European conference

On 1 and 2 March, DG Education and Culture of the European Commission organised the conference on Reducing Early School Leaving. The conference’s main objective was to initiate European and cross-sectoral cooperation and to support Member States in developing comprehensive policies to tackle early school leaving (ESL). The conference comes after a Council Recommendation on policies to reduce ESL, adopted in June 2011. Almost 300 representatives from European, national and local governments, trade unions, universities and other educational institutions and youth organisations took part at this event.

The conference was opened by Jan Truszczyński, Director-General for Education and Culture at the European Commission, and Christine Antorini, Danish Minister for Children and Education, who referred to the multidimensional causes of early school leaving, such as poor education attainment, parents with low levels of education, poverty, social problems, illness and family issues (all problems reflected in ESN’s position paper).

In the plenary session, Professor Mariano Fernandez Enguita from the University of Salamanca (Spain) addressed early school leaving in the context of social exclusion: “Today, if you fail, it is a ticket for exclusion”, said Dr Enguita. Royston Maldoom, a British choreographer working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, stressed how low confidence and self-esteem can hold a young person back.

Four workshops were arranged on the four dimensions deemed key to addressing ESL:

  • the development of evidence-based approaches;
  • the establishment of cross-sectoral cooperation;
  • vocational education and training (VET) and its role in bridging the education-labour market gap;
  • different learning methods.

The importance of holistic and child-centred approaches to education was highlighted together with the need to further develop co-operation across policy sectors such as education, youth, employment, health and social services. ESN had also stressed this angle in its position paper last year. Recommendations made by participants in each workshop will be taken into account by the thematic working group in further developing the Commission's strategy to combat ESL, which will focus on prevention, intervention and compensation.

Early school leaving is a problem that touches not just young people who leave the education system prematurely, but society as a whole, and as such reducing ESL rates to 10% is one of the EU 2020 targets. ESN will look at holistic approaches to reduce ESL in its next seminar on vulnerable youth in May.