Secondary education in Italy

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Secondary education in Italy lasts eight years and is divided in two stages: scuola secondaria di primo grado (lower secondary school), also known as scuola media, corresponding to the ISCED 2011 Level 2, middle school and scuola secondaria di secondo grado (upper secondary school), which corresponds to the ISCED 2011 Level 3, high school. The middle school lasts three years from the age of 11 to age 14, and the upper secondary from 14 to 19.

Scuola secondaria di primo grado (middle school)[edit]

A scuola secondaria di primo grado (aka scuola media), in Suzzara.

The scuola secondaria di primo grado (lower secondary school), commonly known as scuola media inferiore (literally lower middle school) or scuola media (middle school), it follows the definition of an ISCED 2011 Level 2 school.[1] It is compulsory for all pupils. It lasts for three years, roughly from age 11 to 14. It is the first stage where students are taught by subject specialists. It consolidates the subjects taught at the scuola primaria, adding technology, music and a language other than English (typically French, German or Spanish, even though most primary schools already teach some basics of two foreign languages). [a]

The middle school has a common program of study for all pupils; it covers all the classic subjects that would be recognised in an comprehensive school: Italian language and literature, history, geography, mathematics, natural sciences, English and a second foreign Language, technology, art (both history and practical), music, computer science, civics and physical education. [2]

Lower secondary school exam[edit]

At the end of the third year, students take an examination which includes:

  • Four tests, three written tests prepared by each examining board and an oral exam:
    • Prima prova (first test, up to 15 points), an Italian language written test
    • Seconda prova (second test, up to 15 points), a test on the scientific subjects.
    • Terza prova (third test, not for all courses up to 15 points), an additional test in the foreign language.
  • An oral exam:
    • colloquio orale (oral interview, up to 10 points), an overall oral examination where the exam committee assess a presentation made by the pupil and ask related questions.[2]

The final score is given as an average of the test scores - a number from 1 to 100. 6 and above are considered pass marks. Successful students receive a diploma di licenza media (lower secondary school diploma). [2]

Scuola secondaria di secondo grado (high school)[edit]

The scuola secondaria di secondo grado (upper secondary school)– commonly known as scuola media superiore (literally high middle school) or scuola superiore (high school) – lasts five years.[b] It follows closely the pattern of typical ISCED 2011 Level 3 school. The first two years when the student will be under 16 years old, are compulsory, the other three years are voluntary. There is an exam at the end of the final year, called esame di stato or, previously, the esame di maturità; this exam takes place every year between June and July.[3] The course is designed to give students the skills and qualifications needed to progress to university or higher education college.[4]

Students may choose what level of school to attend, there are three types of scuola secondaria di secondo grado that range from the academic to the vocational. All students follow a common course of core subjects during the first two years augmented by subjects from their elected specialism.[2]

  • Liceo (lyceum) which is aimed at preparing students for university.
  • Istituto tecnico (technical college)[5]: 17  which is the most common route, and still leads to a university entrance qualification.
  • Istituto professionale (vocational college)[5]: 3  which includes practical work relating to a specific industry or trade.[2]

Programs of study are generally introduced at national level. Currently, most secondary schools provide some common structure and core subjects[6][5]: 3  (such as Italian language and literature, history, geography, philosophy, mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, one or more foreign language and physical education), while other topics are specific to one type of establishment (i.e. Ancient Greek and Latin in the Liceo Classico; economy and law in a istituto tecnico economico; art history and drawing in a Liceo Artistico).[5]: 3 

In 2013, the Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), ranked the Italian secondary education as the 21st in the world, higher than the United States, around the OECD average,[7] and observes a gap between results in Northern Italian schools, which performed significantly better than the national average (among the best in the world in some subjects),[8] and Southern Italian schools, that had, on average, somewhat poorer results. Moreover, students in state-owned schools perform better than students in private schools. A typical Italian student is age 19 when they enter university, while in other countries 18 is the more common age.


A high school in Palermo, the Liceo classico Vittorio Emanuele II, right next to the cathedral

The education offered by a liceo (lyceum) is mostly academic. Individual lyceums will cover the core subjects and specialise in specific fields of study; this may be the humanities, science, or art. The principal focus is to prepare students for university and higher education. [5]: 3 

Types of liceo include:


Istituto tecnico[edit]

A high school in Lodi, the Istituto tecnico economico Agostino Bassi.

The education given in an istituto tecnico (technical) offers both a wide theoretical education and a highly qualified technical specialization in a specific field of studies (e.g.: economy, humanities, administration, law, accountancy, tourism, information technology), often integrated with a three-six months internship in a company, association or university, during the fifth and last year of study.[5]: 17 

Types of istituto tecnico include:

Istituto professionale[edit]

The istituto professionale (professional institute) is a vocational college, specifically structured for practical activities, with the aim to facilitate the direct entry of the pupil to the labour market (engineering, agriculture, gastronomy, technical assistance, handicrafts).

