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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)

Last update: 31 December 2023

National strategy

In January 2009, Pact2020 was signed. This pact aims, among others, at decreasing the number of early leavers in the Flemish Community of Belgium to the regional 2020 target. In order to attain this objective, a comprehensive strategy has been developed in the Flemish Action Plan on Early School Leaving (Actieplan Samen tegen Schooluitval). On 23 June 2015, the Flemish government approved this integrated plan for action to combat problematic truancy and early school leaving. Since then, no major updates haven been done. 

This action plan included 52 actions, including:

  • Actions that map the issues (monitoring and identification)
  • Coordinating actions (cooperation across the different policy areas (horizontal cooperation) and between the federal, regional, local and school level (vertical cooperation)
  • Preventive actions (that focus on e.g. care, study and career choice, well-being, flexible learning paths)
  • Actions for intervention as soon as a student threatens to abandon student education
  • Compensatory actions for young people who fail to qualify

The action plan focuses strongly on preventive actions. Some important elements are:

  • Supporting the development of flexible learning pathways in secondary education (good practice, support to schools)
  • Opening further transitional pathways (for students from special education and from the alternate training system)
  • Prioritising early leaving in-service training for school heads and staff; 
  • Collecting and spreading good practice on coaching
  • Making data collection available at school level and enhancing school capacity to analyse them and draft their early leaving school policy. During the screening process, the inspectorate will examine the effectiveness of the actions implemented to prevent early leaving
  • Developing a local basic agreement to fight against early leaving between various actors (schools, Pupil Guidance CentresEmployment Services and Vocational Training Agency, companies, etc.)
  • Strengthening the relation to the work component (in the alternate training system, in vocational secondary education with compulsory internships, etc.)
  • Further developing and facilitating qualifying profession-oriented pathways for adults

Flemish policy is translated into the specific local context. This will involve all relevant local partners concerned with wellbeing, youth assistance, work, police or justice. Since September 2016 there are 6 networks working Together against School Dropout in Flanders, one for each province and one for the Brussels-Capital Region. To support these networks and all local partners, the Department of Education and Training developed a script (Draaiboek) and a viewing guide (Kijkwijzer). The local partners can work on developing a local policy against school dropout: guaranteeing the right to education, combating truancy and early school leaving. The Flemish truant-officer monitors, supervises and evaluates the implementation of the action plan. This person reports annually on the progress of the implementation of the plan.

At this moment, no follow-up plan of the Action Plan on Early School Leaving has been developed. Early school leaving is monitored and data are made available on an annual basis via Dataloep. However, whereas in the past these data were used to write reports on Early School Leaving in Flanders, the last report was published in 2019. The VLOR, organized in 2022 an inspiration day to exchange ideas about collaborations that aim to prevent early school leaving.


Formal education: main policy measures on ELET

Monitoring and identification early school leaving

Early school leaving is in Flanders, as in many other countries and regions, high on the policy agenda. Till 2019 an annual report ‘Early School leaving school in Flemish secondary education’ (Vroegtijdig schoolverlaten in het Vlaams secundair onderwijs) on early school leaving was published by the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training. This report was based on administrative data. These reports cover the most recent consecutive school years for which figures are available. The last report covers the school years 2011/2012 to 2016/2017. These reports report:

  • The global Flemish figures
  • Detailed figures of early school leaving according to student characteristics, such as sex, age, nationality, education and social-economic home situation
  • Some key figures per province, for Flemish city centres and for Flemish education in the Brussels-Capital Region

Since the school year 2014/2015, the Department of Education and Training also calculates the following statistics of early school leavers:

  • Objectives for Flanders at Unqualified school-leavers (choose indicator ‘unqualified school-leavers)
  • Statistics on Flemish level
  • School specific statistics on My Education (Mijn Onderwijs; only accessible for schools)

European comparative information can be found in the Eurydice and Cedefop Report ‘Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe’.


Attention points in Flemish policy against school dropout

In order to avoid early school leaving, the Department of Education and Training focuses on two mechanisms: repulsion and attraction. Problems often pile up before deciding to stop school and these two mechanisms play an important role in the decision to stop. 

Elements that can cause repulsion can be attributed to the education system (e.g. school fatigue, learning disabilities, incorrect study choice, truancy, …) or to external features (e.g. problematic home and family situation, mental health problems, …). The Flemish policy regarding the prevention of ELET (in Dutch), focuses on both. And on the other side, there is the attraction of the labour market, especially when youth unemployment is low. 

Compared to other European countries, the number of early school leavers in Flanders is still relatively low. Two characteristics of the Flemish school system contribute to this:

  • Compulsory education up to 18 years
  • A highly developed vocational education

On the other hand, the Flemish education system also provides a nutritional basis for ELET:

  • Letting a student repeat his or her year is too often considered the best solution to remedy students with learning difficulties.
  • Schools stick too closely to a year-class system, which sometimes inhibits them to make learning paths more flexible.

