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Fascist rules give way to pupil talks

ITALY. A royal decree on school discipline issued during Mussolini's fascist regime is to be withdrawn after 70 years. A "students' charter" which lists pupils' rights and duties will take its place.

The main novelty concerns the voto di condotta, a mark for behaviour which scuola superiore (high-school) teachers give their pupils at the year's end. Under Mussolini's code, anyone with a mark lower than seven out of 10 would have to repeat the year. The code - which disappeared years ago for six to 14-year-olds - is particularly unpopular because it also links academic success to discipline.

Under the new charter, no pupil will be forced to repeat the year for disciplinary reasons, and any sanction a school takes should be in proportion to the offence. Expulsion, the traditional last resort, will also be outlawed: the maximum penalty becomes a temporary suspension.

The charter was drawn up a year ago by education minister Luigi Berlinguer. As a former communist in Italy's first left-wing government, he has been anxious to get rid of fascist legacies. But his draft was criticised by teachers who complained it was tipped too far in favour of pupils' rights rather than their duties.

The revised version redresses the balance. It lists the obligations pupils have towards their school - such as attendance, respect for teachers and equipment, and care for the school environment - as well as specifying the sanctions a school can inflict on transgressors. These could take the form of "socially-useful" tasks such as cleaning a playground.

In the case of vandalism - a sore subject, since a number of schools have been damaged in recent pupil protests - parents will have to pay for repairs.

But pupils also acquire rights. These include the right to be consulted on organisational decisions - such as the rearrangement of the school week over five days instead of six - and the right to meet on school premises.

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