Organization of the research project

All seven main consortium partners (Belgium, United Kingdom, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain) are involved in every WP, and will analyse the question(s) at hand in the selected regions in their own country. The Austrian and Hungarian consortium partners will concentrate their research proceedings in WP2, WP5 and WP8 and will not participate in the new data collection in WP3 and WP4. Nonetheless, the organisation of the research will allow to compare and broaden research findings based on WP3 and WP4 to the Austrian and Hungarian context. Consequently, a comparative analysis based on existing and new data acquired in nine European countries with a different ESL-profile can be achieved by the end of the project.

Since we aim to generate an in-depth understanding of mechanisms behind and processes influencing ESL, as well as systematic comparisons and quantitative generalizations, a mixed-method research design is opted for.

The work plan and methodology can be divided into a part with a descriptive finality, that mainly will be based on existing data (WP1&2); a part with an analytic finality wherein mainly new data will be gathered using both quantitative (WP3) and qualitative (WP4) research methods; and a closing part with a normative, forward-looking finality wherein all results will be bundled (WP5) and policy recommendations will be formulated (WP6). Finally, a cost-benefit analysis will support implementation of policies to reduce early school leaving on a regional, national and European scale (WP7).

Descriptive part - WP1 & WP2

The project is composed of 2 WPs with a descriptive finality: a further description of the academic literature in order to refine and optimalise the developed theoretical and methodological framework (WP1); and a study of the development and implementation of education policies and instruments to influence ESL (WP2), based on available descriptive information and on new data gathering.

Work Package 1 - Theoretical and methodological framework ESL

WP1 aims to further elaborate and refine the initial/tentative framework brought together in the state of the art on ESL in a broader European context (section 1.2.). After an intensive study of the literature, a theoretically sound and methodologically operational framework – including links between concepts, theories, methods and data collection – will be put forward.

Work Package 2 - Policy analysis SL & field description

WP2 aims to

  • identify 2 research areas per country in which the new data collection in WP2, WP3 and WP4 will take place in the seven major research countries, based on existing data on ESL and other relevant indicators;
  • distillate a common definition of ESL based on the interpretation of the concept in the nine partner countries;
  • make a comparative analysis of the development and implementation of education policies and instruments aiming at dealing with early school leavers in the seven major research countries - during the construction of the EU and especially since the Lisbon Treaty of 2001;
  • examine processes of implementation of and resistance to European initiatives related with the issue of early school leavers (e.g. Youth on the Move); and
  • to identify and analyse good practices concerning the development and implementation of policy initiatives and instruments in the partner countries and to assess their relevance for other countries and contexts.

Analytical part - WP3 & WP4

The theory-driven character of the proposed research, in combination with the methodologically sound research design, permits systematically hypothesis testing on assumed causal relations. The explanative character of the project is fostered by the combined use of quantitative (WP3) and qualitative (WP4) research methodologies, and by triangulation between various instruments within one type of research method. The new data collection in WP3 and WP4 will take place in the seven major research countries: Belgium, UK, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

Work Package 3 - Quantitative analysis of ESL

WP3 aims to:

  • map and assess existing statistical evidence on early school leavers and NEETS in Europe by conducting a systematic review of official and secondary data-sources on different levels (eg. EUROSTAT, LFS, SILC, PISA, national level official statistics for each partner country, previous quantitative research studies at regional, national, international and comparative levels);
  • identify more detailed demographic and socio-economic patterns of early school leavers and NEETS than those currently available within the published data sources, using the common definitions identified in WP1 and WP2;
  • design a quantitative research instrument (survey A1 & A2) to identify risk factors of becoming an early school leaver and to explore the trajectories of young people, including variables like gender, age, ethnicity, country of birth, age of migration (if born abroad) and other proxies for class; school history (including grades, changes in schools attended, truancy); attitudes to school, education, career, family and peers; expectations, aspirations and plans for the future; factors which would encourage stay/ leaving education such as (academic) self-confidence, physical and emotional well-being and feelings of belonging, support, discrimination and respect;
  • Survey A1 will be conducted in the schools, Survey A2 is a follow-up survey mainly conducted online. Yet, survey A2 will be accompanied by more traditional survey design methods through post and telephone to limit attrition as much as possible;
  • identify the factors leading to ESL using quantitative research methods: piloting and conducting surveys A1 [spring 2014] & follow-up A2 [spring 2016]. A1 with a total of 14000 pupils (1000 per focus region) and survey A2 with a total of minimum 10500 respondents, taking into account an attrition of maximum 25%;
  • By selecting an older grade group during survey A1 (alongside a younger cohort), the follow-up during A2 permits us to survey a cohort that has left school (early) at least one year before. These results will be analysed to identify not only reasons for leaving, but also to gain insights into the trajectories of ESLers after they left education, including questioning if and why they would contemplate going back to education/training.
  • In order to determine to which extent school staff are receptive towards (EU) policy to reduce early school leaving, an online survey will be developed and administered [Spring, 2015] in WP3. Per country approx. 100 staff members (an overall total of 700 administrators and teachers) will be questioned by online ‘survey B’ about their resistance towards or support for policies concerning early school leaving, along with validated scales on school leadership, staff and pupil relations, teacher motivation and working conditions. Data on 100 staff members per country will allow us to assess both individual and (some) school level characteristics in multi-level analyses.

