Timely identification enables early interventions and better results.

It is important to detect students at risk of early leaving as soon as possible. There should also be mechanisms to identify young people who leave education and training in a timely manner to increase their chances of reengaging.

Based on comparative research in different European countries analysing the factors leading learners to early leaving from VET, we developed different profiles. These refer to those learners being at risk of dropping out, and those who have already dropped out and remained in the status of early leaving, meaning they have not qualified in upper secondary education. By understanding the characteristics and situation of each profile, you may better support these young people in need.

The information in this section is based on findings from the Cedefop study ‘Leaving education early: putting vocational education and training (VET) centre stage’, would you like to know more about the study? Go to About the toolkit >

Risk of early leaving

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Learners escaping the system

Silvia is in the last year of lower secondary education. Her grades have been average in recent years but now she is at risk of having to repeat the grade due to high absenteeism. She enjoys going to school to be with her friends but feels that classes are boring and that ‘school is not her thing’. The only subject she likes is science because they often perform experiments and this helps understand the concepts explained. Her parents would like her to continue studying but they did not finish school themselves and do not know how to help her.

Some learners are still at school but their minds are often elsewhere. They come to school because it is an opportunity to see their friends, or because they like some of the subjects or teachers. Their prior educational achievements can be average or below average, and they are often absent. They have low aspirations that can be linked to a lack of family support. Some may have health issues such as depression.

Learners confronting the system

Alex is still in education and training but is frequently absent from school. When he attends classes he often acts rebellious: he refuses to work and teases his classmates. His grades are going down and it is getting more and more difficult for him to keep up with his classmates. He finds lessons challenging, especially when there is a lot of reading to do.

Some students act rebellious and have conflictual relationships with teachers and sometimes also peers. Their educational achievement is below average and they are frequently absent from school. They may be facing complex personal, social and family circumstances, and may have health issues such as depression. They have a negative experience of school and often see themselves as ‘bad students’.

Learners disengaging due to difficulties adapting after transition

Ana finished lower secondary school a few months ago. She struggled to finish the programme and one of the teachers suggested that she might be better suited for a vocational programme in upper secondary, rather than the mainstream programme. As she is interested in artistic expression, she decided to enroll in a photography programme. She now realises that this programme requires a high level of technical knowledge and feels that she does not have the necessary skills to succeed. Her self-esteem is low and she is frequently absent from classes.

For some students, there is a mismatch between their expectations and the actual requirements of a programme. They struggle to follow the classes and often feel frustrated. They may not receive support from their parents, or might feel uncomfortable with their peers. 

Learners disengaging because they cannot find a placement

Ibrahim was a low performer at lower secondary education. With some support, he managed to pass the final exams but he does not want to continue studying. His family is pushing him to obtain a qualification so he can get a job. He has been sending applications for apprenticeships for three months now but all have been refused. He is losing all hope that he will find an apprenticeship and is considering looking for an unqualified job where he would at least get some remuneration.

Some learners struggle to find the VET placement of their choice. This can happen due to a lack of apprenticeship placements, placements in a particular VET programme, lack of information on how to find such opportunities, or a combination of mismatched expectations and lack of work readiness. These learners can also be the victims of discrimination when accessing apprenticeships.

Young people who left education and training because of caring, parenting or working obligations

Maria was an average student in lower secondary and started on a vocational track at the age of 16. However, during the first year she started missing classes and had difficulties focusing on her studies as she had started to work part-time during evenings and weekends to support her parents and siblings. Towards the end of the school year, she took up a full-time job and dropped out of school. During the next couple of years she worked various jobs, always with precarious contracts. She now realises that her lack of qualifications is a major obstacle to finding a stable job, but is unsure if and how she can resume her studies while still supporting her family.

Some young people leave education and training due to economic or family reasons. They may need an income to support their families, or need to stay home to take care of siblings, parents, or their own children.

Young people who left education and training and combine multiple disadvantage, possibly facing health and psycho-social issues

Marco left school some time ago. He had some problems at home, and was feeling depressed. He could not focus on school work and felt that no one helped him. He acted rebellious and started missing classes more and more often. When he went to school he felt that neither the teachers nor his classmates would welcome him. In the past two years, he has just wandered around the neighbourhood with a group of older friends and has become an occasional drug user. He does not want to hear about going back to school.

Some young people have gone through an accumulation of negative experiences in school and in their lives. Their achievement at school was low, and they may have had conflictual relationships with school staff and with peers. They have a low self-esteem and lack confidence in their capacity to learn. They face complex personal, social and/or family issues. They may have health issues, such as depression or drug abuse, or display antisocial behaviour.

Young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs)

Sam decided not to take the final exams as she found a precarious seasonal employment during summer in the tourism sector. Sam never qualified in upper secondary education since then and was employed in several precarious low skilled jobs. Today Sam is 27 years old, has been unemployed for more than three years and is unable to find any employment matching her skills. She is discouraged to go back to education and training.

Early leavers from education and training are at great risk of becoming NEETs. NEETs are a diverse group with complex needs, encompassing individuals with low education level and disadvantaged personal backgrounds. NEETs can be re-entrants, short-term or long-term unemployed; unavailable due to family responsibilities, illness or disability; or even discouraged and disengaged youth.

Find more about the NEETs profiles in the VET toolkit for empowering NEETs.