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Looking for advice about enroling children at local schools


Posts: 5
Premium Member
Topic starter
(@vivienne)
Active Member
Joined: 3 months ago

Hi everyone, next month we will move from Ireland to Portugal. I thought I had everything ready but I've hit a couple of issues with school enrolment that I hadn't expected. I know people who have been resident in Portugal for years so they gave me their experience of this. It seems to have changed since then. Has anyone enroled their children at the local Portuguese schools? The advice I was given was to enrol them to do the last school year again (that they did in their home country) in order for them to learn Portuguese, then that they would move up to their class age when their Portuguese has reached a level where they can manage this. Would anyone agree? My son has just finished primary school in Ireland (is now 13) and my daughter is 8. I'd love hear from anyone who has done this. I think it would be too much for them to simply start the next school year, when they are only starting to learn the language. Many thanks for any help and shared experience.

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Posts: 10
VIP Member
(@daretodream)
Active Member
Joined: 3 years ago

Hi Vivienne. How are you? No doubt a little nervous about your forthcoming move to Portugal. Despite all the planning you have done, it still feels like a rollercoaster in the final stages I am sure. Well from my experience anyway, that's what it was like.

My wife and I moved to Central Portugal back in December of 2019 and in tow was our 10 year old daughter who was not at all excited to be here with us (away from all her friends and everything she knew). Needless to say that once here we had to enrol her in the local school so that she could begin her new "normal life" at the beginning of the 2020 term.

Sadly I can't promise to offer you any absolute clarity in your question, I can only offer the story of our single experience through the process and hope that it is in some way helpful to you.

Regarding the question of which academic year to enter your child in the Portuguese school, we were given no choice in the matter at all. It was the schools intent to settle the new student (irrespective of nationality) into the correct academic group to ensure learning is as consistent as possible within a year group. As I understand, it does not automatically follow that the age of the child is the factor by which a class group is decided. More so that ability is the levelling factor. There is a broader range of age in my daughter's year group in Portugal than you would expect in the UK. She is about to begin the 7th academic / year group in a few days time and there are some children in that group who are more than 1 year older than her already. For the majority of the class the age is consistent, but in Portugal a child can be held back a year if their end of year exam results do not meet the nationally required grade.

For us the biggest hurdle in getting our daughter into the correct class was in supplying the school with the proof of her academic level in the UK. We had done our homework long before we moved here, and we had received advice from various sources of what we needed to bring to Portugal to satisfy the local system in this respect, but for all that, this was to become a costly and stressful issue to solve, and one we were still not prepared for.

Maybe for us the problem was that our daughter had just transferred from primary to middle school in the months before our move and that the school had not yet conducted any meaningful tests by which to generate structured grades for her. Although we had obtained all records held by either school she attended in the UK, nothing came close to meeting the requirement the school here was requesting. At significant cost we were instructed to submit all the documents we held in translated and notorised form only to be told then that they were still of no consequence. It was frustrating at the time, but during the weeks this was transpiring our daughter had been settled in a year group and was technically already placed in the school. Sometimes logic prevails, even if it doesn't satisfy the bureaucracy of the Portuguese education authorities. There is a little more to tell in this story but the detail is long and I dont want to bore you further, but I do just want to say that we never did satisfy the demands of the school for the legal papers they needed and that ultimately that did not prevent our daughter's acceptance into the school we had chosen for her.

As for the language learning, as you already know I am sure, the younger the child, the easier the language will be for them. For your daughter it will be a more natural progression and you will be amazed at the speed that she will develop. Your son is a little older and although he will be fine, you might notice that he is a little slower in uptake early on. I am no expert! I am only a father of an 11 year old who has now had 18 months of pandemic disrupted school / education here in Portugal and is amazing for what she has learned. I believe now what I was told about the resilience of our children in this situation and hope that I can reassure you of the same. Please also take comfort in the fact that a Portuguese school is legally obliged to supply Portuguese language classes to foreign students in addition to the fixed educational curriculum. We certainly did not know this before our daughter was enrolled, and for us with the challenging time we have had here, this has not been a solid part of my daughters learning, but it is here and should hopefully be more consistent in the coming year with the effects of the pandemic easing and hopefully causing no further disruption to education.

On my daughters first day at the school, the head told us that she would be fluent in 2 months or so. Well it hasn't worked out quite that way for us, but I believe for you the experience will be a more normal one.

Sorry, but this is a question I should have asked at the beginning as I now see the relevance of it. Do you already have a school in mind for your children, and if so do you know if there are any other English speaking students there already? Obviously this would assist you greatly with the integration if it were the case. This was not the case for our nervous daughter, who despite almost in tears at the beginning of her first day was surrounded by new friends at the gate at the end of the day as she waited for us to collect her. Such a relief for anxious parents too.

Perhaps another observation I could offer you that no-one mentioned to me in advance of our move is that of an unexpected consequence (well, not if you think about it), of our children learning the new language of the country they now live. As the new language becomes the focus of everyone's attention, you will begin to notice that they will struggle to explain what they are learning in school to a parent because they are losing (or not learning) the English equivalent that the parent understands. This will be noticeable in your daughter first because her English language is less developed. In my daughters case we became aware of this scenario when she was trying to explain the details from a biology class she had that day. Initially we looked blankly at her believing that she had just forgotten her natural language already, but the reality was that she had not yet learned English to that particular level. The obvious knock-on to this situation is that she may not be as fully bi-lingual when she finishes her education here as one would assume. I am grateful that the teaching of the English language is extremely important to the Portuguese education system and is quite extensive from an early age, but I am aware that my daughter is likely to treat English as her second language by the time she leaves education.

