Chapter 1. School education in Portugal

This chapter presents an overview of the political, economic and demographic context of Portugal. It also provides a brief description of structures and trends in the Portuguese school system for international readers. Portugal is a small open economy, on the westernmost edge of continental Europe. Following the late democratisation of its institutions in the 1970s, the country widened access to education with compelling results. While prior to the democratic revolution 25% of the population did not know how to write or read, by 2016 almost half the working-age population had at least completed upper secondary education. The efforts have ensured universal access to school and also clear improvements in quality. The Portuguese education system witnessed the largest improvement in 15-year-olds’ scientific literacy among OECD countries between 2006 and 2015. Still, important challenges remain. Political reforms in the country prioritise greater delegation of responsibilities to municipalities and decision-making autonomy at the school level. Building capacity for a smooth delegation of authority over school resources is crucial. Despite expanded access, substantial equity concerns exist in the provision of schooling. Large proportions of students repeat years, school attainment does not consistently produce labour market success and students’ socio-economic backgrounds still strongly influence their level of school attainment. Finally, high dropout rates and regional disparities hinder the effectiveness of the Portuguese education system.


The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Economic and social context

Portugal is situated on the Iberian Peninsula, in southwest Europe. Most of its territory faces or is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Its 92 225 square kilometres include a mainland and two autonomous regions: Azores – comprising nine volcanic islands – and Madeira – comprising three main islands and several islets. Continental Portugal shares its northern and eastern borders with Spain and includes a coastline that extends for 2 601 km. Portugal has 10.3 million inhabitants. Most of these (53%) live in predominately urban areas, making it the 9th most urbanised country in the OECD (OECD, 2016[1]). The country has two metropolitan areas: the capital Lisbon (2.8 million inhabitants) and the city of Porto (1.7 million inhabitants), both on the country’s coast.

Portugal is a democratic nation. Its current political regime emerged from a non-violent military coup, on the 25th of April of 1974, effectively replacing the previous authoritarian system. The New State (Estado Novo) lasted for 41 years, one of the longest dictatorial regimes in Western Europe during the 20th century. Education policy in the country is deeply shaped by the late democratisation of its political institutions, which underlies several of the challenges still found in the education system. More recently, economic constraints, demographic trends and aspirations for government decentralisation have influenced education policy priorities in the country.

A complex yet centralised governance system

Portugal is a semi-presidential republic, which joined the European Union (EU) in 1986. The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (1976) governs the separation of powers into the legislative (the Assembly of the Republic), the executive (the Government) and the judiciary (the Constitutional Court as well as Administrative, Civil and Criminal Courts) branches. The President of the Republic – elected every five years – is the State’s Chief, whose duties are to represent the country, as well as supervise and guarantee the regular functioning of democratic institutions. The President is also vested with the responsibility of commanding the Armed Forces, approving or vetoing legislation and nominating the Prime Minister, after approval of the Assembly of the Republic. The Assembly of the Republic is the national parliament, composed of 230 members who are elected by popular vote every 4 years.

The executive power in Portugal is shared across three administrative tiers: central, regional and local. The central government is divided into executive departments headed by their respective ministers who are nominated by the Prime Minister. The local level is sub-divided in 308 municipalities (concelhos) and 3 091 civil parishes (freguesias). Each municipality has executive and deliberative representation. The Municipal Chamber, composed of a President – the mayor – and other elected members (vereadores) acts as the executive body, whereas the Municipal Assembly supervises all municipal activity. At the sub-municipal level, civil parishes are governed by a Council (junta de freguesia) and an Assembly. Regional level organisation is rather unusual. The Portuguese Constitution established a political division of Portugal into two Autonomous Regions (Azores and Madeira) and 18 districts on the Continent. However, no formal regional administration exists on the Continent. Supra-municipal administration is generally provided by such entities as Metropolitan Areas, Regional Co-ordination and Development Commissions (Comissões de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional – CCDRs) or inter-municipal communities (comunidades intermunicipais – CIMs), which often have intertwining and overlapping functions.1 Most regional approaches are related to the use of EU Structural and Investment Funds, put forth in the Partnership Agreement with the EU for 2014-20 (OECD, 2016[1]).2 The five territorial units in continental Portugal – and to which the Review will refer – are the North (Norte), Centre (Centro), Lisbon Metropolitan Area (Área Metropolitana de Lisboa), Alentejo and Algarve (NUTS II). The review also often uses NUTS III regions – subdivisions within the larger NUTS II regions and coincident with the division into inter-municipal communities and metropolitan areas – to conduct regional analyses (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1. Map of continental Portugal
NUTS II and III regions

Source of administrative boundaries: Direção-Geral do Território (2016), Official Administrative Maps of Portugal - Version 2016 [Carta Administrativa Oficial de Portugal - Versão 2016], (accessed on 8 December 2017).

Despite its complex administrative division, public governance in Portugal is relatively centralised. Given its low share of subnational spending (11.8%), Portugal is the 6th most centralised country in the OECD. Tax revenue at subnational levels is only 9.8% of central government expenditures, which compares to a significantly higher average share of 31.6% across OECD countries (Figure 1.2). Local level governmental fragmentation is also below most OECD countries, with an average of three municipalities per 100 000 inhabitants (OECD, 2016[1]). Most strategic decisions are executed by the central government, according to the annual state budget. The education system is no exception. Decisions on hiring and distribution of human resources across schools, teachers’ compensation or total schools’ budget are all made at the central level of administration (see Chapters 3 and 4).

Figure 1.2. Subnational role in public finance by category
As a percentage of central government expenditures

Source: OECD (2016), “Country note on Portugal”, in Regional Outlook 2016: Productive Regions for Inclusive Societies,

Notwithstanding, Portugal is in the midst of a long-term and multi-sector process of decentralisation. Central authorities have gradually sought to promote the delegation of funding and management of responsibilities to subnational levels of governance. The education sector has been one of the spearheads of this process. Successive governments have transferred to municipalities the management of non-teaching staff, school buildings, the provision of extracurricular activities and school transportation. In 2015, selected municipalities signed delegation contracts to provide autonomy in the distribution of all types of school funding, except for teachers’ salaries. The pilot project is targeted at assessing the capacity of those 14 municipalities to manage the funds provided and evaluating the potential to scale up this localised control to the rest of the country.

The economy is recovering from a deep recession

Portugal is a small open economy. It exports about 40.6% of its production, mainly machinery, transportation equipment and textiles. Labour costs are relatively low, compared to European standards, and the GDP per capita is 71% of the OECD average (OECD, 2017[2]). There are also marked regional differences. Lisbon’s GDP per worker – the highest in Portugal – is 29% above the national average and 56% higher than the GDP per worker in the North region (OECD, 2016[1]). Labour productivity is low, which reflects both low intensity of productive capital and gaps in workers’ skills (OECD, 2017[2]).

The Portuguese economy experienced a deep recession in the aftermath of the international financial crisis. In 2012, GDP contracted to levels below 2003. The decline was significantly larger than the average of Euro area economies for that year, due to major macroeconomic imbalances and an increasing public budget deficit. Since then, economic activity has recovered at a sluggish pace, in line with the Euro area (Figure 1.3). The gradual comeback has been mostly propelled by the recovery in private consumption (European Commission, 2017[3]).

Figure 1.3. Annual GDP growth, 2002-16

Source: OECD (2017), OECD Economic Outlook Database, Economic Outlook No 101 - June 2017,

Consecutive years of high public deficits – higher governmental expenditures than revenues – have put government activity under intense international scrutiny. As public deficit escalated to 11% of GDP and public debt to 111% in 2011, financing conditions became perilous, far exceeding economic convergence criteria agreed upon with other EU countries.3 As a result, the Portuguese Government, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) agreed on a three-year economic adjustment programme initiated in May 2011. The adjustment package included EUR 78 billion in loans (equivalent to 44% of total GDP in 2011). The programme contained large-scale structural reforms aimed at promoting growth and job creation. Among these reforms, measures related to the education system included programmes to tackle low educational attainment and early school leaving, as well as efforts to improve the quality of secondary education and vocational training (European Commission, 2014[4]; 2014[5]). Moreover, the Government agreed to tight fiscal measures to reduce government expenditure and guarantee the long-term sustainability of public debt repayment.

New fiscal measures translated into growing government revenues. Simultaneously, public expenditure dropped 5.6 percentage points between 2010 and 2016 (Figure 1.4). During the adjustment period, government net interest payments proved difficult as a result of unfavourable financing conditions. As of 2016, the country had the largest interest payment as a percentage of GDP among OECD countries (OECD, 2017[6]). Therefore, public debt repayment has become a public funding priority, competing with other sectors of public concern, such as education.

