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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Secondary education

Secondary education falls under the responsibility of the State and its administration is carried out centrally by the ministry responsible for the school education system, currently the Ministry of Education and merit (Ministero dell'istruzione e del merito, MIM), from now on also 'Ministry' or MIM. Local authorities are responsible for the organisation of premises and of services such as transports and canteen.

According to law 53/2003 secondary education is made up of the following two levels of education:

  • the ‘first-level secondary school’ (scuola secondaria di I grado) corresponding to the lower secondary level (ISCED 2);
  • the ‘second cycle of education’ (secondo ciclo di istruzione), which corresponds to the upper secondary level (ISCED 3) and offers the following two options:
    • the State-run general and vocational upper secondary education (scuola secondaria di II grado), offered by upper secondary schools;
    • the vocational education and training system (Istruzione e formazione professionale - IFP), organised at regional level.

Schools offering lower and upper secondary education can be either State schools or non-State schools that have a status equal to State schools (called paritarie schools). Such non-State schools can be run by public bodies, usually local authorities, as well as by private subjects. Their equal status depends on meeting some specific conditions established by the State law (law 62/2000).

Lower secondary education and the first two years of the second cycle of education are part of the overall ten years of compulsory education that starts at six years of age with primary education (law 296/2006). Under certain conditions, pupils can attend compulsory education also through home education or at private institutions.

Lower secondary education lasts for 3 years and is attended by pupils aged 11 to 14. Lower secondary education and primary education make up the first cycle of education which is compulsory and lasts eight years altogether. However, each portion of the first cycle of education is considered a separate level of education with its own specificities.

Lower secondary school 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 is made up of the upper secondary level of education run by the State and by the regional vocational education and training system (IFP).

The first two years of the second cycle of education and training are compulsory and can be undertaken at any of the institutions - both of the State and regional system - offering education and training within the second cycle of education.

Upper secondary education offers general, technical and vocational education. The overall length of studies at upper secondary level is 5 years (from 14 to 19 years of age):

General upper secondary education is organised at institutions called licei. It aims at preparing students to higher-level studies and to the labour world by providing them with adequate competences and knowledge, as well as cultural and methodological instruments for developing their own life skills, i.e. critical thinking and planning skills.

Technical institutes offer technical education and have the general objective of providing students with a strong scientific and technological background in the economic and technological professional sectors.

Vocational institutes offer vocational education and provide students with a strong technical and vocational general background in the sectors of services, industry and handicraft, to facilitate access to the labour world.

Both general, technical and vocational paths give access to tertiary education.

Regional vocational education and training (Istruzione e formazione professionale - IFP) is organised into three and four-year courses for those who have completed the first cycle of education and wish to complete their compulsory education in the vocational training system or receive a three-year qualification by their 18th year of age (known as right/duty - diritto/dovere).

Courses can be organised by both local training agencies and by vocational upper secondary schools in partnership with training agencies. In the latter case schools follow regional guidelines. Courses foresee the release of intermediate certifications with the recognition of credits, which enable students to shift to other training or education pathways (e.g. school or apprenticeship).

Compared to pathways in mainstream education, these courses are shorter (3 or 4 years), make more use of laboratories and of periods of work experiences and aim for faster access to the job market.

Regional vocational education and training qualifications are listed and described in a national catalogue that is established at central level in agreement with the Regions.

Post-secondary non-tertiary education

The post-secondary non-tertiary level, offers the following options:

•    the Higher technical education and training system (Istruzione e formazione tecnica superiore - IFTS) managed by the State;

•    the vocational training system managed by the Regions.

The Higher technical education and training system (IFTS) aims mainly at developing professional specialisations at post-secondary level that meet the requirements of the labour market, both in the public and private sectors. In particular, courses focus on the organisation of services, of local bodies and productive sectors undergoing deep technological innovations due to the globalization of markets. They are organised according to the priorities indicated by the economic planning at regional level.

The Regions organise short vocational training courses (400-800 hours) addressed to those who hold a qualification obtained either in the regional or in the State vocational training system. They are also called 'second-level' vocational training courses.

They are organised with funds coming from the European Social Fund and aim at the acquisition of high-level theoretical, technical and managerial skills, also through practical work and traineeships in enterprises, to meet the professional needs of specific sectors.