The autumn term has begun as much as two weeks earlier this year. With schools likely to close during the year for elections, and compulsory remedial courses taking up further time, only an early start can guarantee the 200 days legally required for a school year. The remedial courses, introduced last year in secondary schools for pupils failing to make the grade, have to be taught outside normal timetable hours.
Teachers are not relishing the early start - and not only because it is unclear how much (if anything) they are going to be paid for the courses. A survey carried out for the popular weekly Famiglia Cristiana revealed that 31 per cent of teachers were beginning the year with a sense of "rage". This was the answer which was chosen most often to the question "How do you feel about the new year?" Many feel cheated by a contract signed over the summer by the main unions. They feel they were not properly consulted. The contract paves the way for merit payments, details of which still have to be clarified, but offers only a 6 per cent rise in basic pay, leaving teachers worse off than when the previous contract expired five years ago.
The survey gets to the heart of teacher malaise in Italy - most of them (67 per cent) think a complete reform of the system is the most urgent problem now facing schools, but 62 per cent think that reforms already introduced (such as the compulsory remedial courses) have worsened the situation.
A meagre pay rise and a heavier teaching load are not the only novelties of the new year. Schools now have a charter (carta dei servizi) intended to clarify pupils' and parents' rights, and establish a complaints procedure. The 150,000 laws and decrees in force in Italy mean that public offices such as the education ministry high are swamped with complaints, requests for clarification, and notices of legal action. The charter aims to encourage settlement of disputes at local level, and so reduce bureaucracy. The charter gives headteachers 15 days to reply to complaints and take action.
Teacher morale may not have been helped by a recent comment made by education minister Giancario Lombardi. Speaking of the need to give teachers a new sense of professional pride, he declared that 30 per cent of teachers are "very good at their jobs, working in difficult conditions and making continual sacrifices". He did not say what he thought of the remaining 70 per cent.