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RESL.EU Report Summary

Project ID: 320223
Funded under: FP7-SSH
Country: Belgium

Periodic Report Summary 2 - RESL.EU (Reducing Early School Leaving in the EU.)

Project Context and Objectives:
The project aims to provide insights into the mechanisms and processes influencing a pupil’s leaving school or training early. In addition, intends to identify and analyze the intervention and compensation measures that succeed in keeping pupils in education or training, in spite of their high risk of ESL, and ultimately, to disclose these insights and good practices to various audiences.

The project’s key objectives are:
1. To design common EU definitions and concepts on early school leaving and conduct comparative policy analyses;
2. To collect data on youngsters, families, schools and particular research areas across partner countries in Europe;
3. To identify characteristics of youth at risk of ESL as well as protective factors (such as social support mechanisms, resiliency and agency of pupils, etc.) which may encourage potential ESL pupils to gain qualifications via alternative learning arenas;
4. To examine ESL prevention in schools and ESL remediation through alternative learning arenas in seven EU member states in order to let good practices inform a EU policy on Early School Leaving.

The project’s focus is on the development and implementation of education policies, and the transferability of country-specific good practices. Its ultimate aim lies in the development of generic conceptual models based on good practices to predict and tackle ESL that contribute to local, national and EU policies. also seeks to understand the mechanisms behind, processes leading to and trajectories following ESL through its focus on the actions, perceptions and discourses of all pupils (ESL and not-ESL) as well as those of significant others (family, peer group, school or alternative learning arena, community). Finally, the project intends to build on the success and efficacy of specific measures to tackle ESL and develop creative and innovative approaches for knowledge and skill transfer in a school context or in alternative learning arenas across partner countries.

The main research questions are:
1. How does the complex and often subtle interplay of factors on a macro, meso and micro level predict early school leaving?
2. What intervention or compensation measures can be identified as successful in keeping ‘a pupil at risk of ESL’ in school or in guiding him/her to an alternative learning arena and what specific approaches or concurrences of variables explains this success?

Nine countries across Europe are involved in the project: Belgium, UK, Sweden, Portugal the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Hungary and Austria. New survey data will be collected among 2,000 pupils in each country across two different research areas and a number of different schools (except Hungary and Austria). Two years later, the same pupils will be requested for a follow-up survey enquiring about their trajectory during the intermediate period. In the meantime, qualitative interviewing will take place through contacts with selected pupils consisting of both school stayers (at risk for ESL) and school leavers (ESL), as well as either interviews or focus groups with the parents, peers and school staff of the interviewed individual youngsters. In each country, a minimum of 100 school staff and school administrators will be surveyed.

Project Results:
In a first step, the theoretical framework initially proposed to analyse the Early School Leaving phenomenon and based on the state of the art on ESL in a broad European context, was further refined to include specific links between concepts, theories, methods and data collection. The conceptual model illustrates how the project research will invest in identifying and analysing the interplay between risk- and protective factors for ESL by focusing on the role of social and cultural capital. This will enable linking the structural macro context with individuals’ resiliency through analyzing youngsters’ embeddedness in their school environment, alternative learning arena, family, peer group and/or community

The next step was to identify two research areas in Belgium, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands for the new data collection, as well as to distillate a common definition of ESL based on the interpretation of the concept in each of the partner countries. In the project, ESL is defined as “leaving regular secondary education system without attaining an upper secondary school degree/certificate, equivalent to ISCED level 3 (2011)”. The project takes a partly new approach in defining ESL with the intention to substantially complement the Labour Force Survey (LFS) ESL data. The selection criteria for the two research areas stipulate that a research area has to 1) consist of an urban neighbourhood/borough/ward/district; 2) have a population of 100 000 to 500 000 inhabitants; 3) be under the same political framework on education, training and work ; and 4) have a high youth unemployment rate. The two selected research areas have to be different with respect to at least one the following: 1) migration /ethnic background of their population; 2) socio-economic characteristics of the area; 3) local policy; and/or 4) labour market opportunities.

