Chapter 4. The distribution and development of human resources in Portugal

This chapter reviews staffing levels, teacher and school leader initial training, the distribution of teachers, their working conditions and opportunities for educator growth and development over the course of their careers in the Portuguese school system. Portuguese teachers are experienced, have solid instructional practices and benefit from formal opportunities to exert leadership in their schools. However, despite relatively generous compensation packages, Portuguese teachers do not feel valued in society. Their pre-service training is of insufficient quality in practical classroom skills and they have few formalised opportunities to develop their skills once in their positions. Furthermore, the process for assignment of teachers to schools creates significant instability in the system and hinders early career teachers’ ability to systematically develop their skills to be suited to the specific contexts in which they work. The instability created by the teacher assignment process and the weak match between schools’ needs and teachers’ interests and skills affect schools serving under-resourced communities most, raising significant equity concerns. The chapter concludes with a number of policy recommendations to address these challenges.


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.

Context and features

School staffing levels and demographics

The vast majority of the Portuguese primary and secondary education budget is devoted to teaching salaries. With 95% and 92% of the annual operating budget at the primary and secondary educational levels respectively devoted to staff compensation, Portugal dedicates a larger proportion of its current expenditure on human resources than any other OECD country (OECD average: 78%) (see 0, Figure 4.A.1). The investment is distributed between teachers (82% and 79% at primary and secondary levels) and non-teaching staff (13% at both levels).

This intensive investment in teaching resources results in a student-teacher ratio of 10 students per teacher in 2015 in public upper secondary schools, the second lowest student-teacher ratio in the OECD (see 0, Figure 4.B.1). In fact, Portuguese administrative data indicates that the system-wide student-teacher ratio in public schools at all levels is just over 10-to-1. Though the average student-teacher ratio is quite low, due to significant non-teaching time in teachers’ schedules the average class size in both primary and lower secondary education are nearly identical to OECD averages at 21 and 23 respectively (Figure D2.1 in OECD (2017[1])).

Teaching in Portugal, like most other OECD countries, is a predominantly female profession. 80% of primary and 70% of secondary teachers were women in 2015 (OECD average: 83% primary and 64% secondary) (Figure D5.2 in OECD (2017[1])). However, younger cohorts of teachers reflect a greater degree of gender balance. In 2015, 74% of teachers over the age of 49 were female, whereas only 66% of teachers under the age of 30 were female (Figure D5.3 in OECD (2017[1])). Despite shifting gender profiles in younger cohorts, the profession remains predominantly female as the vast majority of Portuguese teachers are from older age cohorts.

The typical Portuguese teacher is in her upper-forties. The median public school teacher is 46 years old in the 1st cycle, 49 in the 2nd cycle and 48 in the 3rd cycle and upper secondary schools (DGEEC, 2017[2]). While these figures represent substantial ageing in the Portuguese teaching population over the past 15 years, Portuguese teachers’ older profile is similar to the pattern across Europe and only marginally higher than the OECD average (Figure D5.1 in OECD (2017[1])). Most concerning for future planning, however, is that in 2015/16 only around 1% of all Portuguese primary and secondary teachers were under 30 years of age (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

Teachers have multiple opportunities to assume leadership opportunities in schools, while continuing to teach some classes; thus, there are many teaching staff in schools teaching a reduced course load while serving as 1st cycle department heads, department head teachers (2nd, 3rd and secondary cycles), school co-ordinators, assistant principals and vice principals. Demographic details on these positions are not systematically reported; thus, it is difficult to describe the profile of these mid-level school leaders.

The school cluster principal (Diretor) is elected to a term of four years. Portugal counted 811 of them employed in 2015/16 for each of its non-clustered public schools and school clusters. In 2015/16, 43% of Portuguese school principals were female, well below their prevalence in the teaching ranks, and their average age was 53 years old, with 73% over 50 years old (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

All school clusters have a psychology and student counselling office (serviços de psicologia e orientação – SPO), with a defined staffing level. Psychology staff are active in three domains: i) psychological and pedagogical support to students and teachers; ii) support for the development of the pedagogical-educational community in the school cluster and iii) career counselling. However, at the time of writing, in all regions the student to psychologist ratio remains extremely high, ranging from 1 000 to 1 500 students per psychologist (CNE, 2017, p. 100[4]).

Additionally, there are substantial numbers of auxiliary support staff employed by schools, known collectively as operational assistants (assistente operacional) and technical assistants (assistente técnico). These employees have responsibilities ranging from performing office administrative tasks to supervising students during non-instructional periods in the cafeteria, recess and hallways, to serving as student engagement staff by de-escalating and re-integrating disruptive students into class, to assisting with laboratory experiments. Five technical assistants are assigned when enrolled pupils total less than 300, with an additional assistant added for every 200 additional students up to 1 100, and then an additional assistant added for every 300 additional students. Operational assistants are assigned using a formula weighting need and complexity of the facility and services. The baseline assignment is 6 operational assistants, with an additional assistant assigned for every 120 students for enrolments between 600 and 1 000 and an extra assistant for every 150 students above 1 000. Additional assistants are assigned for a wide range of other reasons (sports and play facilities, building type, vocational courses, specialised support units, multi-shift or evening schedules, special education students and more) (Ordinance No. 272-A (2017[5])). In the most recent academic year (2017/18), there were 50 712 non-teaching staff employed, an increase of almost 5 000 compared to the previous year (this is partly explained by a change in legislation).

System for pre-service education

Portuguese schools require high levels of qualification to enter the teaching profession. As of 2014, all Portuguese teachers, from pre-school to secondary education must hold a master’s (ISCED level 7) degree. Teachers must first earn a bachelor’s (ISCED level 6) degree either in education (to teach in pre-school, 1st or 2nd cycle primary education) or in a specific subject (to teach in the 3rd cycle and upper secondary education), followed by a master’s degree in education. The purpose of this second degree is to extend academic training in the knowledge areas of the particular subject for which the candidate is preparing. It also purports to provide pedagogical content knowledge, training in cultural, social and ethical areas and culminates in a supervised practicum (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

Supervised student teaching occurs in “host schools” under the supervision of a practising teacher and a supervising professor. The particular higher education institution (inclusive of both universities and polytechnic institutes) is responsible for developing a partnership with a local school to host intern teachers. Teacher education programmes, like all higher education institutions, are accredited by the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES).

One recently introduced component of pre-service training includes a required course for all prospective teachers in pedagogies to support the learning needs of students with SEN, though these courses have not yet been fully implemented in all training programmes as of the drafting of this report (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

More than 95% of Portuguese teachers report on the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) feeling well prepared to begin teaching across multiple domains including subject content matter, pedagogy and practice (Table 2.4 in OECD (2014[6])).

Assignment and distribution of teaching and non-teaching staff

As with other European systems, Portugal employs teachers on a two-track system, with permanent teachers who, barring misconduct, have permanent rights to a position within a school cluster and temporary contract teachers who are employed on an annual basis, most re-entering the national hiring competition each year.

At the conclusion of their professional studies, teacher candidates apply to a national recruitment contest for both new and experienced teachers, disseminated in the official state journal (Diário da República) and on the Ministry of Education website. Teacher candidates list a set of schools in which they would like to teach. Applicants are then assessed based on factors such as the marks they received in higher education programmes, their years of teaching experience and the ratings they received as part of their student-teaching or temporary-contract teaching roles. The Directorate-General for School Administration (Direção-Geral da Administração Escolar – DGAE) rates all candidates and then places the highest-rated candidates in their schools of choice, assigns lower-rated candidates to schools other than the ones requested and notes which applicants were not selected.

Similar to temporary teachers, permanent teachers wishing to change schools may apply to a national transfer pool. Similarly, they receive ranks based on their university marks and ratings on their student-teaching training. Furthermore, teachers receive bonus points in their application based on their number of years of teaching experience (full credit for a year of permanent teaching, half credit for a year of temporary contract teaching).

In addition to the permanent and temporary contract categories, an intermediary status exists in which teachers are permanent civil servants allocated to a particular geographic area. Teachers in this category must re-apply for employment each year and they may be reallocated between any school cluster within one of ten defined zones. While this system has resulted in less disruption in teachers’ living and commuting status, this category of teachers continues to frequently change schools.

Despite this centralised assignment process described above, disparities in the distribution of teachers across the country persist. As Panel A of Figure 4.1 illustrates, wide variations exist in the average student-teacher ratios, ranging from 7:1 in the rural northeast to 12:1 in large metropolitan areas.

There is substantial use of teachers on temporary contracts, though these too vary by geographic location. About 15% of Portuguese lower secondary teachers worked on one-year temporary contracts in 2013 (TALIS average: 11.9%), 75% were permanently employed and the remaining 10% had a fixed-term contract of more than one year (Table 2.8 in OECD (2014[6])).1 In some areas of the North and Centre regions, temporary contract teachers represent a trivial proportion of the workforce (5%), whereas, in the south and Lisbon Metropolitan areas, they can represent up to 20% of all teachers (see Figure 4.1, Panel B) (in these regions the number of students did not suffer the decline experienced in the other areas). One hundred school clusters (12% of all clusters and non-clustered schools) have teaching faculties that are more than one-third temporary contract teachers and 34 clusters (4%) employ more than half of their faculty on temporary contracts. Within the past 2 years, many temporary teachers were converted to a permanent status, resulting in an increase in the percentage of permanently employed teachers to 84% in 2017/18, a 3 percentage point improvement over 2016/17.

Figure 4.1. Distribution of teachers to students and proportion of temporary teachers, 2015/16
By NUTS III region

Note: The student-teacher ratio is derived from the total number of basic and secondary students in a school or school cluster, divided by the number of permanent and the full-time equivalent (FTE) hours of temporary contract teachers in a school or school cluster. Regional averages based on weighted averages of all schools and school clusters in that region. Temporary contract teachers do not include permanent contract teachers assigned to a geographical area.

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.

Contracted private schools can select and appoint their own staff but must follow the same standards in relation to academic qualifications and teaching experience. Private school teachers must hold the same qualifications as public school teachers.

Levels of operational and technical assistants are allocated to schools based on formulas articulated above. Municipalities have responsibility for establishing desired skills and hiring operational assistants at the primary (1st cycle) levels. In cases where municipalities have secured inter-administrative contracts, municipalities also have responsibility for hiring non-teaching staff at the 2nd and 3rd cycles. Ministry officials indicate there is interest in expanding these responsibilities to all municipalities. Several stakeholders indicated that some operational assistants share responsibilities with other municipal sectors. This can result in operational assistants having professional responsibilities beyond the school, so that they may spend portions of their day performing landscaping in local parks or completing administrative work in the municipal building.

Teacher working conditions

The vast majority (94.5%) of Portuguese lower secondary teachers work full time (Table 2.7 in OECD (2014[6])). A complete teaching workload for teachers at the start of their careers involves 25 instructional hours per week for the pre-primary and 1st cycle of basic education teachers or 22 hours per week (1 100 minutes) for teachers at the 2nd and 3rd cycle and secondary levels. As reported in the OECD report Education at a Glance 2017, Portuguese lower secondary teachers have 605 statutory teaching hours per year, a figure that has remained stable over the past decade. This is among the lowest statutory teaching hours in the OECD (see 0, Figure 4.B.2). School principals may define the content of up to 2.5 hours of non-teaching tasks per week.

As teachers progress through their career, they receive reductions in teaching – but not working – hours based on either age or additional responsibilities. These include benefits such as a reduction of 5 teaching hours at the age of 60 years in 1st cycle education, or in the 2nd and 3rd cycle a reduction of 2 hours at 50 years, another 2 at 55 years, and 4 hours at 60 years. Additionally, teachers who have formal leadership roles such as school co-ordinator or department head see their loads reduced as well. The minimal teaching time a teacher may have in a week is eight hours, with the exception of the school cluster principal who typically does not teach at all (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]). Box 4.1 contextualises the specificity of Portuguese expectations on teachers’ time use within that of other European countries. The specificity with which Portugal regulates teachers’ working hours is on the stricter end of the European spectrum.

It is anticipated that teachers will devote an additional 10 hours of work per week outside of their mandated hours at school (teaching and non-teaching time) in the form of grading assignments, contacting families, planning lessons and so on to total a standard work week of 35 hours. However, Portuguese lower secondary teachers report an average of 44.7 weekly working hours, substantially above the TALIS average of 38.3 weekly hours. The bulk of these additional self-reported working hours come in the form of time spent correcting student work and administrative work including paperwork (Table 6.12 in OECD (2014[6])).

Portuguese teachers report generally positive perspectives on their professional work climates. Among other indicators, 86% of Portuguese teachers reported in 2013 that there “is a high level of co-operation between the school and the local community”, 90% agreed that the school staff “share a common set of beliefs about schooling/learning” and 92% of teachers indicate that there “is a mutual respect for colleagues’ ideas” (Table 2.22 in OECD (2014[6])).

Lower-secondary Portuguese teachers also report high levels of self-efficacy, with 95% or more of teachers who say they feel that they can “get students to believe they can do well in school work”, “help students value learning”, craft good questions”, “control disruptive behaviour”, “help students think critically”, “use a variety of assessment strategies”, “provide an alternative explanation for an example” and “implement alternative instructional strategies” (Table 7.1 in OECD (2014[6])).

Box 4.1. Organisation of European teachers’ working time, 2013/14

A 2015 Eurydice report provided an overview of the organisation of teachers’ working time in Europe and teachers’ contractual obligations in terms of their teaching time, availability at school and their total working time.

In most countries, teachers’ employment contracts specify the number of hours they are required to teach. In 35 systems, teaching time is contractually specified. Only five education systems – Estonia, Sweden and the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland and Wales) – do not contractually specify a number of teaching hours, while two (Belgium and Italy) regulate only teaching time. The weekly total varies considerably among countries, ranging from a minimum of 14 hours in Croatia, Finland, Poland and Turkey, to a maximum of 28 hours in Germany.

There were three types of regulations governing teachers’ total working time and time of availability at school. The regulations either specified: i) requirements pertaining to both total working time and school-based time (10 education systems); ii) requirements applicable to one or the other time (23 systems); or iii) no requirements for either working time or school-based time (Belgium and Italy).

In 18 education systems, teachers’ required time to be available at school is contractually specified, either in addition to or instead of teachers’ teaching time or working time. Nine education systems refer specifically to working time, teaching time and time available at school, while the remainder cites them in different combinations. Among those countries that regulate both total working time and obligatory availability at school, the gap between the two in hours varies greatly.

