Setting up a new school in Italy is best served by a 10 step plan and led by specialist expertise.
In this article we share background research and GSE’s rationale as to why we see Italy as the next key destination for international school expansion in Europe.
The Education System in Italy
The system is composed of five primary levels: preschool, primary school, lower secondary school, upper secondary school, and university. Both public and private institutions cater to the educational needs of the populace. It’s worth noting that public education is free for all children residing in Italy, irrespective of nationality, and is often on par or even surpasses the quality offered by private schools.
Compulsory education extends from the age of six to sixteen, encompassing three levels: primary, lower secondary, and upper secondary. Here is an overview of the schooling levels and their corresponding Italian terms and typical ages:
- Preschool or nursery (Scuola dell’infanzia): 3-6 years
- Primary education (Scuola primaria): 6-11 years
- Lower secondary education (Scuola secondaria di primo grado): 11-14 years
- Upper secondary education (Scuola secondaria di secondo grado): 14-19 years
- Bachelor’s degree (Laurea)
- Master’s degree (Laurea magistrale)
- PhD (Dottorato di ricerca)
In certain regions, comprehensive schools or istituto comprensivo provide education from preschool to secondary level.
Regarding the grading system, a 10-point scale is commonly applied, with six being the passing grade. However, it’s important to note that grading might not always be standardised, and teachers may apply their own variations to these grades.
Typically, for most primary and lower secondary schools, classes run from 8:00 to 13:00, Monday through Saturday. Other schools may operate from Monday to Friday, offering a one-hour lunch break and extending classes until around 16:00.
While public schools host the majority of students in Italy, only a small fraction of the student population attends private institutions. For children to receive instruction in English or any other language, international or private schools may be a suitable choice. Catholic schools are another alternative but bear in mind that Catholicism will be incorporated into the curriculum. Despite the existence of private options, research has shown that public schools in Italy often yield better educational and labor market outcomes than their private counterparts.
Private Schools in Italy
The education system in Italy, as per the Constitution, is a state system, but also permits the establishment of private and independent schools by both private and public entities. These independent institutions can request parity with state schools, subject to specific conditions set forth in the state law. The legal provisions defining the requirements for parity are embodied in laws law 62/2000 and DL 250/2005. Notably, these laws categorize independent schools into two types: schools with parity (scuole paritarie) and those without.
Scuole paritarie refers to independent schools that have successfully achieved parity with state schools. To qualify for and maintain this parity status, schools must satisfy several criteria, including possessing an educational project in alignment with the Constitution’s principles, a three-year educational offer plan (Piano triennale dell’offerta formativa – PTOF), proof of ownership management, suitable facilities and teaching equipment, functioning collegial bodies for democratic participation, adherence to current inclusion regulations, complete course offerings, qualified teaching staff, and employment contracts compliant with relevant national collective agreements. Applications for parity are made to the Regional School Office (Ufficio scolastico regionale – USR), which maintains the authority to approve or reject them and, if necessary, withdraw the recognition of parity.
Such schools have the liberty to determine their cultural orientation and teaching approach and can issue certificates and qualifications equivalent to those of state schools. Funding for scuole paritarie may be derived indirectly from student grants and family tax reliefs, as well as direct financing for primary and preprimary schools. Additional resources may also be provided through regional funds directly to schools or students’ families.
Conversely, independent schools without parity are those that conduct teaching activities without applying for or receiving parity. These schools operate under certain conditions, including an educational project that complies with the principles of the Constitution and the Italian school system, suitable premises and equipment, employment of professionally qualified teaching staff and coordinators, and adherence to the minimum age regulations for students. These schools, however, do not have the authority to issue recognised certificates and qualifications within the education system. They also must not share the same name with state schools or schools with parity, and their denomination should clearly state their status as schools without parity. Pupils studying at independent schools without parity are required to undertake an aptitude examination under specific circumstances, such as when they wish to switch to a state or paritaria school or upon completion of primary education. These examinations are conducted at the corresponding state and paritarie schools.
Why it is time for Investment in a New School in Italy
Italy, with its rich cultural heritage, vibrant lifestyle, and strategic geographical location in Europe, has emerged as a highly desirable destination for foreign investors. In 2022, Italy secured an impressive 7th position among the top 25 Economies in the World in terms of attractiveness.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy’s economy has displayed remarkable resilience by rebounding to levels of production comparable to those before the crisis. This accomplishment exemplifies Italy’s capacity to swiftly recover from economic downturns while maintaining long-term stability.
The introduction of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) has further augmented Italy’s appeal as an investment hub for foreign investors. The NRRP represents a comprehensive strategy aimed at modernizing and transforming the Italian economy, with a particular emphasis on innovation, sustainability, and digitization.
Significant investments are envisioned in the areas of digital economy, infrastructure, and renewable energy, thereby establishing robust foundations for future growth. Italy’s encouraging economic recovery, combined with the implementation of the NRRP, presents unparalleled opportunities for foreign investors.
The country’s advantageous location, rich cultural heritage, and steadfast commitment to innovation and sustainability make it the most prudent and astute choice for those seeking stable and lucrative investment prospects.
Italy’s competitiveness is rooted in several key pillars that contribute to its appeal as a business destination:
- Strong Industrial Base: Italy possesses a robust industrial base, which serves as a foundation for the development of diverse business sectors and value chains. The country’s manufacturing expertise offers significant opportunities for companies operating in various industries.
- Talent Pool: Italy boasts a highly skilled workforce, particularly in the field of engineering. In fact, it ranks 3rd among OECD countries for the number of Master of Arts (MA) graduates in Engineering and Engineering trades. This pool of talented individuals provides a valuable resource for businesses seeking skilled professionals.