Figure 1.4. Government financing conditions, 2002-16

Source: OECD (2017), OECD Economic Outlook Database, Economic Outlook No 101 - June 2017,

The downturn in economic activity had a strong impact on the labour market. The unemployment rate peaked at 16.2% in 2013 (Figure 1.5, Panel A). The proportion of employed workers has since recovered rapidly (Figure 1.5, Panel B). Nonetheless, the employment rate is still 3 percentage points lower than the one registered in 2008 and below the OECD average (Figure 1.5, Panel B), as it is still significantly affected by the challenging conditions for investment. In fact, overall unemployment remains higher than in the OECD (Portugal: 9.7%; OECD: 6%, in 2017) but compares favourably with other Southern European countries (OECD, 2017[6]). As in other OECD economies, unemployment is significantly higher among young workers, who experienced a worsening in employment conditions during the period. The unemployment rate for 15-24 year-olds increased by about 17 percentage points to 38.1% in 2013 (Figure 1.5, Panel A). These trends were in line with the upsurge of long-term unemployment – i.e. active population unable to find a job for at least 1 year – whose rate more than doubled between the years prior to the crisis and 2013 (Figure 1.5, Panel A). Nevertheless, Portugal is experiencing a gradual economic recovery and an associated improvement in labour market conditions. The unemployment rate is expected to steadily decrease to 7.4% in 2021 while the economy gradually accelerates with the support of EU funds (European Commission, 2017[3]; Portuguese Ministry of Finance, 2017[7]).

Figure 1.5. Employment and social inclusion indicators, 2002-16

A. Youth unemployment rate measures the share of unemployed people between 15 and 24 years old over the active population within the same age band. The long-term unemployment rate is the percentage of unemployed persons for one year or more, over the active population.

B. The employment rate measures the number of employed persons over the total population.

C. The at-risk-of-poverty rate measures the share of people whose equivalised disposable income falls below 60% of the equivalised median disposable income. The equivalised disposable income is calculated by factoring in the age composition of the household and its total disposable income. More details in the Eurostat Glossary:

D. Children at-risk-of-poverty rates are measured for people aged 0-17 years old.

Sources: OECD (2017), OECD Labour Force Statistics 2016,; Eurostat (2017), “At-risk-of-poverty rate by age group - EU-SILC survey”, Social Inclusion and Social Policy Indicators

Nevertheless, the recovery in employment has been felt unevenly across sectors, reflecting the productivity structure of the Portuguese economy. The Portuguese labour market is significantly polarised: returns to higher education are still substantial (Sousa, 2016[8]), but there are few positions in middle-qualified occupations, relative to other European countries. The recovery in employment rates was mainly attained through job creation in low-qualified occupations, mostly in the tourism sector, and anchored at the minimum wage value – 42% of the average and 58% of the median wage of full-time workers in the country as of 2016 (OECD, 2017[9]).

Despite the fall in GDP and high unemployment levels, the proportion of individuals at risk of slipping into poverty remained relatively stable (Figure 1.5, Panel C), settling at 25% before social transfers and 19% after transfers in 2016. However, the relative nature of the at-risk-of-poverty measures may mask a real deterioration in the living conditions of those at the bottom of the income distribution if the median income also declines, as was the case in Portugal. In fact, between 2010 and 2014, the poorest 10% of households witnessed a 26% reduction in their disposable income. Among OECD countries, this was only surpassed by those in Chile and Greece (OECD, 2015[10]). The risk of poverty for children increased after 2012 and remains high (22.4% compared to 20.8% in the Euro Area in 2016; Figure 1.5, Panel D). Children’s poverty rates are a growing concern in OECD countries, as poverty in this age group is now higher than among 65-year-olds and older (OECD, 2015[11]). Portugal mirrors this trend, as 18.2% of children lived in poor households compared to 10.2% among the elderly in 2013 (OECD, 2015[10]).4

A fast ageing population and a new wave of emigration

The number of inhabitants in Portugal has been declining since 2009. The decrease in total population primarily reflects new migration trends and diminishing fertility rates. Natural population growth – i.e. the difference between live births and deaths in the country – has been persistently decreasing (Table 1.1). As a result, similar to other OECD countries, projections indicate that the Portuguese population will age at a fast pace (United Nations, 2015[12]). By 2030, it is predicted that for every 100 inhabitants aged 15 to 64 there will be 44 people aged 65 years old or more – above the EU average of 39 in the same year (European Commission, 2015, pp. 361-385[13]). On the other hand, the decrease in the school-aged population (0-19 year-olds) has been steeper than the school-aged population declines of OECD and EU countries (Figure 1.6). The projected demographic trends are expected to have a significant impact on the reallocation of public resources among competing priorities. With student numbers plummeting, a reallocation of public resources towards pensions’ schemes and healthcare is anticipated. In 2014, public pension spending amounted to 13% of GDP, substantially above the OECD share of 7.9% (OECD, 2015, p. 325[14]). Nevertheless, in order to keep the sustainability of the public pensions system, the retirement age in Portugal has been gradually increased, reaching 66 years and 3 months in 2017. The downward sloped trend on the fertility rate and the consistent growth in life expectancy imply a potentially similar pattern of retirement policies in future years. Such pressures, in tandem with the decreasing number of required teachers, may also suggest a future increase in the average age of the teaching workforce.

The economic downturn in Portugal had severe impacts on migration patterns, adding to an already negative natural growth since 2009. While between 2004 and 2008 a higher inflow than outflow of migrants contributed to a positive growth rate of the population, a sharp decline in immigration starting in 2009 reversed this trend. The largest inflows of migrants are and have traditionally been from Brazil. However, post-recession, the immigration profile changed considerably. The number of Brazilian immigrants in 2014 fell to less than half of the registered inflow in 2012. On the other hand, the percentage of inflows coming from China more than doubled their average between 2004 and 2013, mainly due to incentives for business settlement and facilitated visa conditions (OECD, 2016, p. 292[15]). Nevertheless, the largest foreign-nationality populations residing in Portugal as of 1 January 2017 are Brazilian (81 300), Cape Verdean (36 600), Ukrainian (34 500), Romanian (30 400) and Chinese (22 600) (Eurostat, 2018[16]). Long-term emigration varied substantially during the period, peaking at 53 800 individuals in 2013 but falling to 40 400 in 2015 (INE, 2016[17]). In 2015/16, immigrant students represented 3.5% of school-aged students enrolled in Years 1-9 and 4.6% of school-aged students enrolled in upper secondary.

Table 1.1. Demographic indicators, 2004-14


Growth per 1 000 inhabitants


(thousands of individuals)



















Natural increase








Net migration








Source: OECD (2016), International Migration Outlook 2016,

Figure 1.6. Changes in school-age population in Portugal, OECD and the European Union
1990 = 100

Source: OECD (2016), Historical Population Data and Projections (1950-2050),

For short-term emigrants, the net out-migration patterns are even more stark, with 134 600 residents leaving the country in 2014, and 93% of those being of working age. Such levels of outflowing population are only matched by the Portuguese emigration cycle to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. However, the profile of the outgoing population is now different. Permanent emigration rose substantially among the young – a 169% spike between 2009 and 2012 for those aged 20 to 34 – and the more qualified (INE, 2016[17]). Despite the slowdown in the outflow of migrants and a gradual return to migratory balance as the economy started recovering, a number of challenges are expected from a “brain drain” of young qualified workers leaving the country.

The school system in Portugal

Education goals and current priorities

The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic (1976) dictates that access to education is a legal right for all citizens (Articles 43, 72-75). It is the goal of public administration to promote the democratic access to education as an end in itself but also as a means for promoting equality of opportunity and the reduction of economic, social and cultural inequities. Education also aims to equip children with the full development of character, imbuing them with the spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding, solidarity, responsibility, social progress and active participation in democratic life.

The Base Law of the Education System (Law no. 46/86, 1986) reinstates and translates the principles enshrined in the Constitution into a distribution of governance responsibilities and the legal framework for the private provision of education. It also aims to fulfil other overall goals of the education system such as the sustainability of national identity, the preservation of historical and cultural heritage, awareness of spiritual, aesthetic, moral and civic values vis-à-vis the balanced physical development of children, as well assuring the recognition of different cultures. Education in Portugal is also understood as a means to develop the ability to perform productive work and to participate in active life, according to the individual’s interest and capabilities.

Policy priorities of the current government in the field of education include:

  1. 1. The universalisation of access to pre-schooling by 2019.

  2. 2. The expansion of upper secondary graduation rates to 90%.

  3. 3. The reduction of student dropout and year repetition rates in primary and lower secondary in half.

  4. 4. The provision of additional support to low-achievers and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  5. 5. The involvement of 600 000 adults in education and training by 2020.

This review assesses these goals in light of the current configuration of the Portuguese education system as of January 2018 (see Box 1.1).

Box 1.1. School Resources Review of Portugal – 2018

The qualitative reflections in this report reflect the state of the Portuguese education system at the time of the review visit in January 2018. Administrative data presented are from the 2015/16 school year, the most recently verified data by the Portuguese authorities at the time of the report’s drafting in spring 2018. Several new initiatives and reforms were planned and implemented in the months following the review visit. These include:

  • Reforms to the TEIP programme as part of its next implementation cycle.

  • New law on the inclusion of students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and a shift away from a medical diagnosis model for identification of students with SEN.

  • Changes to the student assignment process requiring families to use their legal address and prioritising low-income students’ applications to over-subscribed schools.

  • Unfreezing of the career progression for teachers, including associated increases in compensation.

  • Expansion of the curriculum autonomy pilot to all public schools.

  • Planned reduction of class size for the 2018/19 school year.

