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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)

Last update: 28 November 2023
On this page
  1. National strategy
  2. Formal education: main policy measures on ELET
  3. Addressing ELET through non-formal and informal learning and quality youth work
  4. Cross-sector coordination and monitoring of ELET interventions

National strategy

Besides the Eurostat definition of early leavers, two national definitions are used in Finland: a) not having an upper secondary school leaving certificate; b) all newly graduated under 30 years of age, out of work and not studying (NEET), and young people with only basic education (definition used for the Youth Guarantee).  

The National strategy to prevent early leaving from education and training includes various measures,  such as the raising of minimum school leaving age to 18 years, the cost-free secondary studies for the students, the mandatory responsibility of municipalities to assign an education or training place to the compulsory student, and the Youth Guarantee stated in the Government Programme to ensure that all young people aged under 25 years of age and all graduates under 30 years of age have a job or work trial, traineeship, workshop, apprenticeship or rehabilitation placement. 

The key objective of Finnish Government is that all students gain an upper secondary qualification after completing their comprehensive school education. As one solution to meet this objective, the Finnish Government recently reformed The Act of Compulsory Education and raised the minimum school leaving age to 18 years. This means that the compulsory education in Finland will end when a young person reaches the age of 18 or has completed an upper secondary qualification; general upper secondary education and matriculation examination or vocational qualification. The extension in compulsory education became effective in 2021, and it has been one of the largest reforms in the Finnish educational system (for more information, see Youth Wiki/Finland 6.1 Education and Training: General Context).  

Since Spring 2021, all compulsory education students have an obligation to apply for and continue in secondary education, while the education organiser has an obligation to supervise the application process and provide necessary support. It is the responsibility of the education organiser to monitor the students' absences, to contact the guardian of the student if necessary, and to offer support if the student is considering interrupting their studies. If, in accordance with the Basic Education Act or the Compulsory Education Act, the responsibility for the guidance or supervision of a compulsory student has not been set for the organiser of basic education or training, the municipality of residence always has the last responsibility for them. This means also that, as a last option, the municipality of residence is responsible for assigning an education or training place to the compulsory student.  

The Youth Guarantee secures young people’s access to education and employment. As stated in the Government Programme, all young people aged under 25 years of age and all graduates under 30 years of age will be guaranteed a job or work trial, traineeship, workshop, apprenticeship or rehabilitation placement no later than three months into the period of unemployment. For young people under 25 years, it is also obligatory to apply for vocational or tertiary education as a condition for unemployment benefits without such qualifications. Public employment services (PES) require one to apply for at least two education places leading to a degree during one academic year. If a young  person does not apply for vocational or tertiary education, or does not receive a place to study despite applying, this affects the amount of unemployment benefit received.  

According to the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme 2020–2023 (VANUPO), the aim to prevent early leaving from education and training intertwines with other objectives to reduce social exclusion among young people. The proportion of people between the ages of 20 and 29 who have not completed a secondary qualification has not decreased notably in the 2000s; in 2017, their share was 16,4 %. As discussed in VANUPO, dropping out of education and training may be a reason for social exclusion, or a consequence of the development that leads to social exclusion.  Various mental health problems among young people have been identified as significant risk factors for social exclusion and long-term unemployment. Therefore, the national strategy to prevent early leaving from education and training is presented here through measures to reduce social exclusion;  

The key measures to reduce social exclusion in VANUPO are:  

  • to strengthen multi-professional cooperation and especially youth work in general education and vocational education and training  
  • to support young people’s mental health  
  • to identify and take young people’s needs, services and benefits into consideration in the overhaul of social security (for more information, see Youth Wiki/Finland 4.2 Social Inclusion: Administration and Governance
  • ensuring that young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET) also have  access to the psychosocial and everyday support services they need close to their living and operating environment, for example by developing multi-professional one-stop guidance centres (Ohjaamo-centres)  

The measures will contribute to supporting the Government Programme’s objectives of strengthening the services provided by educational institutions and student welfare services so that young people receive the support they need; to fostering educational institutions’ cooperation with local authorities and third sector actors; and to strengthen low threshold support services for children, young people and families.  

The Ministry of Education and Culture will develop measures for reinforcing multi-professional cooperation in general education and vocational education and training. These measures will be implemented in connection with the Government Programme’s action plans on quality and equality.

Formal education: main policy measures on ELET

According to the National Youth Work and Youth Policy Programme 2020–2023 (VANUPO), specific measures to tackle early leaving in formal education include:  

  • Actions to increase mental health awareness and skills in schools (by building knowledge of good practices, investing in training related to work methods that improve mental health skills, and by influencing the school culture in general education)
  • Ensuring adequate resources for mental health work in pupil and student welfare and in school and student healthcare as well as coordinated cooperation between professional groups
  • Ensuring that young people whose functional capacity is diminished because of an illness have opportunities for participating in education and training as far as their resources will admit
  • Stronger cooperation between schools and youth work (with an aim to improve students’ well-being and coping in everyday life as well as support their progress in their studies)  

From August 2021, compulsory education in Finland will end when a young person reaches the age of 18 or has completed an upper secondary qualification; general upper secondary education and matriculation examination or vocational qualification. According to the National Agency of Education, the aim of expanding compulsory education is to promote the passing of studies and prevent interruptions.  

