Country information for Portugal - Systems of support and specialist provision

Development of inclusion

Since the 1990s, Portugal has been improving the conditions for pupils with special educational needs (SEN) to access mainstream education and to benefit from quality learning.

Nowadays, basic inclusive school principles – based upon humanistic beliefs concerned with human rights, equity and social justice – are unquestionable. Teachers, parents and politicians recognise that traditional, formal models can lead to segregation and discrimination, making social and educational inclusion difficult for people with disabilities. However, in order to maintain and develop quality education for these pupils it is important not only to preserve the availability of specialised human resources and specific tools, but also to implement major changes in school organisation and in pedagogical practice.

Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July, underlies the creation of a new support structure in each school: the learning support centre. This structure aggregates human and material resources, knowledge and skills, and the competencies of the school.

The specific objectives of the learning support centre are to:

  • promote the quality of learner participation in the activities of the class to which they belong and in other learning contexts;
  • support the teachers of the group or class that the learners belong to;
  • support the creation of learning resources and assessment tools for the various components of the curriculum;
  • develop interdisciplinary intervention methodologies that facilitate the processes of learning, autonomy and adaptation to the school context;
  • promote the development of structured environments, rich in communication and interaction, which enhance learning;
  • support the organisation of the transition process to post-school life.

The learning support centre encompasses all the existing facilities in the school, particularly the specialised units.

The role of special schools

Since 2008, many special schools have mainly served as resource centres for mainstreaming. They provide specialised support through partnerships with mainstream schools and act as support structures for the inclusion of all pupils, particularly those with additional needs. Support provided by resource centres and special education teachers aims to build capacity for class teachers and the whole school.

Only a few special schools remain.

Special provision within mainstream education

The Education Act (Law No. 46/86, 14 October) proclaims that special education should be organised according to various models of inclusion in mainstream schools. It can be established in specific institutions when learners with specific needs require specialised and differentiated support that entails significant adjustments to the educational or teaching and learning process that are demonstrably unachievable in mainstream inclusive education.

Educational measures within inclusive education

The methodology underlying Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July, is based on universal design for learning and a multi-level approach to access the curriculum. This approach includes:

  • flexible curricular models;
  • systematic monitoring of the effectiveness of the continuum of implemented interventions;
  • dialogue between teachers and parents or caregivers;
  • 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 measures to support learning and inclusion aim to adapt to the needs and potential of each pupil and to guarantee the conditions for their full achievement. They promote equity and equal opportunities in access to the curriculum, attendance and progression through compulsory schooling. They are organised into three intervention levels: universal, selective and additional.

These measures are developed taking into account the resources and the support services available for the operation of the school. This should be convened by school professionals, through collaborative work and with the co-responsibility of special education teachers, according to the specific needs of each pupil.

The measures are implemented in all forms and pathways of education and training, to ensure that all learners have equal opportunities in access and frequency of different educational and training offerings.

In early intervention (support for children from 0–6 years old, preferably from 0–3), Decree-Law No. 281/2009, 6 October, defines regulating guidelines for inclusive support for children with disabilities or children at high risk of impaired development, and their families. Early intervention is an inclusive support measure that focuses on the child and the family. It involves a variety of services in the areas of education, health, social and other community services.

Specialised support provided in state, private and co-operative pre-primary, basic and upper‑secondary education aims to create the conditions to adjust the educational process to pupils’ educational needs. The goals of inclusive education are educational and social inclusion, educational access and success, autonomy, emotional stability, the promotion of equal opportunities, and preparation for further study or post-school or professional life.

Teachers from the special education recruitment group, with specialised training in specific areas, are placed in schools to promote support activities for learners with educational needs.

Information and Communication Technology Resource Centres

The national network of Information and Communication Technology Resource Centres (CRTICs) was created in the framework of the inclusion policy for pupils with permanent SEN in mainstream schools, dating back to 2007/2008.

At the request of the schools, CRTICs assess pupils’ needs for assistive products/devices to access the curriculum. The Ministry of Education finances part of the products and technologies they recommend. CRTICs also have an important role in disseminating information and training teachers, staff and families in using the recommended devices.

There are 25 CRTICs distributed across the country, located in schools. Each CRTIC supports a large group of schools at district level. CRTICs carry out their activity according to central guidelines, presenting annual activity plans and activity reports to the central department that co-ordinates them (Directorate-General of Education).

CRTICs have webpages, blogs and learning management system platforms to disseminate their services and activities to the school communities they support. The Directorate-General of Education manages a Moodle community area, integrating all CRTICs, as a sharing and discussion platform.

Special education staff

In 2006, a specific recruitment group was created for special education teachers. It was made operational by Decree-Law No. 20/06, 31 January.

The special education teacher intervention involves:

  • collaborative work with the different stakeholders in the learners’ educational process;
  • direct support provided to learners, which is always complementary to the work developed in the classroom or in other educational contexts.

