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.