Source: EC/EACEA/Eurydice (2015), The Teaching Profession in Europe: Practices, Perceptions and Policies,

Teacher development and career structures

Portugal does not have a formal induction programme for new teachers in schools (Santiago et al., 2012[7]), and this is evident in that Portuguese principals report the lowest proportion of formal induction activities available to their teachers of any TALIS country (see 0, Figure 4.B.3). However, in 2007, the Teaching Career Statute (Estatuto da Carreira Docente – ECD) defined a probationary period lasting at least one school year. The teacher on probation is paired with another teacher to assist with content and pedagogy. When possible, this mentor teacher is from the same subject area, is an experienced teacher and has a positive rating on their last performance review. The supporting teacher is chosen by the department co-ordinator, by the content-area department or by the principal of the school (Ministry of Education, 2018[8]).

Teachers are statutorily required to participate in professional development as proof of participation represents 20% of the overall score in their annual evaluation. In order for teachers to progress to a higher step on the professional ladder, they are required to pursue professional development. However, as a consequence of the economic crisis, Portugal froze teachers’ salaries and progression through steps up the career ladder (from 2005 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2017). Simultaneously, public financial support for pursuing professional development decreased. This has resulted in minimal external incentives to participate in professional development activities as it has generated no returns in career progression, and teachers must increasingly pay for it out of their own pockets. In fact, in 2013, 33% of lower secondary teachers reported that they had to pay for all of the costs of their professional development. Furthermore, Portuguese teachers were least likely among any TALIS country to receive release time during regular working hours to participate in professional development activities (see Figure 4.2). These challenges are evident in the reasons Portuguese teachers indicate are barriers to participating in professional development. Expense, lack of employer support, conflict with work schedule, no relevant offerings and lack of incentives for participation all register highly as major barriers, and substantially above the TALIS average (Table 4.14 in OECD (2014[6])). These indicators complement qualitative impressions during the review visit during which many teachers stated the difficulty posed by having to attend professional development sessions in the evening or weekends, without additional compensation.

Figure 4.2. Professional development participation by level of personal cost and support
Percentage of teachers who reported paying for none of the professional development activities undertaken and level of support received for the three following elements in lower secondary education:

Notes: Countries are ranked in descending order, based on the percentage of teachers who report paying for “none” of the professional development activities undertaken.

Received non-monetary support for professional development activities outside working hours includes reduced teaching time, days off, study leave, etc.

Source: OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning,, Tables 4.6 and 4.11.

Despite these barriers, large proportions of Portuguese teachers nevertheless pursue professional development. However, the participating proportion declined by one percentage point between 2008 and 2013, whereas the TALIS average remained constant (Table 4.6c in OECD (2014[6])). Portuguese teachers express the highest levels of interest in receiving more professional development in areas such as teaching students with special needs (26.5%), teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting (16.8%) and school management and administration (14.1%) (Table 4.12 in OECD (2014[6])).

Portuguese teachers progress from contracted professionals through ten steps (escalão) of the professional (permanent) teaching career. To progress from one step to the next, teachers must teach for a minimum period at their current level (4 years except at Step 5 which is 2 years), receive a rating of at least “Good” in their latest evaluation, complete 50 hours of ongoing training and, from 2010 on, all teachers were required to be observed by an external evaluator to move into the 3rd, 5th and 7th steps. Each step increase is associated with a salary increase that is fairly smooth and consistent over time but there are evident increasing financial returns to experience at the end of the career (see Figure 4.3). However, with the exception of 2010/11, teachers’ career progression and, therefore, salaries have been frozen since 2011 due to the economic crisis. As a result of improving economic conditions, in 2017/18 teachers were again eligible to move up steps. Several stakeholders expressed satisfaction with this development, but important concerns remain. This will be the first time that observations will be high stakes for teachers hoping to move up steps. Most contentiously, teachers’ unions have advocated for providing teachers with credit for past years of work and advancing them seven or eight years on the salary schedule, which central government officials argue is a budgetary impossibility.

Figure 4.3. Monthly salary by temporary contract- or permanent-employment status and step in the teaching career

N-P, N-L: non-professional, non-licensed.

P, NL: professional, non-licensed.

Source: Sindicato dos Professores da Grande Lisboa (2017), Tabelas de Remunerações - Liquidas dos Docentes da Educação Pré-Escolar e dos Ensinos Basicos e Secundárias [Remuneration Table – Net Earnings of Teachers of Pre-School and Basic and Secondary Education]

Many opportunities exist for teachers to pursue instructional leadership opportunities while remaining in the classroom. Teachers may become class head (director de turma) with responsibility for leading other year-level teachers or department heads with responsibility for leading other teachers of the same subject (or related subjects). They may also be elected by their colleagues to roles on the Pedagogical Council, responsible for curricular and pedagogical improvements for all teachers in the school cluster. Depending on the school, opportunities also exist outside departments for leadership roles such as library-, ICT (information and communication technology) network- or TEIP-co-ordinator. School co-ordinators serve as leaders at the sub-cluster level responsible for operational and instructional leadership within the school. Finally, teachers may be selected by the cluster principal to serve as assistant or deputy principals (one to three per cluster, depending on size). In almost all instances, teachers in these positions receive a reduction in their overall teaching hours but continue to teach in the classroom.2 Appointment as department head requires a postgraduate degree in school management, teacher evaluation or pedagogical supervision. No other school leadership roles require any formal training (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

School leadership is understood as an extension of the professional responsibility of a teacher, rather than a separate professional pathway. Cluster principals remain on the teacher salary schedule, with a monthly supplement for the number of students in the cluster. No formal sequence of responsibilities or career steps exists within the school leader role. Principals may serve two terms (eight years) within a cluster, after which they either return to the classroom or must seek another principal role in a different cluster.

Selection of and responsibilities of school leaders

The General Council elects a school principal to a four-year term through a democratic voting procedure. The candidate must be a professional (permanent contract) teacher (in public or private education), with at least five years of service. In the case where there is at least one candidate with specialised training in school leadership, his or her candidacy must be prioritised. If multiple (or no) applicants have specialised training, the Council must make an evaluation of each principal’s planned four-year work plan and capacity to execute on it (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

The school principal is responsible for the pedagogical, cultural, administrative and financial management of the school/school cluster. Cluster principals propose a “Letter of Mission (carta de missão)” that articulates five to seven commitments to be accomplished by the end of the principal’s four-year term. No specific policies exist to attract principals to schools with high-needs populations, geographically remote areas or other targeted recruitment efforts (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

The particulars of principals’ roles in Portugal are widely variable, subject to the size of the cluster (or independent school). Principals are responsible for between 1 and 28 schools, between 23 and 312 teachers and between 114 and 4 075 students (even these ranges exclude some smaller, specialised professional schools). In particular, principals of clusters comprising large numbers of schools, students and teachers are more similar in their responsibilities to network managers in other systems. Based on school leader reports during the OECD review visit, the days of principals managing large clusters involve managing teams of leaders, co-ordinating with community entities (municipal offices, private industry sites for student apprenticeships, etc.), and engaging in external-facing activities. Cluster principals in these settings rarely reported having direct knowledge of teaching practice within the schools. This contrasts with principals of small clusters or single schools whose responsibilities were more similar to the traditional concept of the principal as operational and instructional manager of the school.

School cluster principals have wide discretion to allocate staff within roles and across the schools in the cluster. Cluster principals have full discretion in the formation of their Board of Directors (both deputy and assistant principals). The only limiting criteria are that deputy and assistant principals must be professional (permanent) teachers, with at least five years of service and be already working within the cluster or non-grouped school. Cluster principals, with input from their board, may divide responsibilities across the deputy and assistant principals as they see fit. Furthermore, the school administration has the leeway to assign teachers to any role within their recruitment group (a defined subject area and grade band) across years or schools in the cluster (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]).

During the review visit, some cluster principals described utilising these authorities to divide responsibilities across the administrative team by strategic area (e.g. school culture, pedagogy, community relationships, etc.) or educational level among deputy principals, while others reported that the school cluster leaders all did a little of everything. Similarly, variation existed in the extent to which school administrators described taking advantage of staff assignment responsibilities. Some described placing teachers they perceived to be weaker in less demanding contexts or re-allocating teachers to different schools to improve school culture or spread instructional capacity, while others did not report engaging in such practices.

Teacher and leader assessment and appraisal

Teacher appraisal

The history and underlying rationale of the teacher evaluation model in Portugal are well documented in the OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Portugal (Santiago et al., 2012[9]). Prior to the 1990s, no formal procedure for teacher evaluation existed. In the 1990s, a formal appraisal system which required the submission of various forms but had limited standards or consequences was introduced. However, in 2007 (with modifications in 2009, 2010 and again in 2011), the government introduced a contentious model for teacher appraisal that included clear assessments of performance, with progress on the salary scale depending on merit in the form of observed practice and student learning outcomes (Santiago et al., 2012[7]; Santiago et al., 2009[10]). In addition to the controversy around the introduction of new teacher evaluation policies, Portugal experienced intensive resistance in 2014 to a new policy requiring prospective teachers to sit for a common examination on mastery of their subject matter (see Box 4.2).

The current model of performance evaluation for permanent teachers, in place since 2012, attempts to balance assessments of teachers’ content and pedagogical skills, their contributions to the school community and their ongoing commitment to professional improvement. The 2012 reform requires teachers to receive a positive evaluation at the end of each step of the teaching schedule (i.e. every four years, except the fifth step which takes two years) in order to progress to the next professional stage. Teachers receive ratings at one of five levels: insufficient, regular, good, very good or excellent. At the end of Steps 2, 4 and 6, teachers are expected to be observed at least twice by an external evaluator. At other steps, an external class observation is required to obtain the grade of “excellent” or when a teacher has received a rating of “insufficient”. Internal and external evaluators must be at or above the career step of the teacher being evaluated, be teachers of the same subject and hold a training certificate or have professional experience in teacher evaluation (Ministry of Education, 2018[11]).

Box 4.2. Portugal and the state of New York’s efforts to reform entry into the profession

New York State

In the 2013/14 school year, the state of New York introduced four new assessments intended to increase the skill of entrants into the teaching profession. The Academic Literacy Skills Test (ALST) measured candidates’ basic literacy skills, the edTPA assessed candidates’ subject-specific teaching skills through a multi-measure portfolio review, the Educating All Students (EAS) exam measured future teachers’ abilities to teach special learner groups, and subject-specific exams tested candidates’ knowledge of their content area. The combination of the multiple assessments and high cut-scores on the examination made this battery of tests some of the most rigorous in the country. Data from the first year showed that only three-quarters of test-takers passed the edTPA and EAS exams, and two-thirds of teaching candidates passed the ALST examination. In total, 20% fewer teaching candidates were licensed in that year compared to the previous. Nearly immediately, widespread condemnation of the new testing regime arose, particularly from teachers’ unions, and several lawsuits challenged the legality of the new tests. Of particular concern were racial disparities in the results on the tests: in one analysis, 64% of white candidates passed the tests on the first try, 46% of Latino candidates, and 41% of black candidates.

Ultimately, while the tests were upheld in court, public outcries resulted in the elimination of the ALST requirement, the reduction of the score required to pass the edTPA exam and the provision of alternate assessment options (a panel review or an alternate, easier test) for those who were unable to pass the edTPA.


In the fall of 2013, Portugal implemented the Teachers Knowledge and Skills Exam (Prova de Avaliação de Conhecimentos e Capacidades – PACC). It aimed at evaluating the general and content-specific knowledge of all temporary teachers with less than five years of teaching experience. The exam was administered in 2014 in the midst of fierce criticism from different stakeholder groups. A total of 10 220 teachers took the exam in 2014, with a pass rate of 85.6%, but rates varied by subject. More than half of teachers of physics and chemistry, Portuguese, biology and geology failed the subject-specific component of the exam. In 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the exam was unconstitutional as it had not been debated and agreed on in parliament, so it was discontinued.

Sources: Harris, E. (2014), “Passing rate declines by 20% as state uses new certification exams for teachers”, New York Times,; Sawchuk, S. (2014), “N.Y. data on new teacher-licensing exams show higher failure rates”, Education Week,; Loweus, L. (2017), “New York lowers required score on teacher certification exam”, Education Week,; New York State Education Department (2017), Board Of Regents Revises Teacher Certification Requirements, New York State Education Department Press Release,; IAVE (2014), Divulgação de resultados da prova de avaliação de conhecimentos a capacidades

Teachers’ final evaluation scores are based on three distinct components: i) subject-matter and pedagogical knowledge and skills (weights 60% of the final evaluation score); ii) participation in school and relationship with the community (20% of evaluation score); and iii) participation in ongoing training and professional development (20% of evaluation score). The two highest classifications are limited by a quota system, which is typically capped at 5% for “excellent” and 20% for “very good” (Santiago et al., 2012[7]).

Temporary contract teachers receive an informal internal evaluation as long as they complete 180 days of work during a school year. The head of the department (or appointee) conducts an evaluation but this explicitly does not include a class observation (Ministry of Education, 2018[3]). Many more details on the rationale and procedures for this evaluation system are available in the OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Portugal (Santiago et al., 2012[7]).

However, despite these detailed procedures for the teacher appraisal system, the implementation over the past five years has been for the most part non-existent. As a consequence of the freezing of teachers’ career trajectories, there existed no incentive to seek positive evaluation scores. As a result, stakeholders shared that there are neither internal nor external observations connected to the evaluation process. In fact in 2015, only 41% of students attended schools in which their principals indicated that teachers’ practice is monitored by the observation of internal school leaders, and only 31% attended schools in which their principals indicated that teachers’ practice is monitored by external observers (Table II.4.39 in OECD (2016[12])). Thus, observations have to date played little role in teachers’ appraisal and ratings below the “Good” level are very rare according to stakeholders.

Cluster principal appraisal

The evaluation of school principals includes both an internal and external component. As school leaders remain on the teacher career progression schedule, they are evaluated in the last year prior to moving to the next step, as well as at the end of their four-year term as principal.

The internal assessment by the General Council is based on the principal’s successful accomplishment of the goals outlined in his or her proposed educational project (70% of score) as well as a qualitative assessment of their leadership, strategy and external communication skills (30%). They are also required to attend a defined total of professional development activities. The Inspectorate-General of Education and Science (Inspeção-Geral da Educação e Ciência – IGEC) carries out the external component of school leaders’ evaluation. It assesses quantitative measures of academic results and social outcomes as well as qualitative measures of community feedback, leadership skills and the successful operation of the school. The final classification is a weighted average of the internal (60%) and external (40%) evaluations. School principals receiving ratings of “very good” or “excellent” may progress through the next career step more rapidly, whereas ratings of “regular” or “insufficient” mean that the previous years of service since the last evaluation will not count towards advancing to the next career step. Additionally, principals with these ratings may be assigned a mandatory professional development training plan to complete.


