Italian educational system
Organisation and Structure of the Education System
- The education system is organised as follows:
pre-primary school (scuola dell’infanzia) for children between 3 and 6 years of age;
- first cycle of education lasting 8 years, made up of:
– primary education (scuola primaria), lasting 5 years, for children between 6 and 11 years of age;
– lower secondary school (scuola secondaria di I grado), lasting 3 years, for children between 11 and 14 years of age;
- second cycle of education offering two different pathways:
- -State upper secondary school (scuola secondaria di II grado), lasting 5 years for students from 14 to 19 years of age. It is offered by licei, technical institutes and vocational institutes;
-three and four-year vocational training courses (IFP). It is organised by the Regions;
- higher education offered by universities, polytechnics included, institutes of the Higher Education in Art and Music system (Alta Formazione Artistica e Musicale, AFAM) and Higher Technical Institutes (Istituti Tecnici Superiori, ITS).
Education is compulsory for ten years between the ages of 6 and 16.
This covers the whole of the first cycle of education, which lasts eight years (five years of primary school and three years of lower secondary school), and the first two years of the second cycle. After completion of the first cycle of education, the final two years of compulsory education (from 14 to 16 years of age) can be undertaken at a State upper secondary school (liceo, technical institute or vocational institute), or on a three- or four-year vocational education and training course which is within the jurisdiction of the Regions.
7In addition, everyone has a right and a duty (diritto/dovere) to receive education and training for at least 12 years within the education system or until they have obtained a three-year vocational qualification by the age of 18. Finally, 15-year-olds can also spend the last year of compulsory education on an apprenticeship, upon a specific arrangement between the Regions, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Education and trade unions.
Compulsory education refers to both enrolment and attendance. It can be undertaken at either a State school or a non-State, publicly subsidised school (scuola paritaria) or even, subject to certain conditions, through home education or private schools. Regional three-year vocational training courses are offered by the relevant training agencies.
Parents or guardians are responsible for ensuring that children complete compulsory education, while the local authorities where pupils reside and the managers of the schools they attend have a responsibility for supervising their completion of compulsory education.
Once they have reached school-leaving age, young people who do not continue with their studies receive a certificate of completion of compulsory education and the skills they have acquired. These skills contribute to training credits towards any professional qualification.
Access to tertiary education (university, AFAM and ITS) is solely for students who have passed the State examination at the end of upper secondary school. Nevertheless, the specific conditions for admission are decided by the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) or individual universities and AFAM institutes.
The three-year vocational qualification and the four-year vocational diploma, both issued on successful completion of regional vocational training courses, allow entry to regional second-level vocational training. Holders of the upper secondary education leaving certificate are also eligible for second-level vocational courses.
Primary school is compulsory, lasts for a total of five years and is attended by pupils aged between 6 and 11. Although they are two completely different levels of education, each with its own specificities, primary school and lower secondary school make up the first cycle of education, which lasts a total of eight years.
The aim of this level in the education system is to provide pupils with basic learning and the basic tools of active citizenship. It helps pupils to understand the meaning of their own experiences.
Primary education is divided, for teaching purposes only, into the first year, linked to pre-primary school, followed by a further two periods of two years each.
Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils
Primary school lasts five years and is generally for pupils aged from 6 to 11.
In primary schools, children are organised into groups called ‘classes’.
Pupils are enrolled into class according to their age. However, pupils from different classes can be grouped together for special school activities or objectives.
A class has a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 26-27 pupils.
These limits can be modified within a 10% range.
The maximum number of pupils per class is usually lowered to 20, if there are pupils with special educational needs. In schools located in small villages, usually in mountain areas or on small islands, the minimum number of pupils per class is 10.
If the population is too low for the school to form separate classes of pupils of the same age, ‘multi-classes’ are allowed. In multi-classes, pupils of different ages are grouped together to form a single class.
This practice is marginal today affecting only a very small number of pupils.
Teachers working in multi-classes have to plan and present activities that are tailored to the different age groups in their class.
Teachers in primary schools are generalists.
The number of teachers per class varies according to the different timetable models (for details, see ‘Organisation of the School Day and Week’).
In fact, the classes adopting the weekly school timetable of 24, 27 or 30 hours usually have only one teacher, who may be supported by English language and Catholic religious studies teachers.
Conversely, two teachers work – although not at the same time – in classes with a weekly timetable of 40 hours.
Organisation of the School Year
As with pre-primary school (scuola dell’infanzia), the Ministry of Education is responsible for setting the calendar for nationwide holidays, for all school levels.
The Regions are responsible for defining the school calendar (start and end of school activities, length of breaks for national holidays, other holidays) so that it reflects 22local needs.
Every year, the Ministry publishes a summary table on its website showing all regional school calendars.
The school year starts on 1 September and ends on 31 August.
Teaching activities, including end-of-term assessments, final assessments and examinations, as well as in-service training activities are carried out between 1 September and 30 June.
There are 200 teaching days in a year. For pupil evaluation purposes, the school year can be divided into two or three terms (periods of three or four months, as decided by the Teachers’ Council of each school).
