General upper secondary education in Portugal consists of science-humanities course encompassing grades 10, 11 and 12.
Curriculum, subjects, instruction time
The curriculum for education and training provision in general upper secondary education consists of syllabi that includes the set of curricular or training components, subject areas, subjects and short-term training units for each grade and level of education or training in the basic-curricular models (Decree-Law no. 55/2018, 6th July). The curriculum is established at national level, as are documents issued on subject syllabus - programmes, curricular standards and essential learning.
The Ministry of Education is responsible for curricula and/or curriculum reorganisations, which are drafted by working groups appointed for this purpose, with input from strategic partners (advisory bodies, subject groups, teachers' associations, school boards) and approved by ministerial order. The most recent revision of the curriculum framework dates back to July 2018 (Decree-Law no. 55/2018, 6th July), which defines the principles which offer greater autonomy and flexibility.
Despite the central nature of curriculum design or curriculum models, there has been increasing emphasis on curricular autonomy and flexibility. As stipulated in the above-mentioned Decree-Law, “schools can manage up to 25% of the total workload per grade or education cycle, in order to ensure that all students acquire the knowledge and develop the skills and attitudes that contribute to achieving the competencies foreseen in the Exit Profile of students leaving compulsory education”.
As a result of Ordinance No 181/2019, 11 June, with amendments introduced by Ordinance No 306/2021, 17 December, schools can manage over 25% of the basic curricular matrices of basic and upper secondary education and training provision to develop innovation plans, foreseen in No 3 of article 12 of Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July.
There are private schools with extensive experience in creating their own plans, where course curricular matrices include subjects whose syllabi are defined centrally and subjects whose syllabi are drafted by the school and submitted to the Ministry of Education’s departments for pedagogical appreciation.
The 2018/10 school year saw the general implementation of the Curricular Flexibility and Autonomy Project (Autonomia e Flexibilidade Curricular - AFC) ((in terms foreseen in Article 38 of Decree-Law No 55/2018, 6 July).
The Curricular Flexibility and Autonomy reference documents are as follows:
a) Exit Profile of students leaving compulsory education (Perfil dos Alunos à saída da Escolaridade Obrigatória - PA), a key document regarding how the entire education system is organised, which consist of a common model of the principles, values and areas of responsibility which guide educational activities in compulsory schooling.
b) Essential learning outcomes (Aprendizagens Essenciais - AE) - basic curriculum guidelines for the planning, implementation and assessment of teaching and learning activities, leading to competences included in the exit profile of students leaving compulsory education.
c) National Strategy for Citizenship Education - the strategy that focusses on developing skills for a democracy and learning culture that has an impact on the individual’s civic attitudes, interpersonal relationships and social and intercultural relationships through the citizenship and development component.
School provision is essentially determined by the balance between student choice and demand that stems from local and regional socio-economic development needs.
There are four science-humanities courses:
- Science and technology;
- Socio-economic sciences;
- Languages and humanities;
- Visual arts.
These courses are primarily designed for students who wish to enter higher education (university or polytechnic).
All science-humanities courses have a general and specific educational component.
The general educational component is common to all courses which, in coordination with other components of the curriculum, aims to develop wider general knowledge by integrating a humanistic, social, artistic, scientific and technological dimension and includes the following subjects: Portuguese, a foreign language, philosophy and physical education.
The study plans for all science-humanities courses also include a specific educational component designed to provide solid scientific preparation in the study area of each course. This component includes a set of core subjects (1 triennial subject, 2 biennial subjects in grades 10 and 11 and 2 annual subjects in grade 12). In grade 12, students choose a course-related subject and may still choose one annual subject from a set of subjects related with other scientific fields.
The basic-curriculum models also include the citizenship and development training component, which is a cross-curricular area, with an interdisciplinary approach.
The study plans include:
- minimum taught time allocated for each subject.
- total instruction time.
- curriculum documents for subjects, drafted and approved at ministerial level.
Special emphasis is given to improving oral and written expression in Portuguese. For students who have another first language, Portuguese as a foreign language may be taught.
The minimum taught time per subject is defined in terms of total amount of minutes per week.
As part of their autonomy, schools are free to organise lesson times in any way they see fit, providing they respect the minimum weekly teaching time and time spent. In addition to the minimum teaching hours established for each subject, schools also have the autonomy and flexibility to manage 25% of the total workload per grade (weekly organisation model) and the workload of the socio-cultural and scientific components for models organised according to cycle of education.
Studies Plan for Science-Humanities Courses (General Upper Secondary Education)
Minutes per week
Foreign Language (I, II or III)
One triennial subject
Two biennial subjects
Biennial subject I
Biennial subject II
270 or 315
270 or 315
270 or 315
270 or 315
Two annual subjects:
- One related to the scientific nature of the course– Annual 1
- The other can be related to the nature of the course or other knowledge areas, according to the educational project – Annual 2
Moral and Religious Education (optional)
* With an additional 45 or 90 minutes if students choose to attend the optional moral and religious education.
