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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general lower secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general lower secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Types of institutions

Lower secondary education is offered by State or State-equivalent lower secondary schools (paritarie). These latter are independent schools that can be owned either by public bodies, usually local authorities, or by private subjects. To have the equal status, independent schools must meet some specific requirements, e.g. to have a three-year educational offer plan (Piano triennale dell’offerta formativa – PTOF) and to welcome all students.

Often, lower secondary schools are part of ‘comprehensive institutes’ that group together schools from the pre-primary to the lower secondary level. Comprehensive institutes are run by a single school manager.

Finally, under certain conditions, pupils can attend lower secondary education also through home education or at private institutions.

In school year 2018/2019, lower secondary schools were 8 050, of which 7 407 public schools (State-run and public independent schools) and 643 private independent schools.

Geographical accessibility

The Constitution of the Italian Republic (art. 33 and 34) establishes that the State must provide access to education to all young people living in the country, regardless of the geographical condition of the area they live in and of their individual social and economic situation.

The central and branch administrations of the State, as well as regional, provincial and local administrations (municipalities) are responsible for achieving this goal.

The Regions are responsible for the general planning of the educational offer and of the school network. In this way, resources can be used more rationally and the school system can be run more efficiently.

To encourage school attendance of all pupils and implement the universal right to study, various services and support measure are available at local level. For example, school transport is under the responsibility of municipalities in accordance with criteria established at regional level.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Enrolment in lower secondary school is compulsory for pupils who successfully passed the last year of the primary school. There are not final examinations at the end of primary school, because examinations only take place at the end of each cycle of education (i.e. at the end of the first cycle that coincides with the end of lower secondary school).

Pupils attending a private school or receiving primary home education are admitted to mainstream lower secondary schooling only after passing a qualifying examination (esame di idoneità) in a State primary school. However, candidates must hold the admission certificate to the first grade of lower secondary school.

Parents are free to choose which school to send their children. Each school establishes its own criteria for the enrolment of students in case applications exceed the number of places available. However, as this level of education is compulsory, schools and local authorities must work closely together to guarantee the right to study of all. During the month of January each year, parents submit the enrolment request through an online platform of the Ministry. At the submission, they indicate a school as a first choice and up to two alternative options. Parents receive an official communication once the first school has received the request of admission. In case the school rejects the request, this is re-directed to the other schools indicated by parents.

At enrolment, students and their parents sign a 'Joint responsibility agreement'. This document details the rights and duties (e.g. use of mobile telephones and electronic devices at school) of all stakeholders in the school community, i.e. the school itself, the students and their parents.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Lower secondary education lasts 3 years and is generally attended by pupils aged from 11 to 14.  

According to regulations on the organisation of classes (DPR 81/2009), these are organised according to the age of pupils. In the first grade, a class is made up of a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 27-28 pupils. In the second and third grades, classes must have a minimum of 20 pupils. These limits can vary by 10%. Usually, the maximum number of pupils per class is lowered to 20, if there are pupils with special educational needs. In fact, pupils with special educational need are integrated in mainstream classes.

In schools located in small villages, usually in mountain areas and on small islands, or in areas with linguistic minorities, the minimum number of pupils per class is 10. If the population is too low for the school to form separate classes with pupils of the same age, classes made up of pupils of different ages are allowed. In this case, classes cannot exceed 18 pupils.

Class teachers are specialists in one or more subjects included in the curriculum. Teachers usually teach the same class throughout the whole three-year period.

Organisation of the school year

The Ministry is responsible for defining the dates for the first and the second cycle leaving examinations and the calendar of the national holidays (D.Lgs. 297/1994). The Regions are responsible for defining the school calendar (start and end of school activities, length of breaks for national holidays, other holidays) to adapt it to the local needs (D.Lgs. 112/1998). Usually Christmas holidays last two weeks and Easter holidays one week in the majority of the regions. Every year, the Ministry publishes on its website a summary table with all regional school calendars.

The school year starts on the 1st of September and finishes on the 31st of August. Teaching activities, including end-of-term assessments, final assessments and examinations, as well as in service training activities are carried out between the 1st of September and the 30th of June. There are a minimum of 200 teaching days in a year, distributed over 33 weeks. For pupil evaluation purposes, the school year can be divided into two or three terms (periods of three or four months), as established by the teachers' assembly of each school. The annual amount of compulsory teaching time for lower secondary school is established at central level. The current minimum annual teaching time is 990 hours, corresponding to 30 hours per week (DPR 89/2009).

Organisation of the school day and week

According to central regulations (DPR 89/2009), the compulsory annual timetable at lower secondary level is 990 hours of teaching, corresponding to 30 hours per week (29 hours + 1 hour dedicated to the in-depth study of literary subjects).

Schools can also organise all or some classes according to an extended timetable of 36 hours a week or, exceptionally, 40 hours including mealtime. To do so, schools must have adequate spaces and services to guarantee the lessons also in the afternoon. In addition, the choice of offering the extended timetable depends on the number of teachers assigned to the school by the Regional school office. In case both the options are available, parents choose the timetable at their child’s enrolment.

The school establishes the weekly and daily timetable and the distribution of activities over the different days of the week, for a minimum of 5 days a week. Schools that operate 6 days a week, include lessons on Saturdays.

Schools organise their daily timetable autonomously. Hours are of 60 minutes and schools usually organise a 10-minute break at mid-morning.

The out-of-hours reception of pupils before or after school timetable is a service run by the municipalities and as such is subject to demand and the financial and staff resources available to local administrations. At this level of education, out-of-hours provision is not common.

Table 1 - The table below presents a sample 30-hour-week timetable, Saturday included:

  out-of-hours provision Lessons Lunch break Lessons out-of-hours provision
Monday - 8.00-14.00 - - -
Tuesday -
- - -
Wednesday -
- - -
Thursday - 8.00-14.00 - - -
Friday -
- - -
Saturday - 8.00-14.00 - - -


Table 2 - The table below presents a sample 36-hour-week timetable, Saturday included:

  out-of-hours provision Lessons Lunch break Lessons out-of-hours provision
Monday - 8.15-13.15 13.15-14.15 14.15-16.15 -
Tuesday - 8.15-13.15     -
Wednesday - 8.15-13.15 13.15-14.15 14.15-16.15 -
Thursday - 8.15-13.15     -
Friday - 8.15-13.15 13.15-14.15 14.15-16.15 -
Saturday - 8.15-13.15     -