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Schooling in Italy – what’s best for expats?

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Schooling in Italy – what’s best for expats?

On January 27, 2016, Posted by , In Living in Italy,Schools, By , With 16 Comments

Before we arrived in Italy we had a couple of important decisions to make and the first one really was around the kids schooling.


Italy has three tiers of schooling:


Scuola Primaria (Primary School) or Elementare – from the age of six (or 5 and a half)

Scuola Media (Middle School) – between the ages of eleven and fourteen

Scuola Superiore(High School) –  fifteen when they enter and nineteen when they leave



So when we first got there our two kids would go into Scuola Elementare at ages 9 and 11 they would be placed into prima media (1st year middle school) and quarta elementare (4th year primary). Italians are very inquisitive (in a nice way) and accommodating and so they were the centre of attention, I don’t know if this was a good thing but at least they weren’t left on their own in the corner which would be another worry.


Private vs Public


We looked at private schools and international schools and were advised that these are full of Italian kids with problems as their parents believe that as the classes are smaller their ‘little brats’  will get more attention and discipline. So we decided that the best way to allow us to integrate quickly was to send them to the state school. For us this has proved to be the right decision,  as mentioned in a previous post by 6 months they were both pretty fluent, how they achieved this is another story!


Level of education


We do get asked about the level of the schooling here and for a comparison between here and the UK. Generally we are happy with the school system in Italy. Italians love the classics, art, history and are a very visual nation (which is why bella’is the most used word in Italy, everything is beautiful to Italians). I’ve heard that they watch more TV than any other other nation in Europe and read on average only one book a year. However, combined with a good grounding in Maths and English from the UK and a focus on the above I think the kids have a good balance of skills.




Holidays are a bit sparse apart throughout the year. Italy has 3 months during the summer because of the heat and next to nothing throughout the year, so by the end of the year they are pretty knackered! During the year there is some time off at Easter and ten days or so at Christmas. One thing to consider is that in many regions in Italy kids go to school on Saturdays as well, so weekend getaways are not always possible. Oh, by the way some schools turn a blind eye if you take your kids out of school for a week in January or February to go skiing, its called settimana bianca (the white week).




Homework is pretty frequent which I’m a bit of a fan of (especially now that I don’t have to translate it into English, do it and then translate it back into Italian again (see a previous post whichhomework goes into more depth about how long it took us each night to go through this process, generally about 3 hours each night! ).  Especially in the middle school they are taught to self-study and manage their time in the afternoons. They generally start school around 8am and finish around 2pm and the idea is that instead of keeping them till 4pm, those extra 2 hours should be spent on independent study, not just homework.


So in summary, for us I think the best option was to give our kids a baptism of fire and immerse them in Italian from day one. Surprisingly there were only a few days in three months where we had tears, mostly from our oldest daughter but with sympathetic ears and understanding we got through it. Don’t get me wrong there were days when the ‘hate’ word was used but kids do adapt and quickly, although at the time it might have seemed an age I found that if we deflected their attention to other things after school then it wasn’t that big a mountain to climb.

16 Comments so far:

  1. Roope says:

    Thank you for the interesting insights. It’s good to hear your opinions about the subject. It seems that the school system is a bit different in Italy than here in Finland. Especially the thing that in Italy Saturdays are sometimes school days as you mentioned. That was a new information for me.

    By the way, have you heard about the study by Haifa’s University that adults can learn languages better in certain situations than children?


    • Brendan says:

      Hi Roope,

      I’m glad you found the post interesting. No I hadn’t heard about the study by Haifa’s University that adults can learn languages better in certain situations than children. Do you have more information on this as guess my readers would be interested in this as we do cover the Italian language?

  2. Robert says:

    That was interesting. I guess it is safe to say that kids are kids, no matter where they live. It is also interesting that wealthy parents would chose to send their children to private school, not for the education, but to have them disciplined. Having said all that, you mentioned your children were grounded in math and science. They got that in UK. Am I to understand that the Italian schools are weak in those subject.? Do they spend the time teaching about more social subjects and the arts?

