Country information for Portugal - Legislation and policy
As the education system in Portugal has evolved over the years, government initiatives have dealt with individuals and/or groups identified as requiring special education. Some initiatives, although chronologically important, have been omitted from this list because they involved no specific, organised social or educational intervention.
An important milestone was the creation of the first special classes in primary schools in 1946. Initially these were for learners with a physical or intellectual disability. Later, learners with learning difficulties and minor disabilities were included. The António Aurélio da Costa Ferreira Institute was the state institute responsible for giving guidance to these classes and for training the teachers involved.
In the 1960s, the Ministry of Health and Assistance created the Institute for Providing Assistance for Minors. Centres for special education, observation and assessment were set up. They adopted a medical pedagogic approach and were responsible for detecting, observing and referring learners to schools that provided special education or similar provision. The first courses were also organised to give specialist training to teachers.
The revolution in 1974 replaced dictatorship with democracy. The state provided organised response to some types of (sensory) disability, but it was insufficient and ineffective from an educational and social point of view. Aided by specialists and teaching staff, the parents’ associations’ movement developed many socio-educational activities and organised and created schools for learners with disabilities. Through these associations and co‑operatives, the first schools for learners with intellectual disabilities were introduced throughout the country. The most important centres were the Co‑operatives for the Education and Rehabilitation of Children with Learning Difficulties. Today, these are still important in finding solutions for people with disabilities. In some cases they are also a specialised resource serving the educational community.
In the early 1970s, the Ministry of Education began to pass legislation that specifically addressed educational structures for ‘those with disabilities and those with learning difficulties’. To this end it created two departments within the Ministry itself: the Department for Special Education to cover compulsory education (basic education) and the Department of Special and Vocational Education for upper-secondary education. The Ministry gave its support to the schools and assumed responsibility for providing specialised teacher training for those working with learners with disabilities. The courses administered by the António Aurélio da Costa Ferreira Institute were restructured accordingly.
Regional support structures were also organised in the mid-1970s. Special education teams were only recognised in 1988 with the publication of Joint Order No. 36/SEAM/SERE/88, 17 August. This aimed to develop integrated teaching for children with disabilities and adolescents with sight, hearing or physical impairments. This was also approved later for those with intellectual disabilities.
Education for all is based on the protection of individual rights by applying the principle of equal opportunity to education and the criteria of pedagogic and social justice. It is expressed clearly through full participation and co-operation among all those involved in education.
Special education was guided by the principles enshrined in legislation, which comprised:
- Education Act
- Law No. 46/86, 14 October
- Decree-Law No. 35/90, 25 January
- Decree-Law No. 3/2008, 7 January.
The underlying philosophy was based on several international resolutions, including the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education.
Crucial to preserving the right, duty and responsibility of the state and civic society in dealing with people with disabilities and/or specific needs were:
- developing ideas and scientific and pedagogic research around inclusive education at national and international level;
- the contribution of reformist attitudes that had brought change to the education system since the late 1980s, expressed in the Education Act;
- recommendations made by international bodies on access for pupils with disabilities to the mainstream education system;
- the experience collected over the years in which pupils with disabilities attended mainstream schooling.
In 2018, new legislation on inclusive education came into force (Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July). It aims for high-quality equitable education within an education system that serves all learners. In particular, it considers vulnerable learners who have been excluded from educational opportunities for school success, those from poorest households, ethnic and linguistic minorities and with specific needs and disabilities. In brief, according to the new decree-law:
- Every student has the right to an inclusive education that responds to their potential, expectations and needs within the framework of a common and plural educational endeavour that provides everyone with the sense of participation and belonging in authentic conditions of equity. It therefore contributes decisively to greater levels of social cohesion.
- The curriculum and learning are at the centre of the school activity.
- The law reflects a move away from the rationale that it is necessary to categorise to intervene. Rather, it seeks to ensure that all learners reach the Learner Profile at the end of compulsory education, even if it is through differentiated learning paths that allow each learner to progress in the curriculum in a way that ensures their educational success.
- A universal design for learning methodology and a multi-level approach to accessing the curriculum are the foundations of the decree-law. It is based on flexible curricular models, systematic monitoring of the effectiveness of interventions and dialogue between teachers and parents or caregivers. There is a choice of measures to support learning, organised at different levels of intervention, according to the educational responses necessary for each learner to acquire a common base of competences, while valuing their potential and interests.
- The educational approach that is now promoted requires an evaluation of the required learning supports. This should consider the learners’ academic, behavioural, social and emotional aspects, but also environmental factors. This represents a decisive step in the sequencing and dynamics of any intervention.
- The role of parents and guardians is reinforced by ensuring they enact the rights and duties that are conducive to their full involvement in the entire educational process of their children.
Specific legislative framework
According to the Education Act (Law No. 46/86, 14 October), special education is a specific type of education that facilitates the socio-educational recuperation and integration of individuals with SEN caused by physical or intellectual disability.
Including pupils with SEN in the mainstream schooling system as an educational strategy was enshrined in Law No. 9/89, 2 May on Prevention and the Rehabilitation and Integration of Persons with Disabilities.
Decree-Law No. 35/90, 25 January, stipulates that learners with SEN resulting from physical or intellectual disabilities are obliged to attend compulsory schooling.
Decree-Law No. 319/91, 23 August, called for mainstream schools to take greater responsibility for the problems of learners with disabilities or learning difficulties. It also opened schools up to pupils with SEN (‘schools for all’) and more explicitly recognised the parents’ role in their children’s educational guidance. Moreover, it provided a set of measures, according to the principle that the education of pupils with SEN must be carried out in the least restrictive environment possible.
Decree-Law No. 3/2008, 7 January, defined the specialised support provided in state, private and co-operative pre-primary, compulsory and secondary education. The aim is to create the conditions to adjust the educational process to meet the needs of pupils with major limitations in terms of activity and participation in one or more areas. These needs could be due to permanent functional and structural issues, resulting in continued difficulty in communication, learning, mobility, autonomy, interpersonal relationships and social involvement.
Decree-Law No. 20/2006, 31 January, defines the procedures for the teacher placement application system, creating a special education recruitment group for the first time. It repealed Decree-Law No. 35/03, 27 February.
Law No. 85/2009, 27 August, establishes compulsory schooling for children and young people of school age and guarantees the universal right to pre-primary education for children aged five years and upwards.
Law No. 46/2006, 28 August, outlaws and punishes discrimination around disability and severe health risk.
Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July, abandons categorisation systems for learners, including the ‘category’ of special educational needs. As such, it removes segregation and discrimination based on diagnosis or clinical labels, and special legislation frameworks for learners with special needs from the educational system. The Decree covers all learners.
Implementing the principles of the new law requires:
- more time and space for dialogue and co-operation;
- increased learner participation;
- more involvement of parents and families;
- multi-level intervention;
- flexible curriculum management;
- focus on the person-environment interaction;
- monitoring and evaluation.
Mainstream schools are supported by a national network of Information and Communication Technology Resource Centres, which assess pupils’ needs for assistive technology, and 93 Resource Centres for Inclusion (RCIs). The RCIs, which were formerly special schools, provide specialised support through partnerships with mainstream schools.
The transformation of the special schools into RCIs, since 2008, has become an essential tool for implementing Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Ministry of Education introduced an accreditation process that extended the national coverage of the RCIs.
Last updated 08/04/2020