Bologna Inside - Second Edition

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Foreign students may attend public schools as long as their parents have a valid permesso di soggiorno. The registration process is greatly facilitated if you bring documentation of your child’s prior education, preferably translated into Italian and authorized by the Italian consulate in your home country. Once your child is in the system, you will receive regular notification when the time comes to move from one school to the next.


Registration for elementary school takes place in January; children who will be 6 years old by December 31 are obligated to enter first grade. Children who will be 6 years old by the following April 30 are eligible for first grade, but are considered for placement after the older children. Most teachers do not recommend such an early entrance to elementary school.

Our first son, Mattia, started the Italian asilo nido when he was 10 months. He was in a group with nine other babies all within a few months of his age. We had regularly scheduled bi-monthly meetings with his assigned educator who carefully discussed with us his personality traits, his development, character, interaction with other babies, food habits, etc. The downside to the first year of asilo nido is that small babies are often sick, and in turn, at home more often than they are at day care. But, while he was there, we trusted the educators and felt he was in a warm, affectionate and healthy environment.

Carol Sicbaldi

Bologna is divided into school districts, each with a direzione didattica or istituto comprensivo (superintendency) that oversees the public education within its jurisdiction. These offices are listed in the yellow pages under SCUOLE PUBBLICHE; a useful list organized by quartiere can be found at: Naturally, each district has its own registration process. You will belong to a district by virtue of location and will receive notice of its schools by mail or through the scuola materna. If you are interested in schools outside your comprensivo and/or quartiere, you must contact their direzione didattica for information. As with preschool, admission is based on location; applications to schools outside one’s quartiere are considered last.

Elementary school registration usually takes place directly at the direzione didattica. Registration for before and after-school activities and the lunch service, however, takes place at your local ufficio scuola from the end of June through the first two weeks of July.

In the not so distant past, most schools were tempo pieno (full-time); these schools are now few and far between. Full-time means the school day starts at 8:30 and ends at 16:30, Monday-Friday, 40 hours/week. Children eat at school and you pay a small fee for this service. Schools that can no longer afford the classic full-time may offer what is called tempo lungo (extended time) that offers the same hours as full-time but with fewer teachers.

The other option is a scuola modulare (modular school) and depending on the module, the time spent at school varies from 30 to 36 hours per week. Generally, children at a scuola modulare go to school from 8:30 to 12:30, Monday-Friday, with afternoon classes two to three times a week. Some modular schools also meet on Saturday mornings. Many schools offer extended hours for working parents; children may be dropped off at 7:30 and picked up no later than 18:30. This service is offered for a fee by an external cooperative.

Depending on whether the school is tempo pieno or modulare, Italian elementary schools have two to four teachers assigned to each class. In theory, children have the same teachers and classmates throughout their primary education, but an increasing number of teachers without a fixed school assignment makes change inevitable. Class size is supposed to be limited to 25 (20 if a class contains a child with disabilities) but cuts have resulted in increasingly larger classes.

Extra-curricular programs differ greatly from one school to the next. All elementary schools must have three hours of creative workshops per week, but their content is up to individual schools and teachers. English is now a fixed part of the curriculum from the first year of elementary school. The weekly Catholic religion option continues in elementary school.

Children from elementary school through middle school are expected to bring a diario (diary) to school as a means of communication between parents and teachers. Children copy their homework assignments into these notebooks and teachers will write notes to parents regarding behavior, school trips and other information.


The exact date of registration for middle school is communicated via your child’s elementary school, usually during the last two weeks of January. Since this is when school gets serious, you should begin collecting information about various schools early in order to be able to make an informed decision. Each of the city’s middle schools issues a document called a piano dell’offerta formativa (plan of educational offering) which includes all the information related to the school and lists different activities and special projects open to students.

If you’ve just moved to Bologna, go to your local ufficio scuola or contact directly the office of the schools in which you are interested. If there are spaces available, it is possible to enroll your child in middle school after the deadline. If your child attended elementary school outside your local district and you now want to register your child in one of the middle schools within your quartiere, you will need a nulla osta (no obstacle), a document attesting to special clearance for your child. Your local ufficio scuola should be able to inform you as to how to obtain this document. There are two timetable options for middle school: tempo normale (regular time) in which 30 hours of lessons per week are divided over five or six days, or tempo prolungato (extended time) which consists of 36 hours of class time per week. At middle school, students will have the same classmates for all three years, but the teachers change from subject to subject and from year to year.


In Italy, choosing a secondary school means deciding early the educational path your child will follow. Learning programs vary greatly depending on whether your child selects a liceo (high school), an istituto tecnico (technical school), istituto artistico (artistic school) or an istituto professionale (professional school). There are eight different types of licei, each with its own particular focus. The curriculum for all types, however, is designed to prepare students for university. Although the diploma students receive when they finish a liceo is valid in competitions for public jobs, the assumption is that the student will attend university rather than enter the workforce immediately.

Students who go to istituti tecnici graduate with certification for work as technicians, such as plumbers, draftsmen, electricians, etc. Students who graduate from istituti

Elementary school is a radical departure from the previous three years of scuola materna. One day you’re riding your tricycle and playing dress-up. The next you’re sitting at a desk with a notebook for hours on end. First graders are expected to read, write and do simple math equations. The faster kids wait for and help the slower ones. The teacher lets the slowest student set the pace, but if she’s good, she makes a massive effort to help that student and “no child left behind” is a reality. On the flip side, if a child has a special talent for a subject, it’s unlikely to be stimulated by additional assignments. Everyone keeps the same pace.

Liz Kaplan

professionali also have professional qualifications, such as accounting skills, which make it possible for them to begin work immediately. There are many different types of technical and professional schools, some with very demanding curricula. To obtain a complete list of secondary schools, go to your local direzione didattica. An exhaustive guide can also be found at:

The search for the right secondary school begins in the fall of the last year of middle school. Many secondary schools organize after-school activities such as theater groups, clubs, sports teams and student government. Some schools do not offer any extra-curricular activities and you must instead enroll your child in one of the numerous private sports or arts programs in your area.


Italian schools place great emphasis on oral expression. From elementary school on, the dreaded interrogazione (oral exam) is one of the principal means of evaluating students’ progress and final grades. Pop interrogazioni are also quite popular. This is good preparation for the university system, where much examination is done orally, but to parents unaccustomed to such an oral emphasis, this method might seem like a special form of torture. To help children prepare, have them read assigned material and take notes about important facts. These should then be memorized and expounded upon out loud.


Official parental participation in Italian schools is accomplished through the election of one or more class representatives who attend periodic meetings with teachers. Don’t expect too much from your class representative; the onus is on you to find out what is going on at school. Don’t be afraid to ask the teachers and the parent representatives for information as the three to four annual parent-teacher meetings aren’t always sufficient. Most teachers are also amenable to setting up additional meetings. Getting to know the other parents is also a good way to keep abreast of things in and outside school. When your children are young, you are expected to personally pick them up at school, rather than have the child rely on public transportation. Some schools encourage this practice until the child is 14 years old. You will fill out a form noting who, other than a parent, is allowed to pick up your child. If you send somebody else, make sure you notify the school.


There is a doctor who oversees health issues for each school. Children who have been absent due to a lengthy illness must have medical clearance in order to return to the classroom. The school doctor can provide this authorization if you’re unable to have your child seen by your family doctor. School doctors don’t work in the school. Get the address of the physician assigned to your school from your ufficio scuola or quartiere information office.