Secondary Schools in Italy

Find out about provisions for secondary school for children in the Italian education system...

Lower secondary school

Attendance at lower secondary school (scuola media) is mandatory for all children between the ages of 11 and 14. A national curriculum is followed, as mandated by the Ministry of Public Education (Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione, MPI). Students are required to attend 30 hours of classes per week, though some schools may offer additional classes if there is demand (up to 40 hours). These afternoon classes, which are usually financed from the school budget, may include computer classes, foreign language, sports, music lessons (though instruments are purchased by parents), and chess clubs.

Every term, each student receives a teacher's report outlining their aptitude, behaviour and achievement. At the end of the third year, pupils sit a standard examination consisting of written papers in Italian, as well as exams in mathematics, science, and a foreign language. An oral exam is also administered in all subjects except religion. Successful students are awarded their lower secondary school diploma (diploma di licenza media) and move on to upper secondary school.

The Ministry of Education has more information on Lower Secondary School 

Upper secondary school

Upper Secondary School (scuola superiore) involves between three and five years of attendance. Students do an obligatory two years (biennio) of general studies followed by an optional three years (triennio) of specialised education. Students have to choose at this time which type, of course, they want to study, depending on whether they are thinking of going on to university afterward, or if they are looking at obtaining a vocational qualification.

There are two categories of upper secondary school: the liceo (like a British grammar school), which is more academic in nature, and an istituto, which is essentially a vocational school.

Every school district has a classics school, a science school, and a technical or a vocational school for upper primary students. In larger towns, there is also a teacher training school and an art school, and there may be a number of vocational schools, which often reflect local industries.

There are generally available places for all students at upper secondary schools

For the first two years of upper secondary school all students use the same state-mandated curriculum of Italian language and literature, science, mathematics, foreign language, religion, geography, history, social studies and physical education. Specialised courses (indirizzi) begin in the third year of upper primary school.

University is available to all students if they have completed five years of secondary school and received an upper secondary school diploma. It is possible for students who have attended vocational schools to attend university. If a student attended a four-year secondary school program, an additional year of schooling is necessary to qualify for university.

In order to receive the upper secondary school diploma (diploma di maturità), students must take and pass written and oral exams. The first written exam requires an essay in Italian on an aspect of literature, history, society, or science. The second written test is essentially a research/term paper and pertains to the student's chosen specialisation. The third exam is more general and includes questions regarding contemporary issues and the student's chosen foreign language.

Administered by a board of six teachers, an oral exam follows the written exams and queries students on what they've learned in the final year of school. The diploma awarded is dependent on the type of school attended. The upper secondary school diploma is generally recognised as a university entrance qualification, although it is best to check with the pertinent university for acceptance guidelines.

Specialised upper secondary schools

There are various high school (liceo) classes that students can take which specialise in different subjects:

  • Classical High School (Liceo Classico)
    This lasts for five years and prepares the student for university-level studies. Latin, Greek, and Italian literature form an important part of the curriculum. During the last three years philosophy and the history of art are also studied.
  • Scientific High School (Liceo Scientifico)
    Lasts for five years with an emphasis on physics, chemistry, and natural sciences. The student also continues to study Latin and one modern language
  • Fine Arts High School (Liceo Artistico)
    Studies can last four to five years and prepare for university studies in painting, sculpture, or architecture
  • Teacher Training School (Istituto Magistrale)
    Studies last for five years and prepare future primary school teachers. There is also a three year training course for nursery school teachers, but this diploma does not entitle students to then enrol at a university.
  • Artistic Schools (Istituto d'Arte)
    Studies last three years and prepare for work within an artistic field and leading to an arts qualification (diploma di Maestro d'Arte)
  • Technical Institutes (Istituti Tecnici)
    Studies last five years and prepare for both university studies and for a vocation. There is a majority of students in technical schools that prepare students to work in a technical or administrative capacity in agriculture, industry, or commerce.
  • Professional Institutes (Istituti Professionali)
    These studies lead, in three or five years, to the achievement of a vocational qualification.