Equity and inclusion are guiding principles of education policy in Portugal. In order to help achieve these goals, central authorities provide additional support usually by means of targeted programmes. In order to achieve similar educational opportunities for children, means-tested support to students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, School Social Assistance (Ação Social Escolar – ASE) has for over 30 years covered families’ expenses on such items as school textbooks, meals and transport. For additional support to schools in disadvantaged environments, successive governments have since the mid-1990s experimented with the deployment of targeted funds for schools in Priority Educational Intervention Areas (Territórios Educativos de Intervenção Prioritária – TEIP). TEIP schools, representing just under 16% of the public school network, develop their own response strategies to address particular needs and submit proposals to central authorities that decide on the suitability for additional funding. Recently, in order to tackle early school leaving and improve the quality of learning environments for a broader swathe of students, the National Programme to Promote School Success (Programa Nacional de Promoção do Sucesso Escolar – PNPSE) focuses on educational interventions at the beginning of each education level. Finally, the law on inclusive education also sets the principles for the inclusion of special needs students in regular schools, aiming to promote equity. The current framework for strategies to address student disadvantage can be found in Annex 1.A.

Portuguese educational authorities – in co-operation with the OECD Education 2030 project – have also developed a new encompassing framework for teaching, learning and assessment. The framework establishes the key competencies for learning, through the definition of the new Profile of Students at the End of Compulsory Schooling (Perfil dos Alunos à Saída da Escolaridade Obrigatória), published in June 2017. It establishes Essential Learning Objectives (Aprendizagens Essenciais) for each education level. The new framework was tested in the 2017/18 school year in a set of 235 public and private schools. Implementation is monitored and supported by higher education institutions in the country, in collaboration with the OECD. Plans are underway to extend its reach to the whole network of schools in 2018/19.

Structure and curricular organisation

The Portuguese school system is organised in three sequential levels: early childhood education and care (ECEC), basic education and secondary education. In line with OECD countries, children enter the education system through kindergartens (jardins-de-infância). Pre-school education – level 02 of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) – is offered for children between the ages of 3 and 5, in either public pre-schools or government-dependent private centres, the latter of which offer both early childhood care (ISCED 01) and pre-school education (ISCED 02).

Compulsory education typically starts at the age of 6, when children enrol in basic schools (ISCED 1-2). Basic compulsory education (ensino básico) is organised in three study cycles, with varying lengths. The first cycle – elsewhere called primary education – comprises the first four years of ISCED 1 under the responsibility of a single teacher. The second cycle lasts for two years and is organised in interdisciplinary classes under the responsibility of one teacher per subject. The third cycle of basic education, comparable to lower secondary education (ISCED 2) and lasting 3 years, furthers the specialisation of the curriculum with one teacher responsible for each subject area or group of related subjects. At the end of the third cycle, students (typically aged 15) transition to (upper) secondary education (ensino secundário), corresponding to ISCED level 3. Table 1.2 provides a brief overview of the structure of the pre-tertiary system.

Table 1.2. Student age and levels of Portuguese education system

Age and schooling year/level

Modal age at start of school year






























1st cycle

2nd cycle

3rd cycle

Education level




ISCED (2011) level





Note: For a full diagram with secondary pathways and post-secondary education, see Diagram of the Portuguese Education System on the OECD Education GPS website:

Source: Ministry of Education (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Portugal,

Formal schooling in Portugal is compulsory for students until 18 years old or until the completion of upper secondary if students complete their studies before the age of 18. Secondary education is organised in both general and vocational education pathways. In the general track, students select between four strands of sciences-humanities courses and a set of technological courses which are gradually being phased out. Slightly more than half the students enrol in scientific or humanities courses (52.7%), selecting one of four curricular areas: science and technologies, social and economic sciences, languages and humanities or visual arts. While the scientific-humanities strand is geared towards further studies at the tertiary level, other pathways offer vocationally-oriented courses. Professional programmes (cursos profissionais), apprenticeship programmes (cursos de aprendizagem), specialised artistic courses (cursos artísticos especializados), education and training courses (cursos de educação e formação – CEF) and the recently discontinued vocational programmes (cursos vocacionais) are mainly geared towards integration in the labour market and comprise part of the vocational education and training (VET) sector in Portugal (see Chapter 3), which enrols about 41% of young students in upper secondary education.

A non-negligible portion of students (8%) attends basic education under specific programmes other than the regular curricular pathway, suited to their profiles (Table 1.3). These include basic level specialised artistic courses, education and training courses (CEF),5 alternative curricular pathways and pre-vocational courses, adapted to struggling students’ specific cultures and interests (see Chapter 3).

Table 1.3. Students in basic and upper secondary education by type of offer, 2015/16

Type of offer/Level of education

1st cycle

2nd cycle

3rd cycle

Upper secondary education



404 124

219 349

324 300

210 259

1 158 032

From which in Sciences-Humanities courses




206 346

206 346

From which in Technological courses




3 913

3 913

Specialised artistic


1 029

1 181

2 454

4 967

Alternative curricular pathways (PCA)


2 164

3 495


6 433

Education and training courses (CEF)



2 433


3 005

Professional courses




112 395

112 625

Vocational courses


1 539

25 035

5 244

31 818

Apprenticeship courses




26 010

26 010

Total enrolment of young students

405 201

224 147

356 674

356 868

1 342 890

Adult learning courses

2 840

6 695

17 840

34 670

62 045

Total enrolment

408 041

230 842

374 514

391 538

1 404 935

x : Category not applicable.

Note: Enrolment in adult learning courses include individuals in recurrent classes (ensino recorrente), education and training courses for adults (Educação e Formação de Adultos – EFA), certified modular training (Formações Modulares Certificadas – FMC) and in the national system of prior learning assessment and recognition (Sistema Nacional de Reconhecimento, Validação e Certificação de Competências – RVCC).

Source: Adapted from DGEEC (2017), Estatísticas da Educação 2015/2016 [Education Statistics 2015/16],$clientServletPath%7D/?newsId=145&fileName=DGEEC_DSEE_2017_EE201520164.pdf, Table I-1.3.

Basic and secondary education in Portugal also provides a wide array of courses for adult qualification and potential early school leavers. Second-chance educational programmes for adults generally aim at providing individuals with relevant qualifications for the labour market. The certification of skills acquired outside of the formal education system fall under the umbrella of the recently created Qualifica programme (Box 1.2). The programme aims to increase adults’ access to training courses to build skills related to their employment needs, and it facilitates the formal recognition and validation of prior learning. Programmes of Qualification in Basic Skills (FCB) are targeted to adults aiming to acquire basic literacy in reading, writing, mathematics and information technologies. Adult Education and Training Courses (EFA courses) are targeted at individuals aged 18 or over in need of improving their qualifications; these account for 5% of enrolment in ISCED 3. Additionally, a System of Recognition, Validation and Certification of Competences (RVCC) formally validates learning gained in different contexts by adults who seek to obtain an academic or vocational qualification. While an important current educational priority, adult education is out of the scope of this report. See the OECD (2018[18]) National Skills Strategy for a recent evaluation of adult education in Portugal.

Box 1.2. Improving adult skills: The Qualifica programme

Prioritising labour market reintegration through relevant qualifications became critical in the aftermath of the economic downturn in Portugal. However, economic recovery has been hindered by historically low rates of educational attainment, considerably behind the OECD average. The Qualifica programme (2017) intends to tackle this concern. The strategic priority of the programme is the improvement of adult qualification and the promotion of lifelong learning. It is publicised as a wide-reaching policy package, aimed to cover 600 000 people by the end of 2020. The plan replaced the New Opportunities programme, non-operational since 2013, with similar policy objectives. The success of the Qualifica project hinges on a network of adult learning centres with teaching and guidance staff, known as Qualifica Centres. These fulfil the functions of informing, counselling and steering adult workers looking to improve their qualifications. The government established just over 300 Qualifica Centres through the end of 2017. The education and training obtained is also fully integrated with the National Catalogue of Qualifications (CNQ), a system for the standardisation of professional qualifications. In order to improve implementation, the government also created an online tool to help adults document their educational and professional paths – the Qualifica Passport. This tool helps individuals identify learning opportunities that suit their needs based on their particular prior education and training experiences.

Main objectives

The Qualifica programme aims to fulfil several objectives:

  • Increase qualification levels and improve employability.

  • Significantly reduce illiteracy rates.

  • Promote individual engagement in lifelong learning.

  • Bring educational attainment rates to the level of other European countries.

  • Align the curricular offer with labour market needs and strategic priorities.

Measurable goals

By 2020, the programme aims to fulfil the following measurable goals:

  • 600 000 participants involved in adult learning.

  • 50% of the economically active population will have completed at least upper secondary education.

  • 15% of adults will be engaged in lifelong learning activities (25% by 2025).

  • 40% of 30-34 year-olds will have earned a higher education degree.

Sources: OECD, (2018[19]), Skills Strategy Implementation Guidance for Portugal: Strengthening the Adult Learning System; Qualifica Programme (n.d.), Qualifica, (accessed on 22 February 2018).

To complete general secondary education, students in Portugal must take national examinations. National exams are common tests undertaken by every student at the relevant school year. The students sit the exams in the subjects specific to their strand of studies, typically completing two in Year 11 and another two in Year 12. The exams fulfil two functions in the system. They are both a formal requirement for graduation from secondary school, and the exam scores may be used to gain admission to tertiary education. Candidates to public tertiary education are centrally placed by the government according to available slots, student demand and each student’s candidacy grade. The candidacy grade depends on the final graduation grade and the scores in the final exams. Final graduation grades in each subject are computed as the weighted average of the school grade and the grade at the national exam for that subject (with weights of 70% and 30% respectively). The quantitative candidacy grade is then assigned a weight by the tertiary educational institution and the department to which the student applies. The candidacy grade must weigh a minimum of 50% in the admission decision. Each tertiary education institution can set the weight of the national exams scores within a band of 35% to 50% of the total score for admission.

