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Understanding early school leaving

Early school leaving is a complex, dynamic and multifaceted phenomenon, resulting from a combination of personal, social, economic, educational and family-related factors, very often linked to socio-economic disadvantage. It is rarely a sudden decision, and usually the visible result of a long process of underachievement and progressive disengagement from education.

Young people leave schools early for a variety of reasons, which are highly specific to the individual. Some drop out because they face personal or family problems, others because of health or emotional difficulties; some young people feel dissatisfied with their schooling – for example, the curriculum and teaching methods may not be suited to their needs, they may have poor relationships with teachers or peers, may be subject to bullying, or there may be a negative school climate. However, ESL seems to follow certain patterns and some young people are considered more at risk than others. Early school leavers are more likely to come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds (such as workless households, families with a low level of education, single-parent families or households experiencing stressful situations); from more vulnerable groups (for example children with special educational needs or teenage mothers); or, from minority or migrant background. Boys are also usually more affected than girls.

Because of its complex nature, ESL must be approached and tackled by the school and all other relevant actors working together. A ‘whole school approach’ to reducing early school leaving and promoting educational success for all learners is needed. All school actors (head teachers, teaching and non-teaching staff, learners, parents and families) and external educational and non-educational stakeholders have an essential role to play in tackling educational disadvantage and preventing drop-out. All actors have a responsibility to engage in a cohesive, collective and collaborative action, based on multidisciplinarity and on differentiation. This is an ecological way of viewing a school as a multidimensional and interactive system that can learn and change. All dimensions of school life should be addressed in a coherent way to promote change; this also implies that the needs of all (learners, staff, and the wider community) are taken into account in teaching, learning and daily life of the school.

A whole school approach infographic

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