The school is responsible for managing those resources in such a way that it meets the needs of all learners.

The school is involved in a set of activities based around the curriculum and curriculum enhancement. These aim to create conditions for the expression and development of exceptional capacities and the resolution of any problems.

For each learner, the school can implement measures to promote educational success. These could include:

  • study support;
  • temporary constitution of groups of learners according to their needs and/or potential;
  • classroom co-operation;
  • tutoring programmes;
  • reception and follow-up of learners who do not have Portuguese as their mother tongue (Order No. 1-F/206, 5 April; Ordinance No. 223-A/2018, 3 August; Ordinance No. 226-A/2018, 7 August).

Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security

Special education approaches are also organised with the aim of integrating adolescents with disabilities into the world of work. To this end, within the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security – which is also an authority on social and socio-professional integration – there are official schools, residences and centres for occupational support. The Ministry also funds individuals through subsidies and finances private institutes for social solidarity with socio-educational schools. The major group in this sector is the Portuguese Associations of Parents of Pupils with Intellectual Disabilities, to which the Ministry of Education contributes significantly through the provision of teachers, support for school social action and co-funding with families.

Employment and Vocational Training Institute

The Employment and Vocational Training Institute has incentives for practical vocational training courses in industry and for job adaptation via support for institutions’ vocational training units. The Institute also gives support for self-employment and protected employment centres.

Special provision

According to Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July, specific types of education for learners who are blind/partially sighted or deaf include reference schools for bilingual education and reference schools in the vision domain. These responses are provided in mainstream schools and integrate specialised human resources and specific material resources appropriate to learners’ characteristics.

As already mentioned, the RCIs support the inclusion of children and young people with disabilities, in partnership with the community. They do this by facilitating access to education, training, work, leisure, social participation and an autonomous life, while promoting the full potential of the individual. The RCIs work in partnership with school clusters.

General objectives

The general objectives to be fulfilled are those legally enshrined for all pupils, with no discrimination against any pupil.

Admission requirements and choice of school

The Portuguese education system comprises three years of pre-primary education, which are not compulsory, and twelve years of compulsory schooling. The compulsory education is divided into cycles: first cycle – four years; second cycle – two years; third cycle – three years; secondary level – three years. Children attend compulsory school from the age of six. The right and obligation to attend school lasts until the learner has completed 12 years of schooling or has reached 18 years of age (Sources: IECE – Portugal Example of Provision, pp. 1-2; IECE – Portugal Case Study Visit Report; CPRA – Portugal Country Report, p. 23).

Learners with an individual educational programme have priority registration or renewal of registration in the school that their parents or guardians prefer. Children supported by the learning support centre have priority on their renewal of registration regardless of their area of residence.

In exceptional and duly justified circumstances, children can postpone enrolment for the first year of compulsory education for one year (this is non-renewable).

Age levels and grouping of pupils

There are 20 learners in pre-primary classes, first, second and third cycle classes and vocational classes which include learners with selective and/or additional measures to support learning and whose technical-pedagogical report identifies the need for integration in a smaller class for access to learning and inclusion. These classes cannot include more than two learners with those conditions. In secondary level, the number is 24 learners (Order No. 10-A/2018, 19 June, and Order No. 16/2019, 4 June).

Organisation of the school year

The school year is defined annually by ministerial order. It takes into account all the pupils who attend the mainstream school system.

Curriculum and subjects

All learners are entitled to curricular management measures such as curricular accommodations, non-significant curricular adaptations and significant curricular adaptations.

An individual educational programme (IEP) is defined for pupils with the additional measure of significant curricular adaptations. The IEP documents the implementation plan for the significant curricular adaptations and integrates the competences and learning to be developed by the pupils. It also identifies the teaching strategies and the adjustments to be made in their evaluation process.

The ‘Students’ Profile by the End of Compulsory Schooling’ is a reference document for the organisation of the entire education system. It helps to align decisions within the various dimensions of curriculum development. It contributes to the organisation and management of curricula and helps to define strategies, methodologies and pedagogical-didactic procedures to be used in teaching practice.

For each level, cycle and subject, the ‘Essential Issues’ (Aprendizagens Essenciais) should be considered. Each school develops them autonomously, flexibly and creatively, depending on their specific contexts.

The class teacher or class tutor is the co-ordinator for the IEP, depending on the teaching or education level that the pupil is attending. The IEP is drawn up by the multidisciplinary team to support inclusive education. For it to be implemented, it has to be approved by the pedagogical council and have expressed agreement from parents or guardians.

Learners are also entitled to specific curricular areas. These include vision training, using the Braille system, guidance and mobility, specific information and communication technologies and activities of daily living.

