6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)
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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. It went into action and is still ongoing. 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. The Department of Education and Training is responsible for overseeing this action plan but collaborates with many different actors for the execution of the action plan (see below).
This action plan included 52 actions, including:
- Actions regarding monitoring, identification and coordination.
- Monitoring and identification
- Yearly updates of the figures on ELET and truancy at the level of Flanders, cities & towns and schools; identifying ELET students; linking databases between education and work; introducing simplified and stricter reporting of truancy.
- In collaboration with: Agency for Educational Services (AGODI), Labour force survey (EAK), Flemish Employment Agency (VDAB)…
- Monitoring and identification
- Coordinating actions
- Cooperation across the different policy areas (horizontal cooperation) and cooperation between the federal, regional, local and school level (vertical cooperation)
- In collaboration with: Agency for Educational Services (AGODI), Youth Welfare Agency (Agentschap Jongerenwelzijn), Flemish Employment Agency (VDAB), Agency for Integration and Inclusion (Agentschap integratie en inburgering)…
- Preventive actions
- Care and language policy at school; study and vocational guidance; attention to wellbeing; creating a link with parents, supporting the development of flexible learning pathways; awarding qualifications; strengthening the relation to the work component…
- In collaboration with: Agency for Educational Services (AGODI), Youth Welfare Agency (Agentschap Jongerenwelzijn), Flemish Employment Agency (VDAB), Agency for Integration and Inclusion (Agentschap integratie en inburgering), Federal Public Service Justice (federale overheidsdienst justitie), schools, parents’ umbrella organisations…
- Actions for intervention as soon as a student threatens to abandon student education
- Actions on the level of the school, the Pupil Guidance Centres (CLB) and the educational guidance services; reform of time-out projects; responsibilising of parents
- In collaboration with: Pupil Guidance Centres (CLB), Youth Welfare Agency (Agentschap Jongerenwelzijn), Police
- Compensatory actions for young people who fail to qualify
- Reflection tool; stimulating Educational Qualifications Training Pathways; appointing a Flemish truancy officer
- The Flemish Qualification Structure (VKS), Flemish Employment Agency (VDAB)
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.
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.
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. In a yearly report ‘Early School leaving school in Flemish secondary education’ (Vroegtijdig schoolverlaten in het Vlaams secundair onderwijs), the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training reports on early school leaving based on administrative data. These reports cover the most recent consecutive school years for which figures are available. The most recent 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 steunpuntwerk.be: Unqualified school-leavers (choose indicator ‘unqualified school-leavers)
- Statistics on Flemish level
- Statistics on city- and municipal level
- School specific statistics on My Education (Mijn Onderwijs)
In 2020 the interactive tool ‘Dataloop ELET’ was developed. Via this data application, you will find detailed figures on early school leaving for Flanders and for all municipalities. The application allows you to request figures with breakdowns by gender, age, nationality, socio-economic pupil characteristics, type of education, study area and educational career.
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. On the other side, there is the attraction of the labour market, especially when youth unemployment is low (Van Landeghem, De Fraine, Gielen & Van Damme, 2013).
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.
- 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
- 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, …
- 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 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 (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.
School external organizations that offer NAFT can apply for grants to the Education and Training Department. An overview of all organizations that are subsidized can be found here (in Dutch). At the moment 20 organizations 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.
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 to address ELET and to develop 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.
Since September 2016, there is a network Together against School Dropout in each province and in the Brussels Capital Region, under the guidance of a network coordinator. These network coordinators mobilize the different local actors from education, welfare and employment to address ELET. As such, the Flemish policy on early school leaving is translated into the specific local context. They involve professionals such as school heads, teachers, guidance specialists, psychologists and social workers. More information on these local networks can be found here (in Dutch).