Research questions

On the basis of the critical review of the literature, we present the overall research questions and detailed research questions driving the research. They are derived from the conceptual framework that is developed through the literature study.

The general research questions and more detailed sub- questions are:

1. How does the complex and often subtle interplay of factors on a macro, meso and micro level predict early school leaving?

On an the individual level:

  • What are the individual factors related to ‘the pupil at risk to leave school early’ that influence him/her to stay in school or to leave school and possible continue education or training in an alternative learning arena?
  • What are the perceptions of ‘pupils at risk to leave school early’ on ESL?
  • What are their trajectories and experiences after leaving school prematurely?

On an institutional (school)level

  • What was the influence of the family, peers and significant others in the communities of pupils that left school or training early?
  • What are the perceptions and experiences of the family, peers and significant others of the ELSers on ELS in general and the event of ESL in particular?
  • What are the factors related to school that influence a pupils decision to leave school early? What are the focus schools staff’s views and policies on ESL? What is the influence of the perceptions of the school staff on ESL?

On a systemic/structural level:

  • How did national education and training systems adapt to (changing) socio-economic, political and/or cultural realities?
  • How is ESL defined on a European level and in the different partner countries?
  • What education policies and instruments aiming at dealing with ESL with a special focus on equity and social cohesion were developed in the partner countries during the construction of the EU, and especially since the Lisbon Treaty of 2001?
  • How were these policies and instruments developed and implemented in the different partner countries?

How are the factors predicting ESL on different levels related from a holistic perspective?

2. What intervention or compensation measures can be identified as successful in keeping ‘a pupil at risk of ESL’ in school or in guiding him/her to an alternative learning arena and what specific approaches or concurrences of variables explains this success?

  • What mechanisms and processes of resistance-to-change concerning the implementation of policy initiatives can be identified in the schools and alternative learning arenas?
  • What is the composition of the identified policies and measures to tackle ESL within the different focus schools and alternative learning arenas?
  • Why are particular measures attractive for pupils and successful in guaranteeing a transfer of knowledge or skills?
  • What sort of measures are most effective reducing the chance of ESL for a specific type of potential early school leavers? How are these measures organised?
  • Can these measures also simultaneously provide excellence, more social and civic cohesion, enable personal development and creativity?

Integration of gender into the research content

boys are generally more at risk of leaving school early than girls. Furthermore, next to this statistical difference, there are various indications that gender dynamics intervene between both individual as well as institutional explanations for ESL. On the individual level, gendered attitudes are likely to have explanative power for education-related outcomes as well as for ESL. The prevalence of ‘macho’ attitudes among boys gives a good, yet partial, explanation for the boys’ overall lower school performance (Friedman & Chase-Landsdale, 2002; Archer et al., 2005). Especially for low-motivated pupils, there is a significant gap between girls’ and boys’ performances (Crul & Schneider, 2009; Van de gaer et al., 2003), increasing the drop-out risk for boys. The stronger gender-stereotypical negative peer group pressure amongst boys also affects their engagement with learning (Warrington & Younger, 2005). On the institutional level, the core institutions studied in our research design (the education system, the community and the labour market) are characterized by differential gender patterns and roles. Because of the gender-segregated nature of the low-skilled segment of the labour market, of men’s overrepresentation in low-skilled professions, it is to be expected that the attractiveness of the labour market will differ for men and women. Related to this, labour market related discrimination issues can also diverge between men and women. Furthermore with regard to the family context, if parents adhere traditional gender perceptions the chance increases that low-performing girls drop out of school (Duquet et al., 2006). Moreover, for girls, especially those belonging to an ethnic or religious minority, the ban on wearing the headscarf and pregnancy or child-rising issues are likely to occur as gender-specific explanations for ESL (Brekke & Mastekaasa, 2008).

In order to fully disentangle the way gender impacts on ESL, we will take gender into account at several stages in the project. During the development of the research framework and questions, we will formulate gender-sensitive hypotheses. In the design of (qualitative) interview guidelines and (quantitative) questionnaires, the gendered realities regarding education, family and labour will be kept in mind. In the selection of research participants, we will pursue a gender-balance. To diminish gender-related barriers during the fieldwork, we seek to compose a gender-balanced group of field researchers. Taking gender-differential explanations for ESL into account is not merely a method to increase the validity of the results, but also necessary for the targeted dissemination of the project results. Due to the horizontal gender-segregation of the low-skilled segments of the labour market and the vocational and technical tracks in secondary education, it might be more appropriate and effective to develop gender-differential models of good practice for both schools and employers.