At present the Italian school system is divided into three parts:
- Primary school (scuole elementare)
- Lower secondary (scuola media)
- Upper secondary school (scuola superiore)
State school in Italy is free until the end of primary education. School in Italy is compulsory until the age of 16.
The Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (Ministero dell’Università e della Ricerca) is responsible for administration of state schools in Italy.
The period of compulsory education lasts for nine years and consists of primary school and secondary school in all regions.
The Italian school year usually runs from mid-September to the end of June. School hours can vary from region to region and can be five or six, full or half days.
Find out about provision for the early years in the Italian education system…
Kindergarten/pre-school (Scuola materna)
For ages three to five, the scuola materna provides optional education for children and every child is entitled to a place. It is not obligatory for a child to attend preschool but most parents enrol their children in a scuola materna. Preschool in Italy is free except in private schools.
Primary school (Scuola primaria/elementare)
School in Italy is compulsory from the age of six onwards. Recent legislation changes means that children may start scuola primaria from the age of five and a half onwards (this is to bring Italian schools in line with European schools regarding school leaving ages). All children who will be six years old by 31 December following the start of the school year can register for primary school.
At primary school children learn to read and write and study mathematics, geography, Italian, English, science, music, computer studies, religion (optional) and social studies.
Primary school lasts five years. Classes have between 10 and 25 pupils each. Until recently pupils had to pass an exam at the end of year five before they could progress to secondary school, but this is no longer the case.
Find out about provisions for secondary school for children in the Italian education system…
Lower secondary school
Attendance at lower secondary school (scuola media) is mandatory for all children between the ages of 11 and 14. A national curriculum is followed, as mandated by the Ministry of Public Education (Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione, MPI). Students are required to attend 30 hours of classes per week, though some schools may offer additional classes if there is demand (up to 40 hours). These afternoon classes, which are usually financed from the school budget, may include computer classes, foreign language, sports, music lessons (though instruments are purchased by parents) and chess clubs.
Every term, each student receives a teacher’s report outlining their aptitude, behaviour and achievement. At the end of the third year, pupils sit a standard examination consisting of written papers in Italian, as well as exams in mathematics, science and a foreign language. An oral exam is also administered in all subjects except religion. Successful students are awarded their lower secondary school diploma (diploma di licenza media) and move on to upper secondary school.
Upper secondary school
Upper Secondary School (scuola superiore) involves between three and five years of attendance. Students do an obligatory two years (biennio) of general studies followed by an optional three years (triennio) of specialised education. Students have to choose at this time which type of course they want to study, depending on whether they are thinking of going on to university afterwards, or if they are looking at obtaining a vocational qualification.
There are two categories of upper secondary school: the liceo (like a British grammar school), which is more academic in nature, and an istituto, which is essentially a vocational school.
Every school district has a classics school, a science school and a technical or a vocational school for upper primary students. In larger towns there is also a teacher training school and an art school, and there may be a number of vocational schools, which often reflect local industries.
There are generally available places for all students at upper secondary schools
For the first two years of upper secondary school all students use the same state-mandated curriculum of Italian language and literature, science, mathematics, foreign language, religion, geography, history, social studies and physical education. Specialised courses (indirizzi) begin in the third year of upper primary school.
University is available to all students if they have completed five years of secondary school and received an upper secondary school diploma. It is possible for students who have attended vocational schools to attend university. If a student attended a four-year secondary school program, an additional year of schooling is necessary to qualify for university.
In order to received the upper secondary school diploma (diploma di maturità), students must take and pass written and oral exams. The first written exam requires an essay in Italian on an aspect of literature, history, society or science. The second written test is essentially a research/term paper and pertains to the student’s chosen specialisation. The third exam is more general and includes questions regarding contemporary issues and the student’s chosen foreign language.
Administered by a board of six teachers, an oral exam follows the written exams, and queries students on what they’ve learned in the final year of school. The diploma awarded is dependent on the type of school attended. The upper secondary school diploma is generally recognised as a university entrance qualification, although it is best to check with the pertinent university for acceptance guidelines.
Specialised upper secondary schools
There are various high school (liceo) classes that students can take which specialise in different subjects:
- Classical High School (Liceo Classico)
This lasts for five years and prepares the student for university level studies. Latin, Greek and Italian literature form an important part of the curriculum. During the last three years philosophy and history of art are also studied.
- Scientific High School (Liceo Scientifico)
Lasts for five years with an emphasis on physics, chemistry and natural sciences. The student also continues to study Latin and one modern language
- Fine Arts High School (Liceo Artistico)
Studies can last four to five years and prepare for university studies in painting, sculpture or architecture
- Teacher Training School (Istituto Magistrale)
Studies last for five years and prepare future primary school teachers. There is also a three year training course for nursery school teachers, but this diploma does not entitle students to then enrol at a university.
- Artistic Schools (Istituto d’Arte)
Studies last three years and prepare for work within an artistic field and leading to an arts qualification (diploma di Maestro d’Arte)
- Technical Institutes (Istituti Tecnici)
Studies last five years and prepare for both university studies and for a vocation. There is a majority of students in technical schools that prepare students to work in a technical or administrative capacity in agriculture, industry or commerce.
- Professional Institutes (Istituti Professionali)
These studies lead, in three or five years, to achievement of a vocational qualification.
How to complete the enrolment process…
Under Italian law, Italian schools have to accept all children under the age of 18 even if the necessary documents have not all been provided. In this instance the enrolment is “a temporary enrolment”, until the parents or guardian have been able to produce the necessary documentation. During this time they have to produce a written proof of intention to substitute the missing documents.
Necessary documents for enrolment
- Birth certificate (translated)
- Residence Permit (Permesso di Soggiorno) for the parent/guardian and child
- Proof of immunization for polio, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B
- Proof of identity
- Passport photos
- Family Status Certificate (Stato di Famiglia), which can be obtained from the local registry office (anagrafe) if the person is a resident or if application has been made for residency
- Translation of the home country’s school curriculum to enable the school to properly place the child
Registration can be done at the school or at the school registry office (anagrafe scuole stali).
Understand what kind of assistance is available for children with special needs and the proposed reforms within the Italian school system…
Special needs education
Italy has had an inclusive education policy since the 1970s and disabled children are educated in mainstream schools. Additional support is provided to mainstream schools in the form of special-needs teachers and reduced class size.
Italian education reforms
Currently, the Italian education system is undergoing major reforms. Fundamental changes will include a decentralisation of administration responsibilities and increased autonomy in the schools. The aim is to improve learning in schools and to respond to changing economic and social demands.
- Ministero dell’Università e della Ricerca
- Higher education information: Study in Italy
- Embassy of Italy in Washington
- School holidays: Istruzione
- The Good Schools Guide International lists, selects and independently reviews top international schools in Italy (and worldwide)