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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of primary education


5.Primary education

5.1Organisation of primary education

Last update: 14 February 2024

Geographical accessibility

According to the Constitution of the Italian Republic all have the right to access education, regardless of the geographical area in which they live and of individual socioeconomic conditions.

The central and branch administrations of the State, as well as regional, provincial, and local administrations are responsible for setting up and operating educational establishments all over the country, based on the age of pupils, the geographical context of the area and the social conditions of the families living there.

To encourage school attendance of all, and to implement the universal right to study, various services and support measures may be available, for example canteen, transport and out-of-hours provision. The municipalities are responsible for the organisation of transport services in accordance with criteria established at regional level.

Admission requirements and choice of school

The school year starts in the month of September, according to the regional calendars.

Primary education is compulsory, and age is the main admission requirement. Therefore, children turning six by 31 December of the relevant school year must enrol in the first year of primary school. Early enrolment to the first year of primary education is allowed, upon families’ request, to children turning six by 30 April of the calendar year in which they should begin school (e.g. as for school year 2023/2024, by the 30 April 2024). However families are recommended to take into account the advice of the pupil’s preprimary school teachers before proceeding to the early enrolment (DPR 89/2009). Late enrolment is not allowed, except for health reasons or other serious impediments (Dlgs 297/1994).

Foreign pupils enrol in primary schools at the same conditions of Italian citizens and are admitted to the class correspondent to their age. However, teachers can decide differently, considering other aspects such as: the educational system of origin previously attended, previous study paths or certifications acquired, the pupil's assessed level of attainment (DPR 394/1999).

Pupils attending private schools without parity or home education, willing to enrol in State schools from the second year onward, need to pass a qualifying examination before the start of the school year.

Parents are free to choose the school for their children. It can be the school in the area of residence or any other school they may prefer (e.g. on account of its educational offer or timetables). However, schools accept applications within the maximum limits of available places, taking into account also the availability of facilities and the school staff assigned to the school. If applications exceed the available posts, the school accept applications in accordance with criteria established by the school itself and published before the start of the enrolment procedures. Being primary education compulsory, schools and local authorities collaborate to guarantee the right to attend school for all children.

Age levels and grouping of pupils

Primary school lasts five years and is generally addressed to pupils aged from 6 to 11.

Children are organised in groups called ‘classes’ according to their age. However, pupils from different classes can be grouped together for special school activities. A class has a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 26-27 pupils. These limits can be modified within a 10% range. The maximum number of pupils per class is usually lowered to 20, if there are pupils with special educational needs due to disabilities. In schools located in small villages, usually in mountain areas or on small islands, the minimum number of pupils per class is lowered to 10. If the population is too low for the school to form separate classes of pupils of the same age, pupils of different ages can be grouped together to form a single class called ‘multi-class’. Pupils in multi-classes range from 8 to 18. Teachers working in multi-classes plan and carry out activities tailored to the different age groups in their class (DPR 81/2009).

Teachers in primary schools are generalist. The number of teachers per class varies according to the different timetable models. In fact, the classes adopting the weekly timetable of 24, 27 or 30 hours usually have only one teacher, who may be supported by English language and Catholic religion teachers. Conversely, two teachers work, although not at the same time, in classes with the weekly timetable of 40 hours. Usually, teachers stay with the class for all five years of primary school (DPR 89/2009).

Organisation of the school year

The Ministry sets the dates of the final exams of the first and second cycle of education, as well as the calendar of national holidays valid for all levels of education. Regions define the school calendar (start and end of school activities, duration of breaks for national holidays, other holidays) to reflect local needs. Every year, the Ministry publishes a summary table on its website which shows all the regional school calendars (D.Lgs. 297/1994, Constitution).
The school year starts on the 1 September and ends on 31 August. Teaching activities start and end in the months of September and June, according to the regional calendars, for a minimum of 200 teaching days in a year. For pupil 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 minimum and maximum number of teaching hours is established at central level (DPR 89/2009). The teaching timetable offers the following options:

  • 24 hours a week
  • 27 hours a week up to 30 hours (time for lunch is not included)
  • 40 hours a week (time for lunch is included).

At the time of enrolment, parents can choose the time model of their preference and schools form classes based on the parents' requests, also meeting the requirements of the minimum and maximum number of pupils per class. Moreover, to form classes and adopt the timetable of 30 and 40 hours, the school must take into account the availability of human resources and of facilities.

Organisation of the school day and week

The governing bodies of the school, i.e. the school Council and the Teachers’ assembly, define the weekly and daily timetables and the distribution of the teaching hours in the morning and afternoon.

Lessons must be spread over no fewer than 5 days a week. Schools have autonomy in the organisation of the daily timetable. Lessons are usually held from Monday to Friday, but some schools offer a six-day week with lessons on Saturday.

Schools can autonomously adopt flexible solutions based on the requests of families, the availability of teaching staff, facilities and services. Furthermore, the school Council may decide to differently distribute the annual curricular teaching across the different weeks of the school year, without prejudice to the division of lessons into no less than five days a week.

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, as well as to the financial and staff resources available to local administrations.

The tables below give two examples of the 27 and 40-hour timetables spread on 5 days. The examples are not exhaustive of the variety of solutions schools can adopt.  

Table A - Example of a 27-hour-week timetable:

Length of school day, each day of the week
  Out-of-hours provision Lessons* Lunch break Lessons* Out-of-hours provisions
Monday 7.30-8.00 8.00-12.30 - - -
Tuesday 7.30-8.00 8.00-12.30 - - -
Wednesday 7.30-8.00 8.00-12.30 12.30-13.15 13.00-16.00 16.00-17.00
Thursday 7.30-8.00 8.00-13.00 - - -
Friday 7.30-8.00 8.00-12.30 12.30-13.15 13.00-16.00 16.00-17.00
Saturday - - - - -

* columns 'Lessons' also include time for breaks and playtime

Table B - Example of a 40-hour-week timetable:

Length of school day, each day of the week
  Out-of-hours provision Lessons* Lunch break Lessons* Out-of-hours provision
Monday 7.30-8.15 8.15-12.15 12.15-13.00 13.00-16.15 16.15-17.00
Tuesday 7.30-8.15 8.15-12.15 12.15-13.00 13.00-16.15 16.15-17.00
Wednesday 7.30-8.15 8.15-12.15 12.15-13.00 13.00-16.15 16.15-17.00
Thursday 7.30-8.15 8.15-12.15 12.15-13.00 13.00-16.15 16.15-17.00
Friday 7.30-8.15 8.15-12.15 12.15-13.00 13.00-16.15 16.15-17.00
Saturday - - - - -

* columns 'Lessons' also include time for breaks and playtime



Contents revised: February 2024