International vs. Private Schools in Portugal

Educate yourself before you educate your kids!

As with anything related to the upbringing of children, research is key to yield the best results. That's why, here at the IPBN we are focusing our attention on a short "How to..." series chock-full of practical advice about living and working in Portugal. 

If you know anything about Portugal, you’ll know that it draws ex-pat families from all over the world, so the educational system built to accommodate those ex-pats is growing along with the upturn in immigration numbers. In terms of high-quality, multicultural, private education blended with a curriculum that’s right for the student, Portugal has several dozens of international school options to choose from. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for opting for a public school in Portugal, but the final choice should center around the child in question’s strengths and their best interest.

The Portuguese education schedule goes from September to June, with various holidays, Christmas, and spring breaks peppered throughout.

The four educational phases are called cycles and are as follows: Cycle 1 (ages 6–10), Cycle 2 (ages 10–12), Cycle 3 (ages 12–15), and Secondary Cycle (ages 15–18). While private and international schools have a reputation for higher quality (and high fees), there are also a considerable number of top-ranking public schools, which are free and accessible to both citizens and foreigners. It should be noted that international schools are taught in a range of different languages while the others are taught solely in Portuguese with language classes offered as part of the curriculum.

Portugal’s international schools are clustered around the ex-pat hubs of Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve coast. It’s worth noting that international schools can be certified by different branches of the Ministry of Education and Science, so doing your research ahead of time is paramount. For example, The new United Lisbon School owned and operated by IPBN member Chitra Stern has a curriculum based on US-standards (NEASC) and is a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program while the posh St. Julian’s School is a British International School in Carcavelos (near Lisbon), that is accredited by the Council of International Schools (CIS), Council of British International Schools (COBIS - Associate Member), New England Schools and Colleges (NEASC), and the IB.

Portugal currently has 13 schools that offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that focuses on essay writing, creative projects, and service while building core disciplines in science, math, the arts, language, and literature. Following the end of secondary school, students must take the IB exam to earn their IB Diploma, which is widely recognized and is one of the terms for acceptance at many international universities. 

American International Schools

American international schools like the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon follow the academic system of the United States. After gaining passing marks on all exams and coursework, the students will receive their diplomas. In the case of Carlucci, their diploma is recognized by the United States Department of State (USDS), which makes attending university in the USA or Canada all the easier. The International Christian School of Cascais is not recognized by the USDS, however, they excel at SAT prep and college admission guidance and have a high college attendance rate.

British International Schools

British International schools follow the national curriculum of England and are a strong option for students who intend to study in the UK. All courses are taught in British English and the focus is on problem-solving, confidence building, and student growth. British curricula schools like the British School of Lisbon and the Nobel International School Algarve offer students International General Certificates of Secondary School (IGCSE), which helps students get into university without too much hassle.

Public Schools

However, if you believe your child would be capable of learning in Portuguese, finding a solid public school might be your best bet, especially if you would like them to integrate into the local culture, and not be surrounded by the ex-pat community. Though quality can vary greatly, some are highly respected and considered superior to private schools. According to a study by the Program for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study of 70 nations in 15-year-old scholastic performance, Portugal scored 24th on mathematics, science, and reading.

As Portuguese is the language of instruction, public schools may not be the best option for older children or families in the country for only a short period, however, if your kids are young enough or have the language skills necessary to succeed, it shouldn’t be passed over as an option. According to this ranking, the top public schools in Lisbon are: Apisal, Colégio Luso-Suiço, Criem Educação Infantil e Ensino Fundamental Ltda, and CEBE while the top public schools in Faro are Secondary School João de Deus and High School Tomás Cabreira.