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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of the education system and of its structure


2.Organisation and governance

2.3Organisation of the education system and of its structure

Last update: 27 November 2023

The structure of the education and training system

The education and training system covers from Early childhood education and care (ECEC) to tertiary and adult education.

Education is compulsory for 10 years from 6 to 16 years of age. Compulsory education covers five years of primary education, three years of lower secondary education and two years of upper secondary education. The last two years of compulsory education can also be spent by attending the vocational education and training courses (Istruzione e formazione professionale – IeFP), organised by the single Regions.

For a schematic representation of the education and training system please refer to the diagram in the ‘Overview’ section.

Early childhood education and care (ECEC)

Early childhood education and care (ECEC) is organised into two different stages according to children's age: 0-3 years and 3-6 years. The two offers make up the so called 'integrated system 0-6', introduced by the law 107/2015. The whole ECEC phase is part of the education system and is not compulsory. The Ministry of education and merit has a general responsibility, per esempio for the allocation of financial resources to the local authorities, for the definition of the educational guidelines and for the promotion of the integrated system at local level.

Provision for children aged 0-3 years is organised at nurseries (nidi d’infanzia). Public ECEC (0-3) settings are run directly by the municipalities, while private settings are run by private subjects. All types of settings must comply with the general criteria defined at regional and national level. ECEC services are not free for families.

ECEC for children over 3 years of age is organised at preprimary schools (scuole dell'infanzia) and is free. This ECEC phase falls under the responsibilities of the Ministry of education and merit that provides the educational guidelines and the financial and human resources, while local authorities are in charge of the organisation of the facilities. Beside the State, the providers of ECEC can also be the municipalities themselves as well as private subjects.

The first cycle of education

The first cycle of education (primo ciclo di istruzione) is made up of primary and lower secondary education, for a total length of eight years. However, primary and lower secondary education are considered separate levels of education with their own specificities and are described separately.

Primary education

Primary education is organised at primary schools (scuole primarie). Primary education is compulsory, has an overall length of 5 years and is attended by pupils aged from 6 to 11. The aim of primary education is to provide pupils with basic learning and the basic tools of active citizenship. It helps pupils to understand the meaning of their own experiences.

Lower secondary education

The lower secondary level of education is organised at ‘first-level secondary schools’ (scuole secondarie di I grado). Lower secondary education is compulsory, lasts for three years and is attended by pupils aged 11 to 14 years. Lower secondary education aims at fostering the ability to study autonomously and at strengthening the pupils’ attitudes towards social interaction, at organising and increasing knowledge and skills and at providing students with adequate instruments to continue their education and training activities.

The second cycle of education

The second cycle (secondo ciclo di istruzione) offers two parallel paths:

  1. the upper secondary school education called ‘second-level secondary school’ (istruzione secondaria di II grado)
  2. the vocational education and training system (Istruzione e formazione professionale - IeFP) organised at regional level

1) Upper secondary school education

The upper secondary level of education (istruzione secondaria di II grado) offers general, technical and vocational education. Studies last five years and are addressed to students aged from 14 to 19 years.

The general path is organised at general schools called ‘licei’. General education aims at preparing students to higher-level studies and to the labour world. It provides students with adequate competences and knowledge, as well as cultural and methodological instruments for developing their own critical and planning attitude.

Technical education is organised at technical institutes (istituti tecnici). It provides students with a solid scientific and technological background in the economic and technological professional sectors.

Vocational education is organised at vocational institute (istituti professionali). It provides students with a solid technical and vocational general background in the sectors of services, industry and handicraft, to facilitate access to the labour world.

At the end of the upper secondary school education students receive a qualification that gives access to tertiary education offered at universities, at the Higher education for the fine arts, music and dance (Alta formazione artistica, musicale e coreutica – Afam) and at the Higher technological institutes (Istituti tecnologici superiori – ITS).

2) Regional vocational education and training

Regional vocational education and training (istruzione e formazione professionale – IeFP) is organised into three and four-year courses. Courses can be organised by both accredited local training agencies and by vocational upper secondary schools in partnership with training agencies. The main characteristic of courses is a wider use of laboratories and of periods of work experiences. The aim is to faster access to the job market. At the end of courses, learners receive a vocational qualification that gives them access to the second-level regional courses or, in case of the four-year programmes and at certain conditions, to tertiary education.

Post-secondary non-tertiary education

The post-secondary non-tertiary level offers two types of courses, both organised at regional level:

  • Courses in the vocational education and training system (istruzione e formazione professionale - IeFP)
  • Courses in the Higher technical education and training system (Istruzione e formazione tecnica superiore - IFTS)

The Regions organise short IeFP courses (400-800 hours) that are addressed to those who hold a qualification obtained either in the three- and four-year vocational education and training system (IeFP) or in the upper secondary vocational school education.

The IFTS courses aim at developing professional specialisations at post-secondary level to meet the requirements of the labour market, both in the public and private sectors.

Tertiary education

The following types of institution offer tertiary education:

  • Universities and equivalent institutions
  • Institutes of the Higher education for the fine arts, music and dance (Alta formazione artistica, musicale e coreutica - Afam)
  • Higher technological institutes (Istituti tecnologici superiori – ITS)

Universities and Afam institutes offer programmes of the first, second and third cycle according to the Bologna structure and issue the relevant qualifications. In addition, universities and Afam institutes organise courses leading to qualifications outside the Bologna structure.