Portugal benefits from an experienced, dedicated and well-compensated teaching staff

Portuguese school children benefit from an experienced, teaching staff. In addition to median teaching ages at all levels of schooling that imply over 20 years of experience in education, Portuguese teachers are formally qualified for their positions. Over 91% of Portuguese teachers are fully certified (OECD average: 84.3%), with no disparities in the levels of certified teachers by schools’ average socio-economic status, urbanicity or governance type (public or private). Despite the equitable distribution of licensed teachers across school types, this pattern does not appear to be associated with performance equity as there is no relationship in Portugal between whether a student has a fully qualified teacher and his or her performance in science as assessed by PISA (Figure II.6.9 in OECD (2016[12])).

In recognition of the importance that Portuguese society places on education, Portugal invests substantial resources in its teachers. As noted above, Portugal invests a larger proportion of its annual operating budget on staff salaries than any other OECD country. This results in a significant comparative and absolute investment in teachers’ salaries. As Figure 4.4 indicates, Portuguese teachers earn more relative to other tertiary-educated workers than any other OECD country. A Portuguese teacher can expect to earn 1.3 times as much as another Portuguese tertiary-educated worker.

While relative earnings are clearly important, one might be concerned that in countries with weak overall labour markets for tertiary-educated workers the absolute salary levels may nevertheless not be high enough to induce high-capacity individuals into the teaching profession. However, even the nominal levels of teaching salaries in Portugal (adjusted for international differences in prices and incomes, known as the Purchasing Power Parity) are quite high. As 0, Figure 4.B.4 indicates, teachers’ minimal starting and maximal salaries are higher than the OECD and EU22 averages, and they can expect to earn between EUR 32 644 per year at the start of their career and EUR 61 748 at the end. While the high level of investment in teachers’ salaries rewards teachers for their work and may raise the prestige of the profession, this type of investment is not correlated at the cross-system level by higher student outcomes (Figure II.6.7 in OECD (2016[12])).

In some school systems, high teaching salaries are offset by large class sizes or a large number of total teaching hours; however, this is not the case in Portugal. Portuguese schools have one of the lowest levels of student-teacher ratios among OECD systems and Portuguese teachers have some of the lowest total number of instructional hours (see 0, Figures 4.B.1 and 4.B.2).

These quantitative measures accord with qualitative impressions reported by school-based stakeholders during the review visit. School staff in all seven schools visited during the review indicated that they felt there were satisfactory total overall numbers of teachers at their school. However, parents, teachers and school leaders frequently commented on the lack of sufficient numbers of special education teachers and non-teaching staff. In addition to high quantities of teaching staff, families and students frequently commented on the quality of the teaching staff, noting the care the majority of teachers brought to their students and their dedication to their work.

Figure 4.4. Lower secondary teachers’ average salaries relative to earnings for tertiary-educated workers, 2015
Actual salaries for lower secondary teachers teaching in general education programmes in public institutions

1. Current minimal standards for teachers in Portugal require ISCED Level 7 (masters’ degree). Tertiary-educated workers include ISCED Level 5-8; thus, comparisons with other tertiary-educated workers may overstate the wage premium on teaching.

2. Data on earnings for full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education refer to Belgium.

3. Data on earnings for full-time, full-year workers with tertiary education refer to the United Kingdom.

Note: Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the ratio of teachers' salaries to earnings for full-time, full-year tertiary-educated workers aged 25-64.

Source: ECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,, Table D3.2a. See EAG 2017 Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (

Thus, the Portuguese system benefits from an experienced and dedicated teaching staff and provides them with corresponding recognition in the form of high relative and absolute levels of compensation. Both objective indicators and subjective impressions in the course of the review visit speak of the value Portuguese society seems to ascribe to teachers and the education system. However, the review team corroborated impressions derived from TALIS 2013 during its visit that teachers do not feel appreciated (see below). The quantitative measures of fiscal investment, therefore, provide a strong foundation for growing the esteem and external validation of educators but important cultural factors must be addressed to improve the morale and attractiveness of the profession.

Opportunities exist for the development of instructional and leadership skills within schools.

Strong instructional practices

As befits a country with a highly experienced and qualified teaching staff, there exist examples of strong teaching practices in Portugal that can serve as models to improve other teachers’ abilities. Portuguese science teachers of 15-year-olds employed some of the highest rates of direct instruction (practices in which teachers explain and model scientific concepts to students, encourage classroom debate and respond to students’ questions) as reported by 15-year-old students. As the PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools report (2016[12]) highlights, this modality of instruction alone does not guarantee improved learning and much depends on the effectiveness of execution, but direct instruction in science is the pedagogical approach mostly highly correlated with higher levels of student performance on the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) science assessment.

As reported by 15-year-old students, Portuguese teachers employed direct instruction at a rate higher than all but 4 other PISA countries (see Panel A, Figure 4.5).3 Further, these strategies were distributed evenly across high- and low-economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) schools, urban and rural settings and public and private schools in Portugal. This type of instructional strategy was practised more frequently by Portuguese science teachers whose students scored higher on the PISA science assessment. Teachers using this practice also had students who had a stronger understanding of the nature and origin of scientific knowledge (epistemic beliefs) and their students were more likely to be planning a future career that requires scientific knowledge and skill. This accords with convincing evidence from a recent meta-analysis of the direct instruction approach in 328 studies across 50 years that found consistently positive effects on student academic outcomes (Stockard et al., 2018[13]).

Interestingly, Portuguese teachers appear uniquely skilled in their ability to combine both teacher-directed instruction with adaptive classroom strategies. Adaptive instruction refers to teachers’ ability to adjust their lessons to the particular skills and abilities of students in their classes, including to individual students who are struggling with a topic or a task.4 As Panel B of Figure 4.5 reveals, 15-year-old students reported that Portuguese teachers used adaptive instructional techniques more frequently than teachers in any other country. These adaptive instructional practices were no more common in advantaged than disadvantaged schools or in rural than in urban areas. However, they were more commonly exhibited in private Portuguese schools. When teachers used adaptive instructional strategies more, students were also more likely to score higher on the PISA, demonstrate stronger epistemic beliefs about science and be more likely to be planning a science-dependent career (OECD, 2016[12]).

One might conjecture that the Portuguese investment in small student-teacher ratios (and the resultant OECD-average class sizes) is critical to teachers’ ability to offer this effective form of adaptive instruction. However, adaptive instruction does not appear to require small class sizes in Portugal. In fact, there is no relationship between the size of a school’s average class and teachers’ frequency of instructional adaptation in response to student needs (Figure II.6.17 in OECD (2016[12])). Nor does average class size relate to the schools’ student performance on the 2015 PISA (Figure II.6.15 in OECD (2016[12])).

Thus, there exist strong models of instructional practice in Portugal. While these pedagogical strategies are associated with stronger student outcomes, two critical caveats exist. First, between-country comparisons in students’ reports of the frequency of these instructional practices should be made cautiously (see Endnote 1). Second, and most critically, these relationships do not imply that because some teachers in Portugal are more likely to use direct and adaptive instruction, this causes their students to have higher test scores. Other factors may contribute to both increased use of this instructional approaches and higher performance. In fact, it is possible that the reverse relationship is true; in other words, classrooms where students perform better create environments where it is more conducive for teachers to use these instructional approaches. Caution should be used in drawing conclusions regarding the use of these strategies; however, the frequent presence of these sound strategies in Portugal does imply that there is a solid foundation of knowledge and ability among Portuguese teachers.

Figure 4.5. Instructional practices and student outcomes

1. After accounting for the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status of students and schools.

Note: Select countries presented in the figure 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. Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the index of teacher-directed or adaptive instruction.

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.2.17 and II.2.23.

Collaborative, collegial environments

In addition to foundational instructional skills associated with experienced teachers, Portuguese teachers also report having positive relationships with their colleagues, perhaps because of their ability to form long-term relationships with them. In nearly all school focus groups that were part of the OECD review visit, stakeholders reported that teachers within their school community demonstrated professional respect and had positive peer relationships. In particular, teachers noted that they frequently turned to peers to ask questions or seek support. These anecdotal reports are supported in the representative lower secondary teachers’ reports in TALIS 2013. As noted above, teachers share a great deal of mutual respect for each other and report being able to work well with one another. And while formal induction programmes are scarce, principals report that 84% of teachers have access to informal supports at the start of their careers or when they first join a new school. Though positive relationships are commonplace and teachers report opportunities for informal support, the Challenges section of this chapter highlights barriers to effectively capitalise on these relationships and informal networks.

Opportunities for teacher leadership and development

Portuguese teachers benefit from significant time in their schedules devoted to improving their teaching practices, access to regional training centres to support embedded professional development and multiple opportunities to participate in formal leadership roles.

There is an explicit recognition in the development of teachers’ working schedules of the need to free up time in their day for whole-school improvement tasks; thus, teachers have many non-teaching hours built into their contracts. As visible in Figure 4.6, teachers in Portugal have among the lowest total statutory teaching hours (605 hours) across the OECD. Additionally, these teaching hours represent a relatively small percentage of their overall statutory working time (42%), compared to other OECD systems. The number of non-teaching hours grows as a function of both their age and the extent to which they take on additional responsibilities within the school. However, as discussed above, all teachers benefit from a certain number of non-teaching hours as part of their contractual working time. This intensive resource allocation of teachers’ paid time away from students reflects an understanding of the work that goes into successfully organising and planning a class, as well as an investment in teachers’ work as class, department, school or other co-ordinators that engenders positive benefits across the school.

In addition to opportunities teachers have to work collaboratively during their regularly scheduled non-instructional hours, there exist formal institutions to support their ongoing professional development. The Ministry of Education funds a small staff (including a director, several administrative staff and a small teaching hour reduction for one practising teacher) to operate 91 Regional Training Centres. These training centres are charged with conducting outreach to school clusters within their region, to learn about the schools’ pedagogical and curricular projects, to assess the current professional development needs within the cluster in relation to those projects and to deliver a series of locally-provided professional development courses responding to school and teacher needs.

Figure 4.6. Percentage of lower secondary teachers’ working time spent teaching, 2015
Net teaching time (typical annual number of hours) as a percentage of total statutory working time

1. Actual teaching time.

2. Year of reference for net teaching time is 2013. Year of reference for working time is 2012.

Source: OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,, Table D4.1. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (

Beyond the skeleton staff outlined above, the regional centres receive no additional funds. This means that they are not able to pay for professional trainers or pay teachers to attend the courses. Instead, the centres rely on the expertise of teachers within the region to run the courses themselves. In prior decades, the centres received more state support, but they have now been forced to become more entrepreneurial. They identify strong teachers, support them to develop the curricula for the training course and then solicit voluntary participation in the planned course. In some instances, they will solicit voluntary participation from professors in local polytechnics or universities to teach classes. In other cases, they have applied for private or European grant funding to subsidise the participation of external experts or the acquisition of curricular materials. One compelling incentive for teacher participation the centres are able to offer is free tuition. In the Portuguese context where professional development is required to move through the teacher career progression – but is rarely funded by the school or ministry – this no-cost approach is potentially appealing. However, despite the potential for the regional training centres to create professional development that is informed by needs identified at the school level, can be delivered locally in schools and is offered in the format of semester-long ongoing courses (rather than one-off seminars), the potential of the training centres is not being sufficiently realised. Too few teachers take advantage of these provisions, the offerings are not sufficiently aligned to the priorities of schools and teachers and they rely on the good-will of teachers’ participation outside of school hours in the evenings or on weekends. These challenges are explored in more detail below.

In addition to formal opportunities for teachers to develop their instructional skills, extensive leadership opportunities exist for teachers within schools. As noted, teachers may become class heads, departmental co-ordinators, school co-ordinators, project co-ordinators, assistant and deputy principals, all while retaining classroom roles but with reduced teaching loads. These sorts of leadership opportunities create compelling ways for teachers to develop professionally so that the nature of their work evolves over the course of their career. Additionally, they offer meaningful ways to distribute the wide array of responsibilities the cluster principal holds across multiple individuals, easing the overwhelming burden of the cluster principal’s duties.

School leader autonomy in the selection of a leadership team and within-cluster distribution of human resources

School leaders have the ability to recruit any teacher within their cluster to join their leadership team and they may deploy cluster and school responsibilities amongst these leaders as they see fit, within certain parameters. Additionally, although they have no responsibilities for the selection of teachers to their cluster, they can distribute teaching resources and teaching hours across schools, years and student groups, again subject to teachers’ subject areas and levels of instruction. The selection of the school cluster leader happens every four years at the General Council level, rather than through a centrally determined process. This creates the potential for schools to select leaders based on their local knowledge of the skills required to succeed in the particular context. Additionally, cluster leaders are not constrained in their development of a common vision amongst their leadership team as they may select the Board of Directors they choose rather than being required to work with deputy or assistant principals who do not match their vision or desired skill profile.

In addition to the choice of who serves in leadership roles, responsibilities may be divided among the administrative team subject to the needs of the cluster and the skills of the principals. While department heads must have formal training or professional experience in the evaluation of teachers or instructional improvement work, no such requirements apply to class heads, project or school co-ordinators or deputy/assistant principals. For instance, some School Boards reported assigning operational and school culture duties to one deputy principal and instructional tasks to another. In other schools, responsibilities were divided between members of the board of directors according to the cycle of schooling. This flexibility permits closer matches between skills and needs.

In a similar way, once teachers have been allocated to a particular cluster, cluster principals are free to assign them in whichever way they feel suits the school’s needs and teachers’ abilities. In practice, some schools reported assigning teachers who they perceived as less competent to either smaller classes, classes with fewer disciplinary challenges or schools with less overall challenges. In other situations, school leaders shared instances in which they reorganised some of the teachers across schools to balance skill profiles, experience levels or personality matches. However, school leaders articulated taking advantage of these opportunities to varying degrees. Their use of this autonomy seemed idiosyncratic and reliant on the entrepreneurial spirit of a particular leader, rather than a systematic understanding of this as an important tool in the distribution of human resources. In some schools, members of the board of directors all said they did a little bit of everything and stakeholders did not report any strategic sorting of teachers to different schools.

Steps have been initiated to create greater curricular autonomy for teachers, including opportunities to adapt curriculum to students’ individualised needs.

