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International School or State School in Italy: Which Should You Choose?

Relocating to Italy can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. For expat families, assimilating into a new home can be a mixed bag of exciting opportunities and nerve-wracking challenges, not least of which is deciding which type of school to send your children. This is a prospect that can be daunting and stressful.We believe knowledge is power, so before educating your children, be sure to educate yourself. To that end, we’ve outlined a few facts about the Italian education system, listed some of the major differences between international and state schools, and provided several upsides and downsides of each.

How Does The Italian School System Work?

Italy’s educational system is divided into four stages or cycles.

• Preschool (kindergarten) or scuola materna: 3-6 years;
• Elementary (primary) school or scuola elementare: 6-11 years;
• Middle (junior high) school or scuola media: 11 to 14 years; and
• Secondary (high school) or liceo: 14-19 years.

Italian schools have had a long-standing reputation for being academically rigorous and scholastically challenging, performing far ahead of many US and UK state-funded schools. Children in Italy attend middle to secondary school six days a week (Monday-Saturday) and are assigned hours of homework (compiti) each night. Oral exams take place frequently, and competition is high.

Some might argue that the system’s teaching methods are antiquated, as they approach learning by rote and memorisation instead of developing critical, problem-solving skills. Having said that, on balance Italian students graduate with a solid educational background that makes them well prepared for university studies.

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When it comes to extracurricular activities, however, Italian schools can be lacking. Subjects such as sport, music, drama and art are included in the educational curriculum but are limited to only a few hours a week. Children who want to participate in athletic competition or learn to play an instrument must join private sports clubs or attend private music schools.

State-Funded Schools In Italy

State schools (scuole statali) offer every child residing in Italy a free education – from preschool through high school – regardless of their nationality. Most would agree that the quality of public-school education is higher than that of the country’s private schools. If you have a child with a disability, they are more likely to be mainstreamed into the general school population, as this is considered an enriching experience for everyone involved. These children are also entitled to up to 12 hours per week tutoring with a specially qualified teacher at no charge.

Private Schools In Italy

There are a number of private schools in Italy (scuole paritarie), which are mostly Catholic. Private schools must follow the same curricula as their public-school counterparts, the difference being that they require a fee to attend.

International Schools In Italy

The majority of international schools in Italy follow curricula modeled after the US, UK or French systems and most offer International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Enrolling students from all over the world, a third of the young people in international schools are from the US, a third from diplomatic or UN agency families and a third are Italian nationals. International schools in Italy are either taught in English or French, so they provide an easy transition for newcomers whose mother tongue is in one of these two languages. Spaces are limited and admission requires passing an entrance exam. Of course, international schools are rather expensive, with tuitions ranging between €18,000 and $28,500 per year.

How Do I Choose A School?

Regardless of its type, every school in Italy must comply with the requirements set forth by the Italian national system. When deciding where to send your children, there is a myriad of factors to consider.

Age Of The Child

Younger children (nursery and primary) will find it much easier to transition into an Italian state school than older kids (preteens to teens). Knowing at least a little Italian can’t hurt, but little children don’t really need to speak the language to fit it; they generally it pick up at lightning speed and make friends just as quickly. Teenagers, on the other hand, find it harder to assimilate into a new school environment, especially when the language and culture are ‘foreign’. Therefore, an older child might be happier in an international school setting.

Length Of Time In Italy

Some families move to Italy for short-term assignments with multinational corporations or UN organisations. In this situation, an international school may be the perfect solution.

If your family is planning to stay in Italy indefinitely, enrolling your kids in a state-run school could make more sense as this gives children an opportunity to interact daily with local young people, allowing them to genuinely feel part of the community.


Since state schools are essentially free (except for the payment of a nominal tax and the purchase of textbooks in higher grades), this may be the only option for families who find the average cost of tuition at an international school prohibitive. Do keep in mind that many private and international schools offer need-based scholarships, so check with financial aid departments to find out if you and your children qualify.

Accreditation And Credits

Most international schools offer a curriculum that matches with American AP (Advanced Placement) courses, British Level As and IB diplomas, which are recognised by colleges and universities worldwide.

If your child is going to be in studying in Italy for only one term, high school credits may or may not transfer back to your home country’s educational system. Check with any potential school ahead of time to make sure the time won’t be wasted academically.

Academics Versus Socialisation

Does your child enjoy school and do well in their studies? Italian state schools are challenging and set lots of oral exams, so studious kids will thrive in this environment. But what if your child is shy and doesn’t make friends easily? Perhaps a smaller, more intimate international school setting is right for them. Your child’s personality and temperament should always be considered in order to find the best fit for them.

In conclusion: remember that your child is about to embark on a unique opportunity to live and study abroad. They will be challenged to try new things, will have a chance to build confidence and develop a strong sense of independence; traits that will serve them today and in the future.

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