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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.3 Preventing early leaving from education and training (ELET)

Last update: 25 January 2021
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

The Scottish Government is ultimately responsible for increasing the proportion of young people in learning, training or work under the National Performance Framework (see ‘Main trends in young people’s participation in education and training’).

There are a number of strategies and policies which aim to get young people aged 16+ to engage in education, training or the labour market. However the term early leaving from education and training (ELET) is not specifically used in the Scottish context.

The Scottish Government’s framework plan for tackling early leaving from education and training, first issued in 2012, is Opportunities for All. Opportunities for All (OfA) brings together a range of existing national and local policies and strategies as a single focus to improve young people’s participation in post 16 learning or training, and ultimately employment. Youth employment and the current youth employment strategy, covering the period 2014-2021 is dealt with in the ‘Employment and Entrepreneurship’ chapter.

Opportunities for All contains a commitment to offer a place in learning or training to all 16-19 year olds not already engaged in education, employment or training. The commitment extends to participants' twentieth birthdays or beyond for those requiring additional support. All young people are given access to a range of opportunities, including staying on at school, national training programmes (such as Foundation Apprenticeships or Modern Apprenticeships – see ‘Official guidelines on traineeships and apprenticeships’ in the article on ‘Traineeships and Apprenticeships'), university and college courses, Activity Agreements (see the section ‘Addressing ELET through non-formal and informal learning and quality youth work’) and other opportunities through third sector organisations.

Apart from the Scottish Government, there are many partners essential to implementing strategies in support of this. OfA and related guidance documents mention Education Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, schools, colleges, universities, Community Learning and Development providers, local authority multi-agency partnerships and the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions, among others.

The role of schools is key. A refreshed guidance on Curriculum for Excellence was published in 2019. Its four fundamental capacities recognise the need for all children and young people to know themselves as individuals and to develop their relationships with others, in families and in communities, recognise the knowledge, skills and attributes that children and young people need to acquire to thrive in our interconnected, digital and rapidly changing world, and enable children and young people to be democratic citizens and active shapers of that world. OfA states that at the point of transition from school to post-school, local authorities and schools are responsible for ensuring that young people at risk of disengaging from further learning or training are identified and that their support needs are assessed and addressed.

Throughout OfA, the requirements of young people with additional support needs (ASN), the general term in Scotland for special education needs, are emphasised.The critical elements of this transition from compulsory education are:

  • the right learning or training, based on personalisation, choice and progression
  • the right support, including timely personal support and career information, advice and guidance
  • the right financial support to help young people to participate in the option which is right for them.

There is no specific time frame covered by Opportunities for All.  There are guidances for implementation planning in Post-16 Transitions Policy and Practice Framework and the accompanying Data Practice Framework .

The effectiveness of the OfA strategy is measured through the school leaver destinations survey (now the ‘participation measure’ – see ‘Main Trends in Young People’s Participation in Education and Training’).


Formal education: main policy measures on ELET

Financial support mechanisms

The £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund is a targeted initiative focused on supporting pupils in the local authorities of Scotland with the highest concentrations of deprivation. It’s largely focused on the areas of Glasgow, Dundee, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. Part of this fund is the Pupil Equity funding which is invested in the current parliamentary term up to 2021. Its focus is on targeting poverty related attainment gaps. This includes funding for free school meals. 


The Education Maintenance Allowance is a weekly, term-time payment from the Scottish Government, awarded to students aged 16-19 from low income households in order to support them to continue in education.

The Further Education Discretionary Fund (FEDF) is primarily for emergency use and instances of financial hardship. The fund, which is managed by The Scottish Funding Council, is intended to:

  • provide financial help to students whose access to, or continuation in, further education may be inhibited by financial considerations
  • provide help where students, for whatever reasons, including physical or other disabilities, face financial difficulties.

The funding should be used by colleges for travel and study support, generally in the form of physical items (e.g. a travel pass or study materials or equipment).

In July 2020, the Scottish government published a Coronavirus (COVID-19): Further and Higher Education sustainability plan outlining key actions being taken to address the challenges resulting from the pandemic. Included in this recognition of potential rising numbers of ELET students the its impact on higher education: 

There is a possibility that a rise in unemployment will increase demand for college and university places in AY 2020-21. With a predicted dip in EU entrants there could be some space for additional Scottish-domiciled entrants. SFC will monitor offers and acceptances using data from institutions and other sources such as UCAS and will be flexible in response to over-recruitment.

Financial support mechanisms are also discussed in the plan, with £5 million additional student support resources, plus £11 million brought forward early, allocated to address student hardship.

