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The Italian Education System

Learn how the Italian education system works with a guide on compulsory courses, study cycles, high school system and more.

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The Italian Education System is organized according to the principles of subsidiarity and autonomy of educational institutions. Therefore the State has exclusive legislative competence for general rules on education. Responsability of the State is also to guarantee the levels of services throughout the national territory.

What institutions regulate the Italian education system?

The State defines the fundamental principles that the regions must adhere to in the exercise of their specific competencies. Italian Regions have concurrent legislative power in education, and exclusive legislative power in vocational education, as well as training.

In general educational institutions of the State have educational, organizational, research, experimentational and developmental autonomy.

How does the Italian education system work?

The education system in Italy can be divided into 3 main cycles. These include early levels of education like kindergarten, up until University. Some cycles fall within the compulsory education, while others are not.

Early childhood education in Italy and kindergarten

The integrated zero-to-six-year system is non-compulsory. It lasts 6 years and includes:

  • Early childhood educational services: these are managed by local authorities, directly or through agreements, by other public bodies or by private individuals, which take in children between 3 and 36 months;
  • Kindergarten: these may be managed by the state, local governments, directly or through the agreements, other public entities or private individuals, taking in children between 3 and 6 years of age;

Primary and Secondary School in Italy: the first compulsory cycle of study

The first cycle of education is compulsory, lasts for 8 years and is specifically divided into:

  • Primary school: 5-year education for pupils aged 6 to 11 years;
  • Secondary school: 3-year education for pupils aged 11 to 14.

Secondary School in Italy and other forms of educational training

The second cycle of education is divided into two types of courses of study:

  • Secondary school (High-School): it is a 5-year education period for students who successfully completed the first cycle of education. There are a wide range of schools: lyceums, technical institutes, vocational institutes, as well as courses of study for female students aged 14 to 19;
  • Vocational Education and Training: 3-year and 4-year study paths of vocational education and training(IeFP) under regional competence. It is also aimed at students who have completed the first cycle of education.

Universities and other Higher Education institutions in Italy

Tertiary education, with different types of courses of study, is offered by:

  • Universities
  • AFAM (Alta Formazione Artistica, Musicale e Coreutica – institutions of Higher Education in Art, Music and Dance)
  • Professionalizing institutions ITS (Istituti Tecnici Superiori)

Compulsory education in Italy

Compulsory education in Italy lasts for 10 years, and it goes from age 6 to 16. This compulsory period includes all 8 years of the first cycle of education and the first 2 years of the second cycle. Students can attend the second cycle in secondary school (of the state) or in regional vocational education and training study paths.

In addition, for all young people the right and duty to education and training applies for at least 12 years or, in any case, until getting a 3-year vocational qualification by the age of 18, in accordance with the provisions of Law No. 53/2003.

Compulsory education can be carried out in State and parochial schools (Law No. 62 of 2000), in the field of public education system, but it can also be carried out in non-parochial schools (Law No. 27 of 2006) or through family education. In the latter two cases, however, the completion of compulsory education must be subject to a number of conditions, such as taking proficiency exams.

Responsibility for the completion of the obligation to educate minors lies on parents of pupils, or those exercising parental responsibility.  Municipalities of residence and school directors provide supervision on the fulfillment of this obligation.

What happens at the end of compulsory education in Italy

In case students do not continue their education at the end of the compulsory period, they will receive a certification of acquired skills (Ministerial Decree 139 of 2007).

After passing the final state examination of secondary education on their 5th year, students can enter tertiary education courses (universities, AFAM and ITS). However, some Universities and courses allow a limited number of students to enrol through am entrance test. It is responsibility of students to check the requirements of the University of interest.

Private education in Italy

Article 33 of the Italian Constitution affirms two basic principles:

  • The State has an obligation to provide a school system for all young people;
  • The State must give the right to natural and legal persons, to establish educational institutions without asking money to the state.

Private schools are qualified to grant degrees having the same legal value as those of the corresponding state schools, as a matter of fact, they have full freedom with regard to cultural orientation and pedagogical-didactic direction and enjoy more favorable tax treatment if they are non-profit.

The Italian high school system

The education system in Italy includes 3 main groups of institutes regarding the high school system.

Italian lyceums

Lyceums aim at getting an upper secondary education diploma. They are part of the upper secondary education system as an articulation of the second cycle of the education and training system (Article 1 of Legislative Decree No. 226 of October 17, 2005, as amended). Lyceums adopt the student’s educational, cultural and professional profile at the conclusion of the second cycle of the education and training system.

Liceal courses of study provide students with the cultural and methodological tools for a complete understanding of reality, so that they can put themselves with a logical, creative, planning and critical attitude, in front of situations, events and problems, and acquire knowledge, skills and competencies consistent with personal abilities and choices and appropriate for the continuation of higher-order studies, insertion into social life and the labour market.

Liceal paths last for 5 years and are further divided into two 2-year periods and a 5th year that completes the academic path. The paths form the educational, cultural and professional profile of the student at the conclusion of the second cycle of the education and training system.

Types of Italian Lyceums

The following are all the different types of lyceums that will focus students towards different types of future education:

  • Lyceum of arts;
  • Classical lyceum;
  • Linguistic lyceum;
  • Lyceum of music and dance;
  • Lyceum of science (applied sciences);
  • Lyceum of human sciences (economic and social sciences).

Technical institutes

Technical institutes offer a limited number of academic directions, but they will form the students to work in specific sectors very important to the economic and productive development of Italy.

Vocational institutes

From 2018/2019 school year, vocational institutes offer 11 courses with enhanced laboratory activities: a new organizational and teaching model. As a matter of fact, they train students in strategic arts, trades as well as professions for development of the country’s economy.

Concurrently with the activation of the new vocational colleges, for the second, third, fourth and fifth grades, the previous curricula are active until the completion of the five-year course in 2022.

Italy’s boarding schools

National boarding schools and state-run “educandati” contribute to the pursuit of the general objectives of the Italian education system both with the qualified educational offerings of inner schools and with the development of residential and semiresidential facilities.

In this way they respond to the new culture of equal opportunities, provide support for student exchanges in the community, and lastly, meet the changing demands of the students.

If you are interested in more information about the Italian education system, you can find out more in the website of the Ministry of Public Education.

Italy’s education visa

Regardless of the study cycle you intend to take in Italy, you might need to apply for a Student Visa if you are coming from outside the European Union. Have a look at our full guide on how to apply for an Italian Student Visa.

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Regulatory Framework

Legislative Decree no. 226 of October 17, 2005

Reference (Italian only)

Ministerial Decree 139 of 2007

Reference (Italian only)

Law 296 of 2006

Reference (Italian only)

Law no.53/2003

Reference (Italian only)

Law 62 of 2000

Reference (Italian only)

Law 27 of 2006

Reference (Italian only)

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