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


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.7Organisation of vocational upper secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Education and training is compulsory 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.

Therefore, at completion of the first cycle of education, students must continue their studies in the second cycle, which offers two different options:

  • upper secondary education (scuola secondaria di secondo grado);
  • three and four-year vocational education and training courses (IFP).

Upper secondary education falls under the responsibility of the State and is organised into a general path (licei) and a vocational path offered by technical and vocational institutes.

Upper secondary education, both general and vocational, has an overall duration of 5 years.

IFP is organised at regional level and it is offered by accredited training agencies or by training agencies in partnership with upper secondary schools.

Law 107/2015 has introduced a reform of the vocational path offered by vocational institutes that is gradually applied from school year 2018/2019. The reform focuses on the innovation of the offer at vocational institutes and on the revision of study programmes in order to avoid overlapping with the technical paths and with the vocational training organised at regional level.

The previous six branches of studies at vocational institutes have increase to 11 and the percentage of time dedicated to branch-related learning has increased to 40% in the first two years of study and to 50% in the last three years.

Finally, starting from school year 2018/2019, vocational institutes and regional vocational education and training providers are part of the national network of vocational schools, created in order to have a more efficient vocational offer.

Types of institutions

Vocational upper secondary education

School-based vocational upper secondary education is provided by technical institutes and by vocational institutes. Both types of institutions can be State-run, paritarie schools or merely private institutions.

Technical institutes offer the following 11 branches of study:

a) economic sector:

1) management, finance and marketing

2) tourism

b) technology sector:

1) mechanics, mechatronics and energy

2) transports and logistics

3) electronics and electro-technics

4) ICT and telecommunications

5) graphics and communications

6) chemistry, materials and biotechnologies

7) fashion

8) agriculture, agriculture and food, agroindustry

9) construction, environment and territory

The reform law 107/2015, has established the reorganisation of vocational programmes. The new organisation applies to the first classes from school year 2018/2019 and will gradually cover the whole course of study. Vocational institutes offer the following new 11 branches of study:

a) agriculture, rural development, development of local resources and management of forest and mountain resources

b) commercial phishing and phish production

c) industry and handicraft for ‘made in Italy’

d) maintenance and technical assistance

e) water management and environment restoration

f) commercial services

g) food and wine and hospitality

h) cultural services and entertainment

i) services for health and social assistance

l) optician

m) dental technician

According to the previous organisation, that still applies to the remaining classes (in 2018/2019 from the second to the fifth), vocational education and training covers the service sector and the industry and crafts sector. There are 4 service sector programmes and 2 industry and crafts programmes.

For both technical and vocational programmes, specific guidelines set out the target learning outcomes for each option and each subject and these are defined in terms of knowledge, skills and competencies.

Regional vocational education and training (IFP)

Three-year and four-year vocational education and training courses are organised by vocational training agencies and upper secondary vocational institutes.

Training agencies are vocational training institutions that are accredited by the Regions according to specific criteria established in agreement with the State. Upper secondary vocational institutes follow the guidelines issued by their Regions for IFP courses.

The Regions accredit the training agencies that meet the following specific criteria:

  • they are part of a non-profit institution offering educational services to young people;
  • their educational plan involves offering young people the opportunity to acquire certain defined competencies and skills;
  • they implement the national labour contract for vocational training with all staff;
  • their teaching staff is qualified to teach at upper secondary level;
  • they create networks and relationships within the territory and with families;
  • they take joint decisions on the planning and management of teaching activities and guarantee periodic assessment and the final certification of learning;
  • they have suitable facilities and premises.

Both private subjects (religious institutions or trade unions) and public subjects (regional, provincial and local institutions) can establish a training agency.

Vocational upper secondary schools can also offer IFP courses on a subsidiary basis and in keeping with the competences of the Regions. Courses can be of the following two types:

a) integrated subsidiary courses for students attending mainstream 5-year upper secondary vocational courses to obtain an IFP qualification after three years of training;

b) complementary subsidiary courses organised in special classes at vocational institutes, preparing students for a three/four-year qualification within the IFP system. Since 2010, vocational institutes can issue IFP certificates.

So far, most Regions have opted for the first of the two types of offer.

Furthermore, those with a four-year IFP qualification are admitted to universities, institutes of Higher Education in Music and Art (Alta formazione artistica e musicale - AFAM) and Higher Technical Institutes (Istituti tecnici superiori - ITS) courses, provided they have attended a one-year integration course offered by the Regions and organised by the vocational institutes and the training agencies themselves.

Geographical accessibility

Vocational upper secondary education

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.

Regional vocational education and training (IFP)

The presence of training agencies and vocational upper secondary institutes offering courses within the regional vocational education and training system is not uniform throughout the country.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Vocational upper secondary education

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 either 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 vocational upper secondary education is the possession of the certificate released at completion of the first cycle of education.

