Private schools (scuole private) educate less than 10 per cent of schoolchildren. They include schools run by religious organisations (the majority by the Jesuits), schools following unorthodox teaching methods such as Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, and a number of foreign and international schools, including American and British schools. The majority of private schools are co-educational, non-denominational day schools (Catholic private schools usually admit non-Catholic students), many of which operate a Monday to Friday timetable. There are very few boarding schools in Italy.
Most private schools in Italy are either authorised or given legal recognition by the state and many receive state funding and must therefore adhere strictly to central government directives on syllabi and curricula. Teachers’ qualifications must also be recognised. As a result, there’s little difference between the quality of education in the state and private sectors, and many people consider standards in private schools to be inferior. The majority of private schools duplicate the curriculum offered in state schools, with perhaps the inclusion of a few extra courses.
One advantage of most private schools is that they offer a more caring and protective atmosphere, and the opportunity of additional or intensive lessons, which some parents believe to be more conducive to learning. Parents in some of the wealthier areas of the major cities may also send their children to a private school simply for its exclusivity.
Private schools usually have fewer pupils than state schools, but class sizes aren’t necessarily any smaller. Private schools often cater for a wide age range (from 6 to 19) and some also offer nursery facilities. At secondary level there’s a bias toward classics, scientific and linguistic schools, few private schools offering technical or vocational training. There’s sometimes a stricter regime in private schools, particularly as many are run by religious orders, and uniforms may be compulsory.
Private school fees vary according to the kind of school and the variety of services that are offered. Most require parents to pay an initial enrolment fee followed by either annual or monthly fees. For private primary and secondary schools, you can pay between €275 and €430 in enrolment fees, plus monthly fees of between €135 and €275.
There are also a number of international schools in Italy, whose main language of instruction is English. These tend to offer the best alternative for expatriates who want their children to continue their education in the American or British system. International schools are invariably situated in the major urban centres, including Florence, Genoa, Milan, Naples, Padua, Rome, Treviso, Trieste and Turin, and range from pre-schools and kindergartens through to secondary schools, with pupils aged from 3 to 19 years.
They teach a variety of syllabi, including the British GCSE and A-level examinations (including key stages in the National Curriculum SATS tests), American High School Diploma and college entrance examinations (e.g. ACT, SAT and AP exams), and the International Baccalaureate (IB), which is recognised world-wide as a university entrance qualification.
Class sizes tend to be small, with students drawn from a wide range of nationalities, and schools pride themselves on the variety of sports and extra-curricular activities on offer, some even boasting campus sites of several acres. Many international schools offer bi-lingual programmes, enabling students to sit Italian state exams (for reintegration into the Italian state system), as well as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) exams if their first language isn’t English. Fees for international schools range from €3,700 to €10,700 per year; only a few offer boarding facilities. Admission is usually based on previous school reports and sometimes personal interview.
Among the most prestigious international schools is the United World College of the Adriatic near Trieste. Pupils are selected on academic ability and 20 scholarships are offered annually via the National Commission for United World Colleges, Ufficio Selezioni, Palazzo Altemps, Via dei Gigli d’Oro, 21, 00186 Rome (( 06-689 2201, www.uwcad.it). Students who aren’t resident in Italy must apply via the sister college in their home country.
A list of American and British schools can be obtained from the cultural sections of Italian embassies abroad and from the European Council of International Schools (www.ecis.org). The American Embassy in Italy lists many English-speaking schools on its website (www.usembassy.it). There are also French lycées in Rome and Milan, and a number of private schools that teach in other foreign languages.
Among the private schools that aren’t state supported are schools known as scuole di ricupero (literally ‘schools of recovery’), designed to meet the needs of students who, for various reasons, must repeat one or more years’ schooling in order to gain their upper secondary school diploma. Fees are generally high, particularly if you want to cover the maturità syllabus. These schools don’t function as exam centres and pupils must usually take their examinations at a recognised centre and pay an additional fee. Ricupero schools usually also offer exam preparation at university level.
Choosing A Private School
The following checklist is designed to help you choose an appropriate private school in Italy:
- Does the school have a good reputation? How long has it been established? If it’s an international school, does it belong to a recognised association?
- Does the school have a decent academic record? For example, what percentage of pupils obtain good examination passes or go on to university? All schools should provide exam pass rate statistics.
- How large are the classes and what is the student/teacher ratio? Does the stated class size tally with the number of desks in the classrooms?
- What are the classrooms like? For example, their size, space, cleanliness, lighting, furniture and furnishings. Are there signs of creative teaching, e.g. wall charts, maps, posters and students’ work on display?
- What are the qualification requirements for teachers? What nationality are the majority of teachers? Ask for a list of the teaching staff and their qualifications.
- What is the teacher turnover? A high teacher turnover is a bad sign and usually suggests under-paid teachers and poor working conditions.
- What extras must you pay for? For example, art supplies, sports equipment, outings, clothing, health and accident insurance, meals, private bus transport, text books and stationery. Some schools charge parents for every little thing.
- Which countries do most students come from?
- Is religion an important consideration in your choice of school?
- Are special English classes provided for children whose English doesn’t meet the required standard?
- What standard and type of accommodation is provided in a boarding school?
- What is the quality and variety of food provided? What is the dining room like? Does the school have a dietician?
- What languages does the school teach as obligatory or optional subjects?
- What is the student turnover?
- What are the school terms and holiday periods? Private school holidays are usually longer than those of state schools, e.g. four weeks at Easter and Christmas and ten weeks in the summer, and often don’t coincide with state school holiday periods.
- What are the school hours?
- What are the withdrawal conditions, should you need or wish to remove your child? A term’s notice is usual.
- What does the curriculum include? What examinations are set? Are examinations recognised both in Italy and internationally? Do they fit in with your education plans? Ask to see a typical pupil timetable to check the ratio of academic to non-academic subjects. Check the number of free study periods and whether they’re supervised.
- What sports instruction and facilities are provided? Where are the sports facilities located?
- What facilities are provided for art and science subjects, e.g. arts and crafts, music, computer studies, biology, science, hobbies, drama, cookery and photography? Ask to see the classrooms, facilities, equipment and students’ projects.
- What sort of outings and holidays does the school organise?
- What reports are provided for parents and how often?
- What medical facilities does the school provide, e.g. infirmary, resident doctor or nurse? Is medical and accident insurance included in the fees?
- What punishments are applied and for what offences? L
- Last but not least, unless someone else is paying, what are the fees?
Before making a choice, it’s important to visit the schools on your shortlist during term time and talk to teachers, students and, if possible, former students and their parents. Where possible, check the answers to the above questions in person and don’t rely on a school’s prospectus to provide the information. If you’re unhappy with the answers you get, look elsewhere.
Having made your choice, keep a check on your child’s progress and listen to his or her complaints. Compare notes with other parents. If something doesn’t seem right, try to establish whether a complaint is founded or not and, if it is, take action to have the problem resolved. Don’t forget that you or your employer are paying a lot of money for your child’s education and you should demand value.
This excerpt has been republished with permission from Survival Books. Some of the information may apply to EU citizens only. If you would like to get the inside track on moving to Italy, pick up your copy of this great book by clicking here.