Article 33 of the Italian Constitution lays down two basic principles for educational policy in Italy:
1. the State is obliged to provide a State-school system accessible to all young people and in keeping with their attitudes and aspirations, regardless of their economic and social circumstances;
2. bodies and private individuals are entitled to establish schools and colleges of education, at no cost to the State.
The legislation regulating the establishment of private schools dates back, however, to before the Constitution and consists of the following: R.D. n. 577 of 1928 on primary schools and Law no. 86 of 1942 on secondary schools. Some rulings of the Constitutional Court have modified or interpreted these laws to bring them into line with the Constitution, while the above mentioned laws and Ministerial Circulars have attempted to reorganise and update administrative procedures.
These texts have clearly stated the areas in which the State can intervene in the private education sector.
The principles underlying the Constitution imply that the State leaves complete freedom to open and operate private teaching institutions, provided that the rules concerning the safeguard of public order, hygiene and health are respected.
The financial support to private schools was foreseen by the regulations, which were in force before the Constitution only when the private institution replaced the State in ensuring the provision of compulsory education in those places where, due to particular environmental reasons, the public intervention was difficult or uneconomical. These small financial supports have been kept also after the Constitution of 1949, and were destined to compulsory education: pre-school education (186 billion liras in 1998), primary education (148 billion liras in 1998 for officially recognised schools) and lower secondary education (10 billion and 22 million liras in 1998). The Decree of the Ministry of Education n. 212 of 11-09-1998, authorises to share the 10 billion and 22 million liras also with the upper secondary schools. This possibility to extend, despite the small amount of money, the financial support also to the upper secondary education, represents an important change of trend: indeed, the financial support of the State to private schools is not longer justified by the fact that the private institutions replace the State in the provision to pupils of the means to fulfil their school obligation; it is justified by the necessity to decrease the running costs of private schools thus ensuring freedom of choice to the pupils and their families, as provided by the Constitution .
Article 33 of the Italian Constitution gives the possibility to private schools to apply for equality. The State, in order to respect the principle of equality, must ensure complete freedom and guarantee to pupils an equal treatment to the pupils the same treatment of pupils attending state schools. Fifty years after the introduction of the Italian Constitution, the law on equal schools has not yet been passed owing to divergences of catholic and non-denominational political forces on the issue of State financing to equal schools. These divergences have recently stopped the approval in Parliament of a bill proposed by the Prodi Government. The D'Alema Government program provides the approval of the law on school equality.
Concerning the number of pupils attending non state schools it must be said that the highest percentages are found in nursery schools, with 44.3%. This percentage however includes also schools managed by communes, as from a juridical aspect this schools cannot be considered state schools.
The percentages for other levels of schools are certainly lower: 7.8% in primary schools; 4.1 % in lower secondary schools and 7.8% in higher secondary schools.
2.6.1. Private education at a pre-school level
Until Law n.444 of 1968 was implemented, private nursery schools were the only existing institutions for this kind of teaching and they replaced State provision. For this reason, and in compliance with the Final Text of the norms on primary and preparatory (pre-school) education of 1928, the Ministry had to authorise their operation, while the head teacher Direttore Didattico of the State primary school has to control and supervise the organisation and the curricula. These norms are still partially in force (Final Text of 1994). Private schools can choose whether to conform or not with the Educational Guidelines Orientamenti educativi. The Council of State has expressed various rulings on this matter, stating that it is not compulsory for the directors to comply with State norms.
The Provincial Director of Education Provveditore agli Studi has to supervise private schools through the Head Teacher responsible for that area who authorises the opening of new schools. The provveditore approves the appointment of teachers, makes sure that all hygienic and sanitary conditions are respected before opening the establishment and that the teachers have suitable qualifications to teach in a nursery school. As part of this supervision task the Head teacher must also request a certificate stating that teachers are physically fit to do their job because there is no fixed retirement age for them. Any complaint concerning the lack of authorisation for the opening and operating of private nursery schools should be sent to the Provveditore.
It is possible to obtain contributions towards the maintenance and operation of private nursery schools in relation to:
- number of children enrolled or attending the school,
- number of classes in the school on the basis of the number of pupils
according to current norms on State nursery schools,
- number of children exempted from the payment of attendance and
board fees or from one of these,
- other possible sources of income for the school,
- social and economic conditions of the area in which the school
- present and future expenses necessary to run the school.
2.6.2. Private education at a primary level
Private primary schools are divided into the following categories:
1. Officially recognised schools (scuole parificate): these are run by bodies or associations having legal status and are recognised by a convention stipulated by the Provveditore agli Studi, following the authorisation from the Ministry of Education. Officially recognised (scuole parificate) schools have to comply with the norms regulating State primary schools in their curricula and timetables. The Provveditore agli Studi has to supervise these schools through the Head teacher responsible for that area. Studies completed in these schools have the same value as those completed in State schools and in the convention provision is made for financial subsidies that can amount to as much as 100%.
