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Italy:Organisation of Primary Education

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Geographical Accessibility

The Constitution of the Italian Republic (art. 33 and 34) establishes that it is a duty of the State to provide access to education to all young people living in the country, regardless of the geographical condition of the area they live in and of their individual social and economic situation.

The State central and peripheral administrations, as well as regional, provincial and local administrations (Communes) are responsible for setting up and operating educational establishments all over the national territory, based on the age of the pupils, the geographical environment of the area and the social conditions of the families living there.

To foster school attendance of all and to implement the right to study of everyone, different services and support measure are available. The organization of transport services falls under the responsibility of municipalities in accordance with criteria established at regional level. Transport services for pupils with special needs, is provided free of charge.

Admission Requirements and Choice of School

Children who reach six years of age by 31 December of the relevant school year must enrol in the first year of primary school.

Children who reach six years by 30 April of the calendar year in which they begin school (e.g. as for school year 2012/2013, by the 30 April 2013) can be enrolled in the first year, on parents' request (early enrolment). However, the Ministry recommends families to avail themselves also of the advices given by the teachers of the primary school the pupil has attended.

Families are free to choose the kind of school they want to send their children to. Parents or those who have parental responsibility can choose whether to enrol the pupil at the school of the area of residence or in any other school they may prefer (for example for the educational offer or timetables). The only limitations may be due to the lack of available buildings or to the lack of school staff assigned to each school by the school administration. Schools accept the requests of enrolment, within the maximum limits of available posts, in accordance with criteria established by the school council and published before the start of the enrolment procedures. Given that primary school is a compulsory level of education, all must be guaranteed the right to study also through the coordination a local level between schools and local authorities.

Age is the main criterion also for the enrolment and insertion into a specific class of foreign pupils; however, in this case, the teaching staff can take into consideration other factors like the educational system of the country of origin, their previous study path, the assessment of their attainment level.

'External' pupils (attending other forms of primary education, please refer to 'Organizational variations'), who enrol in schools from the second year onward, are required to pass a qualifying examination before the school year begins.

Age Levels and Grouping of Pupils

Primary school lasts five years and, in general, it is addressed to pupils aged from 6 to 11.

In primary schools children are organised in groups called 'classes'. Pupils are enrolled in each class according to their age. However, it is also possible to form groups of pupils from different classes, according to specific school activities or to the objectives to be achieved. A class consists of a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 26-27 pupils. These limits can be modified within a range of 10%. Usually, the maximum number of pupils per class is lowered to 20 if there are pupils with special educational needs. In schools placed in small villages, usually on the mountains and in small islands, the minimum number of pupils per class is lowered to 10.

If the school is not able to start separate classes according to pupils' age, because the density of school population is too low, the so-called 'multi-classes' are allowed. Multi-classes group together more classes, to make up one only class. This phenomenon, absolutely marginal, involves today a very limited number of pupils. Teachers working in multi-classes should plan and carry out different activities according to the various classes included in their multi-class.

Teachers in primary schools are generalist. The number of teachers per class varies according to the different available models of school time (for details, please see 'Organisation of school year'). In fact, the first classes adopting the new weekly school time either of 24, 27 or 30 hours, usually have only one teacher, who can be supported by English language and Catholic religion teachers. On the contrary, two teachers work, not at the same time, in classes adopting the weekly school time of 40 hours. 

Organisation of the School Year

The Ministry is responsible for defining the dates of the first and second cycles leaving examinations and for establishing the calendar of the national festivities, valid for all levels of education (Decree 297/1994). The Regions are responsible for defining the school calendar (starting and end of school activities, length of holidays for national festivities, other holidays) to adapt it to the needs of the area (Decree 31 March 1998, no. 112). Every year, the Ministry publishes a summary table, on its website, providing the dates established at regional level of the beginning and end of the school activities, the dates of national festivities and of those established at local level.

The school year starts on the 1st of September and finishes on the 31st of August. Teaching activities, including end-of-term assessments, final assessments and exams, as well as in service training activities are carried out between the 1st of September and the 30th of June. The teaching days in a year are 200. For pupils’ evaluation purposes, the school year can be subdivided into two or three terms (periods of three or four months, as established by the Teachers' Assembly of each school).

