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Urgent bid to raise leaving age;Briefing

Italy. The government is attempting to rush through legislation to push up the school-leaving age. The aim is to raise it from 14 - the lowest in Europe - to 16 in order to speed up reforms of the education system.

Under the reforms the scuola media (middle school) is expected to be replaced by a more vocationally-orientated scuola di orientamento. But the plans are being held up by parliamentary rows.

Prime minister Romano Prodi wants to keep face with European partners by at least getting the school-leaving age in line with other European Union countries.

But former education minister Giancarlo Lombardi, a personal friend of the prime minister, has described the Bill as "pure madness".Without the reform, "what are pupils supposed to do for the extra two years?" he asked.

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