In addition to upper secondary exams, there are national examinations at the end of basic education (Year 9) in Portuguese and mathematics. There are also national assessments in basic education (provas de aferição), carried out in the middle of each education cycle namely the Years 2, 5 and 8. In contrast with earlier testing regimes that focused on measuring the particular performance of students and schools, these tests are mainly used for overall assessment of the system. They are also provided to teachers to inform them of the achievement of specific students. Reports provided to families are qualitative in nature, describing students’ skills without reporting a score to students or families, though scores are computed and averaged at the school level. Central level authorities then analyse these school-level scores to generate a report on the ability of each school to provide a quality education.

Organisation of the school offer

The school offer in Portugal is guaranteed by both public and private providers. The public school network is organised in clusters (covering 98% of all primary, lower and upper secondary public schools) and non-grouped schools. School clusters aggregate schools from one or more education levels under the same school leadership team. Organisational leadership is assigned to a principal – supported by a number of deputy principals and school co-ordinators – and school governing councils composed of representatives of each school. School clusters typically group between 4 and 7 schools but vary widely from as few as 2 to as many as 28 schools under a single administration. The organisation of the public school offer in clusters reflects a major consolidation process initiated in 2005. It sought to reduce the number of isolated schools, prevent social exclusion and scale up pedagogical capacity and efficiency gains in larger school networks. Establishing school clusters was also intended to facilitate transitions across educational levels and improve communication between central authorities and schools since there are now only just over 800 public school units in Portugal (see Chapter 3).

The public school network enrols most students (80%). However, the proportion of those attending public schools varies with the level of education – from about 88% in basic education schools (years 1 to 9) to only 54% in pre-school institutions (Table 1.4). Public pre-primary education is generally guaranteed by pre-schools under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education, but also by private, and often government-dependent institutions, which often also offer crèche education (ages 0 to 3) under the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security. Since 2015, 2 years of non-compulsory, pre-primary education are offered free of charge to all children aged 4. The anticipated expansion of universal early childhood education to 3-year-olds in the medium term is expected to create additional capacity challenges to the public offer at this level of education. Public provision of basic and secondary education is the independent responsibility of the Ministry of Education.

Table 1.4. Number of enrolled students by education level and type of education institution, 2015/16

Education level

Number of students

Number of educational institutions

Distribution of students across levels (%)

Students attending public schools (%)

Students attending government-dependent private schools (%)

Students attending independent private schools (%)




1 664 785








259 850

6 114








1 013 397

7 009







1st cycle

408 041





2nd cycle

230 842







3rd cycle

374 514








391 538






Note: The distribution across type of education institutions refers to the number of students enrolled. The data in the table above refer to youth and adult education and include the autonomous regions. ISCED 0 data on private school attendance include both ISCED 01 and 02 and encompass children enrolled in private subsidised pre-schools (IPSS).

Sources: Adapted from DGEEC (2017), Estatísticas da Educação 2015/2016 [Education Statistics 2015/16], Table I-1.1, supplemented by DGEEC administrative data, 2015/16,$clientServletPath%7D/?newsId=145&fileName=DGEEC_DSEE_2017_EE201520164.pdf.

Enrolment in public schools follows a set of legally defined criteria. When the demand exceeds the offer of places in a given school, the following priorities for the selection of students apply, in order: i) having special educational needs status serviced in that school; ii) being enrolled in the same school in the previous year; iii) having siblings enrolled in the school; iv) the students’ legal address; and v) the parents’ work address. New for the 2018/19 academic year, students receiving social support will have preferential status after the above factors are applied in an attempt to increase opportunities for low-income students and increase socio-economic integration in schools. In addition, the legal address is confirmed by the tax declaration of families to avoid that they give false addresses.

Beyond the public education offer, there is a relatively large network of private schools in Portugal. As in other OECD countries, private educational provision is mostly self-financed through attendance fees charged to students’ families. As part of their autonomy, private schools are responsible for recruiting and evaluating their own teachers, as well as setting their quality standards. Many private schools, however, are dependent on government funding. These are intended to fill gaps in the public supply of schooling in oversubscribed locales, remote locations, specialised artistic areas or special education services. Government-dependent private schools are particularly relevant in early childhood education and care – 31% of pre-primary students are enrolled in this type of institution – whereas only 4.6% of upper-secondary students select this type of school. By contrast, independent private schools enrol about 16% of the secondary education learners (Table 1.4). The private school network comprises for-profit and non-profit providers, which are governed by specific legislation and statutes. The Ministry of Education is responsible for regulating private school provision within the limits of the Base Law of the Education System. Non-profit institutions providing early childhood education and care are regulated by the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security in co-ordination with the Ministry of Education. Nevertheless, independent private schools have no specific regulatory constraints for the selection of students. Private providers are free to set their own criteria as long as these do not violate non-discriminatory principles set by the law. Government-dependent private schools, on the other hand, have to obey to identical criteria for the selection of students as public schools.

As noted above, Portugal has undertaken a major school consolidation process over the past 15 years. The number of teachers employed has declined dramatically and more rapidly than the student population. As a result, overall student-teacher ratios have increased accordingly. In pre-primary education, expanded access to early childhood education and care have been counterbalanced by declining birth rates, resulting in relatively stable numbers of enrolled students (Figure 1.7, Panel A). However, efforts to decrease the intensiveness of human resources have led to a 10% decline in teacher numbers for the same period (Figure 1.7, Panel B). At the primary education level, the number of teachers decreased by more than 30% over a decade, more than in any other education level (Figure 1.7, Panel B) and far outpacing the 10% decline in the number of students.

Finally, in upper-secondary education, from 2007/08 to 2012/13, the number of upper secondary students increased by almost 30% (Figure 1.7, Panel A). While the expansion of compulsory education to 18 years of age occurred during the same period and certainly fuelled some portion of this growth, the expanding enrolment trends predate the 2008/09 law. As Chapter 3 highlights, expanded VET programming led to higher rates of enrolment independent of the increase in compulsory schooling age. However, while the mix of secondary teachers’ licensure categories has shifted from general to vocational, the number of secondary teachers in the system has declined since 2005 (Figure 1.7, Panel B). Thus, the expansion of upper secondary enrolment has not been accompanied by an expected growth in teaching staff up to 2015/16.

Figure 1.7. Changes in the number of teachers and students by level of education, 2005-15
2005/06 = 100

Note: The underlying data only refers to the number of students and teachers in continental Portugal.

Source: DGEEC (2017), Educação em Números 2016 [Education in Numbers 2016],$clientServletPath%7D/?newsId=691&fileName=DGEEC_DSEE_2016_Educa__o_em_n_meros_2016.pdf.

Governance and policy development

Education policy in Portugal is fairly centralised (Figure 1.8). The Ministry of Education (ME) establishes major policies regarding educational programmes, the curriculum, national examinations, teacher recruitment and deployment, the distribution of funds to public school, and the regulations for the public funding of private providers. The functions of the ME are complemented by the crucial role of other ministries. In particular, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education (MCTES) separately governs the provision of tertiary education. Also, the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security (MTSSS), in co-ordination with the ME, is responsible for regulating public and private provision of childcare (ages 0-2) and the public funding of private provision of pre-primary education (ages 3-5). The MTSSS also collaborates with the ME to establish the rules governing the provision of secondary-level vocational programmes and adult education. In turn, the Autonomous Regions of the Azores and Madeira oversee the administration of their own education system independently of the ME, though they receive their funding directly from the central government. The autonomous regions have full responsibility for managing, human, material and financial resources, as well as adapting national education policy to the regional context. Therefore, the autonomous regions fall outside of the scope of this review.

Figure 1.8. Percentage of decisions taken at each level of government in public lower secondary education by domain, 2011

1. Finland is not included in the averages.

Source: OECD (2012) Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators,, Table D6.2.a. See EAG Annex 3 for notes (

Policy development is led by the Ministry of Education, which defines, co-ordinates, implements and evaluates policy decisions pertaining to the school system. Policy implementation is supported by each of the central agencies of the ME. Ministry services are distributed across different central agencies. Figure 1.9 presents the key agencies and their relationship with each other. Annex 1.B provides details on some of the key responsibilities for each of the agencies within or under the supervision of the ministry (Chapter 3 elaborates).

Figure 1.9. Portuguese educational administration organisational chart

Source: Ministry of Education (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Portugal,

The Ministry of Education sets policies and takes strategic decisions in consultation with specific advisory bodies. The two most important are the National Education Council (Conselho Nacional de Educação – CNE), which forms views and advises on a range of educational issues, aiming to promote the participation of all education stakeholders in the pursuance of a broad consensus on education policy, and the School Council (Conselho Escolar – CE) that represents the viewpoint of schools, collected through representatives of school principals.

