July 9, 2015 / 11:50 AM / 3 years ago

Italy's Renzi gets final approval for contested schools reform

ROME (Reuters) - Italy’s parliament on Wednesday approved a contested reform of the country’s schools that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi says will shake up the antiquated education system and help revive the economy.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi arrives at a euro zone EU leaders emergency summit on the situation in Greece, in Brussels, Belgium, July 7, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

Deputies passed the “Good Schools” reform by 277 votes to 173 in the 630-seat lower house, ending weeks of bitter debate. The upper house had already approved the legislation.

The bill boosts the powers of head teachers and will allow for pay increases based on merit rather than just seniority. It also provides tax breaks to private schools and will lead to the hiring of some 100,000 full-time teachers.

The Bank of Italy and international bodies have long called for an ambitious reform, saying schools must share the blame for more than a decade of productivity stagnation by failing to prepare children for the modern labor market.

The reform has been fiercely contested by teachers’ unions — traditional allies of Renzi’s left-wing Democratic Party (PD) — and an increasingly voluble group of rebels in the PD.

Teachers’ union leader Francesco Scrima said on Thursday that the reform was “an ugly law (that) increases the problems faced by the school system, which is once again reduced to an excuse to play political games”.

Italy spends less on education as a proportion of national output than all its main peers in the euro zone, according to Eurostat, and has one of the region’s highest drop-out rates.

The reform includes provisions obliging schools to focus more on work experience.

Students and teachers demonstrated against the reform in cities across the country in May, expressing concern that empowering school managers could lead to the sort of clientelism that already blights Italian business and society.

Renzi has touted the reform as one of his most important pieces of legislation and says his government is finally shaking up the country after years of political paralysis.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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