The school education system on Madeira falls under the remit of the Portuguese education system, although there are some important differences outside of the curriculum itself.
The school year commences late September for most students, and runs across 3 terms, with breaks at Christmas and Easter, and then for almost 3 months during the summer. There are no half term breaks in Madeira schools.
Schooling is compulsory from the age of 6 until the age of 16 for all residents, although some children may start earlier if there is a nursery school or other preschool facility available. School registration usually requires a health check and the production of documents relating to identity and health care, and although there are set registration periods, if coming to Madeira from elsewhere there shouldn’t be any problems outside of these periods as long as space is available in the school.
Portuguese children would naturally go to their local state school, but some non-Madeiran parents choose to send their children to the private English school in Funchal, but through that option there is of course a impact on the speed and thoroughness of that child’s integration into Portuguese society and culture. Fees would be payable, and any private school would have to be registered by the Department of Education and follow national and / or international curricula.
State schooling is state funded, with the exception of books and equipment, clothes and meals, which are expensive and many parents find difficulty in funding. There are often arrangements in
place for transportation for children living in the more remote areas of Madeira.
Together, the primary and secondary school systems take a child through a minimum of 12 years (grades), and amongst the compulsory subjects, English is due to become taught for a period covering up to 4 years for Madeira’s children.
Primary School (Escola Básica)
Education at this level is split into phases (4, 2 & 3 years), and in the first phase the child may be with the same teacher and classmates for several years, normally studying or learning in less hours than in later years. Before proceeding to the next phase, the children need to be assessed for ability to progress, which can result in some children being retained for a further year.
Due to some issues of supply and demand, some schools work a double shift system, with early morning starts and early finishes for some, followed by an second shift for other children.
In the second phase, the children generally stay together, working longer hours and may have several teachers, each covering a group of subjects.
In the final phase, lasting 3 years, which takes the children up to the age of 14, students can branch out into new subjects according to their preferences, and will have a variety of much more specialised teachers.
Getting from year to year involves passing assessments, and if a particular child does not pass the criteria then they stay at the same level for an extra year before moving on, meaning that theoretically the normal finishing age of 14 can be considerably extended.
When each subject module is successfully passed, the student receives a certificate of basic education, and after the final evaluation the successful students gain a diploma which allows them to enter into secondary education, if they choose to do so, or they can finish schooling at that stage.
Secondary School (Escola Secundária)
The students here exercise further choices in more specialised subject matter, in courses spanning over a further 2 or 3 years. The assessments are continuous, with annual exams in each subject. At the end students take exams, set and managed at a national level, and if they are successful in completing the third year then they are able to proceed to further education on Madeira or elsewhere if they choose to do so.
Education & School ‘Cycles’ for Madeiran Children
1st Cycle 1st Phase
1º year / grade age 6
2º year / grade age 7
3º year / grade age 8
4º year / grade age 9
1st Cycle 2nd Phase
5º year / grade age 10
6º year / grade age 11
1st Cycle 3rd Phase
7º year / grade age 12
8º year / grade age 13
9º year / grade age 14
10º year / grade age 15
11º year / grade age 16
2nd Cycle for University Entrance
12º year / grade age 17
Madeira has its own university (UMa), where students can opt for courses to obtain diplomas and degrees, but a noticeable number leave the island to take their course on the mainland, usually Lisbon, rather than stay on Madeira where the choices are understandably more limited.
Adult education classes are available around Madeira, often through night school, with the aim of providing poorly educated adults with an opportunity to better themselves and their careers. They run for up to 3 hours a night on every weeknight, and are free for residents to attend. Some foreigners use these courses to try and learn or improve their Portuguese language skills, but it can be difficult as there is no guarantee that the teacher can speak English.
It is becoming more common to find language courses for foreigners wishing to learn to speak Portuguese, and in recent years classes have been held at Calheta, Ponta do Sol and Ribeira Brava.
Professional and technical qualifications obtained on Madeira should equate to EU recognised levels, and would certainly be recognised within Portuguese boundaries, but beyond that each country would have its own means of comparison. Demonstrating that difference, it would suffice to say that a degree gained at an English university would enable you to announce yourself as ‘Doctor’ on Madeira.
Standards Of Education
Madeira and Portugal are like any other country where good and not so good standards vary from school to school. By enlarge, it is usually reported in the local press that Madeira underachieves compared with the Portuguese national averages, but given the differences in the economy, maybe that is not so surprising.
Also, teacher moral is not high on Madeira due to issues such as pay, and changes in employment conditions and the teaching curriculum, with the latest issues being over retirement conditions and teacher evaluations, and there have been several strikes in recent years. The issue of teacher evaluations was overcome on Madeira, when the regional government unwisely decided to give them all a blanket evaluation of ‘good’ in 2008.
However, the measures for child assessment on Madeira are set nationally, and it is at least possible to monitor a child’s progress and spot at an early stage if the educational targets are not being met, and then it is not too late to take remedial action through further tutoring, or as a last result a change of school.
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