International Options: International schools in th...

International Options: International schools in the Algarve

By: Ana Tavares

International schools appeared in the Algarve in the 1970s as an education alternative for foreigners moving to the region. Less than a month after the start of the 2018/19 school year, Essential looks at the current reality of international schooling in the region from west to east


Under the motto “education with inspiration”, Aljezur International School was founded in 2010 by Karen Whitten and Sílvia Catarino. It grew following an invitation from the local council, which detected a gap in international education in the small, quiet Algarve town. It opened with just 20 students but at time of this article’s publication has 75, from 25 nationalities aged between 10 and 18 years old, who study an international curriculum. “We follow the Cambridge University curriculum, which is now known as Cambridge Assessment International Education,” explains director Karen Whitten.

Despite demanding subjects, at Aljezur International School there is only one rule – respect. “Respect between students, teachers and parents, as well as respect for nature and the world around us. This creates a family atmosphere of voluntary cooperation, and students are truly present and enjoy the learning experience.”

Distinctive aspects: small classes, strong community spirit, weekly farming classes in the school’s garden, and contact with nature (some classes take place outside), made possible by its location.

Facilities: very picturesque and with an old charm, the school has five classrooms, a library and a dining room. There is an annexe with a computer room and a science lab, as well as a garden, a football field, an “ecogazebo” and a climbing frame.

Extracurricular activities: none.

Fees: €6,000 per year. The school provides a coach service from Portimão, with stops in Lagos and Bensafrim, which costs €1,000 per year.


Created in 2003, Vale Verde International School (VVIS), in Montinhos da Luz, Lagos, has an international educational plan but commits to teaching Portuguese from early on, motivating students to develop basic skills in the language.

According to the school’s director, Louise de Beer, VVIS is a registered examination centre for Cambridge and Pearson Edexcel International Examinations, and it is renowned for its students’ exam success rate. As it follows the British curriculum exclusively, VVIS has always been highly sought-after by British and Irish students, but the range of pupils has expanded over the years, and at time of publication, it has students from 16 nationalities.

Distinctive aspects: quiet location and family atmosphere, early teaching of Portuguese, and strong results in exams leading to university entry.

Facilities: canteen, science and computer technology labs, multipurpose sports area, and recreational zone for students from Years 1 to 4.

Extracurricular activities: sports, arts, theatre and music clubs. There are also complementary activities, from maths and science to languages. All activities are free.

Fees: between €5,625 and €10,395 per year, depending on age.


When two well-known schools in the region came together, under one international group, the result was the largest educational unit in southern Portugal. The International School of the Algarve, inaugurated in 1972, and Barlavento English School, founded in 1975, joined hands in 2013 to create the Nobel International School Algarve. The two campuses, one in Lagos and the other in Lagoa, welcomed 780 students this school year. “We opened several new classes this year due to the increase in demand,” says director Mike Farrer.

Lagoa’s Nobel is also the only school in the region offering a boarding programme to children between 12 and 18. Students are accommodated, in singles or in pairs, at the school’s boarding house in Armação de Pêra, in the old Hotel do Levante. Every room has a bathroom and there is also a gym, swimming pool and even a piano. The campuses complement each other: the school in Lagoa has students between 3 and 18 years old, who follow the British or the Portuguese national curriculum, while the Lagos campus teaches children aged 3 to 11 using only the British curriculum. “In our international section, about a third of the students are English and the rest come mostly from the Netherlands, France, Scandinavia, Russia, Brazil, Poland and Ukraine. Our boarding students come from all over the world, including the USA and China,” states Amy Grace, the school’s head of marketing and communications.

Distinctive aspects: boarding programme and training for teachers, who learn mindfulness and neuroscience.

Facilities: designated rooms for sciences, information technologies, music and sports; tech design workshop; classrooms with interactive white boards; multipurpose sports pavilions.

Extracurricular activities: countless sports activities, Fun Science, Dance Academy and Public Speaking, among many others.