The minimum and maximum number of teaching hours is set at central level.
The teaching timetable offers the following options:
- 24 hours a week;
- 27 hours a week;
- up to 30 hours a week, involving additional activities to the 27-hour timetable (i.e. up to 3 extra hours per week);
- 40 hours a week, including the lunchtime meal, known as ‘full-time’.
Parents can choose which timetable to enrol their children on. Schools form classes on the basis of demand, bearing in mind that 30-hour or 40-hour classes can only be formed, if the school has the necessary human resources and facilities available.
Furthermore, the minimum number of pupils per class must be met.
Organisation of the School Day and Week
The District/School Council establishes the daily and weekly timetable and the distribution of teaching hours in the morning and afternoon. Lessons must be spread over no fewer than 5 days a week.
Lessons are usually held from Monday to Friday, but some schools offer a six-day week with lessons on Saturday.
Schools can autonomously adopt flexible solutions on the basis of the requirements of families, the teaching staff they have available, their facilities and services. Furthermore, the District/School Council can decide to redistribute the annual curricular teaching hours across different weeks of the school year, provided lessons are distributed over no fewer than five days a week.
Out-of-school reception of pupils before or after the school timetable is a service run by the municipalities and as such is subject to demand and the financial and staff resources available to local administrations.
Teaching and Learning in Primary Education – Curriculum, Subjects, Number of Hours
At primary level, the curriculum is defined through the National Guidelines for the Curriculum (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo) implemented from school year 2012/2013.
As mentioned in the section on pre-primary school (scuola dell’infanzia), this document replaced the National Guidelines for the Personalised Study Plans in primary schools (Indicazioni nazionali per i piani di studio personalizzati) of 2004 and the Guidelines for the Curriculum (Indicazioni per il curricolo) of 2007.
Specifically, the purpose of primary education is to enable pupils to acquire the fundamental knowledge and skills to develop basic cultural competence.
According to the new guidelines, the general aim of school is the harmonious and comprehensive development of the individual, according to the principles of the Italian Constitution and European cultural tradition, to be achieved through the promotion of knowledge, respect for individual diversity and the active involvement of students and their families.
The reference for these new guidelines is the Framework for Key Competences for Lifelong Learning set up by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union through the Recommendation of 18 December 2006.
The subjects taught during the 5 years of primary school are: Italian, English, history, geography, mathematics, science, technology, music, art, sports science (also called body, movement and sport), Catholic religious education. Catholic religious education is optional.
After a three-year experiment starting in 2009/2010, the curriculum now also includes ‘Citizenship and Constitution’. It is not a separate subject and content is defined through teaching projects developed by each school. To pursue this objective, all schools must include this teaching in their educational offer plans.
Each subject has goals for the development of skills, which are mandatory for teachers and learning objectives which are needed to reach the goals.
The specific learning objectives for Catholic religious education are defined by Presidential Decree in agreement with the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI).
At primary level, there are no specific subject timetables.
Only English and Catholic religious education have a specific timetable: one hour of teaching for English in the first grade, two hours in the second grade, three hours in the third, fourth and fifth grades, amounting to a minimum compulsory total of 396 hours throughout primary education.
Two hours a week are allocated to either the teaching of Catholic religious education or alternative activities for those who opt not to take Catholic religious education.
Teaching Methods and Materials
Freedom in teaching is a principle set out in the Italian Constitution (art. 33).
The choice and use of teaching methods and materials must be consistent with each school’s educational offer plan (POF), which, in turn, must be consistent with the general and educational objectives of the different branches and levels of study established at national level.
While safeguarding the freedom in teaching, the National Guidelines for the Curriculum (see, ‘Curriculum, Subjects and Number of Hours’) suggest some basic methodological approaches, such as, taking advantage of pupils’ experiences and knowledge, promoting exploration and discovery activities, encouraging cooperative learning, developing awareness of one’s own learning method, carrying out in-lab learning, etc.
Teachers choose textbooks and teaching tools.
Textbooks should be in digital or mixed format (mixed format means paper, paper plus digital or digital, all with integrated digital content). In all events, textbooks and teaching tools must be consistent with the curriculum and with the school’s educational offer plan. Textbooks are free for pupils and the costs are met by municipalities, in accordance with regional legislation on the right to study.
Every year, the Ministry sets the retail price of textbooks. In addition, for specific subjects, schools can create their own digital teaching tools which students will use as textbooks.
Teachers can develop such tools in class during teaching hours and in collaboration with other class teachers and students. Schools can share and distribute their textbooks free of charge to other State schools, upon registration of the product.
Primary schools are usually provided with many teaching materials and tools. Schools are encouraged to organise laboratories or set up rooms as libraries, gymnasiums, science or music laboratories.
Primary schools generally have ICT laboratories to support teaching activities and several classrooms are also equipped with interactive whiteboards (IWB).
Every school pays for teaching materials, tools and equipment from its own financial resources. Local authorities can share the expense, in accordance with regional legislation on the right to study.
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