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Tuscany education and international schools guide

What’s not to like about living in Tuscany except, possibly, the Easyjet queues at Pisa airport, on an August afternoon, or the shortage of international schools?

For all those lucky enough to have been here, it is easy to conjure up endless dancing images – the sparkling kaleidoscope, that is the Siena palio, the wooded valleys of Chianti, the tilting beauty of the square in Pienza, the glories of the art and architecture of Florence, the Romanesque purity of the abbey of Sant’Antimo and on and on – but if you are trying to find an English language education for your child, you’re going to have to work harder.

A large foreign enclave lives in Pisa (the airport is more reliable than the one in Florence, often shut due to fog) or in the surrounding hills towards Lucca (favoured by British expats), and there is a small school, Westminster International School  in the centre, south of the River Arno,  teaching the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, up to the age of 12. Just opened (no news from parents yet) is another primary school outside Pisa called the Elizabeth English Academy teaching four to 11 year olds in English. There is also a bilingual Italian/English school in Lucca itself.

If you need to travel regularly to the outside world, you might not choose to live in southern Tuscany, as it is still somewhat detached from any major city, despite being only a couple of hours from the airport in Rome. However, if you work remotely or are involved with wine (the major industry), this is a 5* location in terms of physical beauty and your child can attend the International School of Siena. This has recently been re-housed in new quarters and now teaches all three stages of the International Baccalaureate programme, as well as an Italian curriculum.

Florence is the dominant, big sister of all the other Tuscan cities and towns and is comparatively generous in its international offering with two schools teaching in English. The relatively new Canadian School of Florence (opened in 2017, as Blyth Academy Florence and changing its name in 2019) offers the highly respected Canadian Ontario programme, culminating in the well-regarded (by global universities) Ontario High School Diploma, to students aged 14 to 18. Whereas, the all-through International School of Florence is authorised to teach the IB Primary Years and IB Diploma Programmes, as well as an Italian curriculum.

The other alternative, if you are not set on an education, taught entirely in English, is the  Lycée Francais Victor Hugo, the oldest international school in Florence, which teaches in three languages, French, Italian and English.

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 Tuscany considered by expats'.

State schools

There has been an educational system in Italy since the middle of the 19th century (temporarily hijacked by Mussolini to incorporate fascist ideology), and Italian state schools (provided they are not in the south) are well-regarded by international school assessors.

Nowadays, the system consists of five years of primary school and eight of secondary (three of middle and five of high school), ending in the esame di stato, which grants access to university. Teaching is in Italian but a foreign language is introduced from the third year onwards and the study of a second language begins in lower secondary.

Probably a less popular option for expats who are not intending to settle down here for a lengthy stay (unless speaking Italian is part of family life), as all schools follow a purely Italian curriculum. Smaller children tend to adapt and become integrated more easily and it is a good solution (particularly at the primary stage) if you want your child to speak fluent Italian and understand Italian culture and attitudes. The other point to consider is that it is easier to move from state to private than vice-versa.

And finally…

Unfortunately, not a large choice of established international schools (except for the French Lycée) but the state system (particularly for younger children) offers a practical alternative and gives you and your children more chance of making Italian friends.

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