School disengagement and early school leaving


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Early school leaving and poor student performance, seems to be important issues within plenty member states of the EU, so important that it can be found even in the Europe2020 goals. The European Union defines early school leavers „as people aged 18-24 who have only lower secondary education or less and are no longer in education or training. Early school leavers are therefore those who have only achieved pre-primary, primary, lower secondary or a short upper secondary education of less than 2 years.

In particular about 14% of all students within the EU, drop out of school each year. The results of school dropping out can cause a lot of problems both on students themselves and in the community in general. Most of these students are more likely to end up unemployed, poor or otherwise marginalized. A rising number of students leaving school without further education or training has also been observed lately. Dropping out is “the culmination of a gradual process of disengagement from school (Curran Neild, 2010).” The above mentioned process, needs time and it can take years in order the results to be evident. The importance of developing dropout prevention strategies that they will resolve student’s disengagement process as early as possible is therefore stressed.

Even when young children up to 7 years old might be still far away from the above mentioned age group, the cornerstone of their later performance as well as their attitude towards learning is already formed in these young years.

The reasons for school disengagement and early school leaving are multiple and often connected with another, but can be classified into the following topics

1) Motivation:

  • Refusal to training / school
  • Boredom
  • Teaching methods
  • Missing future prospects
  • High rate of absence

2) Health reasons:

  • Psychic / mental reasons
  • Physical reasons

3) Personal reasons:

  • Parents / family
  • Friends
  • Leisure activities
  • Loss / accident (parent, friend, partner, family member)

4) Social behavior:

  • Conflicts with teachers / other peers

5) Excessive demand / unchallenged:

  • Excessive demand
  • Unchallenged

As classified above the difficulties might affect different areas and might be of different distinction. They therefore need to be addressed in different ways and not everybody might have the professional background of addressing the above listed characteristics. But nevertheless these difficulties might have far-reaching consequences for the whole life and the curriculum of a person. A detected risk of school disengagement and early school leaving should thus be taken seriously from the start and it might be advisable to contact therapists or social institutions with professional programs as soon as it is noticed by parents or teachers.


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Suggestions on variety of activities:

An idea might be to discuss topics in a way where the children are asked for their opinion on school and what would be their idea to improve schools’ life.

During the lesson it might be advisable to watch a film, or listen to a song or an audio drama, which performs the topic of school leaving or school in general. Afterwards there can be made different exercises, such as answer questions about the film/the song/the audio drama or develop in group work a presentation of the film/ the song/the audio drama or create an own school story.

Even without media input, you may ask the children questions, adapted to the local circumstances, as “Do you find school interesting?”, “Do you find school useful?”, “Are you feeling good at school?”, “Do you sometimes have problems with your classmates?”, “If you would describe your school in three words, what would they be?” or “If you could improve something in your school, what would it be?”

Depending on the results difficulties with teamwork, bullying, etc. might pop-up, and it might be recommendable to do some specific actions on that. Please see the other sections (Link to the other courses) for any further reading on this.

This might not be applicable in preschool and therefore it rather addresses school children. For preschool children it might be more suitable to find out via parents.


Talking about school disengagement and early school leaving is a sensitive topic, which can be caused by very sensitive factors. Most of the factors mentioned in the previous section need to be treated by specific experts, but talking about schools life in general can be a way to start with it

 Case studies

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Ray is a five year old child, who is very good at school and has a lot of friends in his class. His teacher recognizes though, more and more absences due to illness and recognizes that Ray is not concentrating in class and prefers spending his time alone during the breaks. Additionally, Rays’ parents contacted the teacher as they realized that Ray always states that he’s ill in order to not go to school. They’ve been already contacting several doctors but the doctor doesn’t have any explanation for Rays’ illness, saying that physically he’s ok.

Reflection questions

  1. Imagine you’re the teacher of Ray, what would you do and why?
  2. Imagine you’re a colleague of Rays teacher, what would you do and why? Which recommendation would you give to support your colleague?
  3. Imagine you’re an external consultant normally in touch with the teachers working environment (a doctor, someone from the municipality, etc.), what would you do and why? Which recommendation would you give to support your colleague?