Policy Description

Educational Policies: Italy (2014)


Since it was established in 1948, the Italian educational system has been made up of five main stages, corresponding to five age brackets: from zero to three, from three to six, from six to 10, from 10 to 13, and from 13 to 14 (later 16) or 18. Specific services are dedicated to each age group. Children up to three years old attend day care, three- to six-year-olds attend kindergarten, six- to 10-year-olds attend primary school, 10- to 13-year-olds are enrolled in lower secondary school, and students up to ages 16 or 18 attend upper secondary school (Saraceno, 1984).

Day care centres continue to be rare in Italy, and the care of younger children is mainly the responsibility of the family. However, pre-primary schools (i.e., kindergarten) are almost universal.

Policies that have been implemented over the last half-century have resulted in the expansion of compulsory education to progressively older ages, the re-organisation and modernisation of curricula, and the updating of education and training required for schoolteachers. 

Currently, education is compulsory up to age 16, and all mandatory curricula in the primary cycle include instruction in English and computer skills. In addition, the most recent educational reform (Riforma Gelmini in 2009) did away with different teachers for different subjects, and called instead for having a single teacher for each class during the primary school years. This legislation also required teachers to have a university degree in educational sciences, and to undergo a compulsory training period. The evaluation criteria have been modified in the primary and lower secondary schools, and the number of hours of mandatory attendance per week has been lowered. In addition, the number of weekly hours of instruction at technical and professional training schools has been radically reduced. The reform also consolidated more than 1,000 possible secondary courses into just 20. 

Organisation of the educational system

The Italian educational system is open to residents of the country regardless of nationality, and includes public and private schools, although a minority of students attend private schools. The school year usually starts in mid-September and ends in mid-June; the common school holidays are Christmas (from 23 December to 6 January), Easter (approximately six days), and summer (from mid-June to mid-September). 

Enrolment in public primary school is completely free and the municipalities provide students with textbooks. Access to public secondary schools and universities is contingent upon the payment of small fees. Private schools at all educational levels charge fees (Euraxess, 2014). 

On the one hand, there is a high level of standardisation in the Italian educational system, as all Italian schools of the primary cycle (primary and lower secondary schools) have the same curricula (Barbieri et al., 2014). On the other hand, even though the Italian educational system is in principle highly stratified, the sharp rise in enrolment in tertiary education in recent years has diluted the differentiation process. Thus, even highly educated young people may now find it difficult to enter the labour market (Moscati, 2013).

Compulsory education

In Italy schooling is compulsory up to age 16. The educational system consists of infant school and two main cycles (primary and secondary). Pre-primary or infant school (scuola dell’infanzia), corresponding to ISCED level 0, is open to all children resident in Italy between ages three and six, but enrolment is not mandatory. The aim of this stage is to facilitate children’s cognitive and physical development. Children aged six to 10 then attend primary school (scuola elementare/primaria), which lasts five years and corresponds to ISCED level 1. This stage of education promotes children’s personality development, and teaches them basic knowledge and skills.

At age 11, pupils progress to lower secondary school (scuola media inferiore), which lasts three years and corresponds to ISCED level 2. The main goals in this stage are to build students’ skills, including their abilities to learn independently and engage in social interaction. During this stage, the students  and their families are guided in choosing an upper secondary school curriculum.
At age 14 students can continue their schooling by enrolling in an upper secondary school (scuola superiore), which lasts five years and provides access to tertiary education; or vocational school (scuola professionale), which is normally shorter and more work-oriented; both correspond to ISCED level 3. Students who attend an upper secondary school can choose from a  range of courses of study (e.g., scientific, classical, technical, or fine arts). Only students who have earned an upper secondary school diploma (diploma di maturità) are qualified to attend university (Euraxess, 2014).


  • Barbieri, P.,  Cutuli, G., Lugo, M., Scherer, S. (2014). Italy: A Segmented Labor Market with Stratified Adult Learning in Blossfeld, H.P., Kilpi-Jakonen, E., Vono de Vilhena, D., Buchholz, S. (edited by), Adult Learning in Modern Societies: An International Comparison from a Life-Course Perspective, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publications.
  • Euraxess (2014). Services: Education and Schooling System. http://www.euraxess.it/services/types.php;
  • Moscati, R. (2013). "Troppi laureati in Italia: una storia infinita", in Scuola Democratica,n.1, pp.212-218.
  • Saraceno, C. (1984). The social construction of childhood: Child care and education policies in Italy and the United States. Social problems, 351-363.


Giulia Ferrari
Carlo F. Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy

Data collected in the framework of the Population Europe Research Finder and Archive (PERFAR) in 2014.

Please cite as:
SPLASH-db.eu (2014): Policy: "Educational Policies: Italy" (Information provided by Giulia Ferrari). Available at: https://splash-db.eu [Date of access].