SILVIO Berlusconi's centre-right administration is overhauling the primary-school system by bringing back the class teacher.
The one teacher who stayed with her class for five years was replaced in 1990 by a team-teaching model (known as moduli) with teachers specialising in separate subjects.
Ministers think parents prefer the old system; but two major strikes last autumn which closed schools throughout the country, have shown that most teachers are opposed to a return to a one-class one-teacher regime.
Anna Giudici, head of Cesare Battisti, a 426-pupil primary school near Venice, said: "Society has changed a lot over the past 20 years. The curriculum is bigger and richer, and teachers need more specialist knowledge. In a team-teaching set-up, where three teachers work with two classes, this is possible; each teacher has her own subject area."
At the beginning parents were sceptical. When children were asked to stay on at school for two afternoons a week in order to cover the new curriculum, mothers were distressed not to have their children home for lunch. But now, she believes, parents realise that the moduli prepare children better for secondary school, where every hour a different teacher comes into the classroom.
Her staff agree. Rosella Bona, who has been a primary teacher for more than 30 years, and who now teaches maths and science in the moduli, remembers the days when she had the same class for five years in a row. "The children ended up dressing like you."
But education minister Letizia Moratti believes that children and parents need a single figure to identify with.
In the proposed reform, the main class teacher will be known as a tutor, and will be responsible for developing portfolios (work records) for all his or her pupils. He or she will also be the official link between the school and parents. "But what if children don't get on with her?" asks a colleague from Mrs Bona's team. "At least with three teachers to choose from there's more chance of hitting it off with someone."
About 200 schools, mostly in the private sector, have begun experimenting with Letizia Moratti's reform.
The state primary Cesare Battisti is not one of them. "We weren't asked," says Mrs Giudici. "They probably knew what we would have said."