Laura Palmerio
Stefania Codella
Cristina Felici
Riccardo Pietracci
INVALSI—National Institute for the Educational Evaluation of Instruction and Training

Overview of Education System

The Italian Constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to education for all of its citizens.1 It requires the state to maintain a public school system and allows the coexistence of state and nonstate schools.2

The Republic establishes general norms for education, and the overall responsibility for education lies with the Ministry of Education (MIUR—Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca), which operates centrally and is responsible for organizing the various education levels as well as managing personnel in public schools, and curricula in both public and private schools.3 At the local level, regions are responsible for vocational training; other responsibilities, such as the management of preprimary schools, often are delegated to provincial and municipal authorities. Schools have autonomy with regard to didactics, organization, research, experimentation, and development.4

Education is compulsory from ages 6 to 16, or until a professional qualification is obtained.5 The Italian school system is organized into preprimary education followed by two education cycles. Preprimary education serves children ages 3 to 6, and is not compulsory. The first cycle of education is divided into primary school (five years) and lower secondary school (three years). Students who wish to progress to upper secondary education are required to pass an examination. A single curriculum, established at the national level, is common to all levels in the first cycle of education. The second cycle of education (five years) consists of upper secondary school and vocational education and training. Lycee (general schools), technical institutes, and vocational institutes are types of upper secondary school and are governed by the state. Vocational training is provided by certified education and training agencies, which are governed at the regional level.6

The MIUR establishes the basic curriculum for all upper secondary school tracks (general, technical, and vocational). Mathematics is a fundamental discipline common to all schools with differences in curriculum occurring across the various tracks. Science is divided into separate school subjects (i.e., chemistry, physics, and biology) with differences occurring also according to tracks; not all science subjects are taught in every type of school.

Recently, the Sistema Nazionale di Valutazione (SNV), or national evaluation system, was set up to steer school policies and to promote the full implementation of school autonomy. The SNV is responsible for evaluating the efficacy and efficiency of the whole school system and aims to improve the quality of education offered as well as student achievement.7 Within the SNV, schools are required to submit a self-evaluation report annually based on a format established by the MIUR and to set up an improvement plan that is consistent with the improvement goals identified in the self-evaluation report.8

Languages of Instruction

In Italy, the official language of instruction for all school subjects is Italian. In certain areas of the country populated by native speakers of other languages, local languages are used in school instruction. In particular, the state safeguards 12 minority languages spoken in certain regions of the country, but only four of these are recognized legally: French (in the Valle d’Aosta), Slovenian (in Friuli-Venezia Giulia), German (in the province of Bolzano), and Ladin (in Trentino-Alto Adige and the province of Trento).9,10

In these regions, students may attend schools in which the language of instruction is the language of their respective linguistic minority.11