Italy: Much-debated education reform bill called to vote

In July of this year, a significant reform of the Italian educational system was approved. Through the measures, the government aims to modernise the national school system and so foster a more highly skilled workforce and managerial class. However, the reform process has been strongly criticised by opposition parties, teachers, students, and the main trade unions of the sector.

On 25 June 2015, the government called for a vote of confidence in the Senate in order that the strongly criticised educational system reform bill (‘The Good School’ – ‘La buona scuola’) might be approved, in spite of thousands of amendments tabled by opposition parties. The Chamber of Deputies eventually approved the final version of the act on 9 July 2015.

The reform, presented by the government in March 2015, is aimed at reforming the educational and vocational system in order to achieve better integration between education and training, on the one hand, and the labour market, on the other. However, it also includes increased powers for school principals over hiring and promotions, tax breaks for private schools, and the hiring of 100,000 permanent teachers.

Teachers, students, trade unions, the parliamentary opposition, and a minority of the Democratic Party (PD) consider these measures deeply unfair. They have stressed the importance of not approving the law without considering the possibility of modifying some parts of it. For this reason, over a period more than four months, many protests and demonstrations took place in schools throughout Italy.

In particular, teachers and students criticise the new method of allocating funds to schools. This method is based on school performance, and also envisages forms of private financing. Protestors consider this measure deeply unfair because it could support private schools or those in high-income areas. As a consequence, the national educational system could in the future display a high level of inequality.

Teachers also complain about the recruitment procedure and the evaluation system they will be subjected to. In particular, they criticise the measure that empowers school principals to select teachers (from among those who have passed an open examination used to recruit people in the public sector); they also consider unfair the provision that envisages merit-based pay increases in relation to a specific evaluation system. According to this system, a committee will evaluate teachers; the committee will be composed of the school principal, an external examiner, three teachers, and two students’ parents. The committee is entitled to grant pay increases according to a criterion based on students’ performance, quality of teaching, and school performance.

It is noteworthy that teachers, traditionally,  have been represented by a significant part of PD, the party that proposed the school reform. For this reason, with a view to sustaining teachers’ protests, a minority part of PD voted against the law, or did not take part in the vote.

The main trade unions of the educational public sector are strongly challenging the whole reform process. Considering it of the utmost urgency that social dialogue be launched with the government, they stressed the need to be consulted before the approval of the reform. Although trade unions shared less favourable opinions on the reform, the government accepted only a limited number of their proposals.

For this reason, trade unions believe they have been completely excluded from the definition of the reform. Consequently, they have submitted a document that includes the most controversial aspect of the reform: they ask the government to hire at least 100,000 teachers in 2015–2016, and to prepare a multi-year programme for the hiring of all short-term teachers (more than 600,000, according to the Ministry of Education, University, and Research). They have also called for the renewal of the national collective bargaining agreement, with the introduction of pay increase for teachers. Unions consider unfair the provision of the law that entitles school principals to provide merit-based pay increases for teachers. Finally, they proposed that the government provide funds to improve school time, especially in the areas where the risk of social exclusion is higher.

On the other hand, employers’ organisations expressed favourable opinions on the reform. In more detail, with reference to the improvement of school-to-work transitions, they feel that the government has met their demands. The main employers’ organisation (Confindustria) stressed the importance of establishing school-to-work transition procedures by improving partnerships between companies, and schools and universities. Confindustria believes that a better school-to-work transition could positively affect the youth unemployment rate. To this end, Confindustria has also asked the Government to adopt tax relief measures for companies investing in vocational training.

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