Country information for Italy - Systems of support and specialist provision

Development of inclusive education

According to its Constitution, the Italian Republic guarantees school for all (Article 34) and requires that the mandatory duty of solidarity be fulfilled (Article 2). Moreover, it is the ‘duty of the Republic to remove any obstacles constraining the freedom and equality of citizens in order to ensure the full development of the human person’ (Article 3).

Prior to integration in Italy, there were special classes for ‘handicapped’ pupils and special schools for ‘sub-normal’ pupils (pupils with specific physical or intellectual disabilities). There were also separate classes, attended by ‘nervous, retarded, unstable pupils who would not fit in regular classes, for whom common discipline and teaching methods would be unsuitable and who could only improve through special teaching methods’ (1953).

Integration started in 1971, when, under Law 118, compulsory education had to ‘take place in regular classes, except in the case of mental deficiencies or physical impairments so severe as to prevent learning or integration in common classes’. The same Law also places an onus on municipalities to make school buildings accessible for everyone, according to national standards.

Law 517/1977 implemented ‘procedures to integrate handicapped pupils by providing special teachers’, both in primary and middle schools.

Law 104/1992 is the main framework for all disability issues: it guarantees specific rights for people with disabilities and their families, provides assistance, stipulates full integration and the adoption of measures for prevention and functional recovery, and also ensures social, economic and legal protection.

The principle of integration and the right of pupils with disabilities to receive specific support are also included in all the subsequent legislation that regulates general aspects of the education system, such as enrolment, class size and pupil assessment, as well as curricular teacher training and support teacher training.

Law 328/2000 states that families, together with municipalities and social services, may agree upon an individualised life project for their children. This aims for full integration ‘within the family and social life’.

Law 170/2010 recognises dyslexia, dysgraphia, dysorthographia and dyscalculia as specific learning disorders. This Law – which states that pupils with learning disorders do not need special teachers, but rather a new way of teaching, depending on their way of learning – promotes a change in perspective. The aim is to shift the focus from a clinical to a pedagogical view, by empowering all subjects involved in the educational process.

Subsequent regulations have specified the educational and didactic measures to be applied from pre-primary education to support the correct process of teaching and learning. Law 170/2010 has been implemented through:

  • the Ministerial Decree and Guidelines (12/7/2011);
  • the Agreement between State and regions concerning procedures for diagnosis and certification (25/7/2012);
  • the Inter-Ministerial Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and Ministry of Health Decree (17/4/2013) concerning early detection in schools.

The Ministerial Directive of 27 December 2012 on ‘Measures for pupils with special educational needs and local organisations for school inclusion’ created a macro-category, an ‘umbrella’, to cover all kinds of difficulties – whether permanent or temporary – at school. These include disabilities, specific learning disorders, specific developmental disorders, socio-economic, cultural or linguistic disadvantages, as well as pupils that may need special care. This ensures more inclusive practices in classrooms through individualised and personalised education plans.

Following Law 107/2015, the Council of Ministers approved eight legislative decrees on 7 April 2017. The decrees put learners at the centre of an educational project that starts from birth through the 0–6-year integrated system, to provide everyone with equal access to quality education and to foster their learning achievements.

In particular, Decree 66 on the inclusion of pupils with disabilities focuses on the school environment and enhances individual education plans (IEPs) for pupils, aimed at identifying barriers and facilitators in school life. Parents submit information about their children so schools can provide all the necessary support. In addition, families are eligible for other help, including financial support, according to the national health plan.

The Decree introduces important novelties through:

  • the redefinition of support teachers’ initial training;
  • the identification of early school leaving in education, health and social provision, taking into account the different institutional competences;
  • the provision of indicators for self-evaluation and evaluation of school inclusion;
  • the revision of criteria and procedures relating to certification;
  • the re-organisation of the workgroups for inclusion;
  • the provision of compulsory initial and in-service training for school leaders and teachers on pedagogy, didactics and organisation for inclusive education;
  • the identification of in-service training requirements on school inclusiveness for administrative, technical and auxiliary staff, according to their specific expertise.

It aims to ensure an ever more welcoming school for pupils with disabilities, strengthening the role of families and associations in inclusion processes and involving – especially through in-service training – all the school staff.

Each school draws up a specific Inclusion Plan within the framework of a Three-Year Plan for the Educational Offer (PTOF). School teaching and non-teaching staff are provided according to the school Inclusion Plan. Assessment of school inclusiveness has been introduced in the school evaluation (accountability). (Source: Legislation Updates 2017; CPRA – Country Report).

According to Legislative Decree 66/2017, Article 1, school inclusion is a fundamental commitment of all the components of the school community. Each component, depending on their role and responsibilities, contributes to the pupils’ educational success.