Other compulsorily consulted groups are the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities (Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses – ANMP), the National Confederation of Parents’ Associations (Confederação Nacional das Associações de Pais – CONFAP) and the Independent National Federation of Parents and Guardians in Education (Confederação Nacional Independente de Pais e Encarregados de Educação – CNIPE). Teacher unions must also be consulted in matters relating to teachers’ working conditions. In total there are over 20 teacher unions, including 4 federations grouping multiple unions. The two professional associations representing the most teachers are the National Federation of Teacher Unions (Federação Nacional dos Professores – FENPROF), covering about half of unionised teachers, and the National Federation for Education (Federação Nacional da Educação – FNE), representing about a quarter of unionised teachers.

For some time, but especially in recent years, local governance levels have been granted more responsibilities. Municipalities are responsible for the provision of extracurricular activities (including the recruitment of associated coaches and instructors), school meals and transportation in public basic schools and pre-schools. Furthermore, compensation of non-teaching staff and the management of basic schools’ availability for full day education are also provided through municipal funds and under municipal management. A recent pilot project has further decentralised responsibilities through signed agreements (contratos inter-administrativos) to provide autonomy to municipal authorities to distribute funding for capital and current expenditures except for teachers’ salaries in schools under their jurisdiction. The project started in 2015 and will run for 4 years in a set of 13 municipalities.

Support for greater school autonomy has also been on the rise in the last two decades. Since 2001, schools have the right to flexibly manage the curriculum, according to regulations (Decree-Law 6/2001). The Decree-Law 75/2008 also reinforced the responsibilities of the school governing bodies, especially with regards to the selection and evaluation of the school principal and a more professional framework for school management. Some schools with positive external evaluation reports have voluntarily signed four-year autonomy contracts, including more control over financial management. Central education authorities are engaged in continuing the delegation of responsibilities to schools, while ensuring that there is sufficient capacity. This includes support to develop strategic action programmes to promote school success and flexible models for the implementation of curricula (see Chapters 3 and 4).

Evidence on quality, equity and efficiency

Historically low but rapidly improving enrolment in pre-school and overall educational attainment

Portugal has a significant historical lag in educational attainment. During the New State (Estado Novo) regime, wide access to education was not a political priority. As a result, in 1970, a fourth of the population aged 10 and older did not know how to write or read and less than 1 in every 100 residents had completed the equivalent of a tertiary education degree. Efforts to ensure universal access to education, especially after democratisation, translated into a rapid increase in attainment. The share of 25-64 year-olds with at least upper secondary education jumped from 20% in 1992 to 47% in 2016. Nevertheless, the rate is still far below the European average of 77% (79.7%, for EU countries belonging to the OECD group). As Figure 1.10 depicts, despite the noticeable improvement since 2010, the percentage of 25-64 year-olds with at least upper secondary education is one of the lowest among OECD countries. Among those aged 20 to 24, however, attainment is expected to continue a gradual convergence to international standards (Portugal: 78%; EU28: 83%, in 2016) (Eurostat, 2017[20]). This is driven by a 15-percentage point decline in the rate of early-school leaving (prior to upper secondary completion) between 2010 and 2017, the largest such decline in the EU (see Annex 1.C).

Figure 1.10. Educational attainment, 2010 and 2016
Share of 25-64 year-olds with at least upper secondary education

Source: OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators

Educational attainment has important economic and social implications. Across the OECD, the unemployment rate among 25-64 year-olds with qualifications below upper secondary education was 13% in 2015. In turn, only 6 in every 100 workers with at least upper secondary education were unemployed. Portugal mimics the trend, with a less marked difference. Unemployment among those with below upper secondary education is at the same level of the OECD average, and it is only 10% for those who have completed at least secondary schooling. Nevertheless, full-time earners who have completed only lower-secondary or less schooling earn 27% less than other workers with an upper secondary degree – which compares to an OECD-average of only 18% less (OECD, 2016[21]).

Efforts to ensure greater participation in pre-primary education have also translated into higher coverage. In the last two decades, enrolment rates of students between three and five years old, typically enrolled in pre-primary education, increased substantially, reaching 88% in 2014 (Figure 1.11). For 5-year-olds, enrolment rates reached 96.4% (OECD, 2017[22]). In cohorts of younger children, enrolment in the system has also increased. Participation of 0-2 year-olds in formal childcare and pre-school services increased by 10 percentage points in 1 decade, reaching 47.9% as of 2014 (see Annex 1.D). Children aged 0 to 2 and enrolled in ECEC, in Portugal, spend an average of 37.6 hours in formal care during a usual week. In comparative terms, it is one of the longest weeks across countries for which data is available, only surpassed by Iceland and Latvia (see Annex 1.D). Nevertheless, participation in early childhood care in Portugal is still significantly determined by differences in household income. For children whose families are in the bottom third of the disposable income distribution, participation rates only reach 36%. About six in every ten children whose families are in the top third of the income distribution are enrolled in formal childhood care (OECD, 2017[22]).

Figure 1.11. School enrolment of 3-5 year-olds
Enrolment rate for 3-5 year-olds in pre-primary education or primary school, 2014 or latest available

1. Data for Estonia and Iceland refer to 2013.

2. See note k) to Chart PF3.2.A,

3. See note l) to Chart PF3.2.A,

Note: Data include children enrolled in pre-primary education (ISCED 2011 Level 02) and primary education (ISCED 2011 Level 1), only. Potential mismatches between the enrolment data and the coverage of the population data (in terms of geographic coverage and/or the reference dates used) may affect enrolment rates. This can lead to overestimated or underestimated figures (for instance, enrolment rates exceeding 100%) in countries that are net exporters (e.g. Luxembourg) or net importers of students, or where there is a significant increase or decrease over time in any of the variables involved. See the notes to Indicator C2 in OECD Education at a Glance 2016, Annex 3 for more details:

Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: OECD (2017), Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care,

Student achievement has improved substantially in international terms

Student learning outcomes in Portugal have improved in international comparison. The average science performance of 15-year-olds on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) was for the first time above the OECD average in 2015. Portuguese students’ average scale score increased from 474 in 2006 to 501 in 2015. No other OECD country made similar progress in the period. Students in Portugal averaged an improvement of 8 score points in each 3-year assessment cycle between 2006 and 2015. In particular, the results for 2015 are estimated to be better than those of other Southern European countries, such as Greece and Italy, and in line with those of Spain (Table 1.5).

The increase in student learning outcomes was driven by better results across all students. Between 2006 and 2015, the percentage of low-achieving students decreased by 7.1 percentage points. In turn, the number of top-performers went up 4.3 percentage points. The median performance in science – i.e. the score of the student in the middle of the distribution – also registered the largest increase among OECD countries.

Table 1.5. Selected indicators of student performance in science, PISA 2015



95% confidence interval

Average 3-year trend



553 - 558


Maximum OECD (Japan)


533 - 544


China (B-S-J-G)


509 - 527




496 - 506




491 - 499


OECD average





489 - 497




476 - 485




447 - 463


Minimum OECD (Mexico)


412 - 420




396 – 405


x : The category does not apply in the country concerned. Therefore, the data are missing.

Note: The average 3-year trends marked in bold are significantly different from zero at the 95% confidence threshold level. Select countries presented in the table represent a mix of Southern European peers, Portuguese-language diaspora (Brazil) and high-performing Asian systems. OECD average represents the average for all 35 OECD systems.

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results: Excellence and Equity in Education (Volume I)

Younger students in Portugal have seen their performance increase in a similar way in mathematics, but not in science or reading. The 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) shows strong, consistent improvement in mathematics skills for students enrolled in the fourth year of primary education. In fact, Portugal has shown the most marked change among participant countries. Student scores in mathematics improved by almost 100 scale points over 2 decades – increasing from 442 in 1995 to 541 in 2015. Portugal now scores significantly higher than Finland, outperforming all other Southern European countries participating in the assessment. The increase can be mainly explained by the significant improvement in the results of low-achieving students. In 1995, 30% did not reach a basic level of mathematical knowledge. Twenty years later, almost every student (97%) was able to reach the lower benchmark level. In science, however, the latest results do not show a similar pattern. Despite the continuous increase in achievement in previous assessments, the 2015 science results were 14 scale points below the ones in 2011.

Similarly, in the most recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), administered at the end of their fourth year of primary education, Portuguese students declined in their reading performance by 13 scale points in 2016, a significant difference driven primarily by a decline in the proportion of students reaching the Intermediate and High benchmarks for reading proficiency. Thus, while TIMSS improvements appear to be driven by achievement gains in low-performing students, PIRLS declines appear to be driven by declines in the performance of average-achieving students.

There are equity concerns in student performance

Despite better overall student learning outcomes, equity concerns remain. As in most OECD countries, family background significantly influences learning in Portugal. According to PISA 2015 results, differences in performance are strongly correlated with the environment in which children grow up. In fact, 15% of the variation in science achievement can be attributed to students’ socio-economic status (Table 1.6). The odds of being a low performer in science are almost three times higher among students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds in Portugal – in line with the OECD average. However, the odds of a disadvantaged student being a low performer are seven times higher than the odds of an advantaged student– a figure only surpassed by Hungary in the context of OECD countries (OECD, 2016[23]). This relative discrepancy implies that while the impact of disadvantage on science performance in Portugal is roughly equivalent to the OECD average, a higher degree of socio-economic and educational inequality exists between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Table 1.6. Selected indicators of equity in student performance, PISA 2015




OECD average

Percentage of top performers












Percentage of low performers












Gender performance differences (boys – girls)












Variation in performance explained by socio-economic status (%)












Students who repeated a year (%)

All students




Disadvantaged students




Odds ratio



Note: Low performers in science are those with proficiency below Level 2, i.e. scores below 410. Top performers in science are those with scores above 633. A socio-economically disadvantaged (advantaged) student is a student in the bottom (top) quarter of the distribution of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) within his or her country/economy. The odds ratio represents the ratio between the odds that a disadvantaged student would be a repeater and the odds that an advantaged student would be a repeater.