In 2017, Portugal embarked on two ambitious reforms to how students would learn in schools. First, a broad group of stakeholders drafted the Profile of Students at the End of Compulsory Education (Perfil dos Alunos à Saída da Escolaridade Obrigatória) which articulated a broad set of skills and knowledge students should have acquired upon reaching the age of 18. This triggered reforms to the curriculum in 2018 that followed these goals, including offering some flexibility to schools as to how they would impart these skills to students. At the same time, Portugal launched a pilot project of curricular autonomy and flexibility in 235 schools for 2017/18. These schools, as part of plans developed by their Pedagogic Councils, may diverge from the national curriculum for up to 25% of the weekly compulsory teaching hours. While students are still held to the same standards, schools may create new subjects by combining existing ones. This would permit, for instance, the combination of a history and Portuguese class into a humanities class that would cover similar content in an integrated fashion. In other cases, the autonomy might take the form of small numbers of additional teaching hours to be allocated to the school to be used at their discretion. Recipients of the autonomy contracts may also organise the school calendar in innovative ways. For instance, they may offer some subjects more intensively, but only for part of the year, or they may divide the school year in two semesters, rather than the traditional trimester format. The intent of the Portuguese authorities is to extend this pilot to all public schools in 2018/19 (OECD, 2018[14]).

Stakeholders reported mixed opinions on the degree to which these autonomies provided meaningful flexibility to the national curriculum. Some teachers suggested these changes provided opportunities to dive more deeply into a set of skills and content, allowing them to address student misconceptions more thoroughly and employ innovative pedagogical techniques. Others reported that despite the autonomies provided, students still were expected to master the same total material (see more on this in the Challenges section below).

Nevertheless, as noted earlier, at a system level, Portuguese 15-year-olds reported a high rate of adaptive instruction in 2015. These practices were well correlated with positive learning and attitudinal outcomes, suggesting that there is substantial capacity within the Portuguese teaching force to utilise additional curricular autonomy to provide instruction targeted more closely at students’ learning edge.


Despite strong capacity, structural supports and a system on paper that could permit for a rigorous professionalisation of the teaching career, the Portuguese system is not yet maximising the potential of its teachers and leaders in schools. The following section explores existing and emerging challenges.

Portuguese teachers do not feel valued by society

Despite stated national commitments to education and significant investment in both the salary and working conditions of teachers, Portuguese teachers do not perceive a high degree of societal esteem for the teaching profession. Only 10.5% of Portuguese lower secondary teachers consider teaching a valued profession in society (Figure 4.7), among the lowest in TALIS 2013. Though strict comparisons between countries should be made cautiously, even in the absence of between-country comparisons, it is concerning that only one in ten teachers would feel valued in their critical work.

Figure 4.7. Teachers' view of the way society values the teaching profession

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order, based on the percentage of teachers who “strongly agree” or “agree” that they think that the teaching profession is valued in society.

Source: OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning,, Tables 7.2 and 7.2 web.

This perceived low-level of esteem may translate into low levels of interest in joining the teaching profession by young people. The PISA student questionnaire asks 15-year-old students what occupation they expect to be working in when they are 30 years old. In 2015, only 1.3% of Portuguese students indicated they planned to enter the teaching profession, among the lowest across all PISA-participating systems (see 0, Figure 4.C.1). Additionally, in line with most other PISA school systems, those students who did anticipate entering the teaching profession scored over 20 scale points lower on both the reading and mathematics PISA assessments than peers who anticipated entering other professional careers (OECD, 2018[15]).

These reported low-levels of perceived societal esteem for the teaching profession were validated over the course of the review visit. In multiple focus group meetings with teachers, stakeholders reported feeling undervalued. Among some of the most commonly reported reasons for these feelings included: poor compensation, heavy workloads, lack of parental support, few opportunities for professional development, the condition of school buildings and a repeated concern around being blamed for the shortcomings of the education system. Several teachers cited the debate around the proposed new evaluation system at the end of the last decade as a source of some of these impressions.

It is important to contextualise these subjective perceptions of teachers’ status in the cuts made to the educational (and governmental) budgets in response to the recent economic crisis. Cuts in pre-school, basic and secondary educational spending post-2010 led to a 12% reduction of teachers’ real wages. It might well be that these real wage losses have affected teachers’ perception of societal value more than their salary situation in relation to other tertiary education graduates.

In addition, in many discussions teachers reported that a significant challenge of their work involved engaging students in their learning and addressing disruptive classroom behaviour. Teachers frequently reported on the challenges of managing classroom behaviour, for new and experienced teachers alike. Teachers and parents spoke about frequent disruptions in classrooms and even physical confrontations in common school areas. School leaders spoke also about the struggle with getting some students to attend class at all. A frequent concern expressed by school leaders, teachers and parents was a perceived shortage of operational assistants designated for the purpose of monitoring student behaviour.

Across the system, representative surveys of Portuguese schools echo these qualitative concerns about the challenges of student behaviour for teachers. In 2015, Portuguese principals of 15-year-olds reported high levels of student behaviour hindering the science classroom learning environment (Figure 4.8). While some of the equity concerns present in other school systems where these disruptive behaviours were more heavily concentrated in disadvantaged or urban schools were not present in Portugal, disruptive behaviour was more common in public schools. Schools where students were more likely to experience disruptive behaviour also had students who performed worse on the PISA science exam. After accounting for the socio-economic profile of students, the relationship between poor classroom behaviour in schools and science performance was still negative, though smaller in magnitude and not estimated at precise enough levels to rule out that there was no relationship between the two.

There are a wide variety of causes of student misbehaviour; successful systems respond by avoiding blame and remaining solution-oriented, but when these conditions persist it impedes students’ ability to achieve their goals and hampers teachers’ success in the profession. Reasons for poor behaviour in schools include: childhood trauma and associated negative peer affects (Carrell and Hoekstra, 2010[16]; Ozer, 2005[17]); weak or provocative instructional practices (Hyman and Perone, 1998[18]); failure of the curriculum to engage students in culturally relevant ways; mismatches between students’ cultural backgrounds or norms and those of the adults in the school (Tyler, Wade Boykin and Walton, 2006[19]; Ware, 2006[20]; Holt and Gershenson, 2017[21]); poor school- and system-level practices to define and instruct students on appropriate behaviour (Thapa et al., 2013[22]); or schools’ failure to help students see value in educational success. The issue of mismatch between teachers’ training and the cultural backgrounds of their students may be of particular importance in some Portuguese schools with clustered populations of students from non-dominant cultural or linguistic groups (see Chapter 3 for the prevalence of these clustered populations). Less than 20% of 15-year-old students in Portugal had teachers who reported receiving training on teaching in a multicultural or multilingual setting, the second lowest out of 17 education systems whose teachers responded to the teacher questionnaire on PISA 2015 [17 country average: 32.5%] (Radinger et al., 2018[23]). In addition to the long-run impacts of challenging behaviour on students’ future opportunities (Arcia, 2006[24]), negative student behaviour results in teacher burnout and exit from the profession (Aloe et al., 2014[25]).

Figure 4.8. Index of student behaviour hindering learning, by school characteristics
Results based on school principals' reports

Notes: Higher values on the index indicate that student behaviour hinders learning to a greater extent.

Hollow shapes indicate difference not statistically significant.

Select countries presented in the figure 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. Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of index of student behaviour hindering learning.

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.3.15.

Thus, as a result of various contributing factors including high task demands, the freezing of teacher career progression, political discussions around teacher appraisal and challenges associated with student engagement, a perception exists that among teachers that they are under-appreciated in society. Given the substantial financial investments the Portuguese system already makes in salary, student-teacher ratios and non-teaching time, this challenge appears to be one that will be solved not through additional resource investments but through cultural changes.

The shifting age profile of Portuguese teachers and the structure of the teaching profession pose substantial staffing challenges and some opportunities in the coming years

As a result of various historical and current-day demographic and policy changes, the Portuguese teaching workforce is ageing. When Portugal universalised basic schooling in the 1980s, school populations ballooned, producing massive teacher shortages. Many new higher education institutions opened offering education degrees, and large numbers of new teachers were certified. However, the declining school-age population over the past two decades has now led to an excess of teachers, primarily those initially trained in the 1980s and 1990s, with few vacancies opening yearly. Current factors contributing to the older teaching workforce include the overall ageing of the population, increases to the retirement age in response to the economic crisis, low interest in entering the teaching profession, selection and assignment structures that heavily favour existing teachers and various other reasons. A challenging facet of the ageing teacher profile is not only that the average or median teacher has become older due to shifts throughout the distribution of teaching ages. Instead, as Figure 4.9 illustrates, the proportion of young teachers (under 30 years old) has declined to less than 1% of all teachers and these young teachers have been substituted by teachers over 50 years of age (this pattern at the secondary levels is essentially identical for 1st and 2nd cycle teachers). Even more concerning, only 18.1% of teachers were under the age of 40 in 2015/16 (DGEEC, 2017[2]). This stark shift in the age profile of Portuguese teachers creates a set of interlinked challenges.

Figure 4.9. Age composition of Portuguese teachers, lower secondary (3rd cycle) and upper secondary, 2000/01 to 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

First, the shrinking number of new entrants into the profession and the coming wave of retirements will create both expertise voids and absolute supply problems if there are insufficient numbers of qualified candidates who enter the teaching profession to replace retirees. In other words, even if the system is able to accommodate the wave of future retirements through the recruitment of a fresh cohort of teachers, there will be a missing generation of teachers with 10-15 years of experience who can preserve the skills currently present among Portuguese teachers. There will be limited institutional knowledge available to transmit these skillsets to the next generation of teachers.

Second, in addition to the system-wide challenges presented by the ageing profile of Portuguese teachers, there may arise some subject- or region-specific challenges. Across the Portuguese system, the median age of all teachers was 47. Again, there existed some geographic variation, with schools in the Centre and eastern Norte regions employing, on average, older teachers than the areas around Porto and in Alentejo and Algarve (see Figure 4.10). Nevertheless, these geographical differences were relatively modest with the range of the cross-regional variation only totalling four years difference in average age.

Figure 4.10. Average age of teachers (permanent and temporary contract)
By NUTS III region, 2015/16

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.

More challenging will be the cross-subject area and cross-region, within-subject, variations in age profiles. For instance, while 22% of all mathematics teachers and 30% of physical education teachers are under the age of 40 at the secondary levels, only 7.1% of teachers of Portuguese language and literacy are under 40. In the Centro region, only 4.4% of Portuguese language teachers are under the age of 40, in the Metropolitan area of Lisbon, 55.7% of Portuguese teachers are over 50 and in the Alentejo region less than 14% of chemistry and physics teachers are under 40 (DGEEC, 2017[2]).

Third, the ageing teaching force may result in frequent absences due to illness and medical leave. Multiple stakeholders reported on the financial, logistical and educational impacts associated with high levels of substitute teachers replacing teachers on medical leave. Portuguese administrative data shows increasing rates of absenteeism among teachers since April 2014. At a minimum there is a superficial correlation between age and absences; Portuguese teachers who are older also take more days of sick leave per year (European Commission, 2017[26]). This appears to be a recent phenomenon as TALIS 2013 suggests that principals representing only 4.3% of lower secondary teachers consider teacher absenteeism to be an issue on a weekly basis (Table 2.21 in OECD (2014[6])). It is not clear from the TALIS data whether principals would interpret excused absences or medical leave as part of absenteeism. Thus, though it may be politically sensitive, it would be valuable for the ministry to continue to examine systematically the rate, patterns and reasons for teacher absences.

While demographic patterns and retirement age policies clearly contribute to this ageing teacher profile, the structure of the teaching profession prioritises early entrance and seniority benefits. Entry into the professional teaching career requires many years of service as a temporary contract teacher which involves low salaries and frequent position changes. Permanent teaching candidates receive bonus points in the national ranking system for the number of years of temporary contract teaching they have completed. No credit is given for years of work in the private sector. Further, once teachers have attained professional status, they progress from one salary step to the next based almost exclusively on years of service, with increasing salary returns at the end of teachers’ careers. This pattern runs counter to evidence that schools can improve teacher recruitment and retention rates as well as student learning outcomes by restructuring salary schedules to reward additional years of experience at higher rates earlier, rather than later, in the career trajectory (Hendricks, 2015[27]). Combined, Portuguese provisions make it difficult to recruit mid-career changers or to attract early-career candidates interested in exploring the profession. Unfortunately, there exists little appetite among the current teaching corps to change the model of the career as permanent teachers benefit from the closed nature of the profession and temporary contract teachers who have put in several years of service do not want their years of investment to count for nothing.

While the ageing profile of the teaching force clearly presents challenges, it may also present an opportunity to revitalise the profession with new ideas, higher skill levels and professional expertise from career changers. Much depends on how Portugal conceptualises and brands the teaching profession and opportunities for development within it.

Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) and induction programmes do not sufficiently prepare new teachers with the skills needed to enter the classroom

The applied requirements of Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) programmes are minimal and insufficiently rigorous to adequately prepare prospective teachers for the challenges of classroom teaching. As is common across most OECD school systems (OECD, 2018[15]), the average skill profile (as measured by national university entrance examinations) of entrants into ITP programmes rank 21st out of 22 areas of tertiary study (Direçao Geral Ensino Superior, 2017[28]). Stakeholder groups expressed concerns about the prestige and rigour of these ITP programmes.

Further, Portugal does not set minimum requirements for the number of credit hours prospective teachers must accumulate as student teachers in in-school placements. While the total number of required credit hours in the category of pre-service professional training falls somewhere in the middle of the European average, these hours include coursework in psychology, teaching methods and methodology. Unlike 16 European countries that establish minimal European Credit Acquisition and Transfer System (ECTS) credit hours for student teaching in schools ranging from 5 to 60 credits (125-1 800 hours of work), Portugal grants higher education institutions autonomy in deciding how many hours are required (EC/EACEA/Eurydice, 2015[29]). On the other hand, Portugal does require the co-operating/supervising teacher in the school to have at least five years of experience and to be selected by the institution of higher education (IHE). It is the IHE’s responsibility to screen for the quality of co-operating teachers and to provide training in mentoring student teachers. These are critical conditions to create an effective student teaching experience (Greenberg, Pomerance and Walsh, 2011[30]) and are to be commended in Portugal.

Once through the formal stage of initial teacher education, early-career Portuguese teachers receive minimal formal support. Portuguese teachers have access to the lowest levels of formal induction programmes of any TALIS 2013 system (see 0, Figure 4.B.3). Furthermore, stakeholders reported during the review visit that since almost no teachers (temporary contract or permanent) receive ratings of “insufficient” or “regular”, progression from temporary to permanent status is primarily a function of years of service. Thus, there exists limited opportunity to provide targeted support to teachers during the temporary-contract induction phase based on appraisal results.