Yet the long-term effects of the reform are not visible, the share of young people who are excluded from upper secondary education has dropped to a quarter of the previous year's level. According to the monitoring data of the National Agency for Education, 99 % of those young people who finished comprehensive school in the spring of 2021 had a study place at the end of September 2021, leaving only 600 young people without a place of study. According to Roope Uusitalo, a professor of public administration in VATT Institute for Economic Research, although the reform does not make an upper secondary degree compulsory like primary school, continuing education until the age of 18 increases the probability of completing an upper secondary degree and thereby promotes employment opportunities in the future. (Read more in Finnish: Suomen Kuvalehti 28.7.2022)  

Statistic Finland produces annual statistics on the number of young people studying at different educational levels as well as the number of students who discontinue their studies. Discontinuation of education in Finland is highest in initial vocational education, where the discontinuation percentage was 13.3 during the academic year 2019/2020. Discontinuation also increased by 3.9 percentage points from the previous year, partly due to the corona pandemic that started in late winter 2020. In addition to initial vocational education, discontinuation of studies also increased in general upper secondary education aimed at young people in the academic year 2019/2020, but only by 0.6 percentage points, or clearly less than in vocational education. Men discontinued their education leading to a qualification or degree more often than women. Altogether 8.0 % of men and 5.8 % of women discontinued education completely in the academic year 2019/2020. Women changed their sector of education slightly more than men did.  

Instructions for upper secondary education and vocational education by the National Agency of Education (in Finnish) specify that it is the responsibility of the educational organiser to plan and implement the support measures the student needs, so that the student completes their studies as planned. They also have a responsibility to contact the student's guardian or legal representative if the studies are not progressing as agreed. If the student aims to interrupt their studies, the educational organiser has an obligation to evaluate and plan together with the student the needed support measures. A person who has completed the curriculum of upper secondary education or a basic vocational qualification in Finland but has not received a postgraduate study place in higher education leading to a degree, has the right to receive guidance related to applying for studies and career plans from the educational organiser during the following year of completion of the secondary studies.  

“ZOOMI – promoting smooth transitions in vocational studies” -project (in Finnish) in 2019–2022 was a national ESF coordination project of the Ministry of Education and Culture, and it was implemented by The National Agency for Education together with SAKU ry (the cultural and sports association of Finnish vocational education and training). The project developed service and operating models that certify and facilitate the students’ educational paths at the joint stage of basic education and secondary education, transitions during vocational training, and after the graduation phase to working life or further studies. According to the final report, the main reasons for students’ early leaving from education or training included challenges with coping and life management, substance abuse, mental health problems, choosing the wrong field of studies, and learning difficulties. 

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

Based on the Youth Act; outreach youth work, youth workshop activities and youth work in general mean the efforts to support the growth, independence and social inclusion of young people in society. The purpose of the Act is to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and adoption of skills necessary for it, especially during the free-time.

The mission of outreach youth work is to reach young people in need of assistance and provide access to services and other support designed to promote their growth, independence, social inclusion and life management skills as well as to improve access to education and facilitate entry into the labour market. Youth workshops are part of the Youth Guarantee, under which every pupil who has completed basic education is guaranteed a place in an educational institution, apprenticeship training, workshop, rehabilitation or similar. The purpose of outreach youth work is to help young people who need support in accessing the services they need. These activities are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture. According to Into – Association for Outreach Youth Work and Workshop Activities, more than 20 000 young people were reached through outreach youth work in 2020. Read more: Into ry: What is outreach youth work?  

Children of the Station is a politically and religiously unaffiliated national organisation established in 1990, and its core mission is to support the safe growth of children and youth, enable the well-being of them and their families and inhibit social exclusion. They have different concepts and action models targeted at young people, who need adults to react promptly to any changes taking place in their lives, such as substance abuse and violent or criminal behaviour:  

  • The Walkers concept provides youth with safe environments where volunteer adults work in conjunction with professionals. In addition to fixed spaces such as youth cafes, a Walkers bus operates in the metropolitan area of Helsinki and five Walkers camper vans operate in varying areas elsewhere across the nation.  
  • The Friends program aims to enhance personal well-being by strengthening emotional- and interaction skills and by promoting daily survival skills. The program is a beneficial tool in day-care centres, schools and youth work, as well as for group work and individual work in the healthcare sector, and it is divided into age groups: Fun Friends (4–8 years), Friends for Kids (9–12 years), Friends for Youth (13–16 years) and Friends for Adults (for persons above the age of 16 and the parents of kids and youth).  
  • Programs such as Street mediation, the B-Stop anti-bullying project as well as Project Pasila and Project Ripa, focusing on the prevention of escalating spirals of crime, all seek to resolve situations and tensions among underaged youth that have accumulated over time. These are operated in cooperation with the police, mediation services and schools.  
  • The safe leisure time of youth in public spaces is supported by discovery method youth work, which comprises street level encounters and cross-sectoral cooperation. Affirmative encounters with youth provide them with safe support in their recreational endeavours. Their activities are monitored and assessed on a case-by-case basis. The objective is to promote means of recreation which do not cause concern or disturb the general public.  
  • Project Nexus, established in 2021, aspires to make guidance and support services more accessible to youth in danger of social exclusion.  