Higher technological institutes are highly specialised technical schools that offer programmes in the technical and technological sectors, corresponding to the levels 5 and 6 of the EQF. ITSs have been recently reformed. Main changes are described in the chapter on ongoing reforms in higher education.

Adult education

The system of formal adult education (istruzione degli adulti - IDA) refers to the domain of the educational activities aimed at the acquisition of qualifications of the education and training system. It falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and merit. This type of provision is financed through public resources, and it is free for participants (16 years of age and above). Formal adult education is organised at Provincial Centres for School Education for Adults (Centri provinciali per l’istruzione degli adulti – CPIA) and involves also upper secondary schools.

The system offers:

  • first-level courses, organised by CPIAs, aimed at obtaining an ISCED 1 and ISCED 2qualification and the certification of basic competences to be acquired at the end of compulsory education in vocational and technical education
  • second-level courses, organised by upper secondary schools, aimed at the obtainment of a technical, vocational and artistic upper secondary school leaving certificate;
  • literacy and Italian language courses for foreign adults, organised by CPIAs, aimed at the acquisition of competences in the Italian language at least at the level A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages.

Courses are available also in detention centres.

Compulsory education

Education is compulsory for ten years, between 6 and 16 years of age. Compulsory education covers (DM 139/2007):

  • five years of primary education,
  • three years of lower secondary education
  • the first two years of upper secondary education.

Students can also attend the last two years of compulsory education in the regional vocational education and training system (Istruzione e formazione professionaleIeFP).

Compulsory school education is organised at State schools or at independent schools with parity (paritarie)These latter are either public or private independent schools that are equal to State schools. Subject to certain conditions, pupils and students can complete their compulsory education through home education (istruzione parentale), described below in the relevant article, or by attending independent schools without parity. The State also guarantees the right to study and to complete compulsory education to hospitalised pupils and to pupils held in detention centres for minors.

In addition to compulsory education, everyone has a right and a duty (diritto/dovere) to receive education and training for at least 12 years within the education system or until they have obtained a three-year vocational qualification by the age of 18 (D.Lgs 76/2005).

Finally, 15-year-olds can also spend the last year of compulsory education on an apprenticeship, upon a specific arrangement between the Regions, the Ministry of labour, the Ministry of education and trade unions (law 183/2010).

Compulsory education refers to both enrolment and attendance. Parents are responsible for the attendance and completion of compulsory education. Supervision of compliance with compulsory education is the responsibility of the municipality of residence and of the head of the school attended by the individual pupil.

Those who do not continue with their studies after compulsory education, receive a certificate of completion of compulsory education that also describes the skills they have acquired. Dispositions on compulsory education apply to Italian citizens as well as to EU and non-EU citizens in compulsory school age.

Home education

Home education in Early childhood education and care (ECEC)

Law 107/2015 acknowledges home-based education (servizi educativi in contesto domiciliare) for children aged less than three years, as one of the alternatives to centre-based provision (nido d’infanzia), together with play areas and centres for children and families. These supplementary educational services have the purpose of meeting the needs of families through a flexible organisation and structure.

Home-based educational services welcome children from 3 to 36 months organised in very small groups under the care of one or more childminders.

The Regions and local authorities organise and monitor the offer in their own territories.

Home education during compulsory education

Pupils and students can attend home education (istruzione parentale) to complete compulsory education, which covers the whole primary and lower secondary levels of education and the first two years of upper secondary education, up to 16 years of age. Central legislation regulates home education during compulsory education (D.Lgs 297/1994, D.lgs 76/2005, D.Lgs 62/2017).

During compulsory school age, parents can decide to start home tuition at any time of the school year. However, they must certify to hold the technical skills and the economic capacity to deliver this kind of education on their own (Dlgs 297/1994 and Dlgs 76/2005). To this end, parents must submit a communication addressed to the school head of the school closest to the child’s resident area. The school head verifies the veracity of this declaration, but no authorisation is needed and the communication must be submitted every year.

Pupils attending home-based compulsory education must sit an aptitude examination every year both to continue home education and to be admitted to the State examination held at the end of lower secondary education. They also must pass an aptitude examination in case they are willing to enrol at school . The aptitude test aims at verifying the competences and skills acquired by pupils in home education and, therefore, to verify the accomplishment of compulsory education. Parents draw up the study plan for their child in coherence with the National guidelines issued at central level for the relevant level of education.

Once compulsory education is completed, students can finish their studies at school, either State or paritaria, upon passing the aptitude examination. Otherwise, they can complete the remaining three years through home education or attending a private institution. In this case, they sit for the State examination held at the end of upper secondary education, as external candidates. Central legislation regulates the participation of external candidates to the final State examination (please see the sections on the assessment of students in either general or vocational upper secondary education).

In school year 2021/2022, pupils attending home education were 11 363 at primary level, 6 122 in lower secondary school, while students in upper secondary education were 1 972 (Source: elaboration of data, Ministero dell’istruzione e del merito – Rilevazioni sulle scuole).

Students at all levels of education, unable to attend school for health reasons, receive home tuition by school teachers. This type of tuition is not subject to the dispositions on home education.


Contents revised: 18 May 2023