Education and Schools in Italy

Many expats are concerned about choosing a school in Italy that will best suit their children’s needs. The system of education in Italy has a large state sector and a smaller, more specialised private sector.

Foreign parents should take some time to evaluate their priorities and those of their children before choosing the institution they will attend.

There are three levels of education in Italy:

  • Scuola dell'infanzia (three to six years old)

  • Scuola primaria (six to 11 years old)

  • Scuola secondaria di primo grado (11 to 14 years old)

  • Scuola secondaria di secondo grado  (14 to 19 years old)

Education in Italy is compulsory from the ages of six to 16, and locals place a high value on secondary schooling as well as tertiary education. 

Public schools in Italy

Expats will be happy to learn that state schools are free, even for foreigners living in Italy who aren't formal residents. This applies to primary schools, secondary schools and even universities; although enrolment taxes do become applicable after students reach the age of 16.

Most Italians send their children to state schools and those that send their children elsewhere often do so because they prefer their child's education to be rooted in alternative teaching methods or a particular religion (most commonly Catholicism).

Italian state schools operate according to a centralised system, which controls school curricula and final examinations. Despite attempts at uniformity, however, it is widely acknowledged that education in northern Italy is of a higher standard than in the south. Furthermore, options and standards can be subject to decline in rural areas. Expats planning to live outside urban centres should take this into consideration when choosing a school.

State-sponsored schools teach in Italian, which is often the deciding factor in whether or not expat parents take advantage of the public system. English is often taught as a second language, but these brief learning experiences are some distance from first-language instruction.

Still, expats planning to live in Italy for the long term should not overlook state schools. A lot of effort is made to integrate expat children through the use of intensive Italian language classes, cultural activities and remedial classes. Furthermore, parents can enlist the help of tutors at home or arrange private Italian lessons – which can still prove more cost-effective than paying the costly tuition typical of international schools.

Families who decide to send their children to state schools in Italy are often amazed at how quickly they adapt. It is also important, however, to make sure that children are equally proficient in their home language. 

Private schools in Italy

Private schools in Italy are generally either those institutions run by religious organisations or mandated by 'unorthodox' teaching methods, such as Montessori education.

For the most part, the standard of education does not vary greatly between state and private schools in Italy and the same curriculum is usually strictly adhered to. In fact, some Italians consider private schools to be inferior to public schools, but nonetheless, private schools do offer certain benefits that state schools do not. There tend to be more options than in state schools and there is more emphasis on extra-curricular activities. Parents often take it for granted that classes will be smaller with more individual attention to students, but this is not always the case. 

International schools in Italy

An international school in Italy is the obvious option for expat families planning to live in the country for a short time or those who would prefer their children continue with the curriculum of their home country. It is also a way to ease the transition into life in Italy as children attending these schools will be around others with similar backgrounds and will undertake a familiar curriculum.

However, this can create a bit of a cultural bubble with children not assimilating into Italian culture as a result. Some wealthy Italian parents choose to send their children to these schools, but they are in the minority. An ideal middle-ground solution may be to enrol children in a school that combines the Italian curriculum with their country's local curriculum, or a bilingual international school teaching in both the child's native tongue and Italian.

A wide array of international schools can be found in Rome and Milan but there are many more scattered all over Italy, with the highest concentration found in urban centres. Curricula offered include American, British, French and many more.

There is stiff competition for the limited places available in prestigious international schools, so it's always best to start applications as early as possible. Admission requirements vary from institution to institution, but previous school records are standard and in some cases, extra steps may be needed, such as the child attending a personal interview or taking admission tests.

High tuition fees are the norm for international schools, so if possible, expats should try to negotiate for an educational allowance as part of their employment contract when relocating to Italy.

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