The latest data from the national labour force survey show that the early school leaving (ESL) rate fell below the psychological barrier of 20% (at 19.97%) for the first time since records began. It is still far from the European average of 11.1%, and a 15% target set by the EU for 2020, but the acting Education Minister Iñigo Mendez de Vigo sees this trend as moving in the right direction.

Since 2008, when nearly a third of young people aged 18 to 24 years had not completed upper secondary education and was out of education, the situation has slowly improved.

All Spanish regions have made great efforts to reduce ESL. Some of them, such as the Basque Country, Cantabria and Navarra, are below the European average; even the highest, like Ceuta, Melilla, have managed to reduce the ESL rate from 35.3% in 2012 to 25.2% in 2015.

ESL is significantly lower among women (18.1% in 2014, and 15.8% in 2015) than men (25.6% in 2014, and 24% in 2015).

This reduction is not attributed to one single reason but to a combination of socioeconomic circumstances, measures set up for the prevention of ESL in recent years, including those introduced in the last education act (known nationally as LOMCE), and raised awareness of society in general.

Many young people, especially males, left education during the preceding economic expansion, with its great employment opportunities. Nowadays, with 46.0% youth unemployment (Eurostat, February 2016), they have fewer incentives to leave school.

Measures taken to prevent ESL and updating of vocational education and training (VET) curricula for better match between the needs of industry and of society in general, have resulted in more VET learners. Increasingly, young people see it as a convenient first learning choice to enter the labour market, enabling them to continue their development later in life.

Early school leavers, both the unemployed wanting to increase their employment chances and workers looking for progression in their professional career, are returning to VET schools: in the school year 2013/14, 21.7% of a first-year learners in intermediate and 30% in higher VET were older than 24.

Government policies focus on lifelong learning as a core element for the development of a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. There are many challenges to be tackled, but getting more young people in education and training, instead of leaving prematurely, is very good news.

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