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results: Policies and Practices for Successful Schools (Volume II)

The composition of the student population of each school is also an important factor in learning outcomes. Students in socio-economically disadvantaged schools within Portugal perform 41 score points worse in reading, even after accounting for their own socio-economic status. The section on performance differences across regions highlights the regional nature of these uneven outcomes.

Another common equity concern relates to the outcomes of immigrant students. In most OECD countries, immigrants have lower performance. Portugal is no exception. Students with an immigrant background score, on average, 16 scale points lower in science and 25 scale points lower in mathematics on PISA 2015, after accounting for their socio-economic background. However, differences in results are mostly driven by first-generation immigrants, who in mathematics score 35 points below native-born students. There are no significant performance differences between second-generation immigrants and the native-born population after students’ socio-economic status and home language have been taken into account. In fact, most of these differences in performance are associated with the language spoken at home. Students who do not speak Portuguese at home score, on average, about 20 scale points fewer in mathematics. On Portuguese national examinations, no consistent performance differences are evident between schools with high and low shares of immigrant students. Portugal’s diverse immigrant profile, including multiple continents of origin, varying levels of socio-economic status and differences in parental education help explain some of Portugal’s unusual patterns in immigrant student performance (OECD, 2018[24]). Chapter 3 explores the unique needs of particular immigrant student groups in more detail.

As in most PISA-participating countries, there are still inequalities between male and female 15-year-olds in respect to learning outcomes. Gender equity indicators reveal that male students outperform female students in mathematics and science. Girls outperform boys in reading following the OECD pattern (OECD, 2016[23]).

Although significant equity concerns exist along socio-economic dimensions, Portugal still has a high proportion of resilient students. Resilient students are those that despite being socio-economically disadvantaged are international top performers in PISA.6 In Portugal, 38% of students are resilient – which compares to an OECD average of 29% (OECD, 2016[23]).

Within-country assessments of student performance also show strong relationships between student background and performance on assessments. Schools with greater proportions of disadvantaged students, as measured by receipt of social support and low average levels of maternal education, also have lower average levels of performance on national tests at both Years 9 and 12 (see Figure 1.12). This relationship is stronger at Year 9 than at Year 12, though this may be explained by the fact that the proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who take the end-of-Year 12 tests is lower than those from advantaged backgrounds. Some never reach the 12th year of instruction, and others are in pathways that do not require them to take the tests.

High share of early school leavers and repeaters

Portuguese schools, and by extension its economy, still struggle with the problem of school dropout. The share of early school leavers is substantial and many of those fail to pursue additional training – 13 out of 100 18-24 year-olds have not completed upper secondary education and are not enrolled in any type of further training or education (Eurostat, 2018[25]). This rate remains above the EU target of 10% by the end of 2020. Students dropping out of formal education are often those least prepared to enter the labour market (OECD, 2012[26]). Nevertheless, Portugal has demonstrated considerable improvement as the rate of school leavers declined from 28.3% in 2010 to 12.6% in 2017 (see Annex 1.C). Expansion of compulsory education and the gradual increase in parents’ education levels may help to explain this trend. Governments in Portugal have also targeted early school leaving through measures to postpone the entry into the labour market. The expansion of vocational programming in upper and lower secondary education is an example of this type of policy (OECD, 2014[27]).

Figure 1.12. Relationship between school-level socio-economic status and average school performance, 2015/16

Note: Index of disadvantage (x-axis) measured by rank percentile ordering the proportion of students within a school receiving School Social Assistance (ASE) A and average years of maternal education at the school level. The average of the two ranks was then demeaned (mean = 0) and assigned a standard deviation of 1. High values of the index indicate high levels of socio-economic challenge. Average student performance (y-axis) measured by placing all national exam scores on a standardised scale by demeaning the within-year and subject exam (mean = 0) and assigning each grade’s and subject’s scores a standard deviation of 1.

Source: DGEEC administrative data, 2015/16.

Student repetition rates are also high. In Portugal, about 34% of 15-year-old students have repeated a school year at least once – almost 3 times as frequently as the OECD average of 12% (OECD, 2016[28]). The rates of repetition vary across education levels and regions. In 2016, these yearly repetition rates were 3.7% in the first cycle, 6.7% in the second cycle, 10.0% in the third cycle of basic education and 15.7% in upper secondary education. Repetition often starts early in students’ education. In 2016, about 9% of students in Year 2 – the first year in which year repetition is permissible – were held back, prompting central authorities to prioritise interventions at this level. Repetition also varies across geographic regions. Rates are significantly higher in the Lisbon and southern regions than in the Centre and North (see Figure 1.13, Panel A). Interestingly, the phenomenon of high repetition rates varies substantially across schools. There is a wide spread between rates of year repetition in some schools compared to others, with some schools holding back over a quarter of their students, while others have less than 5% of students repeat (Figure 1.13, Panel B). This suggests that in addition to policy design, school practices influence repetition rates in Portugal.

Figure 1.13. Year repetition rates (3rd cycle), 2015/16
Between and within NUTS III region differences

Note: The year repetition rate is the weighted average of the proportion of students who have repeated a year for all schools within a region. The interdecile range is the difference between the repetition rate for schools in the 90th percentile for rates of repetition within the region and the repetition rate for schools in the 10th percentile. For example, in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon (AML), 3rd cycle schools in the 90th percentile of repetition rates have 22.3% of their students who have repeated a year. Third-cycle schools in the 10th percentile have 6.1% of their students who have repeated a year. Thus, the interdecile range for year repetition in AML is 16.2 percentage points.

Source of administrative boundaries: Direção-Geral do Território (2016), “Official Administrative Maps of Portugal - Version 2016 [Carta Administrativa Oficial de Portugal - Versão 2016]”,

Source: DGEEC administrative data, 2015/16.

International research has demonstrated the undesirable effects of repetition on student achievement. If positive effects of repetition are to be found, they are often insignificant or short-lived (OECD, 2012[26]). Moreover, year repetition introduces inefficiencies in the system, as it delays entry in the labour market for those who persist through the end of secondary education, increasing the number of enrolled students and thus the amount of required funding. For younger students in Portugal, the causal evidence seems to show generally insignificant impacts on achievement. Even when significant positive impacts of repetition are detected, these are small, restricted to girls and only in the subject of mathematics (Nunes, Reis and Seabra, 2016[29]).

Repetition policies also raise equity concerns. As in other OECD countries, year repetition in Portugal is heavily influenced by students’ socio-economic backgrounds. According to PISA 2015, more than 50% of 15-year-old students from disadvantaged backgrounds repeated a year at least once (OECD, 2016[23]). Furthermore, the odds of repeating a year are four times higher among disadvantaged students than among their more advantaged peers, even after accounting for students’ achievement levels. Such a difference is more than double the one found on average across OECD countries (Table 1.6). In primary education, there is also evidence that the decision of holding a student back a year is influenced by non-academic characteristics. Year 4 students repeating for the first time are significantly more likely to be boys whose mother has at most primary education and come from a foreign Portuguese-speaking country (Nunes, Reis and Seabra, 2016[29]).

However, repetition rates have consistently decreased in recent years (CNE, 2017[30]). In fact, the Ministry of Education has made considerable efforts to phase out year repetition from the system. A series of successive policies to provide extra support to students at risk of failing and to prevent school dropout have been put in place in the past 10 to 15 years. Notably, beginning in 2009, the ministry introduced the Programme for More School Success (Programa Mais Sucesso Escolar – PMSE) which through a variety of policies targeting class size reduction, class composition and differentiated instruction intended to reduce rates of year repetition and increase student achievement (Barata et al., 2015[31]). In 2013/14, a new monitoring system to track absenteeism and student’s performance was introduced. The objective was to trigger automatic and adequate pedagogical responses when risks were detected (European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[32]). The monitoring system added additional study time and more targeted support for students identified as at risk of failing. Previous governments also attempted to address the needs of at-risk students by increasing the number of vocational courses in lower and upper secondary education, as well as through targeted programmes aimed at improving school success (OECD, 2014[27]). The most current strategies to reduce dropout rates involve tutorial support for struggling students (Apoio Tutorial Especifico – ATE and Apoio Educativo Tutorial – AET) and schoolwide projects under the National Programme to Promote School Success (PNPSE) to offer additional Portuguese and mathematics classes, train teachers and school leaders, and hire extra teaching and student support staff.

Marked differences between public and private schools

As in other OECD countries, students enrolled in private schools in Portugal show higher average academic achievement. Students in public schools generally have lower results in national exams and international comparisons of achievement. In PISA 2015, students in private schools scored, on average, 50 points higher than public ones (OECD, 2016[33]). National examination data echo these patterns. School rankings are published every year in national newspapers since 2001. The publication of such league tables was ordered by a court responding to a request by a national newspaper. The ordering of schools is based on the average results of the students of each school in the national exams (Year 9, 11 and 12). According to the latest 2017 ranking, the first public secondary school is only ranked in the 32nd position overall. Private schools offering both basic and secondary education dominate the ranking – 57 of the top 100 schools in the ranking are private.