Following was the comparative analysis of the development and implementation of education policies and instruments aiming at dealing with ESL in the research countries during the construction of the EU and especially since the Lisbon Treaty. The analysis shows that Europeanisation takes place on the basis of countries’ diverse interpretation and implementation of a common grammar, by means of the national policy and under the framework of programs of cooperation, support, research and development set by different international organisations and with EU funding, evaluation systems and soft law. Moreover, the analysis of the goals, ‘drivers’ and rationales underpinning education and social policies related to ESL suggests that the economic concern prevails over educational and social goals. In spite of the fact that in some countries, such as UK and the Netherlands, this concern is more visible, in others the encompassing discourse on the need to respond to the new labour market needs is pervasive. In Belgium and Poland, for instance, this driver is more nuanced as social and educational concerns could also be identified. In Austria, both economic and social drivers can be identified. The study underlines that there exists a close relationship between social and economic policies, on the one hand, and educational policies, on the other.

Subsequently, the project mapped and assessed existing statistical evidence on early school leavers and NEETS in Europe by conducting a systematic review of existing databases at regional, national, international and comparative levels. Identifying the lags in the previous studies assisted in designing an innovative quantitative research instrument to identify risk factors of becoming an early school leaver and to explore the trajectories of young people. Among the variables included were : attitudes to school, education, career, family and peers; expectations, aspirations and plans for the future; factors encouraging stay/ leaving education such as (academic) self-confidence, physical and emotional well-being and feelings of belonging, support, discrimination and respect. The survey A1 was conducted in the schools and administered to a total of 19,519 pupils in two different age cohorts. Analysis of the data will take place during the 2nd period of the project.

Next was the development of the methodological approach of the qualitative fieldwork consisting of individual interviews as well as focus group discussions. The initial case selection for the qualitative research is built primarily on pupils’ reported levels of school engagement and the support they express to experience in their social environment (from parents and peers). A total of 24 pupils will be interviewed per country during the 2nd period.

Potential Impact:
The project aims to provide insights into the mechanisms and processes that influence a pupil’s decision to leave school or training early as well as into the decision of school leavers to enrol in alternative learning arena’s unrelated to a regular school. These alternative locations of knowledge and skill transfer could provide us with creative or innovative methods of learning or training. In addition to this, will also focus on the pupils that left education or training early, and are identified as NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training), because these are the most vulnerable among European youngsters. Furthermore, the project aims to identify and analyze the intervention and compensation measures that did succeed in transferring knowledge and in keeping pupils in education or training, although they showed high (theoretical) risk of ESL. Where the available research data on ESL only explains isolated aspects of the evolution towards ESL, the project analyses ESL from a holistic perspective. By framing the complex and often subtle interplay of factors influencing ESL on a macro, meso and micro level; and by deconstructing these different configurations of influencing factors in the specific contexts where they occur, the project uncovers specific configurations of variables and contexts influencing the processes related to ESL. This allows the formulation of conceptual models useful for the development and implementation of policies and specific measures to influence ESL, making the project relevant not only to academics, but also to policy makers, school staff and representatives from the civil society.

Within the research project, we expect to:
• increase the knowledge on how Early School leaving effects overall EU policy making and how various European Member States with country-specific ESL-profiles engage this issue;
• formulate recommendations as to how to innovate and make coherent the fragmented nature of European educational systems through significant, broad and in-depth long-term research aiming at involving the commitment of all stakeholders at all levels and taking into account processes of resistance to change;
• encourage research which directly supports European national or regional policymaking by providing comparative data collection and interpretation methodologies and measurement tools.

The expected impact is situated on several levels
• To advance the state of the art in the academic field with the contribution of various disciplines and methodological perspectives;
• To enhance cooperation between researchers in the partner countries and regions, and in Europe in general;
• To help decision-makers in the scholarly community and policy makers on different levels design efficient education policies and innovate educational systems by developing comparative indicators for the issue of ESL;
• To allow the scholarly community to prepare for future steps towards engaging in a significant joint international research effort;
• To improve the contribution to formulation, development and implementation of policy at national or European level.

Studying traditional educational contexts such as schools provides data on the perceptions and interactions in a school context. The project takes this notion a step further and collects and analyses data in alternative learning arenas which will provide insights into what works for those students that left the traditional educational context as it did not connect with their personal aspirations. Moreover, studying early school leavers not participating in any formal educational institution reveals how these ‘drop outs’ engage with the challenges they are confronted with due to important economic and social transformations. These empirical data help to innovate educational systems from a user/student’s perspective. Last but not least, elaborating on these issues, this research project focuses on the implementation of European educational policy on the national and local level, and tries to identify and understand processes of resistance to change initiated by educational actors or policy makers at all levels.

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