Special Needs School System

Understand where and how children with special needs are educated in Portugal...

The Portuguese expression for Special Educational Needs is Necessidades Educativas Especiais (NEE). Special needs pupils are defined as those needing special resources and individualised curricula.

In 2018, new legislation on inclusive education came into force (Decree-Law No. 54/2018, 6 July). This legislation makes disability discrimination in education unlawful and aims for an education system that serves all learners. Every student has the right to an inclusive education.

The basic Special Education Law incorporates the Government's New Diploma for NEE children and permanent and/or prolonged special educational teaching is supplied in special classes or special schools, with classes of no more than 20 pupils.

In Portugal, special needs teaching is integrated within mainstream schools. Pupils are only referred to specialist schools if they appear not to be able to reach their individual educational goals.


Early identification of special needs in young children is mostly the responsibility of the medical services and the Ministry of Education provides special education teachers to support those children either in kindergarten/pre-school or at home.

Compulsory education

Compulsory education covers nine years of schooling and lasts from the ages of six to fifteen. However, these limits are not applied to special education learners. The child may attend a school outside of their area of residence if it has better access conditions or better educational support resources for that child.

Once they enter compulsory schooling, children with special needs will have an Individual Educational Plan, which sets out the changes and adaptations needed.

The following measures are available to special needs pupils within mainstream schools:

  • support from specialised professionals (special education teachers, counsellors, mobility professionals, sign language trainers and interpreters, therapists, psychologists)
  • use of specific equipment and tools (books in Braille, books with enlarged characters, optical and hearing devices, adapted software)
  • special conditions for assessment (type of test, type of pupils' ways of expressing themselves, timetables, place and time of the test)
  • individualised curriculum (by replacing, introducing, removing aims, contents, activities)

If the adaptations are considerable and do not fit within the national curriculum, an Individual Programme has to be developed.

Transition period

In the two last years in school, the Individual Educational Plan is called a Transition Plan: it lists the learner's skills, abilities and desires as well as the parents' expectations and is aimed at preparing the pupil for adult life.

The Transition plan helps with employment training and, in some cases, a partnership with local enterprises is established to enable the learners to receive on-the-job training.

More information on schooling for children with learning disabilities can be obtained from the Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação), the Regional Offices of Education (Direcções Regionais de Educação), the Area Centres for Education (Centros de Área Educativa) and local schools.

Special Schools

Almost all pupils attend mainstream schools. However, for those whose special needs cannot be met in state schools there are a number of special schools throughout Portugal, as follows:

Schools for the partially sighted

  • Centro Helen Keller
    At: Av. Dr. Mário Moutinho, 1400-036 Lisbon
    Tel: 213 011 932

  • Centro de Acolhimento de Loreto
    At: Bairro de Loreto, 3020-426 Coimbra
    Tel: 239 497 270

Schools for children with developmental disabilities

Created in 2003 and based in Cascais, CADIn is a not-for-profit, privately funded institution that provides teaching and research in the field of developmental disabilities. The Centre has raised a "social fund" so that low-income families can have access to the school. There are more than 40 special education teachers, including paediatricians, psychologists, speech, and physical therapists. It has formed a number of specialised groups to cater for people with attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorders and specific learning disabilities, and to provide family therapy and support, as well as job training and integration.

A private complex for people of 16 years and over with mental disabilities. It offers an educational programme (for residents and non-residents) within a residential centre, in order to enhance the autonomy and social integration of disabled people.

Relevant Portuguese Organisations