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Life's a beach for truanting examiners

ITALY. Italian teachers' liking for the beach has thrown sand in the works of the maturita, the country's school-leaving exam.

About 20 per cent of teachers failed to turn up for work, causing organisational nightmares for the provveditorati (local authorities), which had to find substitutes.

In Milan almost 40 per cent of staff defected, and in Venice the authority had to install five emergency telephone lines: two to take calls from truanting examiners, the other three to find new ones.

Teachers withdrawing from exam duty have to present a valid excuse, usually in the form of a doctor's certificate. The Venice education chief has promised that he will be checking how many of the truants were really ill.

The reason for the mass defections is low pay. Net pay for the month is around 700,000 lire (Pounds 270) for an internal examiner and around double for an external examiner - not enough to keep teachers at work through the usually torrid month of July when most of their colleagues are on the beaches. Every year the number of defectors increases.

This year's maturita exam may be the last, at least in its present form. Parliament is set this summer to vote in a new school-leaving exam, with a cross-curricular multiple-choice "quiz" in addition to the traditional essays that make up the written part of the exam.

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