Education Policy Outlook Highlights: Portugal


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  Last update 28 October 2014  
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Portugal’s educational context

Students: Portugal has made major improvements across PISA cycles in mathematics, reading and science, with performance in PISA 2012 around the OECD average in mathematics and below the OECD average in reading and science. The impact of students’ socio-economic background on mathematics performance and grade repetition rates is higher than the average for other OECD countries. Portugal system-level practices include enrolment rates for 3-4 year-olds above the OECD average, universal enrolment for 5-14 year-olds and compulsory education recently extended to 12 years (from age 6 to age 18) – one of the longest periods of compulsory schooling among OECD countries. Attainment rates at upper secondary and tertiary levels are below the OECD average, and enrolment in upper secondary vocational education and training (VET) is around the OECD average. Portugal has steadily reduced dropout since 2000, accelerating the decrease in recent years, although it remains high compared to the average of OECD countries. Unemployment rates are above the OECD average for all education attainment levels.

Institutions: Teachers in Portugal undertake initial training (including a teaching practicum), have compulsory continuous training and benefit from comparatively high salaries. Teachers’ workload is heavier than the OECD average, but significant time reductions are possible for most teachers from age 50. In PISA 2012, school leaders report levels of instructional leadership similar to the OECD average, and they now take specialised mandatory training. Teacher appraisal is recent and focuses more on accountability for purposes of career progression than on improvement. School self-evaluations and external evaluations are also new, and not all schools carry out self-evaluations. Schools organise internal student assessments for all subjects and the Educational Evaluation Institute (Instituto de Avaliação Educativa, IAVE I.P, 2013) carries out external student assessments for mathematics and Portuguese.

Governance and funding: The Ministry of Education and Science (Ministério da Educação e Ciência) is responsible for education and science policies, and there is some decentralisation towards school and municipality levels. In tertiary education, the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (Agência de Avaliação e Acreditação do Ensino Superior, A3ES) evaluates the creation of tertiary graduate programmes, based on EU guidelines. The share of GDP devoted to education is below the OECD average, with a higher proportion of public funding than the OECD average.

Key policy issues

Portugal faces the challenges of ensuring that all students complete compulsory education, increasing attainment rates in upper-secondary and tertiary education, and offering the quality and inclusive education for all students that is relevant to labour market needs. Portugal needs to continue to define professional pathways for teachers and school principals, providing relevant training and implementing reform of the teacher training system. Further developing an integrated evaluation and assessment framework centred on quality student learning would help move beyond the objective of accountability to provide clearer information on how schools, school leaders and teachers can improve in the classroom. It is also important to continue increasing autonomy, while providing support and capacity for schools and local and regional levels, and to improve the use of financial resources.

Recent policy responses

Portugal is implementing policies to reduce early school dropout and increase educational attainment and qualifications of the workforce. The Programme to Combat School Failure and Early School Leaving (Programa de Combate ao Insucesso e Abandono Escolar, 2012) aims to support students at risk of dropping out, reintegrate those who have dropped out and strengthen VET in upper-secondary education. A National Qualifications System and National Qualifications Framework were created in 2007 to boost transparency and comparability across the education system.

Portugal launched a major reform on school leadership in 2008 that increased the leadership authority of the school director (Decree-Law 137/2012) and, in 2014, introduced other major reforms to strengthen the teaching profession at different career points (before entrance, during initial training, at entry to the profession, and throughout their professional careers) to allow teachers to continue improving and progressing.

Portugal has promoted decentralisation policies at local and school levels. A decree expanded funding responsibilities of municipalities from pre-schooling up to lower secondary education (2008) for such things as infrastructure, school social action or hiring of non-teaching staff. Schools were granted much greater autonomy in the curriculum (Curriculum Reform, 2012) and the possibility of voluntary autonomy agreements.

Portugal performed at around the OECD average in mathematics in PISA 2012 (mean score of 487 compared to the OECD average of 494), with significant improvement compared to previous PISA cycles from 2000 to 2009. In PISA 2012, the impact of socio-economic background on mathematics performance of 15 year old students in Portugal was 19.6%, above the OECD average of 14.8%.


In 2011, 58% of 25 34 year-olds have attained at least secondary education (compared to the OECD average of 82%) and 28% have attained tertiary education (compared to the OECD average of 39%).



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