The minimum and maximum teaching amount of hours is established at central level. From school year 2013/2014, a new teaching timetable, established on a weekly basis, applies to all grades of primary school (DPR 89/2009). 

The new teaching timetable offers the following options:

  • 24 hours a week;
  • 27 hours a week;
  • up to 30 hours a week, including teaching activities additional to the 27-hour timetable (i.e. up to 3 hours more per week);
  • 40 hours a week, the time devoted to canteen included, corresponding to the so called 'full time timetable'.

Parents choose the timetable at pupils' enrolment. Schools make up the classes according to the requests, taking into account that 30-hour or the 40-hour timetable classes can be made up only if the school has both human resources and structures available. Moreover, the requirement of the minimum number of pupils per class must be met.

Organisation of the School Day and Week

The District/School Council establishes the daily and weekly timetable, as well as the distribution of the teaching hours in the morning or in the afternoon.

Lessons must be spread on no less than 5 days a week. Schools have autonomy in the organisation of the daily timetable. Usually lessons take place form Monday to Friday, however there are also schools offering a six-day weekly timetable with lessons on Saturday.

Schools, according to their autonomy, can adopt flexible solutions according to the families’ requirements, their available teaching staff, their structures and functioning services. Furthermore, the District/School Council can decide to distribute the annual overall teaching time of the curriculum in a different way during the various weeks of the school year, in the respect of the distribution of the lessons in no less than five days a week.

The out-of–school reception of pupils before or after school time is a service under the responsibility of the communes; as a consequence, it depends on the number of requests and on the financial and staff availability of the local administrations.

The table below gives an example of a 30-hour weekly timetable (time devoted to canteen not included):

Length of school day, each day of the week

Out-of-hours provision

Lessons Lunch break Lessons Out-of-hours provisions
Monday 7.30-8.30 8.30-12.30 12.30-13.30 13.30-16.30 16.30-17.30
Tuesday 7.30-8.30 8.30-13.00 - - 13.00-14.00



8.30-12.30 12.30-13.30 13.30-16.30 16.30-17.30
Thursday 7.30-8.30 8.30-13.00 - - 13.00-14.00
Friday 7.30-8.30 8.30-12.30 12.30-13.30 13.30-16.30 16.30-17.30
Saturday - - - - -

The table below gives an example of a 27-hour weekly timetable:

Length of school day, each day of the week

Out-of-hours provision

Lessons Lunch break Lessons Out-of-hours provision
Monday - 8.00-13.00 13.00-14.30 14.30-16.30 16.30-17.30
Tuesday - 8.00-13.00 - - 13.00-14.00
Wednesday - 8.00-13.00 - - 13.00-14.00
Thursday - 8.00-13.00 - - 13.00-14.00
Friday - 8.00-13.00 - - 13.00-14.00
Saturday - - - - -

The table below gives an example of a 24-hour weekly timetable, Saturday included:

Length of school day, each day of the week
Out-of-hours provision Lessons Lunch break Lessons Out-of-hours provision
Monday 7.00-8.20 8.20-12.20 - - -
Tuesday 7.00-8.20 8.20-12.20 - - -
Wednesday 7.00-8.20 8.20-12.20 - - -
Thursday 7.00-8.20 8.20-12.20 - - -
Friday 7.00-8.20 8.20-12.20 - - -
Saturday 7.00-8.20 8.20-12.20 - - -

Legislative References

Law 30 October 2008, no. 169 (organisation)

D.Lgs. 19 February 2004, no. 59 (early enrolment/enrolment)

DPR 20 March 2009, no 89 (early enrolment/enrolment/staff)

Ministerial Circular 29 December 2011, no. 110 (early enrolment/enrolment)

DPR 31 August 1999, no. 394 (foreign pupils)

Inter-Ministerial Decree 29 March 2012 (staff)

Ministerial Circular 29 March 2012, no.25 (staff)