The number of students having successfully finished their VET course has risen to almost 84%, concluded the Inspectorate of Education in its 2019 report on the State of Education in the Netherlands. What more can be done to reduce the share of drop-outs even further, now since more than a decade a great number of policy instruments has already been applied?
In search of innovative methods the Ministry of Education allowed VET schools to experiment with homemade interventions. Subsidies were granted to three VET-schools under the condition of participating in an evaluation of the effectiveness of the instrument of choice. One VET school improved the intake procedure for prospective students under the assumption that the risk of dropout will be reduced by a careful match between the student’s expectations and competences and a study program. Another VET school introduced stricter policies in the event of a student’s unauthorized absence, as absence often precedes early school leaving. And the third encouraged parental involvement in the education of their children through the use of e-coaching for parents.
However, none of the interventions resulted in significant effects in terms of a significant decline in drop out. According to the researchers of Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (2019), this is due to the fact that the percentage of early school-leaving has already fallen so much in previous years. The remaining group requires different types of interventions, while interventions tested by the schools did not significantly differ from the regular ones.
Both research outcomes confirm that it is not easy to identify effective instruments to reduce drop out in VET to almost zero. When asked, many dropouts relate the decision to quit to school-related factors: study programs were below expectations or were poorly organized. But more interesting in finding a successful approach for further reducing dropout in VET is to relate instruments to the risk profile of VET dropouts: students coming from various types of secondary special education or having left school prior to their enrolment in VET. Mainly because of the upward mobility trend in VET, students in this profile are now overrepresented in courses at VET levels 1 and 2. It is therefore not surprising the Inspectorate concluded that that students susceptible to failure can be found in courses at VET level 1 and 2 in particular (2019).
So, instead of improving the quality of education in general, or developing new tools, VET courses at both levels demand for new designs of learning.