Careers information, advice and guidance

Children and young people learn about skills and careers throughout primary and secondary education. Skills Development Scotland (SDS) provides information, advice and guidance in secondary schools based on accurate, up-to-date information about the labour market, including job opportunities, and the full range of vocational and academic learning and training available. SDS staff advise school pupils on appropriate vocational opportunities and assist them to assess their own potential and plan their career. SDS supports young people at risk of disengaging with education with advice regarding funding, education and career opportunities.

SDS has developed a 'Partner Zone' on its My World of Work website, providing additional support for teachers delivering Curriculum for Excellence through ready-made activities that aim to encourage the use of My World of Work in the classroom. It was developed in consultation with teaching and support staff in schools and colleges, training providers, youth workers and community learning and development staff. There is a policy focus on looked after children and young people (those in the care of the local authority) or those who have experience of being in care.

The Scottish Funding Council has supported the charity Become to expand its Propel Scotland website. This is aimed at inspiring more young care leavers to stay on in education after the age of 16. The site contains Scotland-specific further education and higher education advice and guidance on key issues such as funding and accommodation. Young people can compare course information from every further education college in Scotland and most  universities in the UK. Video and written testimony from young people who have taken the next step with their learning, either at college or university, aims to inspire self-belief and motivation to pursue their ambitions.

See the section ‘Career guidance and counselling’ in the ‘Employment and Entrepreneurship’ chapter for more detail on career guidance provision.

Transition to the labour market

The 'Youth Obligation’, means that young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) will participate in an intensive regime of support from the first day of their Universal Credit benefit claim, and after six months they will be expected to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, gain work-based skills, or go on a mandatory work placement to give them the skills they need to move into sustainable employment.

Activity Agreements form part of the ‘Opportunities for All’ offer. Activity Agreements are for those young people who may not, without additional support, make a successful transition to work, further education or training. Activity Agreements are in place for young people in all 32 local authority areas in Scotland. Activity Agreements set out a formal agreement between a young person and an advisor, that the young person will participate in a programme of tailored learning and activity based on an assessment of their immediate and future skills needs. They must take account of young people’s previous experiences, both in school and outside; they must recognise the wide range of influences on vulnerable young people’s lives; and they must form a clear pathway towards more formal engagement with learning or employment. 

The priority groups for Activity Agreements are:

  • young people identified as being vulnerable to disengagement prior to leaving compulsory education
  • young people who initially move into a positive post-school option but who do not sustain it.

Activity Agreements are judged to be successful depending on how far they assist young people to progress into (and sustain) further learning, training and employment. 

Further information is available from YouthLink Scotland.

See the article on 'Integration of Young People in the Labour Market' for implementation of the Youth Guarantee.

Incentives for providers

Scottish Colleges are set retention targets (the percentage of a course that is required to be completed) as a condition of securing full funding for each student place. This provides an incentive to put in place support measures that contribute towards retention.


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

My Skills, My Future’ is a suite of resources from the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) Partnership aimed at supporting individuals in identifying the skills they have gained from experiences other than formal qualifications.The resources are targeted mainly at young people at risk of leaving school early, or who have already left school with few or no formal qualifications.

Cross-sector coordination and monitoring of ELET interventions

Delivery of the Opportunities for All commitment to offer a place in learning or training to all 16-19 year olds not already engaged in education, employment or training relies on a system of information sharing being in place.

The Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013 made provision for sharing of information on young people's involvement in further and higher education and training a legal requirement for local authorities and other public bodies. The Young People's Involvement in Education and Training (Provisions of Information) (Scotland) Order 2014 made under the 2013 Act specified all relevant bodies and the information sharing requirements between them and Skills Development Scotland, the national skills agency. The bodies who are mandated to share information on the provision being accessed by individuals post-16 (including such information as completion or transition to other destinations) are:

  • governing bodies of colleges of further education
  • education authorities
  • the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council (the Scottish Funding Council)
  • the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).

The UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions, which exercises functions in relation to welfare benefits across the UK, also has a mandate to share information.

Skills Development Scotland maintains a '16+ Data Hub' which it describes as a ‘common sense, joined-up approach between agencies [which] is designed to provide earlier intervention for young people more at risk of finding it difficult to stay in training, education or a job.’

The hub holds information on 16- to 24-year-olds that can be shared securely between partners. The details held include expected school leaving dates, where young people intend to go after school, whether this be into a job, modern apprenticeship, college or university, and information on those who are receiving career services and welfare benefits.

Further information

See also the 2014 joint Eurydice/Cedefop report, Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe: Strategies, Policies and Measures.