Many students have been missing classes for weeks to protest against the plan, and in some cases they have occupied schools.

Some teachers have also joined the protest, staging open-air lessons in streets and squares across the country.

Berlusconi has said he will not budge on despite the protests.

A nationwide strike by school teachers and university professors is planned for October 30.

Public opposition

Nearly half of Italians are opposed to the cuts, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, suggested in a recent poll.

The survey found that 47 per cent of the 1,024 people questioned were against the proposals. About 38 per cent of Italians backed them.

The proposals for primary schools would mean that, from autumn of next year, instead of three staff sharing teaching duties in different subjects for two classes, each class would have one all-purpose instructor.

Time spent at school would be slashed from 29 to 31 hours a week currently, to 24. The aim is to save $9.7bn over four years.

Savings of $1.8bn are being sought in the secondary school sector and higher education over five years.

The education ministry said the plans seek to "rationalise spending to improve the quality" of education and that only a few thousands of the country's millions of students are demonstrating.