Deaf learners who attending reference schools for bilingual education use Portuguese sign language (PSL) as their first language and written Portuguese language as their second language. They are also entitled to teachers with specialist training in deafness, PSL teachers, PSL interpreters and speech therapists.

Teaching methods and materials

Special education teachers and other professionals with specific training, such as PSL teachers and interpreters, are placed in schools by the Ministry of Education to teach specific areas of the curriculum, such as PSL, Braille or the use of support technologies.

The Ministry of Education resource centres produce schoolbooks in Braille, large font and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) formats. The CRTICs also produce adapted material and train teachers to use special software for different disabilities.

Progression of pupils

For internal summative assessment, Order No. 1-F/2016, 5 April, Ordinance No. 223-A/2018, 3 August and Ordinance No. 226-A/2018, 7 August, define the evaluation and certification of learning. They also outline measures to promote educational success. These can be adopted to monitor and develop learning, alongside others that schools can adopt according to their own autonomy.

According to Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July, pupils can benefit from adaptations to the evaluation process. These include:

  • using diverse instruments for collecting information, such as surveys, interviews, video or audio recordings;
  • test/exam sheets in accessible formats, namely Braille, tables and maps in relief, DAISY format, digital;
  • interpretation in Portuguese sign language;
  • using assistive products/devices;
  • having extra time for the test;
  • transcription of the answers;
  • reading the test/exam sheets out loud for learners;
  • using a separate room;
  • taking supervised breaks;
  • using colour identification codes in the test/exam sheets.

The progression through school of pupils covered by universal and selective measures to support learning and inclusion takes place as defined by law (Order No. 1-F/2016, 5 April, Ordinance No. 223‑A/2018, 3 August and Ordinance No. 226-A/218, 7 August). The progression of pupils covered by additional measures to support learning and inclusion is carried out as defined in their technical-pedagogical report and individual educational programme.

Educational/vocational guidance and education/employment links

Three years before pupils with the additional measure of significant curricular adaptation reach the age limit for exiting compulsory education, the school should complement their IEP with an Individual Transition Plan (ITP).

The first phase of the ITP is to discover the learner’s wishes, interests, aspirations and competencies. Included in this phase is an assessment of the labour market needs in the learner’s community and a search for training opportunities or real work experience, based on the learner’s interests and their capacity to take part in a professional activity.

Once the possibilities of training or internships are recorded, it is important to identify the competencies (academic, personal and social), adjustments and special equipment required. After this assessment, agreements are established with the services and institutions where the learner will train or be an intern. These define the tasks they will do, the competencies required and the support needed to achieve these tasks, if and when necessary.


At the end of their compulsory education, all pupils have the right to a certificate and diploma stating that they have completed compulsory schooling. Where applicable, it also identifies the level of qualification achieved, in accordance with the National Qualifications Framework and the corresponding level of European Qualifications Framework.

For pupils who have significant curricular adaptations during their schooling, the certificate must include:

  • the cycle or level of education completed;
  • the relevant curricular information of the IEP;
  • the areas and the experiences developed throughout the implementation of the ITP.

Private education

After the political change in 1974 and the new Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, which enshrined some general principles of state and private education, there was an upsurge in private and co-operative education. The number of co-operative schools increased, particularly for special education, and the Ministry of Education began to provide funding.

Nowadays, however, and as mentioned before, most part of special schools act as Resources Centres for Inclusion, working within school, in partnership, according the defined in an Action Plan.

Quality indicators for special needs education

Mechanisms used to report on and monitor the effectiveness of the inclusive education system that explicitly identify the enabling effect of support provided to learners and stakeholders are mandatory by law.

Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July, clarifies that:

Every five years, the Government member in the area of education promotes an evaluation of the implementation of this decree-law regarding the continuous improvement of inclusive education.

[…] the Ministry of Education promotes the evaluation of the implementation of this decree-law within two years after its coming into force.

Monitoring and accountability systems must therefore be set up, based on current and systemic dynamic data collection and analysis. The system should report on the evolution of the education system’s inclusiveness. It should demonstrate the school’s efforts, showing the measures taken to give every learner opportunities to learn and the conditions for full realisation of their rights. It should include how the school responds to the needs of each pupil, valuing diversity and promoting equity and non-discrimination in accessing the curriculum and the progression in the educational system.

Aside from being a legal imperative, monitoring and evaluation are fundamental factors in identifying the strengths and the challenges of the educational system.

A National Co-ordination Team (Dispatch No. 9726/2018) monitors, follows up and assesses the implementation of the decree laws on autonomy and flexibility (Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July), and inclusion (Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July). The Team involves members from different services and entities within the Ministry of Education and is assisted by a Technical Team and Regional Teams. It may also be supported by specialists in the field of education. These specialists take advisory roles to define lines of action, produce process and results monitoring instruments, elaborate on analysis and critical appreciation progress reports and advise on decision-making.


Last updated 08/04/2020

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