Schools in Italy 

Education in Italy is compulsory from the ages of six to 16. The Italian system of education is split into three compulsory levels, with an optional stage for younger children. 

From the age of three, parents can choose to send their children to scuola dell’infanzia. At the age of six, children begin their formal education at scuola primaria. Secondary education, known as scuola secondaria, is divided into two sub-levels. From the age of 11 to 14, children attend scuola secondaria di primo grado and proceed to scuola secondaria di secondo grado until they are 19.

Expats moving to Italy will have a number of public and private options available in terms of schooling. They should invest considerable time weighing up the pros and cons of the different schooling models before making a final decision.

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State schools in Italy are free, even for foreigners living in Italy who aren't formal residents. This applies to primary schools, secondary schools and even universities; although enrolment taxes do become applicable after students reach the age of 16.

Most Italians send their children to public schools, and those who opt for an alternative usually do so because they want their child’s education to be rooted either in a particular religion (most commonly Catholicism) or an alternative teaching method.

The standard of public schooling varies dramatically. It is widely acknowledged that the better public schools are found in the north of the country. Public schools in major urban areas also tend to be better equipped than their rural counterparts.

Italian is the primary language of instruction at public schools. However, English is offered as a second language in many cases. Despite the language barrier, expats moving to Italy for the long term should not overlook state schools. Many of these institutions make a concerted effort to integrate expat students through the use of intensive Italian language classes, cultural activities and remedial lessons.

Private schools in Italy are generally either run by religious organisations, or else offer alternative teaching methods, such as Montessori education.

For the most part, the standard of education does not vary greatly between public and private schools in Italy as both have to adhere to the same national curriculum.

The benefits of paying to attend a private school in Italy include smaller class sizes, arguably better facilities and a broader range of extracurricular activities.

International schools in Italy are a good option for expat families who only plan on living in the country for a short period, or those who want their children to continue studying the curriculum of their home country. These institutions are also better equipped to ease the transition into expat life in Italy, and students attend school alongside other children from similar backgrounds. Having a child at an international school also allows parents to connect with other expat families and create a network in their new country.

On the other hand, international schools also create a bit of a cultural bubble and can restrict children from assimilating into Italian society. While some wealthy Italian parents do opt to send their children to international schools, they are a small minority.

An ideal middle-ground would be to enrol children in a school that combines the Italian curriculum with the student’s home country’s curriculum, or a bilingual international school teaching in both the child's native tongue and Italian.

Expats will find a wide range of international schools in major Italian cities such as Rome and Milan, but there are many more scattered all over Italy. Curricula offered at international schools in Italy include American, British, French, German as well as the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Competition for places is stiff, especially at the more prestigious international schools, so it is best to apply ahead of time. Admission requirements vary from institution to institution, but previous school records are usually required and, in some cases, children must sit admission exams and attend interviews.

Expats who choose this option should negotiate a schooling allowance into their relocation package, if possible, as tuition fees at these schools are high.