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Until 1969, this was the only secondary education track that allowed a student access to any kind of Italian university (including humanities and jurisprudence). Nowadays, it carries the reputation of being a highly formative school, one of the few European secondary school types where study of ancient languages (Latin and ancient Greek) and their literature are compulsory.
The liceo classico's distinctive subjects are Latin and ancient Greek. In Italy, Latin is taught in other kinds of schools as well, like Liceo Scientifico, Liceo delle Scienze Umane and few linguistic specialization. However, ancient Greek is taught only in the liceo classico.
Another peculiarity of the liceo classico is how the years of course are called: in all the other Italian 5-years secondary schools, the years are referred to with increasing numbers from 1 to 5. In liceo classico the first two years are called Ginnasio; the name comes from the Greek gymnasion (meaning "gym"). The first year is called "4th year of Ginnasio", and the second year is referred to as "5th year of Ginnasio", because those years were once the completion of the 3 years of the scuola media inferiore, which is middle school, previously attended. The remaining three years of Liceo Classico are referred as "1st, 2nd and 3rd year of Liceo".
This naming system comes from the Gentile reform of the fascist regime, named after Giovanni Gentile, an Italian philosopher and fascist politician, who had planned an 8-year school career (5 years of ginnasio and 3 of liceo) that could be accessed by passing a test after the fifth year of primary school. There was also another test between the Ginnasio and the Liceo. Several reforms changed the Italian school system in about 1940 and 1960; the first three years of Ginnasio were separated and became an independent kind of school. In 1968, the compulsory test which had to be taken at the end of the Ginnasio to enter the Liceo was abolished, so the liceo classico got the structure it has today - even though the names of the different years were never changed. In 2010, the Gelmini reform changed the traditional Italian school system, so now students follow this specific pattern of courses that covers a large range of disciplines :
- Italian grammar and literature (all five years)
- History (all five years)
- Latin language, grammar (the two years of Ginnasio) and literature (the three years of Liceo)
- Ancient Greek language, grammar (the two years of Ginnasio) and literature (the three years of Liceo)
- Mathematics (all five years)
- History of Art (three years, during the Liceo; still, some high schools offer a five-year, in-depth History of Art program)
- Philosophy (the three years of Liceo)
- Physics (the three years of Liceo)
- Biology, Chemistry and Natural science (the three years of Liceo)
- English grammar (all five years) and literature (the three years of Liceo)
- Catholic Religion Instruction (optional)
- Gymnastics (all five years)
- Geography (two years, during the Ginnasio)
However, nowadays it is common to find licei offering (together with this programme of studies) courses in Music theory and History of Music for one or two hours a week every years. At the end, students must pass the Esame di Stato (until 1999 denominated Esame di maturità) to obtain their certificate.
|Subjects||1º Biennial||2º Biennial||V year|
|I year||II year||III year||IV year|
|Italian language and literature||4||4||4||4||4|
|History and Geography||3||3||-||-||-|
|Catholic Religion Instruction or other activities||1||1||1||1||1|
|Weekly lesson hours||27||27||31||31||31|
Classical Lyceums in Italy 
- namely, for students who decide not to follow this course