See also:  

Youth workshops support young people aged under 29 in tackling issues related to education and training, working life and life management. The purpose is to improve young people’s capabilities to access and complete education and training, enter the open labour market or access some other service needed. Young people can contact a workshop directly or, for example, through the Employment Service Office, social welfare office or Ohjaamo advisory service point in their municipality. The workshop activities are based on learning by doing through coaching and practical work. The workshops are work-oriented and communal learning environments, and the activities are organised by municipalities, associations and foundations among other things. They are available in over 90% of all municipalities in Continental Finland. The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for developing the workshop activities and assists them with grants handled by the Regional State Administrative Agencies.  

Helsinki YMCA has Ninu-model, which offers support to young people at the transitional phase from the 9th grade of comprehensive school to upper secondary studies. The idea of the model is to give personal support throughout the year and help young people concretely to apply to the secondary studies with an own mentor worker. The Ninu activity organises small group activities in cooperation with the staff of the school and enables young people to think about issues related to their own future. Employees can also support the youth in the context of leisure and find meaningful things to do.  

Cross-sector coordination and monitoring of ELET interventions

In Finland the co-operation mechanisms on early leaving is recently being developed within the framework of the Youth Guarantee (see also Youth Wiki/Finland 3.1 General context). It involves the following ministries: Economic Affairs and Employment; Education and Culture and Social Affairs and Health. Other national authorities and ones from the local level (meaning municipalities, see Glossary) monitor are also taking part in its implementation and evaluating the development needs of the services. Based on the Youth Act cross-sectoral co-operation at the local level is coordinated by a body established for the general planning and implementation of co-operation amongst local authorities. It includes representatives from education, social, health and youth services, and can also include labour and police administrations. Labour market partners and employers may also contribute, especially regarding cooperation organised in relation to the Youth Guarantee scheme.

At the level of schools and educational institutions there is also an own co-operation structure. Based on the Act on Pupil and Student Welfare (Oppilas- ja opiskelijahuoltolaki), the multi-agency partnerships at the local/institutional level involve school principals, teachers, guidance specialists, psychologists, social workers and youth workers. As described in the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2014, the education provider ensures that a school welfare plan is prepared to guide the implementation, evaluation and development of pupil welfare.

The Social Insurance Institution of Finland offers a possibility for young people aged 16–29 years, who study, work or are temporarily outside the labour market, to attend Oma Väylä (“My Way”) rehabilitation. Young people can apply for rehabilitation if they have been diagnosed with either 1) an autism spectrum disorder without accompanying intellectual impairment (Asperger syndrome), or 2) an ADHD or ADD. Young attendees must also have a recognised need of assistance with studies, participation in working life, improving their social skills or enhancing their life management skills. Over a period of a year, the rehabilitation consists of 27 individual sessions, 10 group sessions and 1–2 group sessions for the family members or other persons close to the young people. The aim of the Oma Väylä rehabilitation is to improve the ability of young attendees to study and enhance their working life skills, to provide guidance and practice in how to manage their daily life and to help them improve their social skills.  

Regional State Administrative Agencies are actively involved in promoting outreach youth work across the country. They provide advice and training and keep statistics on outreach youth work in Finland. Regional State Administrative Agencies can grant state aid to subsidise the wages of outreach youth workers. Each region in Finland has its own outreach youth work coordinator who manages the region’s outreach youth work organisation. Regional coordinators are responsible for setting up partnership networks to promote outreach youth work in their respective areas. They also work closely with Regional State Administrative Agencies and the national coordinator. Regional youth workshop coordinators are responsible for training youth workshop staff, for improving the standard of workshops and for promoting the concept in their respective regions. Regional coordinators are also in charge of setting up regional partnership networks and for organising meetings and events. Regional coordinators work in close cooperation with Regional State Administrative Agencies’ youth work teams.  

Time Out program provides support and assistance for men of conscription age and for women who wish to volunteer for military service. It can support young people before and during their call-ups, and during or at the end of their military service. The Time Out scheme works in collaboration with several parties: the Defence Forces, the non-military service, social workers, the health service, providers of housing, subsistence, student and employment services, and the services provided by the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) and the State Treasury. The activities, which cover the whole country, are carried out by municipalities or by organisations that have signed agreements with the municipalities. National coordination is the responsibility of the Division for Youth Work and Youth Policy at the Ministry of Education and Culture. Time Out activities are subject to several legal provisions, such as those laid down on outreach youth work in the Youth Act (see sections 10 to 12 of the Youth Act 1285/2019) and the provisions on cooperation with other sectors.