Before considering international schools in Italy, it’s wise to understand the Italian public school system, which is free to all children regardless of nationality. All children are required to attend school from 6 to 16 years old. The school system in Italy has had a good reputation in the past, but it is now often considered very old fashioned. It tends to focus a lot on memorization and obedience over thinking out of the box. On the other hand, when you get a good teacher, the amount of knowledge in subjects like history, literature, philosophy and history of art that you can get in the Italian system is impressive.
Scuola dell’Infanzia or Scuola Materna (Nursery School)
This is non-compulsory, from the age of three. Every child is entitled to a place.
Scuola Primaria or Scuola Elementare (6-11 years)
At age six, children start their formal, compulsory education. In order to comply with a European standard for school leaving age, it is possible to enter the Scuola Primaria at any time after the age of five and a half. At Scuola Primaria children learn to read and write and study a wide range of subjects including maths, geography, Italian, English and science. They also have music lessons, computer studies and social studies. Religious instruction is optional. Primary School lasts for five years.
Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado or Scuola Media (11-14 years)
Students must attend at least thirty hours of formal lessons per week, although many schools provide additional activities in the afternoons such as computer studies, music lessons and sports activities. Formal lessons cover a broad range of subjects following a National Curriculum set by the Ministry of Public Education. At the end of the third year, students sit a written exam in the subjects of Italian, mathematics, science and a foreign language. There is an oral examination of the other subjects. Successful students are awarded the Licenza di Scuola Media.
Scuola Secondaria di Secondo Grado or Scuola Superiore (14-19 years)
There are two types of Scuola Superiore: the Liceo which is more academic in nature, and the Istituto, which is essentially a vocational school. For the first two years 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, called Indirizzi begin in the third year.
The Liceo lasts for five years and prepares the student for university-level studies. Latin, Greek and Italian literature form an important part of the curriculum of the Liceo Classico. During the last three years philosophy and history of art are also studied. The Liceo Scientifico has an emphasis on physics, chemistry and natural sciences but students also continue to study Latin and one modern language. The Liceo Artistico prepares students for university studies in painting, sculpture or architecture.
The education given in an Istituto offers both a wide theoretical education and a specialization in a specific field of studies. Istituto Magistrale is a Teacher Training School and prepares students to become primary school teachers and Istituti Tecnici is a Technical Institute that prepares students to work in a technical or administrative capacity in agriculture, industry or commerce.
This type of school offers a form of secondary education oriented towards practical subjects (engineering, agriculture, gastronomy, technical assistance, handicrafts), 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 three years instead of five, although it is considered a lower level of school compared to the others.
University is available to all students if they have completed five years of secondary school and received a Diploma di Scuola Superiore (upper secondary school diploma). It is possible for students who have attended vocational schools to attend university. Those attending university after completing their Diploma di Scuola Superiore go for three years (four years for teaching qualifications) to achieve their Laurea (Bachelor’s Degree).