The Portuguese formal educational system is structured as follows:
- Pre-primary education (0 to 5 years-old):
- Nursey (0-2);
- Kindergarten (3-5).
- Basic education (6 to 14 years-old):
- 1st Cycle;
- 2nd cycle;
- 3rd cycle.
- Secondary education (15 to 17 years-old).
- Higher education (18 years-old onwards).
Every classes in public schools and universities are taught in Portuguese.
Children from four months-old (the usual maternity leave) until they are three years-old may frequent a nursery (Infantário or Creche). The large majority of nurseries are private. Other are run by the Portuguese Social Security and are partly financed by the State. In these nurseries, parents pay according to their income level.
In Portugal, pre-primary education is optional from the ages of three to five, and is provided in both state-run and private kindergartens schools. State-run kindergartens provision is free of charge. The schools are known as Jardins de Infância (Kindergartens). Most international schools offer an international approach to pre-primary learning and follow a curriculum.
Basic Education (Ensino Básico) consists of nine years of schooling divided into three sequential cycles of education of four, two and three years. The stages are, respectively, 1º Ciclo (1st Cycle), 2º Ciclo (2nd Cycle) and 3º Ciclo (3rd Cycle). A Diploma/Certificate is awarded at the end of the third stage.
Children aged six by 15 September must be enrolled in their first school year in that calendar year. In addition, children who turn the age of six between 16 September and 31 December may be authorized to attend the first stage of education, provided a request is submitted by their parents or guardians to the nearest school to their residence (or place of work) during the annual enrollment period.
State-run schools are free of charge. When these schools in the area are filled to capacity, private school tuition is refunded by the State, in part or fully.
The first cycle of basic mandatory education covers years 1st-4th, the second cycle years 5th-6th and the third cycle years 7th-9th. The curriculum contains only general education until the 9th year at which point vocational subjects are introduced.
Schools do not offer, nor sell, any books or materials, although financial assistance is available for low-income families. The school books are chosen at school’s level every four years.
First cycle State-run schools are owned by the municipalities, while all other State-run schools are owned by the State.