An inefficient system of teacher distribution through national assignment creates instability and inequities

While transparent standards exist for ranking teachers in priority order in the initial assignment process, schools and teachers have limited ability to express their preferences for a specific candidate or school profile. This results in a mismatch between the needs of schools and teachers’ interests and skills. While temporary contract teachers with high polytechnic or university marks, high student-teacher ratings and several years of teaching experience have a high likelihood of receiving their first choice in school, other teachers may receive schools that rank lower on their preference list or that they have no interest in at all. In interviews with school staff, several schools reported large proportions of teachers who did not enjoy teaching in their school. When asked in 2013 on the TALIS survey, nearly one-quarter (24.0%) of Portuguese lower secondary teachers “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they would like to change to another school if it were possible. While several teachers in schools serving many low-income students or with weak student results indicated they were happy to work in these schools, on the whole teachers’ job satisfaction was lower when they had students in their classroom who were low academic achievers (Table 7.7-7.9 in OECD (2014[6])). This constrained-choice teacher assignment policy creates conditions in which some teachers may be dissatisfied with the school in which they work, and this appears to disproportionately affect low-income and low-achieving students.

In addition to the general mismatches between school needs and teacher interest, the temporary-contract teacher placement process results in frequent movement of teachers across schools and the delayed placement of teachers in schools. This leads to instability in the teaching force in schools especially in high-needs areas and creates an insider-outsider staffing structure. While stakeholders report that beginning-of-year teacher placement processes have improved somewhat in the past two years, there continue to be significant delays in placing a teacher in each classroom at the start of the year. Some schools indicate that it could take a month at the beginning of the year for all classes to have an assigned teacher. Despite estimates made of the needed teaching positions in the spring of each year, there are invariably cases in which too few teachers have been assigned to a school for the required number of students. Since schools may not hire teachers directly when they become aware of these gaps but must wait for the centralised process to assign teachers, delays inevitable occur. In other cases, class numbers are accurately estimated but teachers are still not assigned on time. In contexts outside of Portugal, there is strong empirical evidence that assigning teachers to a classroom once the year has already started creates negative impacts on student learning (Papay and Kraft, 2016[31]). Teachers in these positions are seen as temporary members of the school community, sometimes piecing together positions across multiple schools and struggling to feel fully integrated into the faculty.

The disruptive effects of temporary, contract teachers are felt more intensively by some schools and profiles of students than others. In 2015/16, as noted above, some school clusters had teaching faculties that are one-third to one-half temporary teachers. This uneven distribution of temporary and less experienced teachers results in resource inequities for high-needs schools. The proportion of temporary teachers in 2015/16 was higher in schools with greater socio-economic needs (Figure 4.11), with an average of less than 10% of temporary teachers in schools with the least disadvantages (1st quarter) and over 14% of temporary teachers in schools that are most disadvantaged (4th quarter).

In addition to disparities between low- and high-socio-economic status schools, geographic inequities exist as well. There are no regional corrections in the planning of class size which is mechanically related to the number of teachers in a school. Rural schools tend to have lower enrolment, including situations in which a school may have only a single class per year. This disparity results in the differential allocation of resources between rural and urban schools, reflected in lower student-teacher ratios in rural schools. Administrative data indicates that schools physically located in the bottom quarter of municipal population density have a student-teacher ratio of 11.5:1, whereas schools in the top quarter of most densely populated municipalities have student-teacher ratios of 14.5:1.

Figure 4.11. Proportion of temporary teachers in a school by school-level index of socio-economic challenge

Note: Index of socio-economic disadvantage is measured by rank percentile-ordering the proportion of students within a school receiving social support type A (ASE A) and average years of maternal education at the school level. The average of the 2 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.

Source: DGEEC administrative data, 2015/16.

Finally, standards for initial teacher selection do not match internationally established evidence on best predictors of teacher effectiveness, nor do they prioritise placement of strongest teachers into schools with the greatest levels of need. Teachers are assigned in order of preference based on their tertiary academic performance and years of teaching experience. However, research in the United States context consistently finds no relationship between advanced tertiary degrees and performance in university with student outcomes (e.g. Rockoff et al. (2011[32])). Furthermore, after the first few years in the profession it is not evident that additional experience improves teaching skill (e.g. Rockoff (2004[33]) and Boyd et al. (2008[34])). One potential advantage of the temporary, contract teaching policy is that it might provide an opportunity to closely evaluate a teacher’s skill and ability to grow before deciding to offer a permanent contract but the teacher appraisal policies explicitly preclude the use of observation in evaluating temporary teachers. Furthermore, even with the existing mechanism to define the ranking of prospective teacher, no priority is provided to schools educating greater proportions of high-needs students to advantage their recruitment of the highest-rated teachers. Finally, the weight given to higher education marks creates an incentive to matriculate in the institution where the likelihood of high grades is the highest. Some stakeholders expressed concern that this created a perverse incentive in which teaching candidates would either begin in or transfer into a less rigorous higher education provider where they would be guaranteed good marks but not necessarily a strong education.

Repeated and ongoing concerns exist about the correct level of school staffing, particularly as it relates to non-teaching staff

Over the course of the review visit, stakeholders consistently reported insufficient numbers of student and learning support staff such as teaching aides, operational assistants, psychologists, guidance counsellors, etc. This is in line with TALIS 2013 results where principals representing 66.8% of teachers in Portugal reported insufficient support personnel in their schools.

However, the OECD average of the number of aides/assistants per 1 000 students in 2010 for 12 OECD countries who kept statistics on this was 7.3 assistants/1 000 students (Masdeu Navarro, 2015[35]). This is well below the proposed ratio of operational assistants to students from the ministry, which calls for 11 assistants for 1 000 students as a baseline number, with more added based on school need. Several hypotheses may explain this discrepancy. It may be that all 12 of these countries were even more severely understaffed than Portugal. It may be that the level of student need is higher in Portugal than in other countries. Or, it may be that Portuguese educators feel the need for support staff more acutely than educators in other school systems. As in other areas, the significant challenge in assessing the appropriate level of resource allocation in Portugal is that this topic has not been evaluated. No studies were identified by the review team estimating what are appropriate levels of student support staff or what the comparative levels of need are for schools with different demographics. By comparison, in the United States, evidence exists both on the optimal guidance counsellor to student ratio (250:1 on average for all schools) (NACAC, 2018[36]) as well as on the causal impacts of guidance counsellors on student outcomes (Hurwitz and Howell, 2013[37]).

In addition, in the particular case of operational assistants, review interviews revealed several bureaucratic obstacles to the smooth staffing of these positions. In some municipalities, stakeholders stated that operational assistants are responsible for multiple tasks in and outside of the education sector, resulting in tasks which are delegated to them going incomplete. Additionally, when new positions are opened or vacancies are identified, stakeholders report long delays in hiring operational assistants. Finally, stakeholders reported that when operational assistants go on extended medical leave (i.e. absent for more than 30 days), they are not replaced. It was not clear to stakeholders what the rationale behind the practice was (financial savings, hiring processes or other), but school staff reported this creates a burden within the school community as others need to assume these responsibilities.

Pervasive ineffective use of teachers’ time during the school day

There is a failure to maximise the potential of teachers’ teaching and non-teaching time in Portugal. First, Portuguese teachers spend considerable time on administrative and student management tasks during their classes. As reported in the TALIS survey, Portuguese teachers’ actual teaching time in the classroom is one of the lowest across TALIS 2013 countries: 76% of the lesson time on actual teaching, 8% on administrative tasks and 16% on keeping order in the classroom (Figure 4.12). Though cross-system comparisons should again be made cautiously, it is self-evident that if time is not spent on teaching and learning, students have limited opportunity to learn in class.

Figure 4.12. Distribution of class time during an average lesson
Average proportion of time lower secondary teachers report spending on each of these activities in an average lesson:

Notes: These data are reported by teachers and refer to a randomly chosen class they currently teach from their weekly timetable.

Countries are ranked in descending order, based on the average proportion of time teachers in lower secondary education report spending on actual teaching and learning.

Source: OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning,, Table 6.20.

Additionally, Portuguese schools fail to systematically take advantage of non-instructional time to promote improved collaboration, instruction and learning. As noted, Portuguese teachers have some of the most generous allocations of instructional hours in the OECD. Many of the countries that require similarly few total instructional hours and have low proportions of statutory working hours devoted to instruction are among the highest PISA-performing nations. Countries such as Japan, Korea and Latvia and Norway have long-documented traditions of using teachers’ non-instructional time to engage in intensive, job-embedded professional development to improve teachers’ skills. However, during the review visit, the most commonly reported use for non-instructional time was on individual or small-group student tutorials. These tutorials have the aim of supporting students who have struggled in class. Some teachers have formally assigned teaching hours devoted to tutorial instruction and this has increased from between 3% and 4% of total teaching hours in the years 2009-12 to between 5.5% and 6.6% in the years 2013-17 (see 0, Table 4.B.1). However, in an unusual accounting of working time, tutorials may also be assigned activities for non-teaching hours as well.

Thus, while sizeable proportions of the school day are spent in tutorials, no formal evaluation of their impact on student learning outcomes has been conducted. If these tutorials result in improved learning, they could be considered valuable investments of staff time (strong evidence does exist in other contexts on the benefits of tutoring, e.g. Kraft (2015[38]), Ander, Guryan and Ludwig (2016[39]) and VanLehn (2011[40]). However, teaching staff time is the most significant financial investment in the education system; thus, inefficient use of teachers’ time results in significant waste. In the absence of evidence on the benefits of these tutorials, the tutorials may be simply more of the same instruction with fewer students at a time.

There are a lack of effective structures and strategies to improve the teaching practice

There is an insufficient focus on the improvement of the teaching practice over the course of the career in Portugal. While teachers report a degree of goodwill towards each other, there exists a failure to maximise the potential of mentoring, induction and ongoing professional learning opportunities to promote system-wide priorities. Teachers report in large surveys such as TALIS 2013 that they work well together, and this was corroborated by generally positive anecdotal accounts of teachers describing relying on each other for help. However, when asked about specific practices demonstrated to improve instructional practice such as observing a colleague teach (Papay and Johnson, 2012[41]) or others that have theoretical justification despite mixed evidence such as co-teaching in a classroom (Hattie, 2008[42]; Murawski and Lee Swanson, 2001[43]), large proportions of Portuguese teachers report never having engaged in these activities (49.5% never co-taught; 71.2% never observed a colleague (Table 6.15 in OECD (2014[6]). Thus, while there may be goodwill between teachers, this is not being systematically leveraged to encourage teachers to engage in activities that will directly improve their practice.

As noted previously, few Portuguese teachers participate in formal induction programmes, few cost-free opportunities exist for ongoing professional development and even fewer are paid accompanied by release time. Teachers have time in their schedule for departmental meetings but no stakeholders reported activities in these meetings connected to deep learning such as critiquing others’ lesson plans, looking at student work or debriefing peer observations. MacDonald (2011[44]) describes this pattern in schools as a “culture of nice” where teachers appreciate each other’s company but resist providing meaningful feedback that improves school outcomes. Combined, Portuguese lower secondary teachers reported feeling the lowest levels of professionalism – as measured by an index measuring activities such as participation in and support for various formal training activities, autonomy over curriculum and pedagogy, the receipt of classroom feedback and participation in peer networks – than in any of the 36 TALIS 2013 participating countries (Figure 2.2 in OECD (2016[45])).

This lack of attention to the development of skills for classroom observation and feedback for the purposes of instructional improvement is evident in school practices and policy implementation. While observation by formal school leaders or external observers can be framed as an accountability process, these observations can also be used to diagnose instructional problems of practice in the school and plan group or individualised professional development. However, as Figure 4.13 demonstrates, only 41% of Portuguese teachers work in schools where principals or senior staff observe lessons to monitor teaching practice and even fewer external observations occur (31%). This accords with findings at the time of the 2012 Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education in Portugal where the review team found that teacher appraisal policy provided few opportunities for feedback on practice and there were limited mechanisms to train school leaders in observation and feedback practices (Santiago et al., 2012[7]). These conditions have not changed substantively and, if anything, have worsened as career progression has been frozen since the review, obviating the accountability value of classroom observation. Even in the absence of accountability-driven observation, formative teacher appraisal driven by schools could have occurred while teachers’ career progression was frozen. Even without formal stakes, teachers could have received high-quality feedback or suggestions for professional development. However, no stakeholders reported that it was common practice for principals (or deputies) to observe classes. In some schools, there were reports of department co-ordinators observing struggling teachers but this was not a systematic practice.

Figure 4.13. Monitoring teaching practices, PISA 2015
Percentage of students in schools that use observation to monitor teaching practices, results based on school principals’ reports

Note: Select countries presented in the figure 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. Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the percentage of students in schools that use principal or senior-staff observations of lessons to monitor teaching practices.

Source: OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume II): Policies and Practices for Successful Schools,, Table II.4.39.

In addition to generalised concerns about the lack of teacher development opportunities, there are no targeted efforts to address the specific needs of teachers in high-needs schools. As noted in Chapter 3 and earlier in this chapter, there are significant concerns about the academic and socio-emotional barriers to success for students from low socio-economic backgrounds. However, insufficient attention is paid to developing the pedagogical and socio-emotional support skill sets of teachers working in high-needs schools. As noted above, less than 20% of Portuguese teachers have received training on teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings, and no programmes exist to prepare teachers to work in high-needs communities. Contrast this approach with, for example, Uruguay where the Community Teachers Programme (Programa Maestros Comunitarios) allocates one or two community teachers to disadvantaged schools. Teachers are selected based on provenance from or familiarity with the community in which they will be working and receive specific training in serving the high-needs students from this area (Santiago et al., 2016[46]).

In addition, even when conditions are appropriate for ongoing learning, the broad coverage and prescriptive nature of the national curriculum constrains pedagogical autonomy and innovation, especially in examination years. Many teachers expressed concern that the broad and superficial skills required in the national curriculum inhibited teaching for understanding and resulted in students acquiring superficial knowledge. They indicated that in order to effectively teach the curriculum, they needed to teach in rapid, sequenced, linear ways which led to extensive lecturing, with limited opportunities for re-teaching content to students who did not understand.

