Global educational policy guidelines have placed at the center of their priorities the promotion of excellence, quality and efficiency of education and training systems. This text intends to discuss the impact of this agenda on the Portuguese educational reality by examining the policy in practical state, that is, appropriation mechanisms in the organizational space and their relationship with the cultural specificity of the school. In the light of this approach, I intend to understand how the school culture locally redefines its educational mission, adjusting it to the democratic and egalitarian purposes and/or to requirements of promoting excellence and merit. Assuming that the cultural dimensions play a central role in the recontextualization of educational policies, I have sought to identify in the Portuguese education system the scope of one of the most significant rituals of the school’s mission: the rituals of distinction of the best students. Following the content analysis of about 1500 documents produced in the context of public schools with secondary education, I have made a national mapping of distinction rituals. The findings point to a strong adherence of institutions with secondary education to rituals of distinction or of public recognition of merit. However, neither its configuration nor its selection criteria have a uniform character, which indicates the existence of different concepts of excellence, which result from the different school cultures and their role in defining each school’s policy and success criteria.
School culture; Excellence; Distinction; Public school