SAPIE – Sistema de Alerta Precoce do Insucesso Escolar (School Failure Early Warning System)

  •  Portugal,Norte, Centro and Alentejo
  •  2019
Time frame
  • Continuous programme
  • Active Citizenship
  • Inclusion
  • Conditions for Learning
  • Methods & Events
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Training & Capacity Building
Level of Schools
  • Primary School
  • Lower Secondary School
External Partners
  • Company
  • NGO
  • Public Authority
  • Other
Type of Schools
  • School clusters (which usually group several schools, covering students from pre-school to the 12th grade). The project was aimed for students from the 1st to the 9th grade.
Number of Schools involved
  • 75
Number of Schoolheads involved
  • 75
Number of Teachers involved
  • 1500
Number of Students involved
  • 50000
Number of Parents involved
  • 0
Number of External Partners involved
  • 5
Short Description

SAPIE arises from the logical principle that in education, as in medicine, "prevention is more powerful than cure". In this sense, it seeks to create conditions for schools to act before school failure occurs.
Based on indicators supported by the investigation, SAPIE is an online platform which was developed and implemented in 75 school clusters, and allows, in a visual and intuitive way, to early identify the risk of school failure.


The main purpose of the project is to help schools in their role of reducing school failure.
Within the scope of the financing program, an impact commitment was made to reduce the number of students retained by 3%.

In more general terms, the project aims to:
Provide an instrument for identifying the risk of failure, based on research; Enhance the use of preventive measures instead of remedial measures; Monitor the results of the measures implemented to combat school failure.


The project is being funded until September 2020 through the Social Impact Titles program.
Future sustainability after this period is being prepared. The focus is on selling services to local authorities. With the municipalization of education, they are taking on new responsibilities in education.
These entities, where a large part of the resources available to combat school failure are being channelled, have expressed the need for this type of solutions.
We have already developed a sustainability model in this regard.
We are also preparing for the internationalization of the project, and there are already contacts in this regard.


Implementation of SAPIE implies several stages:
1) First, a presentation of SAPIE is made to each school board, with the main goal of introducing the idea
/concept behind and evaluate if this technological solution is adjusted to their context. If the school decides to proceed with SAPIE, a collaboration form is signed.
2) Then, it is needed to identify interlocutors and establish their roles and main responsibilities. On one hand, to each school is assigned a SAPIE team member responsible for providing support and monitoring the implementation process. On the other hand, the school has also to identify someone (ideally from School Board) to be in constant interaction and articulation with SAPIE team.
3) Import school data, which will feed the warning system (this stage has to be repeated at the end of each school term).
4) SAPIE team ensures users training, so they can become familiar on SAPIE tool.
5) After training all users, schools are encouraged to interpret SAPIE data and use SAPIE outputs to support pedagogical decisions (for example, how to best allocate resources to at-risk students). The main work, however, is focused on multidisciplinary teams which are responsible for identifying and monitoring students at risk.
6) SAPIE also allows the registration of assigned interventions, to facilitate the evaluation and monitorization of students’ progress.
7) Evaluate and refine SAPIE implementation process, through feedback collected from schools.


The project was funded by the Social Impact Titles program.


Among the main outcomes of the project we can highlight:
- System design based on the failure risk prediction model - Model A-B-C by Balfanz (2007)
- Technological development of the SAPIE platform (
- Signature of the implementation protocols with 75 school clusters
- Implementation of the SAPIE System in 75 school clusters
- Impact assessment carried out by the University of Coimbra

The impact of this pilot implementation in the first year (2018/19) is expressed in the impact assessment report carried out by the University of Coimbra - 5 times greater than its initial commitment to the financing program. The implementation of SAPIE resulted in a reduction of 408 retentions, which translated into savings of 1.8 million euros for the State, considering the cost of a retention per student (per academic year) calculated by the Court of Auditors.


One of SAPIE's strengths is the fact that it is a research-based project, through the implementation of a scientifically validated early warning system. There is no other equivalent system in the context of education in Portugal, so it is also intended to validate the identified indicators for the Portuguese population.

The implementation of an early warning system allows the promotion of changes in intervention based on a logic of prevention, instead of traditional approaches based on remediation.

On the other hand, SAPIE is a tool that can be used by several stakeholders in the educational process: Municipalities, School Group Directorates, Class Directors and Technicians. Often, the articulation between all these actors is difficult, with no platform for sharing information. In this way, SAPIE promotes articulated and networked work, as all stakeholders have access to information that concerns them in an easy and quick way.

Didactical Concept

The project was based on the American model for predicting the risk of failure - ABC Model by Balfanz (2007) - which allows the early identification of the risk for school failure, providing objective support for decision making by educational agents based on three key indicators: Attendance, Behaviour and Course Performance.


The main innovative aspects are described in the answer to "why is it an inspiring practice for you":
- Research-based project
- Enhancement of early intervention
- Monitoring the effects of interventions
- Promotion of information sharing and networking


The project has benefited from important input from the various partners involved:
Social investors: periodic meetings are held to report on the project's implementation and the results obtained. Important feedback is collected from their experience in education
Public Authority: periodic meetings have been held with the DGE, to share methodologies and results obtained. One of the permits of the project is to contribute to educational policies.
University: participated in research, design and impact assessment. Periodic articulation meetings are held. School Clusters: are the main users of the project. They provide feedback and propose improvements to the system. Periodic meetings are held with school principals.

