Italian School System – Important Things To Know

San Biagio Siena Italy

Schooling in Italy is mandatory up to the age of 16; so if you’re a resident of the country then no matter where you are from, and this includes Expats and other foreigners, you will have to send your children to school.

Education in Italy is completely free for all children between the ages of 6 to 16, regardless of the child’s nationality. There are also private schools in Italy where fees can be quite hefty, however there is an excellent provision of free schools throughout the country.

The Italian state run schooling system was first founded in 1859 in order to raise the rate of literacy, which at that time stood at only 20%. The education system has been very successful in raising literacy rates among its population with the schools being rated by the OECD as 34th in the world for literacy, reading and math. There is a fair amount of variation between the quality of schools around the country, but there are still very good schools in the country, particularly the private ones, where children receive a superb education in all subjects.

An Overview of The Schooling System – The 5 Stages.

  • Scuola dell’infanzia (kindergarden).
  • Scuola primaria/elementare (primary school).
  • Scuola secondaria di primo grado/scuola media (lower secondary school).
  • Scuola secondaria di secondo grado/scuola superiore (upper secondary school).
  • Universita (university).

Schooling is freely available to all children up to the ages of 16 provided that they are registered as living in the country – so this includes Expats and Immigrants as well.

The Italian Schooling System in More Detail.

The 5 stages of the Italian schooling system progress in difficulty as the children advance through their education with students usually beginning university at the age of 19 although this is not mandatory.

Scuola dell’infanzia (kindergarten).

Children in Italy begin school very young, at the age of 3, when they are sent to kindergarten. This part of Italian schooling is not mandatory although the vast majority of Italian families do send their children to attend the Scuola dell’infanzia. It is seen as a valuable part of the child’s upbringing as they learn to socialize with their peers at a young age while beginning to recognize letters and numbers in classes.

The emphasis of these schools is play time and having fun. Each class has two full time teachers who oversee the children and make sure they are safe and happy. Kindergarten can be attended until the children are 6, when they move on to the next stage of their education.

Scuola primaria/elementare (primary school).

Students start their mandatory education at the age of 6 when they start primary school. Students spend a total of 5 years in primary school and finish at the age of 11.

All students learn the same basic curriculum throughout the country which includes classes in Italian as well as English, math, science, geography, history, social studies, music, visual art and physical education.

Primary school education is very broad and gives students the chance to find out which subjects they excel in and enjoy. Each class has 3 main teachers who cover a variety of subjects. As well as the 3 main class teachers there is also an English language teacher who works with many classes at the same time who only focuses on teaching the students English.

Scuola secondaria (secondary school).

The secondary school in Italy begins for students when they are 11 and is also mandatory. Secondary school is divided into two parts; scuola secondaria di primo (lower secondary school) and scuola superiore (upper secondary school).

Usually simply referred to as Le Superiori, the later phase of secondary school is the rough equivalent of American High School. The students continue to study a broad range of subjects but they start to have more choice as to what subjects they drop as they go on. The lower secondary school is roughly from ages 11-14 while the secondary second school is from ages 14-19.

Upper secondary school, from ages 14-19, is more specialized and divided into 3 different types of school options for students :

  • Liceo : at the Liceo students specialize in more theoretical subjects such as the humanities, sciences and art. Many of the courses have several subjects in common, such as Italian literature, math and history; however students can also elect to do more specialist subjects like ancient Greek or Latin.
  • Istituto tecnico : at the Instituto tecnico the students learn a mixture of basic theoretical subjects but they also specialize more in a particular field, such as humanities, administration, law, technology, economics or tourism.
  • Istituto professionale : these are vocational schools where students learn specific skills that are geared towards a career. For instance, students learn about career trades like carpentry, plumbing and construction. The Istituto professionale provides a 3 year diploma rather than the 5 years in other upper secondary schools and so students finish at age 17, ready for the world of work.

At the end of their secondary schooling the students must take a final exam which is called the ‘esame di maturità’ or the ‘esame di stato’. These tests are taken by all students across the country at the same time each year between June and July of their final year. These exams are a requirement for students who want to apply for further education at university.

Italian secondary education is ranked much better than the overall education in the country and is ranked by the OECD as 21st in the world. Secondary education provides a good range of options to suit different students and their career ambitions; and whether they are more academically or practically inclined they can study at an appropriate school to bring out their full potential.

School Terms and Schedules in Italy.

Term times across the country are synchronized and usually begin, for all levels, in the second week of September, with the school year finishing in mid June. As with everything in Italy, there are some small regional variations with schools in the Northern regions where they begin slightly earlier than those in the South! However, the difference is usually just a matter of a few days. In recent years the schools have been given more autonomy and this has led to more minor differences in the annual calendars of the schools.