- Innovation Ecosystem: Italy fosters an innovation ecosystem characterised by collaboration and co-design. The National Research Council of Italy (CNR) and numerous research institutes and universities serve as excellent platforms for cooperation and the development of innovative solutions. This ecosystem promotes the advancement of technology and facilitates partnerships between academia and industry.
- Incentives and Fiscal Benefits: Foreign investors in Italy can avail themselves of generous incentives and fiscal benefits. These range from programs such as Industry 4.0, which supports digital transformation in manufacturing, to incentives for large-scale industrial projects and research and development (R&D) activities. Such measures aim to attract and retain investment, fostering a favorable business environment.
- Government Commitment: The Italian Government demonstrates a strong commitment to boosting strategic national industries. It actively supports businesses through various investment programs, such as the IPCEI program (Important Projects of Common European Interest), which promotes collaboration in key sectors across Europe. Additionally, the groundbreaking National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) provides essential support, and the government also invests in workforce training activities to enhance the skills and capabilities of the labor force.
These pillars collectively contribute to Italy’s competitiveness and make it an attractive destination for businesses seeking a supportive environment, skilled talent, innovation opportunities, and fiscal incentives.
The Growing Demand for a New International School in Italy
The surge in demand for new international schools in Italy can be primarily attributed to several location-specific factors:
- Increased Immigration: As per data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics, in January 1, 2023 there were more than 5 million registered foreign residents in Italy, comprising around 8.3% of the total population. This was an increase of 3.9% on the previous year. This figure has been on a steady rise, and with it, the need for education systems that cater to this international community. International schools are apt in addressing this demand due to their globally recognised and easily transferable curricula.
- English Proficiency: According to the EF English Proficiency Index, Italy ranks relatively low in English proficiency among European countries. Many Italian families are enrolling their children in international schools to improve their English skills, considering the significant role that English plays in the global job market. International schools offer immersive English language education, which is a significant advantage.
- Attraction for International Businesses and Tourism: Italy is a hub for international businesses, particularly in the fashion, automotive, and luxury goods industries. Furthermore, it is one of the most visited countries worldwide, leading to a diverse cultural blend. This has created a demand for educational institutions like international schools that provide a diverse environment, fostering a global perspective among students.
- Bilingual Education and Cultural Exposure: Italy’s rich history, culture, and language are attractions in their own right. Many expatriate parents are keen on providing their children with an education that simultaneously offers Italian language skills and cultural exposure, alongside an internationally recognised curriculum. This dual advantage is a characteristic feature of many international schools in Italy.
- Quality Education and University Preparation: International schools are renowned for higher-quality education and university preparation. These schools’ curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), are acknowledged by world-leading universities. As the country is home to many prestigious universities, such as the University of Bologna and Sapienza University of Rome, international education provides a strong foundation for students aiming for higher education in Italy or elsewhere.
- Increased Local Demand: Italian families are recognising the benefits of international education, leading to an increase in local enrolment in these schools. This trend is fuelled by the desire for English proficiency, cultural diversity, and preparation for international university education, all of which are significant benefits of an international school education.
The Steps to Setting Up a New School in Italy
1. Conduct Market Research for a New School in Italy
Research the existing international schools in Italy to understand the competitive landscape. Study the local market to verify demand for a new international school. This information will help develop your business plan for a new school in Italy.
2. Formulate a Business Plan
The first step is to conceptualise your vision for the school – its mission, educational philosophy, and target student demographic. Based on this, create a detailed business plan including financial forecasts, marketing strategies, and operational plans.
3. Assemble a Founding Team
Recruit a group of skilled professionals with experience in education, administration, finance, and law. They will guide the project and share the workload. It is essential that the team includes expertise in both education and business acumen. It also must include understanding of local cultural context. The GSE team has exceptional expertise in this field.
4. Secure Funding
Identify and approach potential sources of funding such as investors, loans, grants, or donations. The financial plan should include the cost of purchasing or leasing land, construction, hiring staff, marketing, and running costs for at least the first few years.
5. Obtain Necessary Permissions and Licenses
Consult with local Italian officials, legal experts, and the Italian Ministry of Education to understand the requirements for setting up a new school in Italy. This includes zoning permissions, building regulations, and educational licenses. The school must also be accredited to the relevant international organisation (e.g., International Baccalaureate).
6. Identify a Suitable Location and Construct/Refurbish Buildings
Based on the size, accessibility, and environment suitable for your school, identify a location. Ensure it meets safety regulations, has scope for extracurricular facilities, and is attractive to your target market. Hire a construction company to build or refurbish existing buildings.
7. Develop a Curriculum
Based on your educational philosophy and target demographic, develop a curriculum. This might involve adopting an international curriculum like the IB or developing your own. Consult with educational experts and ensure it meets the standards of international accrediting organisations for the context of a new school in Italy. Learn more about curriculum options.
8. Hire Staff
Recruit experienced educators and support staff. It’s crucial that the teaching staff is experienced with the selected curriculum and shares the school’s educational philosophy. Also, ensure the student to teacher ratio follows international best practices.
9. Market the School
Implement your marketing strategy to attract students. This might involve open days, advertisements, partnerships with local businesses, a website, and a strong presence on social media.
10. Open the School
Once all preparations are complete, you can officially open the school. This will be a phased process, with the opening of admissions, welcoming of the inaugural batch of students, and commencement of classes.
Learn more about a fully comprehensive plan for a new school in Italy.
CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry
Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for education institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.
Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these discipline.
Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.