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


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.4Organisation of general upper secondary education

Last update: 14 May 2024

Compulsory education lasts for 10 years and covers the first cycle of education (primary and lower secondary education) and the first two years of the second cycle of education.

The second cycle, which offers students two different options:

  • general and vocational upper secondary education (scuola secondaria di II grado);
  • vocational education and training courses (Istruzione e formazione professionale - IFP).

General and vocational upper secondary education lasts for five years and falls under the responsibility of the State, while vocational and training courses are organised at regional level and have a duration of three or four years.

Types of institutions

General upper secondary education is delivered by six types of general schools (licei) specializing in the following areas: arts (liceo artistico), classical studies (liceo classico), sciences (liceo scientifico), languages (liceo linguistico), music and dance (liceo musicale e coreutico), human sciences (liceo delle scienze umane).

From school year 2024/2025 the new liceo for Made in Italy will be activated.

The liceo artistico offers the following 6 branches of studies: figurative arts, architecture and environment, design, audiovisual and multimedia, graphics, set designing. The first two years are the same for all branches. The liceo scientifico offers an option in applied sciences, while the liceo delle scienze umane offers an option in social and economic studies.

General upper secondary institutions can be either State schools or independent schools with a status equal to State schools (paritarie) or private independent schools.

Geographical accessibility

The Constitution of the Italian Republic (art. 33 and 34) establishes that it is the duty of the State to provide access to education for all young people living in the country, regardless of the geographical condition of the area they live in and 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 the school network. In this way, resources can be used more rationally and the school system can be run more efficiently.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Compulsory education lasts 10 years and covers the first two years of the second cycle of education. Thus, students who have successfully completed the first cycle of education must enrol in State-run upper secondary schools (general and vocational) or in the vocational training courses (IFP) organised by the Regions.

The only admission requirement to access general upper secondary education is the possession of the certificate released at completion of the first-cycle of education.

Once the choice of the type of liceo is done, parents can choose whether to enrol their child at the school in the area of residence, if available, or in any other liceo. The only limitations may be due to the lack of available facilities or to the lack of school staff assigned to each school by the school administration. Schools accept applications within the maximum limits of available places. If applications exceed the available posts, the school accept applications in accordance with criteria established by the school council and published before the start of the enrolment procedures.

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 the stakeholders involved in the school community, i.e. the school itself, the students and their parents.

Age levels and grouping of students

Courses of studies at general upper secondary schools (licei) are generally addressed to students aged 14 to 19. The overall duration of general upper secondary education is 5 years.

Classes at upper secondary level should generally have no fewer than 27 and no more than 30 students in the first grade. The minimum required number of students in the following grades of upper secondary school is 22. Usually, the maximum number of students per class lowers to 20, if there are students with disabilities.

These figures can increase or decrease depending on the availability of school staff, as established by the Regional School Office.
Class teachers are specialists in one or more subjects from the same subject area (e.g. maths and sciences).

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 1 September and finishes 31 August. Teaching activities, including periodic and final assessments and examinations, as well as in-service training activities, are carried out between 1 September and 30 June (final examinations at upper secondary level should end within July).

There are a minimum of 200 teaching days in a year, distributed over 33 weeks. For student evaluation purposes, the school year can be divided into two or three terms (periods of three or four months), as decided by the Teachers assembly of each school.
The compulsory annual and weekly teaching time for each type of liceo and for each subject is established by central regulations and varies according to the type of liceo (DPR 89/2010).

Organisation of the school day and week

The school is responsible for defining the weekly and daily organisation of lessons and distribution of activities across the days of the week. Lessons must be spread over no fewer than 5 days a week and are usually held on 6 days, including Saturday. Schools can set daily timetables autonomously.

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.

The table below presents a sample school week for a liceo scientifico The timetable includes breaks between lessons and a mid-morning break of 15 minutes.


Out-of hours


Lessons Lunch break Lessons



Monday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Tuesday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Wednesday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Thursday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Friday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Saturday - 8.15-12.15 - - -