The Italian education system – Lexology

Find out how the Italian education system works with a guide to compulsory courses, study cycles, the secondary education system and more.

The Italian education system is organized according to the principles of subsidiarity and autonomy of educational institutions. This means that the state has exclusive legislative jurisdiction over general rules on education. The responsibility of the State is also to guarantee the levels of essential services throughout the national territory.

1. Which institutions regulate the Italian education system?

The State defines the fundamental principles with which the regions must comply in the exercise of their specific competences. Italian regions have concurrent legislative power in education and exclusive legislative power in vocational education and training.

State educational establishments have autonomy in matters of education, organization, research, experimentation and development.

2. How does the Italian education system work?

The education system in Italy can be divided into 3 main cycles. These include the early levels of education like kindergarten, through college. Some cycles are compulsory education, others are not.

2.1. Early childhood education in Italy and kindergarten

The integrated system from zero to six years is not compulsory. It lasts 6 years and includes:

  • Early childhood educational services: these are managed by local authorities, directly or by agreement, by other public bodies or by individuals, who take in children between 3 and 36 months;
  • kindergarten: these can be managed by the State, local authorities, directly or by agreement, other public entities or private persons, welcoming children between 3 and 6 years old;

2.2. Primary and secondary school in Italy: the compulsory first cycle of studies

The first cycle of education is compulsory, has a total duration of 8 years and is specifically divided into:

  • Primary school: Teaching in 5 years for pupils from 6 to 11 years old;
  • High school: Teaching in 3 years for pupils from 11 to 14 years old.

2.3. Secondary school in Italy and other forms of school education

The second cycle of education is divided into two types of study streams:

  • High school (High school): this is a 5-year training period for students who have successfully completed the first cycle of training. There is a wide range of schools: high schools, technical institutes, vocational institutes, as well as study streams for female students aged 14-19;
  • Vocational education and training: Course of study in 3 and 4 years of vocational education and training (IEFP) with regional competence. It is also aimed at students who have successfully completed the first cycle of education.

2.4. Universities and other higher education institutions in Italy

Higher education offered by universities, higher education establishments in art, music and dance (AFAM) and higher technical institutes (ITS) with different types of study streams:

  • The universities
  • AFAM (Advanced Artistic, Musical and Coreutical Training – higher education institutions in art, music and dance)
  • Professionalize establishments HIS (Instituto Tecnici Superiori)

3. Compulsory education in Italy

Compulsory education in Italy has a duration of 10 years and ranges from 6 to 16 years. This compulsory period includes the 8 years of the first cycle of education and the first 2 years of the second cycle. Students can attend upper (state) secondary school or regional vocational education and training streams.

In addition, for all young people, the right/duty to education and training applies for at least 12 years or, in any case, until obtaining a professional qualification of 3 years at the age of 18, in accordance with the provisions of Law no. 53/2003.

Compulsory education can be provided in public and parochial schools (Law No. 62 of 2000), within the scope of the public education system, but it can also be provided in non-parochial schools (Law No. 27 of 2006 ) or through family. education. In these last two cases, however, the fulfillment of compulsory education must be subject to a number of conditions, such as the passing of proficiency examinations.

Responsibility for compliance with the obligation to educate minors rests with the parents of the students or with those who exercise parental authority. The municipalities of residence and the school principals monitor compliance with this obligation.

3.1. What happens at the end of compulsory education in Italy

If students do not continue their studies at the end of the compulsory period, they will receive certification of the skills acquired (Ministerial Decree 139 of 2007).

After passing the State secondary school leaving examination in the 5th year, students can access higher education courses (universities, AFAM and ITS). However, some universities and courses allow a limited number of students to register through a placement test. It is the responsibility of students to check the requirements of the university of interest.

4. Private education in Italy

Article 33 of the Italian Constitution establishes two fundamental principles:

  • The State has the obligation to ensure a school system for all young people;
  • The State must grant the right to natural and legal persons to establish educational establishments free of charge by the State.

Private schools are authorized to issue diplomas with the same legal value as those of the corresponding public schools, in fact, they enjoy complete freedom in terms of cultural orientation and pedagogical and didactic direction and benefit from tax treatment. more favorable if they are non-profit.

5. The Italian school system

The education system in Italy has 3 major categories of institutes regarding the secondary education system.

5.1 Italian high schools

Lycées aim to obtain an upper secondary education diploma. They are part of the upper secondary education system as an articulation of the second cycle of the education and training system (Article 1 of Legislative Decree no. 226 of October 17, 2005, as amended). Lycées adopt the educational, cultural and professional profile of the pupil at the end of the second cycle of the education and training system.

The licensed courses provide students with the cultural and methodological tools for a deep understanding of reality, so that they can put themselves with a rational, creative, planning and critical attitude, in the face of situations, phenomena and problems, and acquire knowledge, skills and competences in line with personal abilities and choices and suitable for the pursuit of higher education, integration into social life and the labor market.

The licéal paths have a duration of 5 years and are further divided into two periods of 2 years and a 5th year that completes the academic path. The courses form the academic, cultural and professional profile of the student at the end of the second cycle of the education and training system.

5.1.1. Types of Italian high schools

Here are all the different types of high schools that will steer students towards different types of future education:

  • High School of Arts;
  • classical high school;
  • Linguistic high school;
  • Music and Dance High School;
  • Lycée des sciences (applied sciences);
  • High school of human sciences (economic and social sciences).

5.2 Technical institutes

The technical institutes offer a limited number of academic directions, but they will train students to work in specific sectors that are fundamental for the economic and productive development of Italy.

5.3 Professional institutes

From the start of the 2018/2019 school year, the professional institutes are offering 11 training courses with reinforced laboratory activities: a new organizational and pedagogical model. Indeed, they train students in strategic arts, trades as well as professions for the development of the country’s economy.

Along with the activation of the new vocational colleges, for the second, third, fourth and fifth years, the previous programs are active until the end of the five-year course in 2022.

6. Italian boarding schools

National boarding schools and state-run “educandati” contribute to the pursuit of the general objectives of the Italian education system both with the qualified educational offer of internal schools and with the development of residential and semi-residential facilities.

In this way, they respond to the new culture of equal opportunity, support student exchanges in the community, and respond to changing student demands.

If you want more information about the Italian education system, you can find out more on the website of the Ministry of Public Instruction.

7. Study visa in Italy

Whatever course of study you intend to follow in Italy, you may need to apply for a student visa if you come from outside the European Union. Check out our full guide to how to apply for italian student visa.

8. Regulatory framework

First level local legislation:



Do not hesitate to visit our website or contact us at [email protected] to learn more about our services and how we can help you.