State education in Italy is free, yet many Italian and foreign parents choose private international schools, despite the high fees. There are now over twenty international schools in Rome, providing parents with plenty of opportunities to choose the best school for their family.
The popularity of international schools is due, in part, to the large numbers of international organisations and businesses setting up shop, but also because of the difference and quality that they offer. The local Italian school English competency levels are not as high as in other European countries, which can be problematic in a country where a firm grasp on that language is becoming more and more important for young Italians. This coupled with globalization has pushed Italian families to see the value of an international and inter-cultural curriculum in an English-speaking environment.
The growing popularity of international schools among Italians is a positive thing for expats as it allows families to create lasting connections with Italian families and allows children to fully immerse themselves in the culture and the country. That said, if you accept the challenges, there is no better way to get your child to speak fluent Italian than to have them enrolled in an Italian school.
Most expat parents choose to enroll their children into the local school system for two primary reasons, the first being cost and the second being culture. Some parents want their children to learn Italian and adjust to Italian culture, as quickly as possible; enrolling students in the local system is certainly a good way to do that, but if children do not have a firm grasp on the language, there can be some growing pains with this strategy. Being new in school without having a solid grasp on the language or even with a strong accent can be isolating. Additionally, those living abroad for only a short posting may find it more difficult to transition to schools back home.
There are different kinds of schools throughout Italy: Italian public schools, which are state-run schools; Italian private schools or scuole paritarie which follow the state curriculum but are not free like the public schools (an example would be a catholic schools or a bilingual schools); English speaking as well as other international schools (French etc).
Education in Italy happens in four parts:
- Preschool or scuola maternal, for ages 3-5 years old,
- Primary school or scuola elementare, for ages 6-11,
- Middle school or scuola media for ages 11-14
- High school, called scuola superior or secondo grado.
The structure is similar to the American one except that at the high school level, some schools offer a technical school option; specialised high school where students focus in a certain area (economics, languages, etc)
It is important to note that Italian state education is quite good but also quite traditional in the way it’s delivered. Be prepared for a lot of text book learning, but also a lot more philosophy, history, and literature classes, which many parents see as a bonus.
The three main curricula offered in the international schools are British, IB and American, and the culture in those schools can feel very strongly one way or another. For example, St George’s British International School feels British while the American Overseas school of Rome does feel very American. Another school with an American curriculum that stops at a lower age (14) is St Francis International School. Other schools have a more religious culture, such as Marymount International School which also provides an all-through American education.
It is also important to understand how international the school really is. Some schools, which have international in their title (Acorn House International School,Castelli International School, Rome International School) tend to be English speaking schools that Italians have enrolled their children in to learn English well. It is important to know the proportions of international to local kids just to know what kind of environment you are stepping into.
All the international schools provide support to help non-native English speaking children acquire English as their second or often third language, though some schools definitely place more emphasis on learning Italian as well as English. Ambrit International School for example, made its name as an acronym of the American British Italian School to show the school’s belief in full immersion in both languages; it has both an English and an Italian library and Core International School (only teaching up to age 11) introduces the Italian curriculum at primary level.
The support for non-native speakers means that it is also not uncommon for children to go to the French Lycée Chateubriand or Institut Saint Dominique even if they are not native French speakers, or to the Liceo Espanol Cervantes to follow the Spanish curriculum. There are also the German speaking Deutsche Schule Rome and the Scuola Svizzera Roma and a small Japanese Scuola Giapponese di Roma.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Rome considered by expats'.
Most international schools have a variety of different afterschool activities to keep students engaged, which is part of their appeal over local schools. Many schools use their after school programs to build their ‘team spirit’, which in turn helps create a community that allows families to feel at home; a crucial centre of life for nomadic expats. The after-school activities can also raise cultural awareness and break down barriers that may come with a multi-cultural environment. American students can share their passion for American football and other cultures can be explored through, say, after-school cooking clubs.
The school run
Another crucial concern to consider is the school commuting distance. The schools are all over Rome, with a strong preponderance to the north and spread out through the residential area of the Via Cassia (American Overseas School, St George’s British International, Marymount International, The New School). Some schools are more central: closer to the embassies and elegant residential area of Parioli (Rome International School, Core International School, The Nomenatana Junior School of St George’s, Lycée Chateaubriand).
In the south of the city, there are several schools close to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (St Stephen’s, Ambrit, Liceo Espanol Cervantes and Deutsche Schule Rome). The larger numbers of primary schools means that it may be possible to find a good school locally while they are younger, but for older children the choices are more limited. Take a large map and locate the schools you are considering, as you decide where to live.
However, as noted in the ‘Living in Rome, Italy’ article, public transportation is available and safe, and many children do travel by bus or metro to school. Almost all the schools operate school buses which are a convenient, though expensive, way of getting to school. It is important to note that buses are often crowded and possible delays so plan ahead. Not all companies pay for school extras like school transport.
For expats, Rome may be “The Eternal City” in name only, as their stay is often short, but the well-established international schools have a good reputation and the Italian state schools open the door to Italian language and culture, particularly for younger children.