Prevention actions are based on these insights and foci. Some examples are: 

Actions against absenteeism and truancy

Since 2013/2014, absenteeism is registered on a daily basis (via Discimus) for all students in primary and secondary education based on a unique identification record for each student registered in a Flemish school so that their progression can be tracked. The Educational Agency (AGODI) checks whether the regulations regarding compulsory education and attendance are respected.

The Flemish government also has developed a number of guidelines to tackle truancy.

Differentiation through flexible learning pathways

Flexible learning paths provide flexibility in what, how, when, where and with whom students learn within the common curriculum. The goal is to provide as many students as possible with a chance to qualify.

Three forms of differentiation are distinguished.

  1. Internal differentiation: The teacher differentiates between students of the same age within a particular grade. Examples are: flexible learning contents, individual learning lines with emphasis on independent work.
  2. Structural forms of external differentiation: Structural forms of external differentiation are flexible learning paths that transcend the year-class system. The school takes into account differences between pupils by grouping them differently. Examples are: multi-age classes, class or grade-crossing level groups, modularization, flexible timetables, structurally built-in hours for remediation, broadening and deepening, co-teaching, …
  3. Practices for specific target groups: With practice for specific audiences, teachers and schools differ only for certain groups of students. Examples are: specific actions for specific target groups; extra remediation, deepening or widening, flexibility in study time,…

The Department of Education and training has bundled some examples on flexible learning pathways (in Dutch).

Educational career and learning guidance 

The Department of Education and Training also developed the website Onderwijskiezer. On this website students (and their parents) can find detailed information on disciplines and schools. In addition, the website offers some tests (e.g., the Columbus test which focusses on the transition from secondary to tertiary education) to help young people in their search for a thoughtful study choice that best fits their interests, competences and motivation. The tests measure the interest, study attitude and study method.

Young people who have not (yet) obtained their diploma of secondary education can find all possible learning paths on a specific page developed for people without diploma (Geen diploma SO...Wat nu?).

Addressing ELET through non-formal and informal learning and quality youth work

NAFT projects

NAFT-projects (Seamless Flexible Trajectories, Naadloze Flexibele Trajecten) are geared towards young people who, due to pedagogical, legal, social or personal reasons, are at risk of leaving education. NAFT projects have a dual objective: the positive guidance of vulnerable young people and the support of the educational institutions. More specifically, young people who require temporary intensive guidance are offered a positive and tailor-made trajectory so that they can reconnect to a school trajectory. Regarding educational institutions and school staff, NAFT projects reinforce school and care policy in the light of dealing with vulnerable young people. During a NAFT both the pupil and the school get a rest period. A NAFT can be used preventatively or curatively. A number of these NAFT programs are offered by recognized youth work (e.g. LEJO, Arktos, Groep Intro, ..).

School external organizations that offer NAFT can apply for grants to the Education and Training Department. At the moment (2023) 19 organizations (32 locations) are subsidized. Each NAFT provider is a school-external organization that offers NAFT to all Flemish, recognized or subsidized schools for regular or special needs full-time secondary education, part-time secondary education, recognized training or apprenticeship in the region for which they have signed up.

Dedicated mediators

In 2018, the Flemish Employment Agency (Vlaamse Dienst voor Arbeidsbemiddeling, VDAB) and the youth expertise centre De Ambrassade started a project in which 'dedicated mediators' (Dedicated bemiddelaars), support NEET young people in their search for work. The mediators use methods derived from youth work, where they come out, approach young people in an approachable way and come up with out-of-the box solutions. In the learning network 'youth guarantee' of VDAB, in which De Ambrassade also has a seat, the cooperation between youth work and VDAB is strengthened at strategic level.

Cross-sector coordination and monitoring of ELET interventions

The action plan on early school leaving (Actieplan Samen tegen Schooluitval) was a joint initiative of the Minister of Education, the Minister of Welfare, Public Health and Family and the Minister of Work, Economy, Innovation and Sport during the legislative term 2014-2019. It required cooperation between the Departments of Education and Training; Work and Social Economy; and Welfare, Public Health and Family. 

A thematic working group was established for the development of the action plan on early school leaving in which many stakeholders were involved. Moreover, a cross-sectoral steering group meets at least once a year to implement the action plan. Both groups are also involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the actions.

The Flemish policy on early school leaving is also translated into the specific local context by multi-agency partnerships at local/institutional level. They involve professionals such as school heads, teachers, guidance specialists, psychologists and social workers. With the rollout on 1 September 2016 of the action plan, 1 FTE was recruited per province and for the Brussels-Capital Region. These network coordinators mobilize the various local actors from education, well-being and work in an existing or new network. More information on these local networks can be found here (in Dutch).