Until 1999, in-service training was the only sort available to Italy's teachers, and just about anybody could do it. Courses were organised by schools or local authorities, or promoted by professional bodies such as teachers' unions or publishers.
But the courses tended to be outside school hours and many teachers chose not to attend. Then, in 1996, a new contract was introduced that required teachers to undertake at least 100 in-service hours every three years.
Courses to train and update, based on a wide range of topics and often only marginally related to the profession, began to proliferate. Heads found that intensive courses were a good way of filling the empty weeks at the beginning of September and the end of June, when teachers were still in service and pupils on holiday. Teachers were happy to clock up the hours.
Annavaleria Guazzieri, a middle school teacher from Venice, remembers courses in chess, graphology and orienteering, as well as more obvious topics such as vocational guidance. The orienteering course was very enjoyable," she recalls. "There's nothing like splashing across a muddy field with colleagues for creating a sense of solidarity."
With the appearance in 1999 of fledgling initial teacher training institutions run by the universities, the obligation for training was removed from teachers' contracts.
Nevertheless, a wide range of courses continues to be offered. This year, the ministry has made available 78 million euros (pound;53.6 million) for in-service courses, half of which can be spent by individual schools who work out their own needs. The rest is earmarked for national programmes, including re-qualification of supernumerary teachers, implementation of reform and local autonomy, distance learning and courses for probationers and RE teachers.
Another 35 million euros (pound;24 million) has been found to pay the expenses of teachers who enrol for university or take other accredited courses.