Milan. For the first time in more than half a century, British A levels can be used by Italian students as entrance qualifications to the country's universities.
The move by the Italian ministry of education came after years of lobbying by British schools in Italy, and ends an anomaly which recognised A levels held by foreigners but not by Italian nationals. Under laws dating back to the 1930s home students ware barred from using foreign qualifications. Like many other regulations introduced by the Mussolini dictatorship, the rules had never been swept from Italy's postwar statute book.
Under EC regulations, non-Italian EC nationals have for several years been able to use reciprocation mechanisms to gain admittance to higher education institutions. But until now the ban on Italians taking that route remained in place, although the International Baccalaureat is recognised.
The breakthrough agreement by the 450-pupil Sir James Henderson School in Milan means its Italian nationals - around 50 per cent of the roll - can follow its British curriculum through to A level and then remain in Italy for higher education.
The agreement comes after 14 tortuous years of negotiations with Rome's notoriously labyrinthine education bureaucracy, involving Britain's Department for Education and Employment, and Foreign Office officials. "It's been a long, sometimes difficult process," admitted Chris Leech, headmaster of Sir James Henderson. Education sources suggest that a strong residual sense of nationalistic pride was behind last minute delays which were resolved only by agreeing to a mandatory Italian culture course for Italian sixth formers.
Higher education institutions will still have some limited discretion to refuse entry, and ministry officials will scrutinise the combination of A levels and their appropriateness for chosen degrees. The change may force more better-off Italian parents to opt for the full British curriculum at junior and senior level, such as that offered by the Pounds 7,500 a-year Sir James Henderson school, in response to growing concerns about the quality of high school education in the state sector.