Country information for Portugal - Legislation and policy
As the education system in Portugal has evolved over the years, government initiatives have been taken to deal with individuals and/or groups identified as requiring special education. Some initiatives, no less important from the chronological point of view, will be omitted because they involved no specific, organised social or educational intervention. However, an important milestone was the creation, in 1946, of the first special classes in primary schools. Initially these were for learners with a physical or intellectual disability. However, 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, under the Ministry of Health and Assistance, the Institute for Providing Assistance for Minors was created. Centres for special education and centres for observation and assessment were set up. They adopted a medical pedagogic approach and were responsible for detecting, observing and referring learners to schools providing special education or similar provision. The first courses were also organised to give specialist training to teachers.
With the revolution in 1974, which replaced dictatorship with democracy, the parents’ associations’ movement, aided by specialists and teaching staff, was important in developing many socio-educational activities and in organising and creating schools for learners with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities. At the time, the state already provided some organised response to other types of disability (sensory), although this was insufficient and ineffective from an educational and social point of view. Therefore, it was through these associations and co-operatives that 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 an important partner in finding solutions for people with disabilities and, in some cases, 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, 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. Among other tasks and duties, the Ministry decided to give its support to the above-mentioned schools and to assume 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. Similarly, in the mid-1970s, regional support structures were organised. 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. Some time later this was also approved for those with intellectual disabilities.
Education for all, based on the protection of individual rights by applying the principle of equal opportunity to education and the criteria of pedagogic and social justice, is expressed clearly through full participation and co-operation among all those involved in education.
Special education is guided by the principles enshrined in legislation, which comprises the 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 is based on several international resolutions, such as the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education.
These principles can be summarised under three fundamental rights:
- The right to education: all children with special educational needs (SEN), even as the result of a problem (or problems) in a particular area of development, have the right to education. At compulsory school age, education for children and adolescents with SEN, no matter how complex they are, should be provided within the mainstream education system.
- The right to equality: the inalienable right of all children to equal opportunity in gaining access to and achieving success in education, without any type of discrimination, and with educational resources and support adequate to each one’s individual needs.
- The right to be part of society: it is a principle that they have the right to attend mainstream schools of education which, from the perspective of a school for all, find the right solutions for the needs of each individual. The rule is that learners with disabilities should preferably be included in the mainstream teaching system, with special schools being the exception. Only when all means for keeping learners in a mainstream school alongside their peers have been exhausted may learners attend a special school.
For this attempt to enshrine the right, duty and responsibility of the state and civic society in dealing with persons with disabilities and/or SEN, the development of ideas and scientific and pedagogic research, at national and international level, related to special education was crucial. No less important was the contribution of reformist attitudes that brought change to the education system since the late 1980s, expressed in the Education Act. Also important were recommendations made by international bodies on access for pupils with disabilities to the mainstream system of education and the experience gleaned over a number of years in which pupils with disabilities have attended mainstream schooling.
Specific legislative framework
The Education Act (Law No. 46/86, 14 October) understands special education as a specific type of education that facilitates the socio-educational recuperation and integration of individuals with SEN caused by physical or intellectual disability.
Including such pupils in the mainstream schooling system, as the educational strategy adopted for pupils with SEN, 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 with learning difficulties. It also opened schools 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, defines the specialised support provided in state, private and co-operative pre-primary, compulsory and secondary education with the aim of creating the conditions to adjust the educational process to the special educational needs of pupils with major limitations in terms of activity and participation in one or more areas. These needs may be due to permanent functional and structural issues, which result in continued difficulty in terms of communication, learning, mobility, autonomy, interpersonal relationships and social involvement.
Decree-Law No. 20/2006, 31 January, defines the procedures regarding the teacher placement application system, creating the special education recruitment group for the first time. It repeals 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 concerning disability and severe health risk.
Mainstream schools are now supported by a national network of Information and Communication Technology Resource Centres for Special Education, which assess pupils’ needs for assistive technology, and by a network of 93 Resource Centres for Inclusion (RCIs). The RCIs, which in the past were special schools, provide specialised support through partnerships with mainstream schools.
The transformation of the special schools into RCIs 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 enlarged the national coverage of the RCIs.
A new law on inclusion is underway.
Last updated 13/04/2018