In every school there is a working group for inclusion (teacher, support teachers, administrative staff) that defines and implements the inclusion plan for the entire school and for the IEPs. Decree 66 focuses on:

  • monitoring and evaluating school inclusiveness;
  • realisation of an inclusive curriculum;
  • specific training for teaching and non-teaching staff in inclusive strategies;
  • territorial support centres, which create networks and spread knowledge and ICT information for inclusive education.

In 2019, Decree 66 was amended after a year of experimentation. It will increase its focus on:

  • evaluating school inclusiveness;
  • school staff training;
  • providing schools with tools for inclusive education;
  • empowering inclusion groups at all territorial levels;
  • concluding agreements with the regional authorities to improve the accessibility of school buildings.

Pupils with disabilities

Pupils with disabilities generally attend mainstream schools, in the ordinary sections and classes at all educational levels.

There are a few special institutes for pupils who are blind and deaf, which existed prior to Law 104/1992, as well as schools with specific tasks in the field of education for pupils with particularly severe disabilities.

Pupils and learners with disabilities can enrol in upper-secondary education until the age of 18. They can complete compulsory education up to the age of 18 instead of 16.

During enrolment, parents must submit the specific certification issued by the relevant office after the mandatory disability identification procedures have been completed. This documentation certifies the type of disability and the right to receive specific support.

The relevant medical committee of the national health system releases a document that certifies the disability and the consequent right to benefit from the support measures foreseen by the legislation in force. This document is a pre-condition to start the administrative procedures for school inclusion.

Following the disability evaluation, a functioning profile is issued, according to the criteria of the bio-psychosocial model of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The support measures for pupils with disabilities are then selected based on the functioning profile and the individual education plan.

The multi-disciplinary evaluation unit that draws up the functioning profile is made up of:

  • a specialised doctor or an expert in the health conditions of the individual pupil;
  • a child neuropsychiatrist;
  • a rehabilitation therapist;
  • a social assistant or a representative of the relevant local authority which is responsible for the subject concerned.

The pupil’s parents and a school representative (preferably a teacher from the pupil’s school) collaborate in drawing up the functioning profile.

The functioning profile also identifies the necessary professionals, types of support measures and structural resources for school inclusion. It is, therefore, a preliminary document for creating the individual education plan.

The individual education plan describes the interventions planned for learners with disabilities in a given period. Teachers, support teachers and the class council, in collaboration with parents and specific professionals inside and outside the school, jointly create and approve the plan, with the support of the multi-disciplinary evaluation unit.

The plan mainly indicates tools and strategies to create a learning environment based on relationships, socialisation, communication, guidance and autonomy. It also indicates individualised teaching and assessment methods.

Schools must remove all barriers and offer all facilities (including the use of information and communications technology) in the most functional manner suited to each pupil’s needs.
Classes with one or two pupils with disabilities usually contain a maximum of 20 pupils. The inclusion process is supported by a project which defines strategies and methods adopted jointly by curricular and support teachers, and the whole school staff.

Support teachers are part of the team of mainstream class teachers and participate in all the planning and assessment activities. Support teachers also facilitate all inclusion processes.

Assessment for pupils with disabilities is carried out according to the goals set out in the individual education plan. Although the same assessment procedures are applied to all pupils, they take pupils’ progress into account rather than their achievements. Pupils who follow a differentiated study plan, which does not lead to a final qualification, receive a ‘portfolio’ accrediting the subjects studied, the competences acquired and the relevant credits obtained in the final exam.

The law provides for the creation of mainstream classes as separate sections in rehabilitation centres and hospitals, in order to provide education for children who are temporarily unable to attend school (for at least 30 days). Teachers with specific psycho-pedagogical training can be employed to teach in rehabilitation centres and hospitals. ‘School in hospital’ is highly flexible, taking into account each pupil’s type of illness, time for medical examinations and therapies, as well as the pace of life in hospitals.

Home tuition is intended for ill children who cannot attend school for at least 30 days. They are taught at home by one or more teachers according to a specific project aimed at their subsequent re-integration in class.

Pupils with specific learning disorders

During the enrolment of pupils with specific learning disorders (SLDs), parents must submit the official certification issued by the relevant national health system office to the school.

As pupils with SLD are the responsibility of curricular teachers, the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (MIUR) has issued guidelines to help schools support pupils with SLD in their educational path. In particular, schools should put in place specific pedagogic and didactic measures to guarantee their achievements, as well as individual education plans and the option to avail of compensatory tools and dispensatory measures.