This type of school offers a form of vocational education oriented towards practical subjects and enabling the students to start to start work as soon as they have completed their studies. Some schools offer a vocational diploma after three years instead of the normal five but it is strictly limited in its scope.[5]: 31 

Adult education[edit]

The Italian school system also features the scuola serale (evening school), aimed at adults and working students.

The istituto d'arte was once a specific type of istituto professionale which offered an education focused on art history and drawing. Today it forms part of the liceo artistico.

Terminal examination[edit]

Every kind of Italian secondary high school ends with an examination whose final score is on a 100-point scale:

  • up to 40 points for the general marks obtained through the last three years. (Students with an average mark of nine are awarded with, respectively, 12 points for the third to last year, 13 points for the penultimate year, and 15 points for the final year. Students barely passing each year are awarded 24 points in total.)
  • up to 40 points on three different written tests:[9]
    • Prima prova (first test, up to 20 points), an Italian language written test, decided at national level and the same for all examinees: either textual comprehension and critique, or the writing of an essay (a first test judged sufficient is awarded at least 13 points). In those parts of Italy where Italian is not the only official language, the first test can be alternatively held in the local co-official language (German in the province of Bolzano, Slovenian in some areas of the province of Trieste and Ladin in some municipalities of the provinces of Trento and Bolzano)[10]
    • seconda prova (second test, up to 20 points), a written test on a subject dependent on the kind of school attended, decided at national level for each different path (a second test judged sufficient is awarded at least 13 points)
  • colloquio orale (oral interview, up to 20 points), an overall oral test (prova orale) regarding all the subjects of the last year. During the oral test, the exam committee grades a presentation made by the examinee related to the final year's arguments and poses questions related to the presentation or to the previous tests (an oral test judged sufficient is awarded at least 13 points)[9]
  • up to five points (to a maximum of 100) in cases the examining board judges appropriate to meriting students whom, at the end of the third written test, had at least 70 points in total.

Students are examined by an exam committee which is divided equally between their own teachers and teachers from other schools. The first and second tests are written by the Ministry of Education, while the third test and the oral test are prepared and administered by the exam committee.[9]

The total score is the sum of the pre-exam score, the written tests' scores and the oral test score. If the total points exceed 100, the final score is reduced to 100. If, during the years, the students stand out for their scores (the student never gets less than 8 in the final scores of the last three year, and has more than 9,1 as GPA), they get a "100 cum laude", which gives students a reduction of the first year's university fees. The secondary high school exam is passed with a score of 60 or more, and any secondary high school diploma is valid for access to any university course of any university faculty. This system has changed many times during the last 20 years; before, the exam was passed with a score of 36 or more, and the top score was 60.

The secondary high school exam is officially called esame di Stato (state exam), although the old name esame di maturità (maturity exam) is still in common use.


Education and certificate awarded:

level name duration certificate awarded
Lower secondary education
ISCED 2011
Level 2
Scuola secondaria di primo grado; "scuola media" (first grade secondary school; "middle school") 3 years (age: 11 to 14) Diploma di scuola secondaria di primo grado (was "licenza media")
Upper secondary education
ISCED 2011
Level 3
Scuola secondaria di secondo grado; "scuola superiore" (second grade secondary school; "high school") 5 years (age: 14 to 19) Diploma di liceo
Diploma di istituto tecnico
Diploma di istituto professionale
Formazione professionale (vocational education) (until 2010) 3 or 5 years (age 14 to 17 or 14 to 19) Qualifica professionale (3 years), Licenza professionale (5 years)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Before the Moratti reform the scuola secondaria di primo grado was called scuola media inferiore[citation needed]
  2. ^ Before the Gelmini's school reform (2010), some istituti professionali once offered a vocational certificate after three years.


  1. ^ Revision of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), retrieved 05-04-2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Secondary school in Italy". Just Landed. Survival Books. 2019. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  3. ^ esame_di_stato Esame_di_stato On line
  4. ^ Decreto del Presidente della Repubblica 89/2010 - Regolamento di revisione dei licei. Available here. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Per non perdere l'orientamento, a complete guide to secondary education in Italy
  6. ^ "SCUOLA/ Liceo o istituto tecnico, non fatevi ingannare dal mito della "cultura"". (in Italian). 18 May 2010. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  7. ^ OECD-education-rankings
  8. ^ "Pisa-2012 results overview" (PDF). Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Senato della Repubblica, ed. (2007). "Legge 1 gennaio 2007, n. 1 - "Disposizioni in materia di esami di Stato conclusivi dei corsi di studio di istruzione secondaria superiore e delega al Governo in materia di raccordo tra la scuola e le università"" [Law 1 January 2007, N. 1 - "Disposals about the final state exams of secondary high school and government delegation about connection between the school and the universities"]. (in Italian). Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  10. ^ Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca (MIUR), ed. (2014). "Secondo Ciclo: Archivio tracce prove scritte - a.s. 2013/2014" [Second cicle: written tests Archive - s.y. 2013/2014]. (in Italian).


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