Fees: from €4,092 per year for primary school; up to €15,156 for secondary.


Founded in 1984, the Vilamoura International School (CIV) is one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the Algarve, standing out countless times in national education rankings with the best average in the region. As of time of publication, there are 640 pupils enrolled. These are students between ages 3 and 18, from 50 nationalities, mostly Portuguese and British, but also Chinese, Russian, French and Brazillian, who choose one of the available education plans: the Portuguese curriculum, with subject enrichment activities, or the English plan, which follows the British curriculum and Cambridge Assessment International Education. The latter is “one of the most renowned secondary school programmes on the international scene, whose exams are accepted in the best universities,” says CIV’s educational director, Cidália Bicho.

The private school has many innovative initiatives, from establishing teaching pairs in key subjects to students’ involvement in international and vocational internships and meditation in the classroom. Also, all students over 6 years old use laptops to work on research projects and parents can count on a coach service from Olhão, Faro, Loulé, Almancil, Quarteira, Vilamoura, Albufeira, Alcantarilha and Messines.

Distinctive aspects: Cambridge Assessment International Education with 100% success rate in GCSEs in the last 15 years; Career Counsellors who help students with their university applications, preparing for interviews and writing personal statements.

Facilities: 18,500sqm recreational area, football field with synthetic grass, tennis and basketball courts, gym, ballet and music rooms, several labs (including robotics), library, and much more.

Extracurricular activities: sports activities, ballet, languages, theatre, arts, music, robotics clubs, etc.

Fees: between €415 and €540 per month for the Portuguese programme and €470 to €889 per month for the British.


The school opened in 2016 and it is part of an international group of schools with an affiliated institution in London. In Portugal, Knightsbridge Schools International (KSI) is located in Olhão, born from a partnership with the Colégio Bernardette Romeira school, and it offers “a holistic approach to education”, according to director Teresa Costa Monteiro. Students at KSI Algarve follow an international education plan: the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP), for students between 3 and 12 years old. “The IB PYP is a study programme of essential elements – knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and actions that students need to prepare for a successful life, now and in the future.”

One of the main advantages of this eastern Algarve school is the reduced class sizes, which helps children bond with their peers and teachers, something that is particularly useful given the melting pot of nationalities there: American, Brazilian, British, Chinese, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish students.

Distinctive aspects: small classes and the school’s location, within a Portuguese school, which helps the immersion in national culture.

Facilities: classrooms with interactive white boards, library, technology centre, science and robotics labs, music rooms, multipurpose auditorium, sports field, gym, and outdoor recess with a garden.

Extracurricular activities: basketball, karate, dance, robotics and swimming.

Fees: annual fees vary between €4,550 and €6,600.


With its lovely façade of traditional architecture, the Santiago International School (CSI) resembles a school from the olden days. A more recent addition to the Algarve’s private education picture, CSI opened its doors in Tavira in 2012. Founded by Ana Alves, its current director, it welcomes students between 4 and 18, who are taught according to the British national curriculum. Classes are taught in Portuguese and English, according to each child’s needs: “We personalise the way we teach the programme to encourage and enable our students to reach their maximum potential and contribute as global citizens,” she explains. This goal is also achieved through a balance between academic, social, cultural and physical activities, assures Ana.

Located in a charming 15th-century building, the school at time of publication has nine classrooms and only 75 students, which creates a family atmosphere. “We have small classes, with 18 students at most, which allows for a better learning environment and brings out the best in every student.” As in other international schools, there is a multicultural environment, with students from Portugal, England, France, Italy, Pakistan and Denmark, among many other countries.

Distinctive aspects: small classes and family atmosphere; teaching focused on students’ needs.

Facilities: science lab, music room (which is also used as a studio by students during recess), arts room, and a 2,000sqm recreational area for sports activities.

Extracurricular activities: ballet, tennis and Jiu-Jitsu.

Fees: starting at €379 per month for Year 1 (children between five and six) and at €596 per month for Year 13 (last year before university).

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