The Italian Senate has approved a Bill that will make 14,000 schools financially autonomous by 2000.
Schools will be allocated a budget to cover running costs. Teachers will continue to be recruited and paid directly by the state. Top-up payments will be made to schools in socially deprived areas to avoid the creation of second-division schools, For years, the highly centralised system has been blamed for all manner of ills. In each province, the ministry is represented by a Provveditorato agli studi, a local authority that allocates staff to schools and organises in-service education and training courses.
At the start of each school year the Provveditorato is the setting for tense encounters as tenured teachers are transferred to schools that might be miles from their homes, and supply teachers queue up for work in a diminishing number of posts.
Local councils will now take over the education infrastructure.
The reforms should allow for a more flexible timetable. Typically, the school day runs from 8am to 1pm, Monday to Saturday. The new legislation will allow schools to opt for a more British-style timetable, with lessons in the afternoon, and the week ending on Friday.
Decentralisation may also bring a more varied curriculum. Two months ago, the education minister, Luigi Berlinguer, announced an overall reform of the system. A group of experts was put to work on a new curriculum, the school starting age was brought forward to five and the leaving age raised to 15.
Teachers' reactions have been favourable and their fears of privatisation allayed. Most see the new law as proof of an intent to re-organise the state along more federalist lines.
What will happen to the Provveditorati, the last outposts of central government, is unclear. Without a raison d'etre their suppression seems inevitable.