Crucially, the differences across type of institution are strongly associated with the socio-economic background of the students. On average, private schools in Portugal typically enrol students from higher socio-economic backgrounds than public schools, as they have greater discretion in their admission policies and attract students who select into these schools. When PISA results take the background of students into account, there is no difference between the performance of students enrolled in private and public schools (OECD, 2016[33]). Only recently have rankings accounting for differences in the socio-economic context of schools been published as a complement to the primary newspaper rankings.

There are significant performance differences across regions

Learning outcomes vary substantially across the country. There are marked differences between western coastline regions and the country’s interior as well as the Algarve. Student performance on PISA 2015 is relatively higher in coastal areas such as Alentejo Litoral, Leiria and Lezíria do Tejo. The southern region of Alentejo Litoral had the highest average score in science – 35 PISA score points above the national average. The region has also simultaneously shown the smallest percentage of low performing (8.6%) and the second highest percentage of high performing students (11.6%). Similarly, Douro, in the north, has almost double the proportion of high achievers than the national level (14.1% versus 7.4%). Regions in the northeast and north interior of the country – Alto Tâmega, Tâmega e Sousa and Terras de Trás-os-montes – register relatively lower average results and larger shares of low performers. Importantly, all but one of the Centro regions performed at or above the national average. The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira both score significantly below the national average, also registering high rates of low-performing students (see Annex 1.E).

Primary school students register relatively consistent patterns of performance on international assessments. The 2015 TIMSS assessment in science shows that the southern regions of Alentejo have lower scores than the national average. On the other hand, the regions in the Centre and North coastal areas present the best average results. There are also marked significant differences regarding the levels of proficiency defined by the test. While over 95% of the students are able to reach the basic proficiency benchmark level (set at 400 test-score points), 11% of the students in Alentejo Central and Tâmega e Sousa did not reach a basic level of knowledge in science (Marôco et al., 2016[34]).

There are also performance differences between rural and urban locations. According to PISA 2015 results, there are significant differences across communities of different population sizes. Students in communities with less than 3 000 inhabitants score, on average, 80 points lower than students living in large cities – i.e. with more than 1 million inhabitants (Lisbon and Porto). This rural-urban performance gap is one of the largest in the OECD. However – similar to most OECD countries – the socio-economic characteristics of students explain most of the variation between urban and rural locations. When the differences in socio-economic background are taken into account, there is no statistically significant difference between the results in rural and urban schools (OECD, 2016[33]).

Similarly, stark regional differences are apparent on national exams (Figure 1.14). In some cases, these regional variations in learning outcomes match the average socio-economic makeup of schools in the region (see Annex 1.F) such as in the strong performance and high socio-economic make-up of schools in the Centre region. However, the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon is a relatively advantaged region, but students in Year 9 perform far below average on national mathematics assessments.

Figure 1.14. Between-region variation in average school performance levels
By NUTS III region

Note: Average student performance measured by placing all national exam scores on a standardised scale by demeaning the within-year and subject exam (mean = 0) and assigning each year’s and subject’s scores a standard deviation of 1. Regional averages calculated by computing the weighted average of all schools within each NUTS III region. Far below average: <0.3 standard deviations below 0; Below average 0.1 to 0.3 standard deviations below 0; Average: -0.1 to +0.1 standard deviations; Above average: 0.1 to 0.3 standard deviations above 0; Far above average: >0.3 standard deviations above 0. Ranges set to approximate quartiles of regional distribution across Year 9 and 12 Portuguese and mathematics exams.

Source of administrative boundaries: Direção-Geral do Território (2016), “Official Administrative Maps of Portugal - Version 2016 [Carta Administrativa Oficial de Portugal - Versão 2016]”,

Source: DGEEC administrative data, 2015/16.

In addition to cross-regional differences, schools within regions have a wide variation in their performance profiles (Figure 1.15). Some regions around Lisbon and in the south experience school-level variation in performance three times greater than others in central Portugal. Rates of between-school performance variation in some regions are up to 1.5 and 2 times greater than those found in an international study of peer countries such as Italy and Spain using PISA 2006 data (Oppedisano and Turati, 2015[35]) and up to 4 times the achievement inequality rates found in France, Greece, Italy and Spain using PISA 2003 data (Martins and Veiga, 2010[36]). Thus, the rates of between school variation in some areas are quite striking and suggestive of either intensive between-school sorting of students or substantial variation in school effectiveness within regions.

Figure 1.15. Between-school variation in average performance levels (Gini coefficient)
By NUTS III region

Note: Student performance measured by placing all national exam scores on a standardised scale by demeaning the within-year and subject exam (mean = 0) and assigning each year’s and subject’s scores a standard deviation of 1. The Gini coefficient was introduced as a measure to study educational performance inequality by Thomas and colleagues at the World Bank (Thomas, Wang and Fan, 2001[37]). It ranges from 0 to 1, where 1 represents perfect inequality and 0 represents perfect inequality between sub-units.

Source of administrative boundaries: Direção-Geral do Território (2016), “Official Administrative Maps of Portugal - Version 2016 [Carta Administrativa Oficial de Portugal - Versão 2016]”,

Source: DGEEC administrative data, 2015/16.


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[46] Direção-Geral do Território (2016), Official Administrative Maps of Portugal - Version 2016 [Carta Administrativa Oficial de Portugal - Versão 2016, (accessed on 8 December 2017).

[3] European Commission (2017), Commission Staff Working Document: Country Report Portugal 2017, European Commission,

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[4] European Commission (2014), The Economic Adjustment Programme for Portugal. 2011-2014,

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[17] INE (2016), Estimativas Anuais de Emigração [Annual Emmigration Estimates],

[40] Marôco, J. et al. (2016), PISA 2015 - Portugal, Volume 1, Literacia Scientifica, Literacia de Leitura, Literacia Matemática [Scientific Literacy, Reading Literacy, Mathematical Literacy], IAVE, Lisbon.

[42] Marôco, J. et al. (2016), PISA 2015 - Portugal. Volume I: Literacia Científica, Literacia de Leitura e Literacia Matemática [Scientific Literacy, Reading Literacy and Mathematical Literacy], IAVE, Lisboa,

[34] Marôco, J. et al. (2016), TIMSS 2015 - Portugal. Volume I: Desempenhos em Matemática e em Ciências [Performance in Mathematics and Science], IAVE, Lisboa,

[36] Martins, L. and P. Veiga (2010), “Do inequalities in parents’ education play an important role in PISA students’ mathematics achievement test score disparities?”, Economics of Education Review, Vol. 29/6, pp. 1016-1033,

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[18] OECD (2018), Building a National Skills Strategy for Portugal, Action Phase: Strengthening the Adult Learning System, OECD Publishing.

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[8] Sousa, S. (2016), Four Essays in Economics of Education, Universidade do Minho.

[37] Thomas, V., Y. Wang and X. Fan (2001), “Measuring education inequality: Gini coefficients of education”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, No. 2525, World Bank, Washington, DC.

[12] United Nations (2015), World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, United Nations.

Annex 1.A. Current strategies to address student and community disadvantage
Annex Table 1.A.1. Strategies to promote equity in schools

Student profile/target

Policies focused on students

Policies focused on schools

Special needs

● Economic support

● Special education teachers support

(Grupo de Recrutamento de educação Especial/Docentes de Educação Especial)

● Individual Educational Programme (Programas Educativos Especiais – PEI)

● Resources Centres for Inclusion

● ICT Centres for Special Education

● Reference schools for the bilingual education of deaf students

● Reference schools for the education of the blind and low vision students

● Structured teaching units for the education of students with autism spectrum disorders

● Specialised support units for the education of students with multiple disabilities and congenital deaf-blindness

Families that have an itinerant work/mobility constraints

● Distance Education for Itinerant Students

(Ensino à Distância para a Itinerância)

Integration problems in the school community

● School psychology and orientation offices

● Additional support to schools in deprived environments, according to their own needs and proposals Priority Educational Intervention Areas (Territórios Educativos de Intervenção Prioritária – TEIP)

● Additional support to pedagogical and organisational plans to promote school success, developed by each school cluster, in collaboration with local authorities

Programme to Promote School Success (Programa Nacional de Promoção do Sucesso Escolar – PNPSE)

Deprived socio-economic environments

● Educational resources, meals, transports (Ação Social Escolar)

Learning difficulties

● Extra time and additional support from teachers to students in need (Apoio Educativo Tutorial), projects and clubs

● Support for students retained twice in the 2nd and 3rd cycles of basic education

(Apoio Tutorial Específico)

Different mother language other than Portuguese

● Special classes/Portuguese courses (Português Língua Não Materna)

Risk of school/social exclusion or dropout

● Intersectorial local committees

(Comissão de Proteção de Crianças e Jovens)

● Diversified education and training provision (Percursos Curriculares Alternativos – PCA; Cursos de Educação e Formação – CEF; Programa Integrado de Educação e Formação PIEF)

Note: Concerning the number of students involved in the measures referred to in the previous table, TEIP has increased its numbers from 117 127 in 2009/10 to 153 577 in 2015/16. The PIEF has enrolled 2 031 students in 2009/10, reaching 3 115 students in 2011/12 but dropping since then, involving 1 945 students in 2015/16. The PCA classes were attended by 7 429 students in 2012/13; this number decreased to 4 792 in 2015/16.