In its annual report Recommended Annual Instruction Time in Full-time Compulsory Education in Europe - 2020-2021, Eurydice provides information on this matter to all EU countries.
Teaching methods and materials
Principles and methodological guidelines
The legislative framework and curricular documents recommend certain methodologies. However, considering the learning outcomes defined in the curriculum documents of each subject, schools make decisions regarding methodologies through the pedagogic council, which is made up of representatives from all subject departments. Teachers can choose the most appropriate methodologies to teach their classes.
The guiding principles that define the methodologies to be implemented by schools include:
- Improving the quality of teaching and learning based on a multilevel approach, reinforcing curricular intervention in schools and the formative nature of assessment, so that all pupils can acquire knowledge and develop the skills, attitudes and values foreseen in exit profile of students leaving compulsory education.
- Implementing curricular autonomy, enabling schools to identify effective, context-appropriate options within the educational project and school’s other structural tools.
- Emphasising the interdisciplinary and articulated management and teaching of the curriculum via projects that bring together learning from the different subjects, planned, implemented and assessed by all the teachers of the class council or grade.
- Contextualised flexibility in the way students/work are organised and the curriculum is managed, using the methods, approaches and procedures that are most appropriate for all students to achieve the exit profile of students leaving compulsory education.
- Designing an integrated curriculum that brings together all school activities and projects, viewing them as a source of learning and skills development for students.
- Recognising the importance of the transdisciplinary nature of learning, of the mobilisation of different literacies, multiple skills, theoretical and practical, promoting scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity, critical and interventional spirit, creativity and collaborative work.
- Promotion of citizenship education, personal and interpersonal development and social intervention throughout all compulsory schooling.
- Emphasising the Portuguese language and culture as vehicles of national identity.
- Emphasising foreign languages as vehicles of global and multicultural identity and facilitating access to information and technology.
- Emphasising the linguistic diversity of students and the community as an expression of individual and collective identity.
- Emphasising collaborative and interdisciplinary work in the planning, implementation and evaluation of teaching and learning.
All upper secondary subject syllabi in science-humanities courses have “Essential Learning” guidelines which are available for download on the Directorate-General for Education website, a central service of the Ministry of Education responsible for curricular development.
Textbooks are an important didactic-pedagogic resource in the teaching and learning process. Designed for a year or cycle, they present information core to the syllabus in force, which is why schools adopt them, as stipulated by Law no. 47/2006, 28th August, in its current wording, and other subsequent regulations.
The writing and production of school textbooks is the responsibility of authors, publishers, or other institutions legally qualified for this purpose.
Educational agents (teachers) are free to choose and use textbooks that are part of the school/school cluster’s educational project.
Their importance as a didactic-pedagogical resource led central authorities to implement a set of procedures for the assessment and certification of textbooks to guarantee scientific, pedagogical and didactic quality within a stipulated timeframe. These procedures involve bodies previously accredited by the Ministry of Education and, where necessary, assessment committees, as well as teachers within the coordinating and educational bodies of schools or school clusters.
Assessment, certification and adoption procedures occur in two phases:
- An assessment and certification phase led by bodies previously accredited by the Ministry of Education, such as higher education institutions (public, private or with public recognition), their branches and departments, provided they have the necessary capacity and legal status. Others include official teacher organisations, scientific associations or bodies and assessment committees specifically set up for the purpose when necessary. The end result is a certification of scientific-pedagogic quality.
- A textbook assessment, selection and adoption phase undertaken by teachers in schools, considering the assessment criteria defined for the purpose, as well as the suitability of the certified textbooks for their respective education project.
As a rule, secondary school textbooks are valid for six years and must match the syllabi of the subjects to which they refer.
Free school textbooks have been phased since 2016, via several laws that approved state budgets. From the 2019-2020 school year, free textbooks were extended to all students attending public compulsory schooling through Law no. 71/2018, 31st December, fulfilling the stipulations of article 29 of Law no. 47/2006, 28th August, in its current wording. The above-mentioned Law mentions that the procedures and conditions of free availability, use, return and reuse of schoolbooks is defined by the member of the government responsible for education.
Dispatch no. 921/2019, 24th January approved the "Reuse of School Textbooks Manual", which included a set of methodologies, good practices and principles for the educational communities involved in this process.
Accounting for the exceptional and temporary measures in the area of education established in Decree-Law no. 14-G/2020, 13th April, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was necessary to adjust some of the procedures defined in the "Reuse of School Textbooks Manual" published in Dispatch no. 6352/2020 16th June 16, to take effect in the year 2020.
Special education teachers must be involved in the process of adopting school textbooks adapted in Braille and digital format, for students covered by Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6th July.
Teachers have autonomy when it comes to teaching methods and resources, although teaching processes and methodologies can be adopted at school level. Teachers may develop their own teaching resources to be shared with the various teachers at the school or cluster, provided that this does not imply additional expenses for the students, and these resources are not subject to evaluation, certification, and formal adoption procedures.
There are no official recommendations regarding homework.