2. Authorised private schools (scuole private autorizzate): these are run by citizens with a Primary Teacher Training certificate or a classical or technical diploma (diploma di maturità) (magistrale), (classico) or technical stating their legal capacity and their morality. The authorisation is given by the Head teacher (Direttore Didattico) and these schools have to conform on the whole with the aims stated in the curricula for State primary schools. The Provveditore agli Studi has to supervise these schools through the Head teacher (Direttore Didattico) responsible for that area.
The Community regulations on the equal status of Italian bodies and citizens and bodies and citizens of other member States of the European Union apply to the opening and management of these schools as well as to their teaching activity.
2.6.3. Private education at a secondary level
If private secondary schools introduce curricula and educational programmes comparable to those of State schools, they are also authorised to use the same denomination (e.g. Liceo Classico, Istituto Tecnico, etc.). The schools conforming with the State school organisation can also apply for legal recognition of the courses and of the certificates they provide. The following conditions have to be fulfilled in order to obtain legal recognition:
a) curricula and programmes comparable to those of State schools,
b) the head of school and the teachers must have the qualifications required to teach in State schools of the same level.
Private schools with legal recognition are divided into:
- legally recognised schools (scuole legalmente riconosciute)
- approved schools (scuole pareggiate).
Legally recognised schools (scuole legalmente riconosciute) have the following characteristics:
- the certificates issued to their students are legally recognised,
- these schools are examination centres for the lower secondary and upper secondary leaving certificates (diploma di licenza media) and the State examination (esame di Stato) only for the students who followed the last year of a course with at least three classes of the five year course.
Legal recognition is granted by Ministerial Decree after one year of actual operation, on the following conditions:
1. that the school complies with all the requirements relating to health and teaching standards, that furnishings, scientific and teaching materials as well as laboratory, workshop and gymnasium equipment are adequate and in keeping with the type of school;
2. that teaching is provided in the school and that the exercises laid down for corresponding State schools are carried out;
3. that pupils have all the legal qualifications necessary for the classes they attend;
4. that the members of the teaching staff possess the required professional certificate (abilitazione all'insegnamento). Use can be made of graduate teachers only when no qualified teachers are available. It is also possible to call upon teachers working in State schools.
State school staff can be called upon only when it is impossible for the administrator of the legally recognised school (scuole legalmente riconosciute) to make other arrangements and a authorisation must be obtained from the head of the State school. The teaching timetable of such teachers cannot exceed a total of 24 hours per week.
Approved schools (scuole pareggiate) may be administered only by public bodies and by those ecclesiastical bodies set out in Article 7 of the Agreement with the Vatican as modified by Law no. 121 of March 25, 1985. Approval is granted by Ministerial Decree provided that:
- the number of teaching posts and the educational criteria that they are based on are equivalent to those of the corresponding State schools,
- members of the teaching staff are appointed following an regular public competition or are appointed from among teachers who won a competition for State schools of a similar level,
- permanent staff must receive an initial salary which must not be below that of State school teachers.
By means of the so-called "approval", the education imparted and the examinations taken in such schools acquire legal validity. Approved schools are also centres for upper secondary and lower secondary leaving certificate examinations. Such schools are open to all and fees have to be paid to attend them.
2.6.4. Private education at a higher level
There are two kinds of institutions at this level of education:
1) institutions providing non-university higher level diplomas for highly specialised professions in the arts sector. These institutes are set up and run by public administrations or by bodies having legal status. If they comply with the programmes and contents of comparable State schools, or if their educational offer is of public interest, the certificates granted by them are legally recognised. These institutions are supervised by the Inspectorate for Art Education of the Ministry of Education.
Other institutions which do not fulfil the above-mentioned requirements are allowed to carry out their activity provided that they comply with the hygiene, morality and public order standards. The certificates that they issue cannot have the value of legal qualifications;
2) higher institutions at university level, including specialised schools
As far as the latter kind of institution is concerned, Law no. 243 of 1991 acknowledges the fact that private universities, set up by private individuals who have provided them with the necessary financial means for their operation and by local bodies, associations or foundations who provide these institutes with the necessary resources, have existed in Italy for a long time. Private universities are independent, but they agree to conform with the curricula of State universities so that the certificates awarded to their students can be legally recognised. They also agree that the Ministry for University should supervise their administrative management and the organisation of their courses to make sure they are in compliance with the norms currently adopted in State institutions of a comparable nature.
The State can give contributions to those private Universities and institutes of higher education that have obtained the authorisation to issue legally recognised certificates. These contributions are decided on the basis of the number of students enrolled, of the operating degree courses, of the number of teachers and members of the technical-administrative staff and of the financial conditions.