While there may be promise in the Project for Autonomy and Curriculum Flexibility (PACF) contracts currently in place in 235 schools, with a plan to extend them to all schools in 2018/19, there remain tensions between this flexibility and the national curricular expectations. As the OECD review of Curriculum Flexibility and Autonomy in Portugal (OECD, 2018[14]) concludes, there is a tension between promoting active learning, formative assessment and teaching for a national exam. Many teachers in stakeholder groups during the review visit indicated that these autonomy contracts did little to relieve curricular pressure. In one school visit, stakeholders shared that the only added autonomy provided by their contract was an additional 22 hours of instruction and that the teacher who taught during these hours was centrally allocated. A review of an example school contract found the following available autonomies for one school cluster of 1 305 students: 1 teacher to be allocated to the Turma+ project to add an additional class to 1 year to support struggling students (contingent on eligibility of the project for European funding), 24 teaching hours for a “Reading and Writing Workshop”, 20 teaching hours for “Practical Science Classes”, 2 student support staff and 1 permanent substitute teacher. If these reports are indicative of the typical levels of added resources and autonomies associated with these contracts, it should not be expected that they would offer substantial opportunities to create pedagogical innovations.

Finally, schools struggle to dismiss teachers even in extreme cases of underperformance. According to stakeholders, there are limited mechanisms to remove teachers, even when their behaviour is detrimental to the learning environment and safety of students. School principals representing 75.8% of Portuguese lower secondary teachers indicated on TALIS 2013 that teacher appraisal would “never” lead to dismissal or non-renewal of a contract (TALIS average: 44.0%) and only 1.8% indicated that it would lead to dismissal “most of the time” or “always” (Table 5.3.Web in OECD (2014[6])). This accords with the OECD collection of data for primary and upper secondary teachers as well (Tables D7.5a-5c in OECD (2015[47])). Several family members reported their concerns with small numbers of teachers who were derogatory or chronically absent but they reported feeling generally resigned to their children having these experiences, noting that there was no possibility of dismissing the teacher.

Formal leadership skills and responsibilities are insufficiently developed and overly focused on operational and managerial tasks

As evident in both system-level data collection and stakeholder reports during the review visit, there is an insufficient conception of school leaders as responsible for instructional leadership. Portugal has the lowest percentage of school leaders observing classroom instruction among OECD and partner countries, with only 5.2% reporting that they have observed classroom instruction “often” or “very often” in the past 12 months (see Figure 4.14). Additionally, Portuguese principals report participating in other activities such as promoting the use of new teaching practices, promoting responsibility for improving teaching skills or student outcomes at rates lower than the TALIS average. By contrast, Portuguese school leaders spend more time working on discipline problems, and especially on family interactions and the schedule of classes. These accord with impressions during school visits in which members of the Board of Directors said that they rarely engaged with teachers about instructional or pedagogical issues. Principals indicated that if a teacher was struggling, they would speak to the departmental head to provide help but did not seem to view this as primarily their responsibility.

Figure 4.14. Principals' leadership
Percentage of lower secondary education principals who report having engaged “often” or “very often” in the following leadership activities:

Source: OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning,, Table 3.2.

This lack of focus on instructional improvement may stem from the fact that the role of school leader is not conceptualised as a profession into itself. The role of principal is an elected office; this results in the role being responsive to the General Council which is often dominated by fellow teachers, rather than student interests. This challenge also originates in the initial preparation requirements to become a school leader. While formal leadership training is a bonus in candidates’ applications to the role of cluster principal, it is not a requirement to become a principal. As evident in Figure 4.15, only 39% of Portuguese principals report having strong leadership training in their studies, significantly below the TALIS average and higher only than Serbia and Croatia (not pictured). A full 24% of Portuguese principals report having no leadership training, the highest proportion in TALIS. These values likely skew to even less formal leadership training for deputy and assistant principals.

Figure 4.15. Principals’ formal education, including leadership training
Percentage of lower secondary education principals who report having received leadership training in their formal education

Notes: The leadership training index was constructed from the following variables: i) school administration or principal training programme or course; ii) teacher training/education programme or course; iii) instructional leadership training or course. Responses indicating “never” were coded as zero (0) and responses indicating that the training had occurred “before”, “after” or “before and after” were coded as one (1). Each respondent’s codes were summed to produce the following categories: 0 (no training), 1 (weak leadership training), 2 (average leadership training) and 3 (strong leadership training).

Select countries presented in the figure represent a mix of Southern European peers, Portuguese-language diaspora (Brazil) and high-performing Asian systems. TALIS average represents 31 participating countries with comparable data. Countries are ranked in descending order, based on the percentage of principals who received strong leadership training in formal education.

Source: OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning,, Table 3.11.

In addition to limited pre-service development, Portuguese leaders have access to minimal ongoing professional development for the purposes of developing instructional leadership capacities. This challenge was first highlighted at the time of the OECD Review of Evaluation and Assessment in Education: Portugal (Santiago et al., 2012[9]). The review team noted that skills for teacher appraisal were underdeveloped. Limited master’s programmes for educational evaluation existed. School leaders did not feel empowered to exercise their professional judgements of teachers’ skills. Evaluators did not have sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of evaluees. Finally, minimal training had been provided (Santiago et al., 2012[7]). All these problems continue to exist at the time of this review, with the added challenges of school leader turnover since the first round of evaluation training and limited implementation of teacher evaluation procedures as a result of career progression being frozen.

Portuguese school leaders report limited opportunities for professional learning. They collaborate with other school leaders at lower rates than the TALIS average (Figure 4.14) and less than 11% participated in a professional network or mentoring activity compared to a TALIS average of 51.1%. 23.5% of Portuguese lower-secondary principals did not participate in any professional development in the past 12 months (TALIS average: 9.5%) (Table 3.14 in OECD (2014[6])). Thus, both prior to and during their career as school leaders, Portuguese principals have little opportunity to grow in their knowledge and skill sets.

Policy recommendations

Reconsider teacher career structure to respond to shifting teacher demographics

The average age of Portuguese teachers has increased substantially over the past decade, resulting in an above-OECD average, and in particular a large proportion of teachers over the age of 50, with almost no teachers under 30. The increasingly older profile of teachers has both financial and educational implications. From an educational standpoint, students may suffer from not being exposed to a range of teacher profiles during their educational trajectory. A large body of evidence indicates that teachers improve their effectiveness tremendously in the first years of their career but they improve only marginally (if at all) after five years or so (Rockoff, 2004[33]; Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain, 2005[48]; Harris and Sass, 2011[49]; Wiswall, 2013[50]). Though debate persists about the extent of the flat-lining of teachers’ productivity and is subject to methodological specifications (Papay and Kraft, 2015[51]), teachers with more experience are incontrovertibly costlier to employ. Recent increases in the Portuguese age of retirement as part of its austerity measures were intended to reduce the country’s pension commitments. Portugal now has the third highest standard retirement age in the OECD at 66.2 years (Figure 3.8 in OECD (2017[52])) and it is projected to grow to 68 for a 20-year-old entering the labour market in 2016. These shifts will exacerbate the monochromatic, older profile of Portuguese teachers and continue to impose strains on the educational portion of the state budget.

Portugal should consider offering voluntary retirement buyouts with no pension penalty incurred. As the 2017 OECD report Pensions at a Glance argues, introducing flexible retirement rules carries many benefits, with some pitfalls to avoid (OECD, 2017[52]). Offering early retirement can provide a mechanism for ageing teachers to leave a mentally and physically demanding profession in a dignified manner. It can also limit the negative effects of teacher absenteeism resulting from incapacitation common to old age. Additionally, opening up additional teaching positions may stimulate new entrants into the profession. This infusion of new teachers could also receive cohort-wide training in line with national priorities to shape the development of the profession for the next generation. Finally, shifting the age profile of the teaching profession can reduce expenditures within the education budget by replacing high-salary senior teachers with lower-cost early-career ones. The School Resources Review of Lithuania provides some additional strategies to manage the transfer of knowledge from soon-to-be retirees to the rest of the profession and highlights some caution about appropriate long-term planning to avoid cycles of teacher oversupply and shortages (Shewbridge et al., 2016[53]).

However, flexible retirement policies should be accompanied by other complementary labour market policies to avoid possible negative side effects. Opportunities for part-time teaching should exist to make early retirement a financial possibility. Teachers need clear and honest information on the benefits they can expect to receive if they retire early to assist with making an early retirement decision to avoid mis-estimation of their financial needs in retirement (OECD, 2017[52]).

Portugal may also consider shifting the progression of teacher salary schedules to prioritise higher levels of pay in the initial years of the career, with flatter increases later on. As Figure 4.3 above shows, the rates of teacher salary increases grow after 22 years of service, in both nominal and percentage terms. Given the above evidence that the bulk of teacher effectiveness increases occurs during the early years of their careers, this may not be the most effective way to apportion incentives. As a mechanism to attract and retain new teachers to the profession and ensure they remain during their early improvement years, Portugal could consider shifting the largest salary increases to earlier in the career progression. Salary increases could be smaller in later years, resulting in an overall budget-neutral reform. Estimates in the United States context reveal the potential for improved student learning gains from just this sort of budget-neutral change to the teacher salary structure (Hendricks, 2015[27]). Austria pursued a similar approach in 2015 to attract and retain high-skill young teachers (Nusche et al., 2016[54]). However, important cautions exist: first, such an approach has high budgetary costs in the short term until current high earners at the end of their careers retire; and second, Austria created a transitional plan that allowed teachers to opt in or out of the new salary schedule, coupling the higher early career pay with an additional two hours of instruction per week. Less than 5% of new teachers chose to participate and the current government has now expressed interest in abandoning this approach.

Explore intensive residency models for teacher preparation

Teacher preparation in Portugal is unduly focused on disciplinary knowledge at the expense of opportunities to practice pedagogical skill. Wide variety exists in country practice but broad international agreement exists on the importance of opportunities to practice the skills required of teaching during initial teacher education (OECD, n.d.[55]).

Portugal should consider piloting an ISCED level 7 training programme that prioritises the development of applied pedagogical skills in an intensive teaching residency. Models of teacher residency exist in OECD countries developed based on the medical residency system (see Box 4.3 for examples from the United States). These residencies integrate aspects of traditional university classroom preparation with the on-the-job learning of alternative pathways into an immersive learning experience. The model in Portugal could include a selective application process targeting top performers in ISCED level 6 university subject-area courses. This would ensure that these prospective teachers would meet the high subject-matter expertise standards. Candidates would then be placed for a one-year residency in a local school. Prospective teachers could spend four days per week in the classroom with a highly-effective experienced teacher, progressively taking more responsibility for leading the classroom. The fifth weekday could be spent learning with the cohort of residents at a local polytechnic or university.

The effective development of this pilot depends on the quality of the polytechnic/university partnership, the skill of the host classroom teachers and the design of the residency pilot in such a way to evaluate its effectiveness. In order for the residency to provide the appropriate mix of skills, the co-operating polytechnic/university department will need to agree to design the programme curriculum to align with the goals of the project. Specifically, the coursework should efficiently introduce key theory around learning sciences, while primarily supporting teaching candidates in building skills in response to the realities they face in their classrooms. This may mean participating in non-traditional learning pedagogies such as role-play, lesson plan workshopping, etc. A second key determinant of the success of the pilot will be the quality of the co-operating teachers in which the residents are placed. Working with school leadership, residency programme leaders should work to identify high-capacity experienced teachers to serve as host classrooms for teaching candidates. Instructional as well as adult coaching skills are important in these roles. Finally, if the pilot programme is to provide valuable lessons for the broader development of teacher education in Portugal, formal evaluation structures should be in place. The evaluation should be comprehensive, measuring growth in prospective teacher skills, host school satisfaction with resident teachers and teachers rank in the national teacher selection process. In addition to these process goals, formal outcome impact assessment can be accomplished by designing the residency application process to allow identification of the causal impact of participating in the residency by comparing the growth of the students of teachers who just miss being accepted into the residency programme with those who just make it in, or by the random assignment of classes to residency graduates in their teaching placements. The design of such a pilot should consider the most appropriate actor to manage the pilot, either a unit within the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, a joint venture between them or a non-governmental actor.

Box 4.3. Urban teacher residencies (UTRs) in the United States

Urban teacher residencies (UTRs) integrate aspects of traditional and alternative teacher preparation programmes. Typically run by a US school district independently or in partnership with a non-profit organisation, residency programmes select teaching candidates to work alongside a mentor for a full year before becoming a teacher of record. Residents also complete a set of coursework leading to both state certification and a master’s degree from a partner university. In exchange for tuition remittance and a residency-year stipend, they commit to teaching in the district for a specified period, generally three to five years.

The UTR model has spread rapidly in the United States since the first programmes were launched in Boston, Chicago and Denver between 2002 and 2004, attracting substantial public and philanthropic investment. A 2016 survey of the residency landscape found at least 50 residency programmes nationwide (Guha, Hyler and Darling-Hammond, 2016[56]). The National Center for Teacher Residencies lists 28 programmes serving some of the largest US school districts (e.g. Chicago, Los Angeles and New York) (National Center for Teacher Residencies, 2018[57]). The federal government has created targeted funding programmes to support UTRs and 15 states proposed in 2018 to leverage residencies to improve teacher effectiveness (National Center for Teacher Residencies, 2018[58]). The practice-based training model developed by UTRs has also influenced broader conversations about the reform of university-based teacher preparation programmes, with an intra-state educator preparation accreditation governing body articulating clinical partnerships as one of five core principles of effective initial teacher education programmes (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, 2013[59]).

Most studies reveal improved retention outcomes for teachers entering the profession through these residencies, with potential but not definitive learning gains for students of teachers prepared through the residency pathway. Five empirical studies found teacher retention rates between 10% and 50% better than non-resident teachers in the same district (Guha, Hyler and Darling-Hammond, 2016[56]). The only existent causal evaluation of a UTR on student learning growth revealed mixed outcomes. Papay et al. (2012[60]) found that the Boston Teacher Residency produced graduates who were more likely to remain teaching in the Boston school district. However, they improved their students’ literacy skills at no higher rates than their early career peers who had not participated in a UTR. They initially underperformed their early career peers in improving their students’ mathematics performance, but outperformed them by their 4th year of teaching. The authors conclude that the programme’s overall effect was at best likely to improve overall student achievement only modestly.

Sources: National Center for Teacher Residencies (2018), NCTR's Teacher Residency Program Partners,; National Center for Teacher Residencies (2018), Part 2: States’ ESSA Plans and Teacher Residencies - NCTR,; Guha, R., M. Hyler and L. Darling-Hammond (2016), The Teacher Residency: An Innovative Model for Preparing Teachers,; Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (2013), 2013 Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Standards, CAEP, Washington, DC; Papay, J. et al. (2012), “Does an urban teacher residency increase student achievement? Early evidence from Boston”,

Though a teacher residency pilot could catalyse meaningful shifts towards more applied pre-service training in other initial teacher preparation programmes, additional work in tandem with higher education institutions will be required to fully reform the pre-service curriculum.

