State-funded schools in Italy are termed both state schools (scuole statali) and public schools (scuole pubbliche), although the term ‘state’ has been used in preference to ‘public’ in this book to prevent confusion with the British term ‘public school’, which refers to a private, fee-paying school. The state school system in Italy differs considerably from school systems in, for example, Britain and the US, particularly regarding secondary and university education. Schooling is divided into four educational cycles, as follows:
- Nursery school – a three-year cycle from three to six years of age;
- Primary school – a five-year cycle from 6 to 11;
- Lower secondary school – a three-year cycle from 11 to 14;
- Upper secondary school – a three, four or five-year cycle from 14 to 17, 18 or 19.
Attendance at a state nursery school isn’t compulsory and there are a number of other private pre-school options for children aged under six. Compulsory schooling begins with primary school and continues until the age of 15 or the first year of upper secondary school, provided a year’s schooling hasn’t been repeated. At the end of the upper secondary cycle, pupils take a state examination; if they pass, they receive a leaving certificate that allows them to progress to higher education.
Some years ago, it was proposed that from September 2001 the primary cycle be increased to seven years, from 6 to 13 years of age, and the secondary cycle begin at 13 (one year earlier than at present), with a nationally-controlled curriculum for the first two years. The result would have been the amalgamation of primary and lower secondary schools and one year’s less schooling for students who completed their secondary education, who would leave school at age 18. In addition, the number of state exams would have fallen from three to two. The new system was due to have been introduced gradually, to start affecting children at primary and secondary entry level (aged 6 and 13 or 14) from 2001. In spring 2003, however, these changes hadn’t been implemented. Therefore, for the purposes of this chapter, the term ‘primary’ is used to refer to the five-year cycle and ‘secondary’ for the combined cycles of lower and upper secondary school.
In small towns and villages, nursery, primary and lower secondary schools often form one unified school (istituto comprensivo), and state nursery and primary schools are also sometimes grouped together within one teaching circle (circolo didattico).
Each school has a principal (dirigente scolastico in primary schools and preside in secondary schools), who’s responsible for day-to-day management, co-ordinating school activities and establishing disciplinary sanctions. An important role is played by the school’s consultative committee (consiglio d’istituto), made up of the principal, teaching and non-teaching staff, and (in secondary schools only) parents and pupils, who make decisions about the school’s budget as well as organising teaching and extra-curricular activities. A teaching committee (collegio dei docenti) prepares a school’s educational plans, including timetables and the choice of textbooks. There’s also a class council (consiglio di classe) consisting of a panel of teachers, whose main task is to assess pupils’ progress at the end of each term and decide on their promotion to the following year’s class.
An hour of religious studies per week is part of the curriculum of all Italian schools, although this isn’t obligatory and parents may ask for their children to be exempted. The presence of disabled children in a class, provided they aren’t too seriously disabled (mentally or physically), is considered a source of general enrichment. Disabled children are entitled to up to 12 hours’ tuition per week with a specially qualified teacher (maestro di sostegno) and, where applicable, schools must provide lifts.
A general criticism of Italian state schools often made by foreigners is the lack of extra-curricular activities such as sport, music, drama, arts and crafts. Although these subjects all form part of the school curriculum, they’re limited to a small number of hours per week; inter-school sports competitions, for example, are rare. Extra-curricular activities offered by Italian schools generally take place during afternoons and operate on a much more limited scale than, for example, in Britain and the US. To play in a sports team, a child must usually join a private (and therefore fee-paying) association, which entails parents ferrying him back and forth after school hours. Similarly, for music lessons it may be necessary to find a local teacher or enrol at a private music school.
Classes (grades) in Italian schools differ considerably from those in the American and British systems. Classes at each level are numbered from one upwards. Thus, the first class in primary school is the prima elementare, followed by the seconda elementare and so on, until the fifth and final class (quinta elementare). In lower secondary school, the classes are prima media, seconda media and terza media. In both upper secondary school and university, the numbering refers to the year: primo anno, secondo anno and so on.
Italian schools don’t provide transport for children who live in outlying districts, although local councils are obliged to provide transport for state nursery schools, together with an adult chaperone. School buses are provided for primary and secondary schools only if there’s no school within a distance of 3km (2mi), when a small contribution towards the cost of transport (usually between €12 and €24 per month) is usually payable.
This excerpt has been republished with permission from Survival Books. Some of the information may apply to EU citizens only. If you would like to get the inside track on moving to Italy, pick up your copy of this great book by clicking here.