*** Portugal education Portuguese schools education

Portuguese Schools

Portuguese thoughts

Figure 1.--Here we see a Portuguese primsary school, we think in the 1910s. Note that most of the children wear either a smock or sailor suit. I'm not sure what the boy in the polka-dot outfit is wearing.

Education in Portugal was for years dominated or perhaps better explained, limited by the Roman Catholic church and the conservsative monarchy. Portugal led the European outreach in the the 15th century, but gradually was overwealmed by larger and more powerful maritime states. The Catholic Church and Inquisition prevented the Protestant Reformation from reaching Portugal. Portugal became a backwater of Europe. This also meant that there was not real consideration pf public education until the 19th century and only limited steps even in the eatrly 20th century. The Church for centuries kept a time reign on education. Portugal did not begin to build a modern education system until the Carnation Socialist Revolution (1975). We do not know a great deal about Portuguese schoolwear, but since the 19th century, many children wore smocks.


Education in Portugal like much of Western Europe was for years dominated by the Roman Catholic church. The Portuguese experience was somewhat different, in part because of the Moorish era (8th-11th centuries). Portugal led the European maritime outreach in the the 15th century, but gradually was overwealmed buy larger and more powerful maritime states. Portugal became a backwater of Europe. Some reforms were achieved and the Jesuits expelled (18th century). The Church for centuries kept a time reign on education. Educational reforms were attempted by the First Republic, but stopped by the conservative revolution (1926). Little attention was given to education during the lengthy Saklzar dictatorship. Portugal after World War II was widely seen as the most bsackward country in Western Europe with a lrgely uneducated an illiterate population--especially in rural areas. This did not begin to change until the Socialist revolution (1975). Substantial progress has since been made in narrowing the education gap. And great progress has been made in reducing illiteracy.


A major problem in building a public school system in Portugal was the country's ebdemic povety. This meant that the Government had limited funds available to build schiils and hire teachers. It also mean that the middle-class was relativly small. nd in any country, the support for public education comes largely from the middle-class. And much of the working-class, urban workers and the peasantry had not attended school and were larglybilliterate. This limited the parents ability to assist children and the appreciation of th importabce of education. It also meant that the parents needed thei children to wirk at an early age to help with farm labor or to earn a little money in towns and cities to hlp support the family. All of this created problems for public education. As Portugal was among the poorest contries in Europe, the problem was especilly severe.

Public Education

Public education began in Europe largely as a result of the Reformation (16th century). It was further by states like Prussia that saw the benefits of educating the populatiin as a whole. This did not occur in Catholic Europe. One of the issues of the Reformation was Bible reading. The Catholic Church discouraged Bible reading among the general public. This there was little support for public education in the countries of southern Europe (Italy, Portugal, and Spain) where the Catholic Church was most influential. The first Portuguese General Decree about Primary Schooling was not apprived until September 7, 1835. At the time about 90 percent of Portuguese population was illiterate. In many villages there were no school and most families didn't think that schooling was important for their children. For this reason the Decree "calls the attention of the family fathers about the duty to send to school their children that reached the age of 7, and asks the municipalities and the parish priests to use any method to persuade the family fathers to accomplish this duty". In spite of this and other decrees the general situation didn't change: many villages had no schools and most Portuguese children never attended school. The problen of course was that the Government offered little financial support for public education. Here not only was the Church hostile, but the country's poverty (in part the result of a poorly educated public) meant that limited resources were available. Portugal became a Republic (1910). The new administration made an effort to promote primary schooling, but there were many difficulties, especially the economic situation of the country and because the traditional attitudes toward education had not changed. The first Portuguese Republic was overthrown with a coup d'état (1926). The resulting António de Oliveira Salazar dictatorship had a different attitude towards primary schooling. Schools were not to be used as a instrument to promte social ascent. The Salazar Government reduced compulsory school attendance from 5 to 4 years (1927). The new Constitution promulgated in 1933 states that the objective of primary school was only that children can read, write and count. For some time the compulsory schooling was reduced to only 3 years. The attendance of secondary schools by working class children was discouraged. The Government only increased compulsory schooling attendahce from 4 to 6 years (1964). A true reform of the Portuguese school system took place only after the "Carnation Revolution" (1974).


We do not know a great deal about Portuguese schoolwear, but since the 19th century, many children wore smocks. We think this was primary schools. We are less sure about secondary schools. A good example is the 1910s school class seen here (figure 1). We note smocks of different colors and different styles. At some schools almost all the boys wear smocks which suggests that they if not mandatory, encouragd by the schools. Other schools are more mixed with some boys wearing and not wearing smocks. This of course varied over time and at many schools smocks were not worn. The garments other than smocks seem to reflect the geral fashions at the time. We see primary boys wearing knee pants and short pants in the first half of the 20th century. Long pants tend to become more populr in the second half of the century. Girls wore dresses during most of the 20th century, but we seem more of a variety by the end of the century.

Individual Schools

We have limited information on individual Portuguese schools. We note one village primary school in the district of Setúbal, located in southern Portugal. It shows a 4th grade class during the 1954-55 school year. The kids would be about 10 years old and they were attending the last year of the compulsory school program at the time in Portugal. All but one boy are wearing white smocks, however there were children that attend the school in bare feet. To go barefoot was very common for Portuguese children at the time. We note another village primary school located in Ameal, a village about 10 km west of Coimbra, in central Portugal. The photo is undated, but was probably taken un the 1950s. In this photo the children do not wear smocks or shoes. It is also a coeducational class which was not common in Portugal at the time, except in small villsage schools.

Additional Information

Carefull, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press New Zealand book: New book on New Zealand schools available
  • School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America


    Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
    [The 1880s] [The 1890s]
    [The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

    Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
    [Long pants suits] [Knicker suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers]
    [Blazer] [School sandals] [School smocks] [Sailor suits] [Pinafores] [Long stockings]

    Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Page
    [Return to the Main European school uniform country page]
    [About Us]
    [Activities] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Debate] [Economics] [Garment] [Gender] [Hair] [History] [Home trends] [Literary characters]
    [School types] [Significance] [Transport and travel [Uniform regulations] [Year level] [Other topics]
    [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Search] [Tools]
    [Return to the Historic Boys' School Home]

    Created: 10:43 PM 5/6/2007
    Last updated: 5:53 AM 6/5/2021