Upper Secondary School

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At the age of 14, students must make a choice as to the kind of upper secondary school (scuola superiore, equivalent to a senior high school in the US) they want to attend, according to which subjects they would like to specialise in and what they would like to do when they leave school. There are essentially two categories of upper secondary school: a liceo (similar to a British grammar school), which provides a more academic training, and an istituto, where more practical and technical disciplines are taught. Within these two categories, there are several types of school, as explained below.

The following types of upper secondary school are present in every school district: a classics school, a science school and a technical or a vocational school. In larger districts and provincial towns, there's also a teacher training school and an artistic school, and there may be a number of vocational schools, which often reflect the needs of local industries.

Entry to upper secondary school isn't competitive and, provided there are sufficient places available, students may attend the school of their choice.
Since 2001, all pupils have had the same core curriculum for the first two years of upper secondary school; this comprises Italian language and literature, mathematics, at least one foreign language (usually English), science, history, geography and social studies, religion and physical education. Their specialised courses (indirizzi) start in the third year.

In all schools a considerable amount of homework is set for each subject, which may take the form of memorising information or writing an essay. As in lower secondary school, teachers test a student's knowledge (and the extent to which he has done his homework) through regular oral and written tests (prove scritte), which, together with a more general evaluation of a student's performance, form the basis of a student's report (pagella). Marks (voti) for all work are given out of ten, six being the minimum necessary to proceed to the next year.
All students can enter university, provided they complete a five-year course at secondary school and acquire their upper secondary school diploma, and it's now common for students who have attended technical and vocational schools to go on to university. In schools where the duration of the diploma course is four years only (e.g. artistic schools), students must stay on for an extra year to qualify for university entrance.

Before deciding upon the correct kind of school for your child, it's important carefully to study the curriculum offered by each. This is particularly important if a child is planning to attend a university outside Italy. In many countries (including the US and UK), university admission is based on competitive entry, and therefore the choice of secondary school and curriculum should reflect a specialisation in the subjects the student plans to study at university.

  • Classics School (liceo classico): Latin, Greek and Italian literature form a large part of the demanding academic curriculum. Philosophy and history of art are also studied in the last three years.
  • Science School (liceo scientifico): This school is traditionally for students planning to study science and medicine at university, with the emphasis on physics, chemistry and natural sciences. Latin and one modern language (usually English) are also studied to a high level.
  • Artistic Schools (liceo artistico or istituto d'arte): These provide a four-year foundation course for students wishing to enrol at arts academies, study art or architecture at university, enter a career in the arts or teach art subjects at school.
  • Language School (liceo linguistico): Students study three foreign languages.
  • Teacher Training Schools (scuola magistrale or istituto magistrale): These schools provide a four-year training course for primary school teachers (istituto magistrale) and a three-year training course for nursery school teachers
    (scuola magistrale). A nursery school teaching diploma doesn't qualify you to enrol at a university.
  • Technical School (istituto tecnico): By far the greatest number of upper secondary school students enrol in technical school, which prepares students to work in a technical or administrative capacity in agriculture, industry or commerce. Technical schools have responded to Italy's fast-growing economy by offering an ever-widening range of courses tailored to meet the needs of today's employers, with courses in computer skills in particular seeing tremendous growth in recent years. All technical schools share a common curriculum for the first two years, with some practical training carried out in workshops and businesses. In the last three years, the number of hours of practical training increases.
    The main kinds of technical schools are agricultural, commercial (with specialisations in business administration, accountancy, commerce, foreign languages and computer programming), surveying, tourism, nautical, aeronautical and industrial (including many specialisations such as mining, electronics, engineering, industrial physics, computer science and food processing). There are also 'feminine technical schools' (istituti tecnichi femminile), which were originally for the study of subjects traditionally associated with women, such as home economics, but now cater for both sexes and include the study of dietetics, social work and child care.
  • Vocational School (istituto professionale): Vocational schools are the least academic of upper secondary schools. They aim to train people in a variety of craft and industrial skills, such as cabinet-making, carpentry, mechanics and engineering, building and construction, food and catering, secretarial and office work. The timetable varies between 35 and 40 hours per week, and for the first two years includes 14 hours per week of practical training relevant to a pupil's chosen area of specialisation. In the third year, the number of hours of specialist practical training increases to between 21 and 24 hours per week. After three years, students gain a diploma in their specialist subject (diploma di qualifica), after which they may take a two-year course in order to earn their upper secondary school diploma, either at the vocational school or at a technical school.

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.


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