I do hope that this is of some help to you. maybe a little more than you asked, but the consequences of this simple situation are deeper that perhaps you first think. If I can answer any other questions you might have, I am more than happy to do so, but again my knowledge is limited to my own experience only, and is by no means absolute.

All the very best with your move to Portugal.

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Premium Member
(@vivienne)
Joined: 3 months ago

Active Member
Posts: 5

@daretodream I cannot thank you enough for taking so much time and effort to help me. Thank you! This is very re-assuring. I've hit exactly the issues that you mention here: the school is not accepting the national primary tests from Ireland. They're asking me for records that don't exist. I expect I'm going to go through all the length authentication process to have it rejected too, however, I'm very reassured to hear that they kept your daughter in school anyway. I thought my children couldn't be enroled without this. We have their school books from last year. It's a patchy year due to all the home-schooling. Ireland was in lock down for most of last year, much more restricted than what went on in the UK.

 

Were you able to deal with this while living in Portugal? The thing that threw me on Monday when they rejected this paperwork was that everything has to be authenticated by the Portuguese Consulate in Ireland before we move. So it's delaying us leaving here. I might just move and fly back to Dublin to deal with it. I live on the other side of Ireland anyway, so it's not easy to get to Dublin from here.

 

I spoke to Ei Emmigration about it on Monday as well, and they were very helpful and confirmed that this is the process. It's obviously changed a good deal since my relative moved 12 years ago!

 

This is such helpful information you've provided about your daughter's experience in school and it's very reassuring. Funny about the specialist terms in English not developing but of course that makes perfect sense. I always had such admiration for people I was at uni with who were from other countries and were taking all these notes from lectures about specialist topics but in English. What a skill to have.

 

Yes, we've got a rental and I do know which schools our children will attend. The owner is a teacher so she's been helping us with the school enrolments. I got the paperwork organised 2 months ago, but they when they opened on Monday they rejected the school records and I wasn't expecting that.

 

Thanks again for all this. I really appreciate it. It's so very helpful.

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Posts: 10
VIP Member
(@daretodream)
Active Member
Joined: 3 years ago

Hi Vivienne, I am glad that I have been able to reassure you a little. If our experience is anything to go on it will work itself out in the end.

From the schools perspective in Portugal there is a legal responsibility that a child must attend school, and it is clear to see that the ethical commitment to this situation is stronger than I was ever aware of in the UK. Certainly as parents attending the school to progress our daughters enrolment it was so striking of the different social norms and expectations here. The culture is still very family and child focused in Portugal although the locals will tell you of the many social changes that have been evolving over the past decade or so, but as a new entrant into the culture of the central region it feels to us as if the world has reverted to something akin to the 1960's of back home. For us this aspect of life is very welcome, but it is sadly not without some frustrations.
As for authenticating school documents we were advised very strongly by the school that this must be done through the UK consulate in Lisbon. Assuming that we were not unique in this situation we approached the consulate to complete a well rehearsed process to that end, only to be told that they do not perform such services. At this point we were stumped, and trapped in a middle position where neither party either side of us was of any help. Still, our daughter was attending school during this stage, and this was on the insistence of the school itself. This was of great comfort to us as the local children are very open to newcomers and she settled extremely quickly.

You will note on your arrival that many important documents that you need here will be authenticated with an official emboss and a signature. Most often this is done in your presence. Portugal has in some respects achieved a very integrated digital infrastructure, but this traditional approach to legalising documents still persists. It is my belief that the school is seeking this kind of authentication from the UK in our case, on documents from our child’s previous school. Of course, this is not the way in the UK and I think this is the stumbling block. Maybe other typical migrant nations to Portugal still retain this method of authentication and consequently the normal procedure is maintained for the majority. I can only wonder.

Eventually the school acknowledged we were at stalemate and we were invited in to sign what I can only assume to be a personal declaration of responsibility for the documents we had provided. It may have not been what they wanted, but we were never made to feel that we had been any trouble to them and we continue to maintain a good relationship with the school. We are also happy to report that after our daughters first complete school year in Portugal her test results put her in the top 3 of her year group where all tests were conducted in Portuguese and she was not given any special provision of language support. There is still a way to go but as parents we couldn't be happier for her.

All the very best to you and your family. We hope it goes smoothly for you.

 

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1 Reply
Premium Member
(@vivienne)
Joined: 3 months ago

Active Member
Posts: 5

@daretodream thank you so much!

I really, really appreciate this. It's so helpful. I think we'll get together what we can at in Ireland over the next few weeks (to show that we've at least tried to provide what they asked for), will bring the school books as evidence of last year of work (patchy, due to all the Covid lockdowns and home-schooling), move and hope for the best.

 

I had their vaccination records and school report cards ready, ID, birth certs, all prepared. I was NOT expecting the school records to be rejected on Monday! We're going to contact the Irish school now to ask principal to write a letter explaining the school system here and that the standard tests are all that are available in Ireland.

 

It doesn't help that the Dept of Foreign Affairs in Ireland (for authenticating records) still hasn't fully re-opened and is working slowly due to our lockdowns. They were closed from Oct 2020 until mid May so they've got quite the backlog.

 

I'm going to check again if we can get this done via the Irish Consulate in Lisbon. That makes more sense than staying on Ireland for the Portuguese Consulate in Dublin, but I've been told several times that's what we have to do.

 

Again, thank you. There are always teething problems and unexpected things with such a big change. The help of others and their good will makes such a difference. I very much appreciate this and it's very reassuring to hear how much your daughter is enjoying school socially and thriving academically. Thank you for your kindness helping us this way.

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