Examine short- and long-term approaches to better match teachers’ skills and interests with schools’ needs

Portugal is one of a handful of school systems that places teachers in schools in a national assignment process. While teachers can indicate preferences for regions or schools, these are dependent on their ranking in the placement process. Schools have no say in who they receive through either the permanent or temporary teacher assignment process. There is a rich economic literature on the benefits to productivity and job satisfaction of allowing workers and firms to mutually match (e.g. Jovanovic (1979[61])). This theoretical benefit is evident in the teaching profession as well. Jackson (2013[62]) finds that teachers’ effectiveness improves substantially when they switch to a school that matches better with their preferences. According to this study, the quality of a teachers’ match with a school explains two-thirds of their overall effectiveness. Beyond teacher instructional effectiveness, locally determined matching has benefits in terms of job satisfaction (Daly et al., 2008[63]), length of commute, absenteeism rates and school autonomy.

Of particular concern is the unique negative impact the current arrangement in Portugal has on schools serving underserved communities. Over the course of the review visit, stakeholders in Priority Educational Intervention Area (TEIP) schools indicated that there was a proportion of the school’s faculty who were not motivated to work with the particular population of students the school served. Additionally, some stakeholders reported that some teachers, including effective ones, would seek to leave challenging school environments after securing sufficient seniority to guarantee themselves a more desirable position at a lower-needs school. This practice of “teacher creaming” to more well-resourced schools is a common phenomenon observed in OECD School Resources Reviews of, among others, the Flemish Community of Belgium, the Slovak Republic and Uruguay (Nusche et al., 2015[64]; Santiago et al., 2016[65]; Santiago et al., 2016[46]) as well as in the research literature (Lankford, Loeb and Wyckoff, 2002[66]; Jackson, 2009[67]).

Thus, Portugal’s current teacher assignment policy does not maximise teachers’ or students’ interests. However, reform to this long-standing practice should preserve the advantages of the current system in terms of transparency and equity. The current process was developed to avoid local nepotism or cronyism. Multiple stakeholders expressed value in the equitable nature of the current system and others indicated that a shift would be politically unfeasible. However, room for policy innovation exists insofar as nearly all stakeholders indicated that more should be done to improve the match between under-served schools’ needs and the teachers employed in them. The subsections detail a series of politically possible short-term projects, followed by longer-term system reform options.

Short term

The OECD review team recommends that Portugal develop a force of high-skill and high-motivation teachers who have priority placement in the most challenging school contexts and receive additional support and compensation as a result. Teaching candidates would apply to a simultaneous national placement process that would be used to assign teachers to high-needs schools. Schools participating in the TEIP programme could be the primary targets. Participants in this parallel placement contest would go through a screening process to ensure they had the appropriate beliefs and attitudes to work with students and families from different backgrounds. Strong evidence indicates that teachers’ beliefs in their students’ potential is a strong predictor of their success (Boser, Wilhelm and Hanna, 2014[68]) whereas a lack of belief in their students, especially those from different backgrounds, can negatively impact their performance (Steele and Aronson, 1995[69]; Ferguson, 2003[70]).

The programme to recruit high-skill teachers to under-served contexts should be supplemented by efforts to build its profile to attract a broad base of candidates of diverse backgrounds. The programme should be accompanied by status-enhancing publicity campaigns similar to those used by Teach for All, a network of teacher-recruitment and development programmes in 45 countries that attracts teachers from non-traditional backgrounds via a rigorous and competitive application process. Additionally, specific outreach should be made to attract candidates whose socio-economic, ethnic and racial background matches the students who the Portugal education system does not currently serve well. Growing evidence supports the value of students experiencing teachers in the classrooms who are from similar backgrounds (Dee, 2005[71]; Gershenson, Holt and Papageorge, 2016[72]; Egalite and Kisida, 2018[73]). In addition to making such proposed programmes attractive through their prestige and social-welfare orientation, this programme could incentivise candidates to work in high-needs schools with additional compensation.

While building interest in working in high-needs contexts is important, fully preparing candidates to teach in these environments is critical. Portugal has no programmes designed explicitly to prepare teaching candidates to work in multicultural and multilingual contexts. Box 4.4 highlights efforts in Latvia and Malta to explicitly prepare teachers to work across differences. As a complement to the targeted recruitment and placement of teachers in under-served communities, Portugal could work with one or several polytechnics/universities to develop a graduate programme to build teachers’ abilities to successfully meet the needs of low-income, Roma, Brazilian, African Portuguese-Speaking Countries (Países Africanos de Lingua Oficial Portuguesa – PALOPs) and other groups of students who have traditionally been disfavoured in Portuguese society.

Box 4.4. Preparing for Diversity

Model programmes from Latvia and Malta

Latvia – Equal Treatment of Diversity

In Latvia, the Equal Treatment of Diversity (ETD) Master’s programme in Education Sciences and Pedagogy trains teachers with an interdisciplinary system of knowledge, skills and socio-pedagogical and psychological abilities to support the inclusion of students from diverse backgrounds in schools.

Compulsory courses include ‘International and comparative frame of educational treatment of diversity’; ‘Educational treatment of special needs proceeding from cultural diversity’; ‘Management of and programmes for the educational treatment of diversity;’ and ‘Guide for practical implementation in the educational treatment of diversity.’

The master’s coursework places students in previously unfamiliar situations and challenges them to communicate across cultural differences. Evidence exists that these forms of inter-cultural exchanges positively and significantly affect the quality of student-student and student-staff interactions, as well as the quality of diversity-related experiences through students’ participation in problem-solving and information exchange during the learning process.

University of Malta – Supporting student diversity

In Malta, the initial teacher education module on ‘Responding to student diversity in the primary classroom’ at the University of Malta has become mandatory in the Master’s in Teaching and Learning. The module aims to prepare student teachers to include students with diverse backgrounds in their lessons and to help them blend theory and practice in responding to student diversity.

Theoretical component: In the first semester, student teachers are first introduced to issues of student diversity and inclusion and how these can be addressed in the classroom, including using individual educational plans (IEPs). This is done mainly through reflection on one’s own background, discussion and group work.

Practical component: In the second semester, while student teachers are doing their six-week block teaching practice, they identify a student who is having particular difficulties with classwork or in social adaptation, and they plan and implement a strategy for that student’s inclusion in their lessons.

The main strength of the measure is the blending of theory and practice. Student teachers are first prepared in how to recognise difference, how to draw up an individualised plan, how to modify the classroom environment and lesson content, process and products which they then have an opportunity to implement during teaching practice.

Source: Public Policy Management Institute (2017), Preparing Teachers for Diversity: The Role of Initial Teacher Education Final Report, European Commission Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture.

Finally, since individual schools best understand the needs of their students, school clusters participating in this pilot could express preferences for the characteristics and skill sets of prospective teachers for their schools. Clusters’ ability to influence the particular teachers chosen for their schools could range from minimal, e.g. setting a preference for an Arabic-speaking teacher, to substantial, e.g. placing representatives on a hiring panel with the discretion to approve all candidates. The following subsection outlines more approaches to integrating local preferences in hiring decisions while preventing favouritism and promoting transparency.


Simultaneous to or after the development of a programme to ensure that there exists a mutual match between the interests and abilities of teachers and the needs of schools serving under-resourced communities, Portugal can explore a system-wide reform to its teacher placement process. Portugal should consider creating regional or local hiring competitions that use multiple screens and actors to preserve impartiality. Multiple methods could be explored to preserve impartiality but ensure mutual matches. For instance, regional or municipal review panels could identify sets of qualified candidates who enter into a local hiring pool. These panels could include members from schools, municipalities and the ministry to balance local interests with national standards. The panel screen could then present a list of qualified candidates to school leaders, and school leaders would be free to pick from among the list. An alternative process could involve a system where school leaders can view teacher profiles and exert some level of influence on the placement of a new teacher in the school. For example, school leaders could have veto power over a defined number of teachers if they felt that the profile of the teacher did not match their needs. There could be a more formal probationary period where if a teacher was deemed ineffective in a particular school context within a set timeline, school leaders could request the re-assignment of this teacher to another context. While there are several methods to accomplish this end, the key is to achieve some level of mutual consent in placement between teacher and school.

As important as the mutual agreement between school and teacher in making matches, the criteria by which teachers are screened and selected for open positions is even more so. Currently, teacher rankings in the national competition are based primarily on university course grades and years of experience. However, extensive evidence suggests these are not effective predictors of teaching skill (Kane, Rockoff and Staiger, 2008[74]; Boyd et al., 2008[34]; Staiger and Rockoff, 2010[75]; Rockoff et al., 2011[32]; Rockoff, 2004[33]). Thus, reforming the ranking system to include multiple internal and external observations of student and temporary teachers would improve the quality of the ranking system. This could be incorporated into the local hiring process described above, such that an initial screen could be performed on standardised indicators such as higher education marks and student-teacher ratings, and then final selection at the school level would be determined by several observations of teaching practice.

Analyse staffing needs across educator category and revisit appropriate balance

Multiple stakeholders repeatedly stressed the shortage of operational assistants. However, though data is limited on this, Portugal appears to staff these positions at levels at least comparable if not higher than other OECD countries. Further, Portugal has very high teaching staffing levels. In addition, the evidence on the educational benefits of learning support staff is quite mixed (contrast, for example, the benefits Banerjee et al. (2007[76]) found in developing country contexts with the lack of impact Mosteller (1995[77]) found in the United States). Ultimately, Portugal must address these concerns around a shortage of operational assistants through a needs-assessment study. The study should examine what roles are currently performed by operational assistants, how their time is spent, what needs schools have that are currently unmet and whether operational assistants are the key employment category to fill these responsibilities.

As part of this needs-assessment, it will be valuable to explore the extent to which these concerns on staff shortages are manifestations of the need for support for students with behavioural disorders and/or special educational needs. School stakeholders tended to describe the benefits of operational assistants as able to supervise students in corridors, play areas and help when students were misbehaving in class. If these are the primary needs schools experience, increased training for all staff in developing trauma-sensitive schools and building school culture (Souers and Hall, 2016[78]) may be a more efficient and effective use of resources than investing in untrained support staff.

Support schools to become learning organisations – for adults as well as students

Portuguese schools are not currently sites where adults engage in significant collective learning activities. Given Portugal’s centralised administrative structure, central authorities have a meaningful opportunity to both mobilise and support efforts to help schools become learning organisations. However, this needs to be balanced with providing local autonomy to schools to help them take responsibility for improving results and reducing the impact of students’ background on their learning. Given the documented ineffective time use by Portuguese teachers, collaboration for the purpose of instructional improvement may generate outsize gains in teaching quality. Portugal’s education sector should consider four levers for instructional improvement: i) induction, mentoring and coaching; ii) teacher teaming; iii) peer observation and feedback; and iv) formal appraisal for the purpose of growth.

Induction, mentoring and coaching

While Portuguese teachers report participating in frequent informal induction and mentoring experiences, no formal induction programme exists within the public school system. Furthermore, no formal mentorship or coach roles exist. These three types of support for new (or struggling teachers) are related but distinct. Induction focuses on a series of activities to orient teachers to the profession or context of a new school. Mentoring more often focuses on providing general advice rather than responding directly to observed classroom practices (Wildman et al., 1992[79]). While induction and mentoring show mixed results, intensive teacher coaching has been demonstrated across multiple contexts to improve teaching practice and student achievement outcomes (Powell et al., 2010[80]; Campbell and Malkus, 2011[81]; Allen et al., 2011[82]; Kraft and Blazar, 2016[83]). In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 44 causal research studies found improvements in teaching practices on the order of a half of a standard deviation and on student achievement of around a fifth of a standard deviation (Kraft, Blazar and Hogan, 2018[84]).

Portugal should create formal induction and coaching supports for new and struggling teachers. Portuguese schools already provide multiple leadership opportunities at departmental, class and school levels for its teachers. However, these leadership roles do not tend to provide direct support to teachers’ instructional practices. A shift of the conception of teaching leadership roles to involve more direct feedback on practice could have significant positive impacts on teachers’ growth trajectories.

Teacher teams

Portugal should work to establish professional learning communities in schools through capacity development and use of non-teaching time in educator teams. This can be accomplished through a combination of reconceptualising the role of department co-ordinators and class heads, repurposing some portions of non-instructional time away from tutorials towards goal-oriented team meetings and building the capacity of teachers to work in teams through system-wide professional development priorities. Teachers have time devoted to meeting with their colleagues during the school day in Portugal but, during the review visit, few teachers indicated that they felt this time was used effectively.

Portugal can consider building teachers’ capacity to collaborate in ways similar to those articulated in Ontario, Canada (Box 4.5). Central (or in the case of Ontario, subcentral) officials have a critical role to play in the successful execution of these school-level practices. Creating resources, protocols and providing technical support have been critical tools in the spread of such practices.

Peer observation and feedback

As it stands, teachers rarely observe each other teaching in Portugal. While a sudden culture change is unlikely to take root overnight, Portugal can consider incremental steps to open up the classroom door to promote the sharing of strong practices and the development of pedagogical skills. As a first step, Portugal should develop the capacity of departmental co-ordinators and class heads to observe and provide regular feedback to teachers. This might be accomplished through the formal writing of this expectation into the roles and responsibilities of the position. Additionally, or alternatively, targeted professional development or working groups for these categories of educators could be used to build capacity for these mid-level leaders to observe and provide feedback.

Formal appraisal and feedback

Portugal should move incrementally towards meaningful feedback and appraisal for teachers. Portugal’s current appraisal framework only requires observation of teaching practice in the case where a teacher seeks a rating higher than “good”, or when an evaluator seeks to assign a rating of “insufficient” for most steps of the career progression. Furthermore, due to the recent freeze of career progressions, there have been essentially no formal appraisals that include an observation of teachers’ practice since the framework for appraisals was instituted in 2007 and career progressions have been frozen since 2008. It is politically infeasible and inadvisable to attempt an immediate shift to high-stakes, large-scale, rigorous appraisal based on observation of teaching practice and student outcomes.

Box 4.5. Types of teacher collaboration in schools in Ontario, Canada

The Canadian province of Ontario has invested significant energy in supporting teachers to successfully and effectively collaborate. The Ontario Ministry of Education produces a series of Capacity Building briefs that share actionable strategies for teachers and leaders to improve their practice. The ministry supports a process of “collaborative inquiry” in which teachers working in teams at their school research problems of practice. They generate evidence of what is and is not working at their school, make decisions about interventions, take action and then evaluate the effectiveness of their intervention before starting the cycle over again (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2014[85]) – a modified version of Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle (Deming, 2000[86]).

