The President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, participated in the 7th Congress of the National Association of Professional Schools (ANESPO) in July 2017. He committed Portugal to making increased investment in vocational education, raising the number of VET learners and reducing early school leaving rates.

This will complement the expansion of compulsory education to 12 years of schooling, an essential policy measure aiming to guarantee that all learners should at least complete secondary education. Without this, Portugal might not fulfil the European goal of reducing early school leaving to 10% by 2020. In 2016 the rate was 14%, an increase of 30% compared to 2015.

The President told the gathering that ‘Vocational education can’t be seen as second-chance education, oriented towards those in greatest need and low achievers. From my point of view, it never had a reason to be; this attitude is a social prejudice. Young people, teachers and society should say it too. It is necessary to erase the remaining prejudices against vocational education and training (VET)’.

He cited data on the significant increase in VET participation, from 28% in 2000/01 to 33.5% in 2005/06, 42.7% in 2010/11, and 43.5% in 2014/15. However, he added that during the current decade a stagnation in the growth rate of VET participation was observed, endangering the accomplishment of the goal set by OECD several years ago and assumed by several governments: to guarantee that at least 50% of secondary school students attend VET programmes.

According to the President, it is necessary to ‘build a network of secondary level training programmes linked to the business world, without having an inferiority complex in this cooperation’. He also emphasised that professional programmes should have stability and predictability, avoiding payment and reimbursement delays for operational programmes.

The President concluded that, in recent decades, Portugal had invested in an education model that brought everything back to a single matrix, sacrificing the experience of industrial schools, commercial schools, and agricultural training schools that enrich the national educational system. He concluded that this simple vision that everyone should be the same, everyone should walk the same path, and everyone should have the same educational pathway, urgently needs to change.

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