ITALY is to introduce a battery of standardised tests in maths, Italian and science, and British-style league tables to identify successful and failing schools.
Schools will be ranked by pupil performance, but eventually teacher performance will also be assessed.
The tests will first be piloted in schools across 10 regions. The pilot is being organised by the Istituto nazionale per la valutazione del sistema dell'Istruzione, which was launched this month. The Florence institute is an offshoot of the Centro Europeo dell'Educazione, a publicly-funded but autonomous bureau whose job in the past has been to monitor European projects.
The centre has been monitoring 200 schools to identify factors that will need to be taken into account in any future nationwide comparison of schools. These include "social context", and "presence of books in students' families".
Giving responsibility to an autonomous institution, which will evaluate both private and public sectors, represents a major transfer of power from the education ministry in what has traditionally been a very centralised system.
With schols getting more power over their timetable and the inclusion of private schools under the umbrella of the national education system, there was pressing need for evaluation of individual schools.
Until now attempts at evaluating school performance have been sporadic and made, usually, by research institutes. The inspectorate has long had an advisory, rather than evaluatory role, with the result that most teachers have never had an inspector sit in on a lesson.
The focus on assessing individual schools represents a totally new approach, and is causing concern in academic circles.
Luciano Corradini, professor of education at Rome University, told the Milan daily Corriere della Sera: "My fear is that the institute will become a sort of supreme authority able to establish which teaching is valid, and which is not."
In reply, the director of the institute, Benedetto Vertecchi, said his organisation would assess the "educational efficiency, organisational results, and use of resources" in public and private schools, adding that it would be necessary to take into account the context for each school.