Among other actions that teachers are encouraged to participate in through collaborative inquiry include:

  1. 1. Co-teaching classes: Involves a small group of teachers co-planning a lesson, co-teaching that lesson with assigned roles and reflecting on the student learning outcomes of the learning experience, including naming evidence of the impact on student learning.

  2. 2. Teaching Learning Critical Pathway: Inquiry involving the gathering of data, analysing it to determine area of greatest student need, identifying relevant curriculum, reviewing current practice, determining assessments to be used to monitor student learning, planning a teaching block of time (approximately six weeks), sharing evidence of student learning with other teachers, developing and administering a culminating task, engaging in teacher moderation of student work from the task and reflecting on what has been learned and what the next steps are in teacher learning.

  3. 3. Looking at Student Work (LASW): Educators collaboratively discuss student work based on common assessment criteria.

  4. 4. Deconstructing curriculum: Educators examine curriculum expectations in order to understand what is written as it might be translated into what students learn.

  5. 5. Examining student learning progression: Deconstruct a curriculum concept from when a child enters schools through many years or levels to understand what a student is expected to learn at each level of the system.

  6. 6. Monitoring marker students: Teachers pick a small number of students in a class, year or school, share their assessment results with others in the school and document the use of teaching strategies against the learning outcomes for these students.

Sources: Deming, W. (2000), The New Economics: For Industry, Government, Education, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA; Ontario Ministry of Education (2014), Capability Building Series: Collaborative Inquiry in Ontario; Nusche, D. et al. (2016), OECD Reviews of School Resources: Denmark 2016

Rather, Portugal should consider investing in ongoing capacity development support for teacher evaluation among its school principals (including deputy and assistant principals). Compelling evidence exists that if school principals do not feel skilled or have the time to successfully evaluate their staff, they will not do so (Kraft and Gilmour, 2016[87]). Principals should be paired with the external evaluators provided for in the current evaluation framework to build appraisal capacity throughout the school system and especially at the school level. Once confident in the majority of evaluators’ alignment, Portugal should reintroduce observation-based appraisals tied to teachers’ progression past Steps 2, 4 and 6 of the teaching career. The initial goal of these appraisals should be primarily developmental in nature. Thus, the emphasis can be on ensuring the quality of the feedback is high, rather than on assigning a certain proportion of teachers to each of the five rating levels. As the OECD Review of Teacher Evaluation in Portugal (2009[10]) recommended, schools could develop an internal component of the evaluation system that had as its products: i) a qualitative assessment of the teacher’s practice; and ii) a personalised professional development based on the appraisal for each teacher.

Leverage network of Regional Training Centres to provide more incentives and opportunities to participate in ongoing professional development

The strength of the Regional Training Centres lies in their ability to respond to the authentic challenges faced by educators in schools around the country and to design a sequence of learning events to build skill and collaboration to respond to these challenges. Portugal can leverage the credibility these centres have, as well as the practice-informed problems they address, to promote system-wide priorities. Based on articulated needs on PISA, TALIS and through site visit focus groups, clear priorities exist for ongoing professional development around: i) teacher-driven, in-class formative assessment; ii) responding to difference among students; iii) building student relationships and classroom management; and iv) the use of ICT in the classroom. Portugal should leverage the Regional Training Centres to build skills in teachers around the country in these areas. To complement the bottom-up, volunteer-reliant existing model of Regional Training Centres, Portugal will need to invest additional resources in the centres to allow them to recruit external expertise, increase the centres’ organisational capacity and, potentially, to provide teachers release time or remunerate them for their time participating in ongoing professional development. As noted above, Portugal trails OECD and TALIS averages in its support of ongoing professional development activities. Further, the recent unfreezing of the teacher career progression pathway now reinstates incentives for teachers to pursue professional development. This creates a meaningful opportunity to strategically grow teachers’ skills. The financial investment need not be substantial in order to significantly extend opportunities for teachers to participate in professional development.

Reconceptualise educator career development, including re-imagining formal leadership roles as professional pathways

The Portuguese education system already has a strong concept of the formal school leader as a career teacher who must bring instructional expertise to the role. Portugal should build off this conception of principals as instructional leaders to expand expectations that they are the strategic and pedagogic leaders of the school. This requires re-envisioning the roles of school leaders as professionalised ones that mandate candidates acquire additional skills beyond the ones they developed as teachers.

School leaders should have formal training in educational strategy, system management and adult learning. These should complement the training required of department heads in school management, teacher evaluation or pedagogical supervision. By linking the development of skill sets across roles, Portugal can create a sequenced, professional pathway for teachers to take on additional leadership responsibility, from classroom teacher to department head, to assistant/deputy principal to cluster principal. Some of Portugal’s higher education institutions already offer master’s degrees in educational administration that cover these critical responsibilities (e.g. education management master’s programmes at the University of Lisbon, ISG University of Business and Economics, the Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon, the Catholic University of Portugal and ISCTE-University Institute of Lisbon). The challenge is now to develop a sequenced leadership development pathway starting with classroom teachers through experienced school leaders and extend these skills across the system. Box 4.6 highlights programmes Singapore uses to develop early-career leaders (Management and Leadership Studies Programme) and promising mid-career leaders (Leaders in Education Programme). Critically, Singapore conceives of the progression of teachers interested in leadership opportunities as one requiring a sequential progression in which key skills must be acquired at benchmark points during their career development.

Once in the role, school principals continue to benefit from opportunities for growth and development. Portugal should develop more explicit connections between school leaders from various clusters to allow leadership teams to collaborate and learn from each other. As Box 4.7 highlights, explicit allocation of resources to free up school leaders’ time and strategic decisions about the leadership developmental areas on which to focus are important. Further, as principals develop expertise over the course of their tenure in the role, they should be provided with the opportunity to mentor other principals. As in the Flemish Community of Belgium where a co-ordinating principal guides the other principals within her school association, Portugal could consider creating formal opportunities for cross-school leadership for successful cluster principals.

Box 4.6. Preparing leaders in Singapore

The Management and Leadership Studies (MLS) Program

The Management and Leadership Studies (MLS) Program is designed for teacher leaders who are department, year or subject group heads. It comprises 17 weeks of funded training, during which time they receive their full salary. Participants attend a series of courses to develop leadership, teaming and operational management skills. They also spend a week travelling to another Asia-Pacific country to provide them with new perspectives on the Singaporean context (Keo, 2016[88]). From this programme, candidates become competitive for the positions of assistant principal or may move to the National Institute for Education (NIE), Singaporean Ministry of Education.

The Leaders in Education Program (LEP)

The Singaporean Leaders in Education Program (LEP) is a highly selective programme that prepares highly effective assistant principals and ministry officials for the principalship. The programme was launched in 2001 by the National Institute for Education (NIE). Between 30 and 40 candidates are selected in each cohort for an intensive six-month executive education programme based on their prior performance appraisals, situational tests, a professional portfolio and selection interviews. Once selected, they receive a full salary, while participating full-time in the LEP programme. The programme aims to develop capacity that is “values-based, purposeful, and forward-looking, anchored on both strong people leadership and instructional leadership” (Jayapragas, 2016[89]). The curriculum draws on leaders in adult learning to develop five skill sets: the disciplined mind; the synthesising mind; the creating mind; the respectful mind; and the ethical mind (Walker, Bryant and Lee, 2013[90]).

Every LEP cohort member is placed in a local school in Singapore where they are mentored by an experienced principal. In the school, they conduct a Creative Action Project to design an innovation alongside the school’s faculty with the goal of transforming the school over the long term. Participants also take part in a two-week international study trip in order to gain comparative perspectives on school leadership.

The LEP has had positive participant feedback, but to date, no formal evaluation exists assessing its impact on leaders’ future skills or on student learning outcomes.

Sources: Jayapragas, P. (2016), “Leaders in education program: The Singapore model for developing effective principal-ship capability”, Current Issues in Comparative Education, Vol. 19/191, pp. 92-108; Walker, A., D. Bryant and M. Lee (2013), “International patterns in principal preparation: Commonalities and variations in pre-service programmes”,; Keo, S. (2016), Shaping Strong Principals in Singapore: Success by Design,

Box 4.7. Networks for school leaders in the Flemish Community of Belgium

In 1999, the authorities of the Flemish Community of Belgium launched a policy to encourage school leader collaboration through the establishment of “school associations” (scholengemeenschappen) in secondary education. In 2003, school associations were also introduced in the primary sector. School associations are collaborative partnerships between schools in the same geographical area. On average, they comprise between 6 and 12 schools. In 2010, the vast majority of schools (96.7%) belonged to a school community. The key goal of this initiative is to strengthen schools’ organisational and leadership capacities through increased co-operation. In secondary education, the policy also aims to improve the co-operation of schools in the supply of study options, career guidance and efficient use of resources. Joining a school association is voluntary, but the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training provides incentives for schools to join an association by attributing resources to the association and granting more organisational flexibility in the case of secondary schools. School associations receive a package of points for the management and support staff in their schools, which are then redistributed among the individual schools in the community based on a repartition system agreed between the schools forming the community. In elementary education, some of these points may be used to appoint a co-ordinating principal of the school community, and in secondary education, the school community can retain up to 10% of the points to ensure its own functioning.

In some respects, Portugal’s school clusters reproduce many of the same possibilities for leadership capacity development as the Flemish Community’s school associations. Several key differences exist, however. First, formal opportunities and resources exist for leadership development in the Flemish Community but these are absent in Portugal. Second, Flemish schools participating in school associations preserve their building-level principal in addition to benefiting from the co-ordinating principal. This additional resource performs the full duties of instructional improvement, strategy development, etc. This is an important distinction with the current responsibilities of the school co-ordinator within Portuguese school clusters.

Source: Nusche, D. et al. (2015), OECD Reviews of School Resources: Flemish Community of Belgium 2015,


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Annex 4.A. Current expenditures
Annex Figure 4.A.1. Composition of current expenditure in public educational institutions, 2014

1. Some levels of education are included with others. Refer to "x" code in Table B6.1 for details.

2. Year of reference: 2015.

3. Year of reference: 2013.

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order of the share of all staff compensation in primary education.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2017), Education at a Glance Database, See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (

Annex 4.B. Staff salary and working conditions
Annex Figure 4.B.1. Ratio of students to teaching staff in upper secondary education, by type of institution, 2015

1. Some levels of education are included with others. See Table D2.3 or Annex 3 for details.

2. Upper secondary education includes lower secondary.

3. Government-dependent private institutions only.

Note: Countries are ranked in descending order of the ratio of students to teaching staff in public institutions.

Source: OECD/UIS/Eurostat (2017), Education at a Glance Database,, Table D2.3. See Source for more information and Annex 3 for notes (

Annex Figure 4.B.2. Number of teaching hours per year in general lower secondary education, 2000, 2005 and 2015
Net statutory contact time in public institutions

1. Actual teaching time.

2. Year of reference 2013 instead of 2015.

Note: Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of the number of teaching hours per year in general lower secondary education in 2015.

Source: OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,, Table D4.2. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (

Annex Figure 4.B.3. Access to formal and informal induction programmes or activities
Percentage of lower secondary education teachers whose school principal reports the existence of formal and informal activities

Note: Countries are ranked in ascending order, based on the cumulative percentage of teachers whose school principal reports access to formal induction programmes for all new teachers to the school and for only teachers new to teaching.

Source: OECD (2014), TALIS 2013 Results: An International Perspective on Teaching and Learning,, Table 4.1.

Annex Figure 4.B.4. Lower secondary teachers’ statutory salaries at different points in teachers’ careers, 2015
Annual statutory salaries of teachers in public institutions, in equivalent USD converted using purchasing power parity (PPP)

1. Actual base salaries.

2. Salaries at top of scale and typical qualifications, instead of maximum qualifications.

3. Salaries at top of scale and minimum qualifications, instead of maximum qualifications.

4. Includes the average of fixed bonuses for overtime hours.

Note: Countries and economies are ranked in descending order of starting salaries for lower secondary teachers with minimum qualifications.

Source: OECD (2017), Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators,, Table D3.1a, Tables D3.1b and D3.6, available on line. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes (

Annex Table 4.B.1. Percentage of teaching time devoted to tutorials











Permanent contracts (%)










Temporary contracts (%)










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

Annex 4.C. Attractiveness of teaching profession
Annex Figure 4.C.1. Percentage of 15-year-old students intending to enter teaching profession

Note: Select countries presented in the figure 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 (2018), Effective Teacher Policies: Insights from PISA


← 1. Comparisons between countries and to cross-country averages on the OECD Teacher and Leader International Survey (TALIS) should be made with great caution. Comparison of single items may capture variation that is not reflective of the latent attribute being measured. TALIS does not support comparison of indices across country settings as its analytic approach – continuous multi-group confirmatory factor analysis (MGCFA) – cannot determine whether the level of an index in one setting corresponds substantively to the same level in a different setting. On the other hand, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) makes efforts to construct indices of student responses that permit cross-country comparisons through testing scalar invariance with categorical multi-group confirmatory factor analysis (MGCFA), which permits linkage of items across countries. Nevertheless, there exists disagreement about whether metric and scalar invariance can be truly achieved in cross-cultural studies. This report avoids comparisons between TALIS indices across countries and reports single-item TALIS comparisons for illustrative purposes only. One instance in which cross-country comparisons are more justifiably supported in TALIS is when school principals report on policy frameworks as these questions tend to demand simple, objective response. Thus, the report presents comparative evidence on these items.

← 2. An additional role of Head of Administrative Services sometimes also exists to manage operational and business aspects of the school. This role tends not to be filled by an educator or professional teacher. This role does not exist in all clusters. Teachers may also participate in the leadership structure of the school through election to the General Councils (see Chapter 3).

← 3. PISA asked students how frequently (“never or almost never”, “some lessons”, “many lessons” or “every lesson or almost every lesson”) the following events happen in their science lessons: “The teacher explains scientific ideas”; “A whole class discussion takes place with the teacher”; “The teacher discusses our questions”; and “The teacher demonstrates an idea”. The index of teacher-directed instruction combines these four questions to measure the extent to which science teachers direct student learning in science lessons. Higher values on this index and other indices on science instruction indicate more frequent use of these strategies, according to students’ reports.

← 4. PISA asked students how frequently (“never or almost never”, “some lessons”, “many lessons” or “every lesson or almost every lesson”) the following happens in their science lessons: “The teacher adapts the lesson to my class’s needs and knowledge”; “The teacher provides individual help when a student has difficulties understanding a topic or task”; and “The teacher changes the structure of the lesson on a topic that most students find difficult to understand”. The index of adaptive instruction combines these three questions to measure the extent to which students perceive that their science teachers adapt their instruction based on students’ needs, knowledge and abilities.

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