Source: Ministry of Education (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Portugal,

Annex 1.B. Portuguese Ministry of Education organisational responsibilities
Annex Table 1.B.1. Portuguese Ministry of Education organisational responsibilities

Primary responsibilities

General Secretariat for Education and Science (SGEC)

● Responsible for quality of policy, information and communication

● Provides specialised technical support to the ME (Ministry of Education) and MCTES (Higher Education) government members in conflict resolution and litigation, as well as in employment regime, human, material and financial resources management

● Responsible for European affairs and international relations

General Directorate for Education (DGE)

● Ensures the implementation of policies regarding the pedagogic development of each education level and streams, providing curriculum standards, pedagogical resources certification and technical support to its implementation

● Co-ordinates, collaborates and/or supervises targeted educational programmes developed in schools

● Directs psychological services

● Assists in defining teachers’ training needs

General Directorate for School Administration (DGAE)

● Ensures the implementation of policies for strategic management

● Ensures development of the human resources of education allocated to the public educational structures

● Responsible for the management of the teaching workforce and the organisation of school leadership, including recruitment and selection, career progression, remuneration and training

General Directorate for Schools (DGEsTE)

● Ensures the implementation of administrative measures and the exercise of peripheral competences relating to the ME attributions

● Plans the yearly definition of the school network, supervision, co-ordination and monitoring of schools

● Promotes the development of school autonomy in articulation with local authorities

● Includes the former five regional directorates for education

Institute for the Management of Educational Finance (IGeFE)

● Ensures the programming, financial management and the operational and strategic planning of the ME

● Assures accurate execution of ME budget and its reliable and sustainable management

● Provides comprehensive evaluation of policy implementation

National Agency for Qualification and Professional Education (ANQEP)

● Co-ordinates the implementation of policies regarding education and vocational training of young people and adults

● Develops and manages the National System for the Recognition, Validation and Certification of Competences

● Operates under the supervision of both the ME and MTSSS (Labour)

Inspectorate-General for Education and Science (IGEC)

● Ensures the legality of actions taken by services and departments of the ME (Ministry of Education) and the MCTES (Higher Education)

● Monitors, audits and supervises the functioning of the technical-pedagogical and administrative-financial aspects of the activities of pre-schools, schools and out-of-school education, other educational and teaching institutions of public, private and co-operative networks, including higher education, as well as institutions teaching Portuguese abroad

● Integrates special modalities of education, extracurricular education, science and technology and of the bodies, services and departments of the ME and the MCTES

General Directorate of Education and Science Statistics (DGEEC)

● Produces and analyses education and science data

● Provides technical support to the formulation of policies and strategic planning

● Creates and ensures a properly integrated information system for the ME and the MCTES

● Manages the technological infrastructures of schools (computers, digital cloud, data communications network, internet, access control system, video surveillance system, etc.)

Educational Evaluation Institute (IAVE)

● Plans, devises and validates the tools for the external assessment of students’ knowledge and ability in primary and secondary education

● Responsible for the development of national tests

● Processes and disseminates information related to decisions made for the improvement of the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of the national educational system

● Co-ordinates the Portuguese participation in international studies related to external student assessment

● Drafts tests certifying specific knowledge and abilities for other purposes and educational levels on ad hoc basis

Source: Ministry of Education (2018), OECD Review of Policies to Improve the Effectiveness of Resource Use in Schools: Country Background Report for Portugal,

Annex 1.C. Early school leaving
Annex Figure 1.C.1. Change in the share of early school leavers in EU countries, 2010-17

Note: The indicator is measured by the percentage of 18-24 year-olds with lower secondary education which is not enrolled in any type of further education or training. Portugal increased the mandatory age of compulsory education in 2008/09 from 16 to 18 years of age.

Source: Eurostat (2018), Early Leavers from Education and Training Database,

Annex 1.D. Enrolment in ECEC: 0-to-5-year-olds
Annex Figure 1.D.1. Average hours in formal care during a usual week and full-time equivalent participation rates for 0-to-2-year-olds in formal childcare and pre-school services, 2014

1. Data generally include children using centre-based services (e.g. nurseries or day care centres and pre-schools, both public and private), organised family day care, and care services provided by (paid) professional childminders and exclude those using unpaid informal services provided by relatives, friends or neighbours. Exact definitions do however differ across countries. For New Zealand, data cover children using licensed centre-based (e.g. 'Education and Care' services, playcentres, Kõhanga Reo, kindergartens) and home-based services only. All non-licensed care is excluded regardless of whether it is paid or unpaid.

Notes: Data on average hours of attendance refer to a mix of the actual hours attended by enrolled children scheduled to attend during a specific reference week and the actual hours of attendance by children who actually attended during a specific reference week.

Participation rates reflect the percentage of children under the age of 3 enrolled in formal childcare. Full-time equivalent (FTE) equivalent multiplies the enrolment rate in a given country by the average hours a child attends childcare in a given week, and divides this by 30 hours, corresponding to full-time care (OECD, 2017[38]).

Note by Turkey: The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union: The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Source: OECD (2017), Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care,

Annex 1.E. Regional variation of performance
Annex Table 1.E.1. Student performance means by NUTS III, PISA 2015



PISA science score average

Top performers in science (%)

Low performers in

science (%)






Alto Minho




Porto M.A.












Terras de Trás-os-Montes




Alto Tâmega




Tâmega e Sousa





Beira Baixa




Leiria Region




Viseu Dão Lafões




Coimbra Region




Médio Tejo




Beiras e Serra da Estrela








Aveiro Region




Lisbon M.A.

Lisbon M.A.





Alentejo Litoral




Lezíria do Tejo




Alto Alentejo




Alentejo Central




Baixo Alentejo









Madeira A. R.

Madeira A. R.




Azores A. R.

Azores A. R.








Note: Within each NUTS II category, the NUTS III are organised by descending order of mean performance in science.

Source: Marôco, J. et al. (2016), PISA 2015 - Portugal, Volume 1, Literacia Scientifica, Literacia de Leitura, Literacia Matemática [Scientific Literacy, Reading Literacy, Mathematical Literacy], IAVE, Lisbon.

Annex 1.F. Regional variation in school socio-economic status
Annex Figure 1.F.1. Average level of school disadvantage
By NUTS III region

Note: School disadvantage measured by the weighted average of the index of school socio-economic need. Index of socio-economic need measured by rank percentile-ordering the proportion of students within a school receiving School Social Assistance (ASE) A and average years of maternal education at the school level. The average of the two ranks was then demeaned (mean = 0) and assigned a standard deviation of 1. High values of the index indicate high levels of socio-economic challenge. Most advantaged: 0.25 standard deviations or more below 0. Advantaged: 0.1 to 0.25 standard deviation below 0. Average: -0.1 to 0.1. Disadvantaged: 0.1 to 0.25 standard deviations above 0. Most disadvantaged: 0.25 standard deviations or more above 0.

Source of administrative boundaries: Direção-Geral do Território (2016), “Official Administrative Maps of Portugal - Version 2016 [Carta Administrativa Oficial de Portugal - Versão 2016]”,

Source: DGEE administrative data, 2015/16.


← 1. The process for regionalisation of subnational policy has been a politically contested one. In 1998, a referendum decided against the formalisation of a tier of regional authorities.

← 2. In order to make regional division clear, this report will often make use of the Nomenclature of Territorial Unit for Statistics (NUTS). NUTS is a hierarchical system to divide the territory in three regional levels (I, II and III) for statistical purposes. Portugal has 3 NUTS I – the Continent and the two autonomous regions – 7 NUTS II and 25 NUTS III. NUTS II are divided into North, Centre, Lisbon, Alentejo, Algarve, Azores and Madeira.

← 3. The Maastricht Treaty (1992) set the convergence criteria to which central governments of the EU have to abide. The four criteria include targets for inflation rates, exchange rates, long-term interest rates and government finance. While the first three criteria are directly monitored by the European Central Bank (ECB) for countries belonging to the Euro area, balanced government finances is a responsibility of the member states. The convergence criteria in this area stipulate that: i) the ratio of annual government deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) must not exceed 3%; ii) the ratio of gross government debt to GDP must not exceed 60%, or if higher, be at least approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.

← 4. Poverty rates measured by the OECD are defined differently from the at-risk-of-poverty rate measured by Eurostat through the EU-SILC inquiry. The method mostly differs in the poverty threshold considered. While the OECD definition considers the share of children under 18 years old living with an equivalised household income of less than 50% of the national median income, Eurostat sets the threshold as 60% of the national median income. Income is also considered after taxes and transfers, adjusted for difference in household size. As the household is the unit of observation, the equivalised disposable income assumes that household needs grow less than proportionally with household size. Equivalised disposable income and its distribution across age groups is computed taking this assumption into account (OECD, 2015[10]).

← 5. The strategic importance of the pre-vocational offer has since been revised, after its introduction in 2013. Under the assumption that such an offer was generating early segregation of students – leading to both incomplete upper secondary education and unrecognised qualification in the labour market – the current government has cancelled the provision of pre-vocational education at lower secondary level.

← 6. A student is considered resilient if he or she is in the bottom quarter of the distribution of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) in the country or economy of assessment and performs in the top quarter of the distribution across all countries or economies, after accounting for socio-economic status.

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