School holidays come twice in the academic year – once for Christmas and once for Easter; with the main break being during the summer months when students get almost 3 months off. Schools also close for national bank holidays.

The two terms of the school year are known as ‘quadrimestre’; an autumn term which is from September until January, with a Christmas break, and then a spring term which runs from the end of January until June, when schools break up for the summer.

At the end of each school term the students receive a personal report card, known as a ‘pagella’. This assesses how well they have done during the term, with subjects being graded on a scale of 1 to 10. The standard pass mark for students is 6 out of 10, where 10 is excellent and 1 is very poor. The students’ pagellas are usually mailed to the parents but in the digital age they are also posted on a password secured part of the school’s website.

Daily School Schedules in Italy.

Lessons in Italian schools start at either 8 or 8.30am and last 5 hours, from Monday through til Saturday. After their classes the students return home for lunch and consequently there are no canteens or food facilities in schools. Kindergartens are different though where the children stay until 4 or 4.30pm doing special projects and other fun activities in the afternoon; they also provide the children at kindergarten with food at lunchtime.

Most schools’ 5 hour day is divided into 5 classes, with some classes taking a double period of 2 hours. As schools have been gaining more autonomy from central authorities some have opted to change their week to a shorter 5 day week with students spending longer hours at school from Monday to Friday but then get Saturday off.

All schools have a daily mid morning break, or ‘ricreazione’, of 15 minutes between 10.30 and 11.30, depending on the individual school timetable. The students are allowed to go outside, eat some food and chat with each other before they resume their classes.

Registering For School in Italy.

Known as ‘Iscrizone’, students must register for the following school year between January and February. This may vary from school to school but to find out the exact details in your region you should contact the local school and they’ll explain their enrollment program.

Unlike in other parts of the European Union where students must go to a school in their catchment area, you can enroll your children into any school that you like regardless of where you are based. If you apply to a school and there are spaces available then your child will be admitted however you should be aware that if places are limited then students who live closer to the school will get priority over those who live further away.

After School Activities (Doposcuola).

Most schools in Italy offer free activities, known as ‘Doposcuola’, for their students after the mandatory school day is finished. There’s a wide range of activities that are offered which include music lessons, photography classes, art and other extra curricular subjects. Many primary schools in Italy also offer free afternoon classes where they help the students with their homework before they go home.

Do Students Need To Wear A Uniform?

Secondary schools in Italy do not require their students to wear uniforms. The younger children however, at the kindergarten, usually wear a blue and white checked uniform for boys and a red and white checked uniform for girls. Primary school students usually wear deep blue smocks as uniforms.

What Do Students Need To Take To School?

The younger kindergarten children just take a small bag with water, tissues and a few snacks to school with them but the older students must take their own bag of textbooks, school books and any stationary they need.

Religion At Italian Schools.

It is traditional for all students in Italy to spend an hour a week learning about the Catholic religion. Catholicism plays a major role in the culture and society of the country and so it is felt to be important that students have a good grasp of its history and tenants. However, if you are a parent who does not wish their children to attend these lessons you can opt for your child to take an alternative educational class or else leave the school and come home early.

The Relationship Between Parents and the School.

The relationship between parents and the teachers at the schools in Italy have official and unofficial elements. Every year, for each class the parents choose one parent who acts as the official representative of their interests. This parent takes a more active role in communicating with the school teachers when disputes arise but they also help to arrange special events like school trips and other one off initiatives.

Parents also take an active role in the ‘Consiglio di Istituto’, which is the equivalent of a school board. This helps to promote a good relationship between the school, its teachers and the parents but it also makes important decisions on how the school budget should be spent.

As well as the school board, teachers also have an official ‘ora di ricevimento’, or office hours, each week during which parents can discuss any concerns or questions they have in regards to the school. Schools also arrange two days each year, one for each term, when parents can come in and talk to the teachers about how their children are doing in general at school. However, teachers are very friendly and you can usually drop in any day after school to have an informal talk with them if you have any worries or questions.

Italian Schooling – Mix of Academic Rigor and Character Building Activities.

Education in Italy is taken very seriously by the state authorities and parents alike and so children usually have a very positive experience. There are many opportunities for students to do extra curricular activities as well as their official studies; and in general parents have a great relationship with the schools and teachers.

Schooling is free for all students who are registered in the country, which includes Expats. Of course, you can choose to send your child to a private school but in many parts of the country the free state schools are of a very high standard, particularly at Secondary school level.

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