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Robert,

      I mentioned Maths and English (not Science). I feel that the UK is pretty good at focusing on these two particularly, in my experience. I also feel that the arts play a very important part in the Italian culture; the other day I was talking about the Achilles heel and mentioned casually that he was some sort of Greek god, a 7 year old Italian boy who overheard our conversation came over to inform me that in fact he was only a ‘hero’ and not a ‘god’!

  3. Diana Worley says:

    Hi Brenden,

    What a wonderful opportunity for your children to attend school in a foreign country and learn first hand about another country other than their country of origin.I have a friend who worked and lived in Japan for 3 years while his children were in school. They learned so much and really count thiose years as a real highlight of their young lives.
    Thank you for an informative and easy to navigate website.

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Diana,

      Thanks for stopping by. Prior to this experience I was in awe of families that were bilingual in my travels. You are quite right I feel blessed that we have this opportunity. If it all went bad we could at least take away from this the gift of another language for the kids as well as a different outlook on things. We are now one of those ‘other’ families.

  4. Maurice says:

    Great great picture, absoluetely love it. Are you a traveler yourself. What places do you visit and what is your motivation for doing so? Loving your content and pictures. You can even add more in my opinion. Absolutely dig these pictures so thanks for this please add more. How long have you been doing this for?

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Maurice,

      Yes we travel quite a bit, but as we are are new to Italy our travelling is now more focused on this peninsula. The motivation is to learn as much about our adoted country as possible. The blogging itself is very recent but loads of fun.

  5. Nate says:

    Hi Brendan, thanks for sharing your experiences, knowing about the private school situation is particularly useful! In terms of your children starting at their new school, were they able to carry on in the same/ equivalent school year to what they were in in the UK?

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Nate,

      Yes they were able to continue in the equivalent year and I put this down to two things…a. they had a bit of grounding in Italian before (although that didn’t necessarily help on day one) and b. a little bit on our insistence. Generally immigrant kids should drop to the year below but we insisted that we wanted to give them the chance and that we would be truly supportive of them and help them (hence the 3 hour homework sessions nightly!). This proved to be the right choice.

  6. Dan Swan says:

    This is a very interesting page you have here.

    I’m from the UK also so it is very interesting to read up about what schooling is like in another country with different culture etc.

    Do you prefer English or Italian schooling? I am intrigued to find out which one is the better.

    Thanks, Dan.

    • Brendan says:

      Hi Dan,

      I think that I’m happier with the Italian methods. Apart from their love of the arts and classics I am a big fan of the kids choosing an area of expertise when they get to the high school. For those who have an aptitude for languages then Linguistics is a big plus, for those who are more inclined towards the sciences then Scientific studies is the best way forward. But for me even better is the knowledge that they is uniformity in the syllabus that is being followed. When we first arrived we were asked to bring the kids school books in with us. What school books I said? So when I produced their jotters I was asked where are their schoolbooks. The kids here all have somewhere between 10 and 20 textbooks that they use annually, so at least if the kids need help then we have something to work off of with them. I didn’t feel this was possible in the UK.

  7. Jess says:

    This is great information for expats looking at schooling for children overseas in Italy! We have a four year old little girl that will be five soon and we have been considering living abroad for a couple of years.

    Obviously her education is important to us so we have been trying to do some research online. I feel like I have gone down the rabbit hole in my search because there is a lot of information and a lot of it varies.

    This detailed account of your own experiences with your children’s education has been hugely helpful for us. I can’t wait to show my boyfriend when he gets home from work!

    Thanks! Jess

  8. Woody1025 says:

    Loved visiting Italy-so i love reading your Blog. I find the Public versus private schooling re children needing discipline is not an unusual occurrence. We found the same thing happened in the private school we sent our daughter to here in Oz. I think your children being immersed in Italian culture will be a wonderful asset for them in the future. Wow ..seems like the Italian children schooling is 6 days a week! No wonder they are allowed a white week.

  9. JP says:

    Very interesting stuff. These are some things that I never knew about. It’s great to learn about other countries and cultures to see what it is we can learn about them and try to understand them in a more in-depth level. Keep up the good work with the site and I wish you the best of luck.

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