Interest in the quality of education in Italy has grown progressively and in parallel to the idea that the quality of learning can be raised rapidly by improving the accountability of the education system. In this article it is argued that, despite this recipe is acceptable in abstract, the quality of education in Italy is largely a legacy of the past and is attributable to the educational delay for which the country still suffers. A delay that affects the overall quality of the educational contexts and determines a strong inertia in improving the quality of the learning processes. This may explain why Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal share a significant educational delay as well as a backward position in the PISA and PIAAC rankings on learning outcomes. The article proposes an analysis of the intergenerational transmission mechanisms of skills, able to explain the results of national and international studies on learning outcomes and some reflections on the implications of this explanation.