Mutual Learning

The concept of early warnings applied to education is still very little explored worldwide, so the opportunities for learning are very significant.
We have been involving all partners in this process, with regular meetings and encouraging feedback.

In another dimension, a new functionality is also being finalized: the sharing and consultation of validated interventions with an impact on the reduction of school failure.


Portugal is one of the countries in Europe where student retention is more associated with the family's low socioeconomic and cultural status, that is, students who come from more disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are more likely to suffer at least one retention during their journey compared to pupils of higher socioeconomic status. Portuguese schools thus seem to be ineffective in their work to promote equal opportunities, namely in the Right to Education present in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Among SAPIE's indicators, we highlight two that are closely linked to inclusion: economic class and the mother's academic qualifications.
The promotion of interventions based on these two indicators is an essential aspect for breaking the cycle of poverty.

Ethical Aspects

The main concern that underlies the SAPIE project is combating school failure, promoting an inclusive school in which any student is left behind. This concern must be present from the first warning signs, allowing off-track students to have a special and preventive concern, before the failure happens.

Absenteeism and early school dropout are a direct manifestation of failure, that is, students with a pathway of school failure are more likely to not complete the study cycle at the expected age and, as a last alternative, do not complete the minimum schooling.
Failure and dropping out of school entails great costs for both society and the individual: greater probability of unemployment, greater difficulty in finding a stable and well-paid professional situation, greater probability of developing health problems (physical and mental), lower level of well-being, greater risk of adopting antisocial behaviours, provided by the environment, due to the economic difficulties they face, and by the stereotypes created by society about those who do not succeed in school, which, consequently, this failure will also remain in their adult lives.


The project mobilizes knowledge from various disciplines.
Educational sciences: it is at the centre of the theoretical model that supports early warning systems in education;
Sociology: socio-demographic indicators are being used, such as the mother's education and economic level; Physical and psychological health: This area is still being included in the continuity of the project. There are several factors that may interfere with students' academic success, with levels of well-being and health influencing their performance (Bücker et al., 2018). In this sense, data relating to students' physical and psychological health are also being considered.

However, we are preparing the project for a transdisciplinary logic.


Addressing a complex reality, the implementation of the project saw a need for a more integrated approach to the various disciplinary areas mobilized.
The next phases of knowledge mobilization are already being carried out in a transdisciplinary logic. School health is an example that can be highlighted.

On the other hand, crossing the impact of indicators from disciplinary areas is also essential for an integrated integration of risk. That is why we are working on the implementation of machine learning solutions that allow the articulation of indicators from different areas, and a transdisciplinary research work.


One of the profiles created in SAPIE is that of an External Entity. It was developed to enhance cooperation between schools and the other educational actors in the local community, in particular the local authorities. This profile was developed to act as a technological observatory of education, and a valuable aid in the construction of school success promoting plans.
With the municipalization of education, local authorities are taking on new responsibilities in education. These entities, where a large part of the resources available to combat school failure are being channelled, have expressed the need for this type of solutions.
New challenges arise that need to be overcome, such as characterizing the educational situation, sharing information, articulating interventions.

Qualitative assessment Inclusiveness

Regional specificities are also a concern of our team. One of the improvements we are working on regarding the risk identification algorithm has to do with the inclusion of this specificity.
The machine learning and artificial intelligence module will allow the creation of high-end algorithms adapted to each region.


Each School is assigned a SAPIE team member, which will be responsible for providing support and monitoring the implementation process – a SAPIE mediator. SAPIE mediator accomplishes training sessions with the school community to teach users how to take more out of SAPIE functions. Besides, there are regular meetings with schools’ interlocutors to supervise SAPIE implementation and the results achieved.

Digital Citizenship

The project has a strong technological component, promoting a more efficient use (and a support of scientific knowledge) of information that schools often already have.
However, we found that one of the challenges in its implementation is related to gaps in the field of new technologies by teachers and other users.
To overcome this problem, the project team is available to train the recipients in the use of SAPIE.
The fact that it adds value to the information that schools have, also increases its use in decision making and in digital citizenship.

Cooperation Quality

The project aroused a very significant interest in our partners from the beginning.
Being a quite different concept from traditional approaches, we verified a great availability in their involvement in contributing to the development and improvement of SAPIE.

Role of External Partners

Social investors, who finance the project: Company and NGO
Public Authority, which validates the project's alignment with public policy and the relevance of expected results: DGE - Direção Geral de Educação (Directorate-General for Education)
Scientific support: University

Institutional Learning

The communication with the entities is made by the institutional leaders: in schools, the principals; in local authorities, councillors responsible for education; in universities, management, in companies, administration. All cooperation and institutional learning processes are thus maximized.


SAPIE was developed by an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional consortium. It’s comprised of a reputable research team of international experts in health and education supported by social economical entities that ensure its development and implementation.
SAPIE Implementation team is organized by several departments, according their members’ roles and responsibilities:
Operations (team divided by regional coordination), Technology,


Both SAPIE and school teams have the need to make continuous assessment throughout the process, to evaluate the adjustment of the strategies and general approach. This step promotes teams to make corrections and adaptations to the process, according to their needs.
Also, there is an impact assessment process on course, carried by the University of Coimbra, to evaluate results and effectiveness of SAPIE.


Manuals are being built in this direction. We foresee its completion in May.