Primary schools (scuole elementare) have traditionally figured highly in international educational studies. Attendance is compulsory and children must be aged six by 31st December of the year in question to enrol in primary school, which they attend for five years. The school timetable usually involves 27 hours’ tuition per week, increasing to 30 hours in the second year to accommodate learning a foreign language (usually English). Provision is made for pupils with special educational needs. Attendance is generally mornings only, with one or two afternoon classes per week. The five-year primary cycle is divided in two parts, the first two years concentrating on basic skills and the final three years introducing pupils to broader concepts.
A recent innovation has been the introduction of team teaching for some subjects, which has helped to increase the number of teachers at primary level, although it has also contributed indirectly to the closure of some smaller primary schools. There are typically three teachers for every two classes or four teachers for every three classes.
Subjects are grouped into areas, which are taught by the same teacher or teachers for the whole five years, as follows:
Area A – Italian, art and a foreign language;
Area B – Mathematics, sciences and physical education;
Area C – History, geography, social studies and music.
There’s also usually a specialist teacher for religion.
Around 15 per cent of primary schools are full-time school (scuola a tempo pieno), where children attend both mornings and afternoons for five days per week. The timetable usually includes one and a half hours’ rest in the middle of the day, during which lunch is provided in a school canteen. There are typically two teachers per class, one taking the morning session and one the afternoon session, with all subjects divided between them. This kind of school generally appeals to working parents, who find it more convenient to collect their children later in the day.
Most primary schools use a system of assessment based on teacher observations made throughout the school year. Assessments are recorded on each child’s report card (scheda), which is designed to provide a detailed profile of the pupil’s academic ability and personality. The record card is passed to a pupil’s next school when he leaves. In the fifth year of primary school, pupils must usually obtain their primary school leaving certificate (diploma della licenza elementare) to progress to lower secondary school; those who are unsuccessful may need to repeat their final year.
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