Parents are free to choose which school to send their children to. However, there may be limitations may due a lack of available facilities or to the lack of school staff assigned to each school by the relevant Regional school office (USR). Schools establish their own enrolment criteria when applications exceed the number of places available. Applications to the chosen upper secondary school are submitted directly by the lower secondary school attended by the student.

At enrolment, students and their parents are required to 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.

Regional vocational education and training (IFP)

Candidates to IFP courses are required to have completed the first cycle of education. Enrolment in the first year is for students under the age of 15. Candidates from other education pathways must be under 18.

Age levels and grouping of students

Vocational upper secondary education

School-based vocational upper secondary education Courses at technical and vocational institutes are generally addressed to students aged from 14 to 19. The overall duration of vocational upper secondary education in 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 subject or more subjects from the same subject area (e.g. maths and sciences). In the technologically-oriented technical institutes, two teachers work together teaching theory and practice in laboratory classes.

Regional vocational education and training (IFP)

The average number of learners per class is usually 20. Maximum limits are set at regional level and a minimum number of learners are usually required for administrative reasons (e.g. 12 learners). Each class-group corresponds to the grade of the course (i.e. first, second and third grade) and to the qualification issued at the end of the course (e.g. first grade 'catering worker').

Organisation of school year

Vocational upper secondary education

The Ministry is responsible of defining the dates of the final examinations of the first and of the second cycle of education. It also establishes the calendar for national holidays.

The Regions are responsible for defining the school calendar (start and end of school activities, length of breaks for national holidays, other holidays) so that it reflects the needs of their territory.

Every year, the Ministry publishes a summary table, on its own website, showing 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 timetable (based on 33 weeks/year) for technical and vocational schools is set at central level (Presidential Decree 88/2010 for technical institutes and Ministerial Decree 92/2018 for vocational institutes).

In both technical and vocational institutes, the annual compulsory teaching timetable is 1056 hours, corresponding to approximately 32 hours a week. The timetable consists of a portion common to all branches and covering general activities and teaching, and a portion that is specific to each branch of specialisation. Schools can autonomously vary the timetable up to 20% of the annual teaching time.

Technical institutes

The annual timetable is organised as follows:

a) in the first and second grades, the annual timetable common to all branches is 660 hours (approximately 20 hours a week), while the branch-related timetable is 396 hours (approximately 12 hours a week);

b) in the third, fourth and fifth grades, the common annual timetable is 495 hours (approximately 15 hours a week) while the specific timetable is 561 hours (approximately 17 hours a week).

Vocational institutes

The annual timetable is organised as follows:

a) in the first and second grades, the common activities amount at 594 hours/year, while the specific timetable is 462 hours;

b) in the third, fourth and fifth grades, the common annual timetable is 462 hours and the specific timetable is 594 hours.

Regional vocational education and training (IFP)

The overall number of teaching hours on courses organised by training agencies ranges between 2 900 and 3 600 hours for the entire three-year period. Within these hours, the amount of time devoted to general knowledge and culture, specialist subject areas, work experience and integrated activities (guidance, catch-up, etc.) also varies. The average time devoted to the acquisition of cultural competencies ranges from 35 to 45% of the overall timetable; 45-50% is devoted to the technical-vocational specialist area and the remaining time goes towards work experience and integrated activities.

Courses organised by vocational upper secondary institutes generally follow the specialist branch structure of vocational institutes, devoting 15-30% of the technical-vocational portion of the timetable to integrated activities.

The year can be divided into two or three terms (periods of three of four months). At the end of each term, students are assessed and parents are informed of their learning outcomes.

Organisation of the school day and week

Vocational upper secondary education

The school is responsible for defining the weekly and daily timetable and deciding how to distribute 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 in a first grade class at a technical institute. The timetable includes breaks between lessons.




Lessons    Lunch break Lessons



Monday - 8.15-14.15 - - -
Tuesday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Wednesday - 8.15-14.15 - - -
Thursday - 8.15-13.15 - - -
Friday - 8.15-14.15 - - -
Saturday - 8.15-12.15 - - -

Regional vocational education and training (IFP)

Learners attend IFP courses for about 5-6 hours a day with a mid-morning break, 5 or 6 days a week. Lessons correspond to the school calendar, i.e. starting in September and ending in June-July. Calendars may vary locally depending on regional planning and the availability of funds annually allocated by the Ministry.

Legislative references

Inter-ministerial Decree 24 May 2018, no. 92 (timetables in vocational institutes)

Dlgs 13 April 2017, no. 61 (re-organisation of vocational institutes)

DPR 15 March 2010, no. 87 (organisation of vocational institutes)

DPR 15 March 2010, no. 88 (organisation of technical institutes)

DM 22 August 2007, no. 139 (length of compulsory education)

Law 6 August 2008, no. 133 (re-organisation of upper secondary education)

DPR 20 March 2009, no.81 (class sizes)

Legislative Decree 16 April 1994, no. 297 (general rules on the school year)

Legislative Decree 31 March 1998, no. 112 (regional competences on the organisation of the school year)