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Ricerca per l'innovazione della scuola italiana

Research Structure 8 – Methodological and organizational innovation in small schools

The Structure was founded in 2018 with the aim of contributing, through service research activities, to the improvement of the educational offer and teaching and learning experiences in small schools characterized by isolation, peripherality, and scarcity of students.

Understanding the advantages (small classes and community participation) and disadvantages (difficulty in recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers, multi-class management, geographical isolation), detected also in Italy (through surveys based on 4 pilot networks and 400 teachers) enabled the identification of some common traits characterising a National Movement (The Small Schools Movement). This made it possible to intervene in the area through research-training actions aimed at linking the curriculum and the territory, identifying forms of online open classes and rethinking the multi-age class as a pedagogical choice.

Today the Structure makes use of the Small Schools Movement (which today gathers 500 institutes and almost 3,000 schools/education centres) to propose and experiment new organizational and didactic forms, which are alternative to the dominant scholastic model, are focused on the educational success of students and aim to improve teaching practices and learning experiences in isolated and multi-class situations.

The need to build a tradition of practical knowledge is the reason supporting the “Small schools’ Notebooks” and its participation in the EUN Special Interest Group. Furthermore, the creation of a repository of professionals for innovation and its management is intended to be a support tool to avoid training abandonment and encourage teachers’ retainment, responding to the need for professional development and promoting support actions between teachers and head teachers in territories in difficulty.


General objectives

  1. Identification of small Italian schools and analysis of territorial contexts to focus research on specific dimensions related to educational quality in the 0-14 years old group (school building, basic learning achievements, educational poverty) allowing for dialogue with national and international institutional stakeholders.
  2. Identifying the elements of the proximity school that rethink the dominant educational model with a view to an open, inclusive and widespread school that acts as a learning hub for the whole community and that is supported by territorial educational alliances, in order to expand the services and the curricular offer focused on the 0-14 years old age group. The aim is to address the need to investigate forms of proximity school in the light of community educational pacts and, at international level, the sociological construct of “reconciliation”.
  3. Investigating the quality of the educational experience in the multi-class by identifying its typical problems and facilitating factors which, detected through international narrative reviews and exploratory surveys on the experiences of Italian teachers, help to read teaching and learning practices and then identify those which are “exemplary” and oriented to educational success, by intervening also on policy making actions (transformative objective).
  4. Identifying models and practices characterized by the use of technologies to overcome isolation and promote democratic access to online resources in order to design educational experiences focused on motivation and differentiation; favouring the management of open and cooperative forms of distance multi-classes, and ensuring inclusion in case of home schooling due to environmental obstacles.

General questions

  • What is the population of the small Italian schools, how is it distributed over the territory and in which socio-economic contexts do the small schools operate? What are the relationships between the territory and educational scenarios?
  • What are the constitutive elements of the community school and what role do physical spaces play in the educational project characterized by the alliance with the territory?
  • What were the peculiarities of multi-class work in the past and what are today (teaching conditions, organization of the curriculum and the learning space) and which models can facilitate the management of activities and learning?
  • Can forms of open school with online classes help overcome teachers’ professional isolation and encourage the enrichment of the educational offer in small, isolated schools?
  • What are the technological tools that can promote educational inclusion and personalization in geographically isolated contexts with low connectivity?
  • What networking and mentoring actions (integrated by new technologies) and detected at national and international level help to overcome professional isolation and support the enrichment of the educational offer in small schools?

Context – Target population

There are about 9,000 primary and lower secondary schools and about 2,500 single-section nursery schools throughout the country. Teachers, students and head teachers, local school governance (UST and USR), and representatives of local authorities and the third sector are involved in the research actions.


Institutional collaborations and research collaborations


  • SUPSI – Horizon Mensi project
  • IUAV
  • Municipality of Reggio-Emilia
  • Labsus
  • AMP
  • AIB
  • Tuscany region
  • MI-Statistical Office
  • ANCI
  • EUN