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Monitoring early leavers

Intervention approach

Problem statement

Addressed problem: Locating early leavers

Determining the whereabouts of early leavers, as swiftly as possible, increases the chances that they reengage.

Once learners drop out, the longer they stay outside education and training:

  • the more difficult it is to re-join former classmates, and the more likely it is that they will have to join groups of students younger than them, unless alternatives are in place;
  • the more likely the young person gets involved in activities other than education and training, such as unqualified employment; and
  • the higher the chances that the young person loses basic routines (e.g. following a daily schedule of activities) needed to reintegrate in a programme and succeed.

All these issues often act to demotivate young people to return to education and training. However, in some cases, in particular when the young person is employed, a period of drop-out can also help to mature and gain motivation to return to education and training.

Education and training providers have information on the students who drop out of their programmes, or leave the school or training centre before attaining a qualification. However, they usually do not have the necessary information to verify if the young person is an early leaver, has enrolled in a programme elsewhere, or is employed. A centralised monitoring system can help follow up early leavers with more accuracy.

Addressing the problem

Tips: How can a centralised monitoring system be set up?

The following tips are given as advice to policy makers at national or regional level aiming to introduce a centralised system to monitor early leavers. The information is based on Cedefop research into existing monitoring systems.

Tip 1: Define the purpose of data collection

The main purpose of a centralised monitoring system is to identify early leavers as to be able to provide them with timely and appropriate support. Such systems can serve additional purposes such as:

  • Monitor early leaving at local, regional or national level,
  • Assess the effectiveness of measures to tackle early leaving,
  • Increase knowledge on the education pathways of early leavers and the protective and risk factors linked to early leaving.

It is important to define the purpose/s of data collection before deciding what data to collect. For instance, for data to be used for research purposes it is important to collect information on individuals’ characteristics and education pathways. For data to be used to assess the effectiveness of measures to tackle early leaving it is important to collect information on the support measures provided to individuals.

Tip 2: Establish a centralised monitoring system that provides nominal information on early leavers

There are different types of such monitoring systems:

Option A: Cross-referencing enrolment data from different education and training providers

It is possible to detect early leavers by comparing enrolment data from the different education and training providers. The aim is to identify young people who are not enrolled in any education and training programme and have not attained a qualification. This requires the cross-referencing of administrative data from various education and training sub-systems (significantly, between school-based VET and apprenticeship schemes) and networks of providers. This cross-referencing can present significant technical challenges.

Option B: Student registers based on individuals’ personal identification

Each learner has a unique identification number. This makes it very easy to cross-reference administrative data from various education and training sub-systems and providers, and to identify who has left the education and training system. However, data protection regulations may pose some challenges to the implementation of such systems.

Option C: Centralised register of early leavers

Every education and training centre has to report all students who leave without finishing their studies to a central service that keeps a specific register on early leavers.

Tip 3: Regularly update and review centralised monitoring systems

Data in centralised monitoring systems needs to be regularly updated and reviewed to make sure that the time elapsed between drop-out and the moment young people are contacted is as short as possible.

Tip 4: Establish a process that determines which organisation (and within it which person) is responsible for reaching out to the individual

Monitoring systems need to be complemented by procedures ensuring that each person identified as an early leaver is contacted as soon as possible. There can be a centralised service in charge of contacting early leavers, or a coordination structure involving different stakeholders in this task.

The approach adopted when reaching out to early leavers needs to take into account the specific characteristics of each young person. In particular, early leavers facing significant barriers to education, including those with complex life situations, are more easily reached through community-based interventions. These young people often do not trust people who represent ‘the system,’ so people who are closer to their community may be better placed to help them re-engage. This can involve street work (for instance, a youth educator could visit the young person at his/her house or during outdoor activities with other young people).

Tip 5: Link the identification of early leavers with the necessary measures

The services or structures contacting early leavers are in charge of:

  • Verifying if the young person is indeed an early leaver (to exclude for instance those who changed residence to another country; employed youths could also be excluded);
  • Check if the young person is already receiving support;
  • Collect information on the characteristics of the young person and his or her needs to be able to offer tailored support;
  • Coordinate the different services and education and training providers to offer an adequate response to each young person.
Tip 6: Protect the confidentiality of personal data

An adequate follow-up of young people who left education and training early requires sharing data with other relevant services (e.g. public employment services, social services, health services, youth services, or other). For this to happen, certain conditions need to be in place:

  • Legislation needs to allow for the exchange and use of data for monitoring and contacting young people.
  • Protocols of collaboration need to be created to enable databases to be shared and used by various organisations.
  • VET providers and other relevant organisations need to ask young people for permission in registration forms, surveys and other data collection tools, to use the data, including by third parties, and to use personal codes/identifiers to link young people’s records in different systems. Before giving their consent, young people need to receive clear information on how data might be shared and used by other entities.

Political will is needed to enable data collection, exchange and use. Legislation may need to be changed and the creation of protocols requires political leadership to bring all actors on board. The development of protocols for data sharing can be a technically complex and lengthy process, and requires close collaboration between policy officers and technical staff from statistical and IT backgrounds.

Data should only be used by organisations providing support to young people, or by researchers and evaluators in charge of assessing if the support provided is beneficial. For data to be used with other research purposes, it needs to be anonymised. Specific ethical guidelines in using the data should be followed by all actors involved. In many countries, it is not possible to use or share data to monitor or contact young people. In these cases, the use of anonymised data for research on the factors related to early leaving, can enable the design of more targeted measures.

Tip 7: Collect information on individuals’ characteristics as well as their education pathways, with research purposes in mind

Information on individuals’ characteristics and their education pathways can greatly contribute to the analysis of the problem of early leaving in a country. A good comprehension of the phenomenon requires collecting data that allows to establish:

  • Who is leaving the system, based on information on the socio-demographic characteristics of the learners?
  • When are learners leaving the system?
  • Where are they dropping out from?
  • Why are they leaving the system?
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Migrant or ethnic minority background
  • Other (e.g. disability)
  • Early leavers who do not finish lower secondary education
  • Early leavers who finish lower secondary education but do not make the transition to upper secondary education
  • Drop outs from upper secondary (per year of the programme)
  • Early leavers who completed a short upper secondary programme (ISCED 3c)
  • Drop outs who complete an upper secondary programme but fail the final exam
  • General programme / VET
  • Type of programme (e.g. school-based VET / apprenticeships)
  • Field of study
  • Health and well-being issues or conditions
  • Family responsibilities
  • Non-availability of work-based learning opportunities or apprenticeship placements
  • Disliked programme, VET provider, staff, or peers
  • Found a job
  • Financial problems in the family
  • Etc.
Tip 8: Use monitoring data to assess the effectiveness of measures to tackle early leaving from education and training

The monitoring of early leavers helps collect useful data for the evaluation of measures. For instance, to analyse whether participants in different support measures have ultimately completed upper secondary education.

Expected outcomes

The availability of monitoring systems to track early leavers, and services in charge of contacting them, facilitate information sharing, cooperation between the relevant stakeholders, and a better coordination of re-engagement measures for early leavers. It can also contribute to:

  • Comprehensive centralised monitoring system in place;
  • Reference system in place to link the identified early leavers to the necessary measures;
  • Use of data for evidence-based policy making;
  • Increasing early leavers’ interest in education and training providers;
  • A better understanding of the process of disengagement and the factors that lead to early leaving among practitioners; and
  • A better acceptance of irregular education and training pathways and of the diversified solutions available for learners.

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