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New rules will mean all-graduate profession

ITALY. After years of debate, initial teacher training in Italy at last looks set to become standard practice.

At present, there is only one way to learn how to teach: on the job. Would-be newcomers to the profession who pass a subject-based exam are set loose in the classroom, and although theoretically they have to complete a probationary year before tenure is confirmed, this is generally a formality.

Now things are going to change. A decree approved this summer by the council of ministers in Italy's first-ever left-of-centre government means that all intending teachers must undergo initial training.

In addition, teaching will become a graduate-only profession. At the moment, only around 15 per cent of primary teachers are graduates. Most come directly from the secondary institute historically intended to provide all-round education for primary teachers.

The new rules mean that primary teachers will have to complete a four-year degree in education, which will considerably increase the age of first-time appointees. Secondary school teachers will have to do a two-year postgraduate certificate. Both routes into the profession will include a large element of teaching practice.

The onus to set up the training programmes will fall on the universities, which seem largely unprepared for the job, and it is likely to take at least five years to set things in motion. But the revolution was not unannounced. In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the professional profile of teachers, through a variety of in-service training programmes; a continuing obligation to re-training (at least 100 hours every five years, with career enhancement for teachers clocking up a greater number of hours) was written into last year's national contract.

The shift in emphasis to initial training was the inevitable next step in the requalification of a profession which over the past 30 years had lost much of its former prestige. Teachers seem generally to approve of the changes, which, they hope, will eventually boost salaries - currently among the lowest in Europe.

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