In addition, to facilitate the educational process of pupils with SLD, teachers and school principals at all levels undergo specific in-service training. Training activities focus on the early identification of SLD risk, didactic measures to be adopted with both the pupil and the class group, assessment procedures and guidance. Training activities are organised directly by the MIUR or by schools and may involve universities, research institutes, scientific organisations, associations and local health authorities.

Assessment of pupils with SLD should be consistent with the individual education plan; for example, by using oral – rather than written – tests to assess foreign language knowledge or by using compensatory tools.

Other special educational needs

Socio-economic, cultural or linguistic disadvantages are identified at local and school level. In these cases, if needed, teachers can draw up individual education plans.

Additional measures may include forms of support (e.g. exemption from some fees). In the case of foreign pupils, schools can set up language laboratories, either individually or in groups, to facilitate language learning.

Foreign minors, including those in a situation of irregular migration, have the same rights to education and health as Italian minors. The State, regions and local authorities guarantee the right to education.

Foreign learners attend common classes, according to their age (language gaps are addressed through special Italian classes). In the specific guidelines concerning the inclusion of migrant pupils, the MIUR provides a regulatory framework, as well as suggestions concerning school organisation and teaching. For example, each class can host a maximum of 30% migrant pupils, as a higher proportion may affect effective inclusion.

Migrant pupils are the direct responsibility of curricular teachers. However, local authorities, as well as associations and organisations working at local level, often provide cultural and linguistic mediators to help teachers and school staff communicate with pupils and their families.

Quality indicators for special needs education

In March 2013, a new Presidential Decree (80/2013) regulating the national evaluation system was issued.

According to the Decree, the national evaluation system involves:

  • the National Institute for the Evaluation of the Education and Training System (INVALSI), whose task is to prepare tests for the external evaluation of pupils’ learning outcomes;
  • the National Institute for Documentation, Innovation and Research in Education (INDIRE), whose aim is to support schools in innovation processes, teachers’ professional development and research activities;
  • schools themselves.

INVALSI is under the supervision of the MIUR. The MIUR, through a specific directive issued every year, sets the target for the external evaluation.

Assessment tests for pupils with special needs are carried out using specific tools and devices (Braille, large print, etc.) or necessary adjustments (support teacher and/or assistants, extra time, etc.), depending on the type of disability/disorder. For pupils with intellectual disabilities, schools provide individualised tests based on national models.

Tests should assess the degree to which the pupil with special educational needs has reached the skills and competences set out in their individual education plan.

INVALSI and INDIRE are involved in the school system evaluation as follows:

  • Schools carry out self-evaluation based on data released by the MIUR and on the results of INVALSI’s surveys on pupils’ learning outcomes, in terms of added value (i.e. net of the influence of the socio-economic-cultural background). Subsequently, schools set out their improvement plans.
  • A team of one inspector and two experts chosen by INVALSI performs external evaluation of schools in need of a further check; this is to help schools redefine their improvement plans.
  • The school carries out improvement actions with the support of INDIRE and in collaboration with universities, research centres and associations.
  • Statements on the results achieved are published and disseminated.

The evaluation of schools’ inclusiveness is a part of general school evaluation (Decree 66, Article 4). One of the criteria is realisation of and participation in specific learning/training activities on inclusive education. As a result, inclusive education is one of the priorities set by the MIUR in the national plan for teacher training (Decree 66, Article 13). While defining their in-service training plan related to their training needs, each school must therefore choose specific training activities on inclusive education for teachers, school managers and all staff, depending on their competencies, role and duties.

Pupils with special educational needs

The law provides for the drafting of tailored educational plans for almost all pupils with special educational needs in the Italian school system (including pupils with disabilities, specific learning disorders, specific developmental disorders or socio-economic, cultural or linguistic disadvantages). These allow pupils to improve their abilities and knowledge based on their own skills and the predicted area of improvement. These individual education plans are drafted by teachers, medical staff, parents and other professionals involved in the pupils’ education/life.

Parents also participate in the school’s Work Group for Inclusion (GLI) and are represented in the Regional Inter-Institutional Work-Group (GLIR).

At school level, both the school principal and the teaching staff are responsible for quality assurance. The principal organises the school activities according to educational efficiency and efficacy criteria and is responsible for the results of this activity. The teaching staff plan and verify the didactic activities.

Following Law 107/2015, each school must draft an Annual Plan for Inclusion (PAI) as a basis for the Three-Year Plan for the Educational Offer (PTOF). The PTOF is the basic document describing the curricular, extra-curricular, educational and organisational resources that each school adopts according to its autonomy. At the end of each school year, schools must monitor and evaluate the efficacy of their inclusiveness.

Last updated 29/01/2021


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