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European Education Area

Quality education and training for all

Early school leaving

What's the problem?

Early school leaving is linked to unemployment, social exclusion, poverty and poor health. There are many reasons why some young people give up education and training prematurely: personal or family problems, learning difficulties, or a fragile socio-economic situation. The way the education system is set up, school climate and teacher-pupil relations are also important factors.

Since there are often complex, interconnected reasons for children not completing secondary schooling, policies to reduce early school leaving must address a range of issues and combine education and social policy, youth work and health-related aspects. Some of these challenges are outlined in an infographic provided by the Commission.

What has been done so far?

  • EU countries have committed themselves to reducing the average share of early school leavers to less than 10% by 2020. The annual Education and Training Monitor provides data and analysis of early school leaving trends in the EU and in all the Member States.
  • EU education ministers adopted a Council Recommendation on policies to reduce early school leaving, which set out a framework for coherent, comprehensive, and evidence-based policies. They agreed to collaborate to exchange best-practices and knowledge on effective ways to address early school leaving
  • A working group on early school leaving looked at examples of good practices in Europe and exchanged experiences in reducing early school leaving. The final report outlines 12 key messages for policymakers and translates them into practical tools through a checklist of comprehensive policies and an annex with examples of best practices from several EU countries.
  • The Commission organised a conference on policies to reduce early school leaving. One year later, policy developments in eight EU countries were reviewed.
  • The Working Group on Schools Policy created a set of policy messages identifying key conditions for implementing a whole school approach to tackling early school leaving, as well as an online European Toolkit for Schools.
  • The Council has also adopted Conclusions on reducing early school leaving and promoting success in school.

The European Commission has published an assessment of the effectiveness of policies and practices developed since 2011 at the EU and national levels to tackle early school leaving in 37 European countries.

The study shows that the impact of EU policy instruments is largely positive across the countries examined. On average, the rate of early school leaving decreased from 13.4% in 2011 to 10.2% in 2019 across Europe.

However, considerable differences still exist between countries and demographics with people of a migrant background, young men and those living in rural areas being more likely to end their education before compulsory school leaving age.

Further action is, therefore, required to tackle this complex and evolving trend. The study compares a selection of good practices at the national level and provides a series of recommendations to inform future policy development in this area. For more information, see the executive summary of the study and the School Education Gateway video on early school leaving.

Pathways to School Success initiative

The Commission announced in the Communication on 'Achieving the European Education Area by 2025' a new initiative - the Pathways to School Success. The initiative will help all pupils to reach a baseline level of proficiency in basic skills.

The initiative will address three challenges:

  • giving all young people the chance to reach a certain level of proficiency in basic skills
  • minimising the number of young people leaving education without at least an upper secondary degree
  • ensuring pupils’ well-being at school.

An open public consultation will take place in spring 2021 to gather your views on the Pathways to School Success initiative. 

European Toolkit for Schools

The European Toolkit for Schools offers policymakers and practitioners a wealth of resources and practical examples of effective practices to promote educational success and to prevent early school leaving.

The Toolkit is organised around five thematic areas which are key conditions for a whole school approach to early school leaving. Each area is further elaborated in the Toolkit and complemented with practical examples and measures. You can find more information on the Toolkit in the infosheet.