s resource centre adapts and produces figures in relief, textbooks in Braille and in Daisy digital format. It provides students with textbooks in PDF or E-book format in conjunction with educational publishers.

Specific learning and inclusion support resources

The following are different support resources:

  • human resources: special education teachers; specialised technicians; operational assistants with specific training.
  • organisational resources: a multidisciplinary team supporting inclusive education; a learning support centre; benchmark schools for the visually impaired; benchmark schools for bilingual education; benchmark schools for early childhood intervention; information and communication technology resource centres for special education.
  • specific resources already in the community: local early intervention teams; a health centre cluster or local health unit school health teams (ACES/ULS); committees for the protection of children and young people; resource centres for inclusion; community institutions, such as the solidarity and social security system assistance and social services, employment and vocational training services and local government services; special education establishments with cooperation agreements with the Ministry of Education.

The national network of ICT Resource Centres includes 25 units throughout the country and based on school clusters. These resource centres are designed to assess students to identify and prescribe the support that meets their specific needs through the Support Products Allocation System (Sistema de Atribuição de Produtos de Apoio - SAPA), as well as provide information/training for teachers and other professionals, as well as families.

With SAPA, the aim is to implement a global, integrated and wide-ranging policy for people with disabilities to compensate and mitigate the limitations resulting from impairment or disability, via free and universal support (Decree No 93/2009, 16 AprilOrdinance No 192/2014, 26 SeptemberDespatch No 14278/2014, 26 NovemberOrdinance No 78/2015, 17 MarchDespatch No 5291/2015, 21 MayDespatch No 6478/2015, 11 JuneDespatch No 7225/2015, 1 July).

Evaluation of learning, progression and certification

In terms of evaluation, the legal framework establishes that schools must guarantee all students the right to participate in the evaluation process.

Adaptations to the assessment process include a variety of information collection tools, the use of examination questions in accessible formats and support material, as well as the assessment criteria in terms of types and means of communication, timing, duration and location.

The rules and procedures regarding assessment in the different education and training provision are regulated by an order of the government authority responsible for education.

Progression of students affected by universal and selective measures supporting learning and inclusion occurs according to the rules and procedures defined in the ordinances regulating assessment. The progression of students affected by additional measures supporting learning and inclusion occurs under the terms defined in the technical-pedagogical report and individual educational programme.

In relation to certification, all students that finish compulsory schooling are entitled to a school-leaving certificate and diploma, and, where applicable, identification of the qualification level in accordance with the National Qualifications Framework and the corresponding level in the European Qualifications Framework.

For students whose school study has involved significant curricular adaptations, the certificate must include the cycle or level of education completed and relevant curricular information, as well as the areas and experiences throughout the implementation of the individual transition plan (Plano Individual de Transição - PIT).

The certificate model is regulated by Ordinance No 194/2021, 17 September.