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Teaching exam stampede;Briefing;International

ITALY. Schools are recruiting staff for the first time in a decade, prompting two million to sit the crucial test, reports David Newbold

Two million applicants are expected to compete in the first concorso - the national examination for would-be teachers - since 1989.

For anyone who ever wanted to become a teacher in Italy this is their big chance, as 44,000primary and secondary postsare on offer.

The concorso used to be held every one or two years, but falling rolls and the need for spending cuts put a stop to it in the late Eighties. Since then, the average age of teachers has risen sharply, with the youngest now in their thirties.

But the gates to the profession have at last been re-opened. After a series of reforms, including the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 and a slice of curricular and financial autonomy for individual schools, the government has turned its attention to staff recruitment.

"We've turned on the motors," is how education minister Luigi Berlinguer puts it. The announcement follows two years of rumours that the big one - the mega-concorso - was on its way.

But for candidates there are some changes from past concorsi. They won't have to include as many documents and they won't have to write the applications on hated carta bollata (paper you have to pay stamp duty on). Also, candidates can only apply to sit the exam in those regions where there are expected to be vacancies in their subjects, to reduce the number of would-be teachers who pass the concorso brilliantly only to find there are no jobs available.

For the first time, EU citizens will be able to apply - but they will have to show that they can speak Italian. However, the potential rewards are not great, since salaries are among the lowest in Europe.

Candidates have until the end of May to apply. When the applications have been processed, the logistical problems begin for the regional authorities who have to find halls big enough to stage the written exams. Those candidates who pass this first hurdle will then be called to sit an oral exam.

If things go well, the new teachers could be taking up their posts in September 2000 (although some public concorsi take several years to complete).

But the biggest concorso of all time is also likely to be the last. Designed to offer an equal chance to all applicants, the concorso is subject-based and theoretical, offering no guarantee that candidates have any aptitude for the profession. Yet the successful candidates end up as a qualified teacher with a job for life, having done no initial training.

This will now change. From next year, all intending teachers will have to do a two-year post-graduate course, including practical training as well as theory, in order to qualify. After which, there will be no need for a concorso - probably.

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