TALY may be facing recession, but for Siggi, a textile firm near Vicenza in the north-east of the country, 2009 offers the promise of unprecedented growth. Siggi is the biggest producer of grembiuli, or school smocks. Once universal in Italian primary schools, they were becoming as outdated as ink-wells. But in July the education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, backed the reintroduction of grembiuli to combat brand- and class-consciousness among schoolchildren. Siggi’s output this year has almost sold out and its chairman, Gino Marta, says that “next year could see an out-and-out boom.”
The decision on whether pupils should wear the grembiule has been left to head teachers. It does not figure in either of the two education bills that have been introduced by Ms Gelmini. But it has become a symbol of her efforts to shake up Italian education. Her critics argue that these are a vain attempt to turn back the clock; her supporters see them as a necessary first step to a more equitable, efficient system.
On October 30th the opposition she has aroused will culminate in a one-day teachers’ strike. The union’s main complaint is a programme of cuts aimed at saving almost €8 billion ($11 billion). It includes the loss by natural wastage of 87,000 teachers’ jobs over the three academic years to 2012 and the return to a system in which just one teacher is allotted to each year of elementary school.