1989 - present

Fully operational


Policy area

The vocational courses are work-linked initial vocational training courses provided in schools of secondary education, targeting young people.

Policy goal

The vocational courses have three main goals: contribute to the development of personal and professional skills in order to pursuit a profession; develop training offers related with the local and regional work needs; and enable the students to continue to post-secondary education or higher education. They provide a double certification (secondary and professional) giving an EQF level 4. The vocational courses are courses of the secondary level of education (double certification), characterized by a strong connection with the professional world. Taking into account the personal profile of the students, the learning carried out enhances the development of competences for a profession, in cooperation with the local business sector.

Explicitly designed to address skill mismatch

The professional courses were created with the aim of increasing the number of youngsters with intermediate qualifications in labour market. They are one of the ways of accomplishing secondary education, in an alternation training programme.

Administrative level
Main responsible body

Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education (ANQEP)


The ANQEP is the coordinator of the vocational courses. These are developed by private or public professional schools (specialised schools of secondary education) and public secondary schools (comprehensive schools with generalist education and vocational courses). The large majority of professional schools are private and are congregated in a association (National Association of Professional Schools (ANESPO)), with the main aim to provide support to the schools, promote training quality and develop projects in this area. Some of the professional schools are owned by social partners, including the two trade-union confederations, and some are owned by local authorities. The on-the-job training is provided in public and private companies and other employers. The EU and Portuguese Government co-fund through European Social Fund.


The professional courses are financed by European funds (through the ESF) and national state budget. The total cost of the courses in all the schools that provide them (public and private secondary schools, professional schools) is not available.

Intended beneficiaries

Young people under the age of 20, who have completed the 9th grade or equivalent education. The programme is intended to provide the beneficiaries with more practical teaching (with on-the-job training), oriented to labour market integration after completion or to continue their studies to post-secondary or higher education.


Use of labour market intelligence

LMSI tool used is the Qualification Needs Anticipation System (SANQ), which aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of skills supply and demand. It uses statistical information on labour market retrospective dynamics (last 5 years) and anticipation of skills needs. The system also implements its own questionnaire to employers on recruitment intentions and skills needs, and proceeds to perform a qualitative analysis of skills demand. The SANQ has a direct impact on the provision of vocational education and training in public and private schools/training centres. On the basis of the criteria and priorities produced by the SANQ, the institutional actors of VET define the training offer that includes the vocational courses.

Financial schemes

The students are entitled to: a) Food allowance - maximum €4.52 per workable day; b) Transport allowance - 50% of the monthly transport signature. The value varies according to regions and transport prices, having a maximum eligible value of €146.30. The allowance can be of 100% if the student has economic difficulties; c) Housing allowance up to 12.5% of the monthly minimum wage (€557 in 2017) or 30%, if the student has economic difficulties) if the school is at a distance of more than 50km from the place of residence of the student. Students are insured against accidents during education.

Frequency of updates

The data available in the SANQ is for the period between 2014-2015. The national diagnostics module should be updated every three years.


The programme was created in 1989 as an innovative experience in education by diversification of education partners. The professional schools were originated in civil society and most of them, being private, were originated by civil society initiatives, including social partners, employment associations, and local development initiatives. The creation of professional schools was part of an education reform and of an evaluation of previous VET experiences at secondary level, and intended to create a fully new approach to education and to VET. It was a success, leading to the creation of a national network of schools that provided new qualifications and territorial diversification of VET courses. In 2005, the government considered that professional courses should also be offered by generalist secondary schools, and from then on courses were also organised in these schools. The strategic regulation of the offer has been increasing after research showed that it was commanded by demand-at-entrance, that is the preferences of youngsters rather than labour market demands. The LMSI became very important in regulating the growth of professional courses.


The professional courses were almost all co-financed by ESF in its origin, and reported organisational and financial difficulties coming from the financing scheme's limitations regarding the concept and scope of professional schools. Currently, the courses that are only co-financed by ESF in some regions and schools complain that authorized courses are below the needed to meet the demands of youngsters and local employers, at least in some professional areas and regions.

Success factors

The professional schools have a curriculum with modular organisation, unlike generalist education. The professional schools have an education model that is successful in the involvement of students within the learning process, increasing educational attainment and levels of qualification. The diversification of educational actors involved in professional schools allowed for higher visibility of VET and involvement of actors with influence in the local labour markets.


ANQEP ensures the monitoring, evaluation and regulation of the provision of vocational education and training of dual certification. An assessment of the relevance of qualifications is published each year, based on a retrospective analysis of employment and evolution and a perspective of qualification needs. The unit of analysis for employment is the National Qualification of Professions at four-digit level and the National Code of Qualifications at six-digit level. The relevance assessment is a quantitative composite indicator that varies between one (not relevant) and ten (maximum relevance).

Slightly innovative

Portugal struggled for decades with low interest of youngsters and families in VET, after the traditional courses were closed. On the other hand, the existing VET courses in education were too school-centred and there was low engagement of employers and community stakeholders in their development. The apprenticeship system was run outside formal education and was concentrated in some economic sectors. The way schools engaged communities in professional courses was very innovative in the country's experience. It also tried a different way of organising training, which was less demanding from employers than the dual courses tradition, that showed to be appropriate to the territorial specificities, namely of rural and interior communities. Furthermore, this was the first experience in which VET was not associated with low achievement or social selectivity, and changed the image of VET from a "second opportunity" to an alternative of success.


Evidence of effectiveness

The more recent evaluation with results of the instrument, dated 2013, draws on data covering the period 2007- 2013. The aim of the evaluation was not the vocational courses, but the measures to fight early school leavers, which covers the training measures with double certification (includes vocational courses). The vocational courses have been increasing their number of students through the years in a very sustainable manner. Between 2005/2006 and 2011/2012 the number tripled (from 36,943 to 113,749). The completion rate of the students enrolled in the vocational courses is 20.7 percentage points higher than the students enrolled in the regular secondary education. The evaluation concluded that 14 months after the conclusion of the training, 43.2% of the vocational courses students were working, compared to 10% of the students in regular secondary education. These students also have a more stable labour relation with the employer (less precarious employment conditions). Vocational courses tend to increasingly correspond to the provision of an alternative choice for an audience with normal school paths, and represent a preferred option to combine level 4 of professional certification with the possibility of aligning in a vocational qualification with higher education.

Engagement of stakeholders

The programme was initiated by a Government Decree and its coordination is the responsibility of the Agency for Qualification and Vocational Education (ANQEP). It is a well established measure in the Portuguese vocational education and training system, with nearly 30 years of existence. The stakeholders engagement is well defined and the role of ANQEP is clearly established as coordinator of the implementation of the measure and of the network of professional and secondary schools. ANESPO is the main interlocutor of the professional schools.

Easily transferable

This instrument draws on existing experiences of training in other European and non-European countries, though its main source of inspiration is not the general dual model, but other European experiences in "school-based" education, with involvement of partners in internships.


It is expected that the professional courses remain as the key instrument of VET for youngsters at secondary level. Having started as an innovative experience 30 years ago, they became mainstream and are now the model for all schools' VET courses. They may face new financial constraints after 2020, depending on the strategy adopted for the co-financing of ESF to Portuguese education and training policy.