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European Education Area

Quality education and training for all

Pathways to School Success

Why is success in school important?

School education plays a crucial role in promoting inclusive, fairer and more prosperous societies by helping all children and young people to reach their full potential.

It also helps to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to flourish in life and become active, responsible, resilient and engaged individuals who continue learning throughout their lives. 

Ensuring access to quality and inclusive education for all and equipping children and young people with the competences they need in life helps to make societies equal and economies more prosperous. 

The mastery of basic skills (reading, mathematics and science) is of fundamental importance for pupils’ academic progress and future prospects. 

The skills and competences gained in upper secondary education are increasingly seen as the minimum credentials for successful labour market entry and the foundations for a fulfilling and healthy life.

State of play

Despite the importance of basic skills, in the European Union (EU) one in five 15 year olds still do not possess sufficient competences in reading, mathematics or science (OECD PISA survey, 2018). 

Early leavers from education and training represent around 10% of young people in the EU and only 84.3% of 20-24 year olds have completed upper secondary education (Eurostat, 2020). 

Socio-economic and cultural background are the strongest determinants of pupils’ educational outcomes. 

Children from poorer areas and families perform worse on average in school compared to their more privileged schoolmates.

Likewise, the proportion of underachievers in basic skills among pupils with a migrant background is much higher than among their native-born peers. 

Those with a migrant background are more likely to leave school prematurely without attaining basic skills.

In addition, there are worrying signs (OECD PISA Survey, 2018) that pupils’ well-being and sense of belonging at school is declining and bulling is widespread, with detrimental effects on pupils’ development and educational achievement.

What is the European Union doing to tackle these issues?

To promote policy cooperation between EU Member States to address these challenges, the European Commission has launched a new initiative, ‘Pathways to Schools Success’.

This combines different instruments – from policy guidance to peer learning and the exchange of information and best practices, to financial incentives – to stimulate policy reform. 

In particular, in 2022 the Commission will put forward a proposal for a Council Recommendation on Pathways to School Success. The Recommendation will call for evidence-based, coherent and collaborative strategies and actions against underachievement and early leaving from education and training. 

Member States will be encouraged to reinforce the development of comprehensive policies, addressing all levels of school education – early childhood education and care (ECEC), primary and (lower and upper) secondary education and vocational education and training (VET). 

They will be invited to place a strong focus on monitoring, prevention (including pupils’ motivation) and intervention, to be combined with measures to support those who left education without an upper secondary qualification, such as second chance education programmes.

Policies should be based on strong cross-sectoral collaboration and involve stakeholders from different policy areas, such as youth, culture, sport, social/welfare policy, employment and health. 

Council Recommendation

The Recommendation, an initiative of the European Education Area, will address the following dimensions

  • school governance and leadership, including quality assurance
  • learning environments – curricula, assessment, targeted support and tools, transitions between educational levels
  • learners and learning climate with a focus on pupil well-being and positive interaction embracing pupil diversity and well-being at school
  • enhancing the role of teachers in tackling educational disadvantage
  • the involvement of parents and families in school decision-making and activities
  • collaboration in and around schools with stakeholders and the wider community


Work is now underway to prepare the proposal for a Council Recommendation. 

A public consultation will be run (starting June 2021) to gather input and hear the views of interested individuals and organisations. 

A series of consultation events with organisations active in the field of education and the environment is also being organised. 

The proposal for a Council Recommendation will be adopted by the Commission in 2022 and submitted to the EU ministers of education in the Council of the European Union, which will discuss and adopt it. 

Erasmus+ programme

Inclusive education and reducing early leaving from education and training are also central to the new Erasmus+ programme

The Recommendation will be accompanied by the ‘European Toolkit for Schools: Promoting inclusive education and tackling early school leaving’.

Related content

European Education Area

Early school leaving policy

European Toolkit for Schools: Promoting inclusive education and tackling early school leaving

Erasmus+ programme