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Italian Schooling – what are the stages?

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Italian Schooling – what are the stages?

On January 15, 2016, Posted by , In Schools, By ,, , With 2 Comments

So straight off the bat you should know that there is FREE state education available to children of all nationalities pupilswho are resident in Italy, your kids might not be too happy to hear this. Home schooling was a topic that our 11 year old at the time brought up repeatedly but you see being Scottish the word ‘free’ is a big distraction; needless to say they’ve been in school for two and a half years now!

This is covered quite comprehensively in Wikipedia, I’ll try and summarise it here.


From the age of three children can start with the Scuola dell’Infanzia or Scuola Materna (nursery school), which is not compulsory . Every child is entitled to a place.


Italy then has three tiers of schooling:


Scuola Primaria (Primary School) or Elementare


classroomAt the age of six (or 5 and a half), children will then start their compulsory education here. At Scuola Primaria they learn to read and write and study a wide range of subjects including Maths, Geography, History, Italian, English and Science. Depending on the school they will also have music lessons, computer studies and social studies. Religious instruction is optional. This lasts for five years and the classrooms can be quite small (between 10 and 25 pupils). There is no school leaving exam, but in any of the years children can be held back if the teachers don’t feel that they are ready for the next year ahead. Some schools also beleive that it is beneficial for immigrant/expat kids to go into the year below from a language perspective; there is no ruling on this but it is worth knowing. Our kids didn’t and I think fomr a maturity perspective this was probably sensible.


Scuola Media (Middle School)


Between the ages of eleven and fourteen all children  must attend the Scuola Media. They must attend at least thirty hours of formal lessons per week (some schools may provide additional activities in the afternoons – computer studies, music lessons and sports activities. A broad range of subjects are covered following the National Curriculum so you are safe in the knowledge that wherever you are in the country your child is being taught the same thing and generally to the same level. At the end of each term, students receive a pagella (school report) . At the end of the third year (the last year at this school), students sit a written exam in the subjects of Italian, Mathematics, Science and a foreign language (most often English). There is an oral examination of the other subjects. Successful students are given the Licenza di Scuola Media (Licenza Media).


Scuola Superiore(High School)


There are two types of Scuola Superiore in Italy – the Liceo (like a British grammar school), which is more academic in nature and an Istituto, which is essentially a vocational school. Children are generally fifteen when they enter and nineteen when they leave. For the first two years all students use the same state-mandated curriculum of Italian language and literature, Science, Mathematics, Foreign language (English), Religion, Geography, History, Social studies and Physical Education. More specialised courses (‘Indirizzi’) begin in the third year.


There are generally 6 types of Liceo


Liceo Classico (Classical High School): This lasts for five years and prepares the student for university . The curriculum covers Latin, Greek and Italian literature and during the last three years Philosophy and History of Art are also studied.


Liceo Scientifico (Scientific High School): This lasts for five years and is dedicated to scientific studies with an emphasis on Physics, Chemistry and Natural Sciences. The student also continues to study Latin and one Modern Language.


Liceo Artistico (Fine Arts High School): This can last four to five years and prepares the student for university studies in Painting, Sculpture or Architecture.


Liceo Linguistico (Linguistics/Languages):  Puts an emphasis on modern foreign languages learning those usually taught include English, French, Spanish and German (although recently Russian, Arabic and Chinese have been introduced as well). Preparation for university exists here.


Liceo delle Scienze Umane (Human Sciences): The emphasis here is on relational, behavioural and educational sciences such as Pedagogy, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology and Social Research. It replaces the previous Istituto magistrale (which once educated elementary school teachers over five years; and three years for nursery school teachers, this diploma did not entitle students to then enrol at a university).


Liceo Musicale e Coreutico (Music and Dance): This comprises two sectors – musicale  – which specializes in music and teaches students to play an instrument and coreutico – which specializes in Dance and Choreography.


Istituti fall into two main headings


Istituti Tecnici (Technical Institutes): This lasts for five years and prepares one for both university studies and for a vocation. These prepares students toliceo work in a technical or administrative capacity in Agriculture, Industry or Commerce (specialisation in Business Administration, Accountancy, Commerce, Foreign Languages and Computer Programming), Surveying, Tourism, Nautical, Aeronautical and Industrial (including many specialisations such as Mining, Electronics, Engineering, Industrial Physics, Computer Science and Food Processing). There are also ‘feminine technical schools’ which were originally for the study of subjects traditionally associated with women (Home Economics) but now cater for both sexes and include Dietetics, Social Work and Child Care.


Istituti Professionali (Professional Institutes): These studies lead (in three or five years) to achievement of a vocational qualification with the aim to facilitate the direct entry of the pupil to the labour market (Engineering, Agriculture, Gastronomy, Technical Assistance, Handicrafts). This type of school offers a form of secondary education oriented towards practical subjects and enables the students to start searching for a job as soon as they have completed their studies (sometimes sooner, as some schools offer a diploma after 3 years instead of 5) and is strictly specific in terms of vocational course offerings).


At the end of the upper secondary school cycle students study for their diploma ( diploma di maturità), which automatically qualifies them for enrolment at a university. The first written exam requires an essay (in Italian) on an aspect of literature, history, society or science. The second written exam requires the student to write a paper relating to their chosen specialisation. The third exam is more general and includes questions regarding contemporary issues and the student’s chosen foreign language.


If you want to know what path we took with our kids please read this post


If you have anything to add or have a question please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

2 Comments so far:

  1. PJ says:

    Hi, Brendan,
    The schooling in Italy sounds quite interesting.. I wonder if they allow for home schooling at all or is it considered unsuitable? All in all , it sounds like ones education there will leave them quite prepared for anything the world throws at them. Also, I find it interesting that technical institutes prepare them for University. Must one pay a tuition then to get into a University?
    Thank you for the great information.. Very useful indeed,

    • Brendan says:

      Hi PJ,

      We definitely considered home schooling as our oldest daughter was quite upset at the outset with the upheaval but I think we discounted this earlier on for the same reason that we discounted International Schools (where the schooling is split between Italian and mother tongue) and that is that they wouldn’t learn Italian as quickly as as they have now. Looking back, realistically we could never have home schooled them, their Italian surpassed ours after a few months and we would have had to translate all those text books into English in order to understand 100% what was going on! Can you imagine?

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