Work Package 4 - Qualitative analysis of ESL & evaluation of ESL measure

WP4 aims to [1] gain in-depth insight in the different mechanisms and processes on an individual and institutional level that lead the pupils’ decision of ESL, studying in-depth the interplay between psychosocial, social and protective causes leading to ESL by adopting an emic perspective to complement the statistical knowledge on ESL in WP3. To this end, informants will be interviewed on

  1. the mechanisms and processes that lead or prevent them to leave school or training early;
  2. the strategies developed by pupils and significant others to deal with the issues related to early school leaving;
  3. the participation in intra-muros and extra-muros measures and the perceived impact of and preference for measures to tackle ESL;
  4. the notion to return to school or to opt for neither of the previous;
  5. the support the focus pupils receive from their family, peers and significant others in their communities;
  6. the protective and risk factors related to early school leaving;
  7. their perceptions on ESL and those of their family, peers and significant others on the ESL;
  8. their trajectories and experiences after ESL.

WP4 also aims to [2] gain insight in and assess school policies on ESL (intra-muros good practices) and understand the schools’ openness to the EU and national policies on ESL, contributing to the description of good practices of education and training in WP5. The composition and impact of the intra-muros measures on ESL will be analysed, taking into account:

  1. the perceptions of the school staff on ESL and the existing needs for support;
  2. the openness of the schools to the policies on ESL drafted by the respective national (or regional) governments and the EU;
  3. exploring why the particular measure is chosen for/by the pupils;
  4. what factors contribute to the success and failure (context, organization, target group …).

WP4 finally aims to [3] identify and assess extra-muros good practices to tackle ESL, that is, preventing against or compensating for ESL outside of the school, contributing to the description of good practices of education and training in WP5. The composition and impact of the extra-muros measures on ESL will be analysed, taking into account why a particular measure is chosen, how the measures are organized and what factors contribute to the success and failure (context, organization, target group …).

Normative part - WP5, WP6 & WP7

In the last year of the project, we include three WPs which have a normative, forward-looking finality wherein all project results will be bundled (WP5), policy recommendations  formulated (WP6), and a cost benefit analysis (WP7).

Work Package 5 - Determining youth at risk & good practices

WP5 aims to:

  1. determine the individual and institutional risk and protective factors for ESL and identify those events, actions or factors in the process leading to the dropout, or on the contrary, preventing dropout. This will be done through triangulation of the quantitative and qualitative data on the factors and process predicting ESL, collected and analysed 1) in WP3 and WP4 for Belgium, UK, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, and 2) in WP2’s secondary data for Hungary and Austria. This will allow us to deliver a risk assessment tool for determining youth at risk of ESL for schools and other significant partners in the field.
  2. isolate the factors that lead to or prevent early school leaving and relate these to opportunities for reducing ESL rates (based on the new data collected in Belgium, UK, Sweden, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain & the secondary data collected in Hungary and Austria) By linking the risk assessment tool and evaluative data on measurements to tackle early school leaving, we will be able to develop a typology of ESLers and address which sort of measures are most effective reducing the chance of ESL for a specific type of potential early school leavers in a given context.

By framing the complex and often subtle interplay of factors influencing ESL on a macro, meso and micro level; and by deconstructing these different configurations of influencing factors in the specific contexts where they occur, we expect to uncover specific configurations of variables and contexts that determine ESL incidence. This will allow us to formulate conceptual models useful for the development and implementation of policies and specific measures to influence ESL, making the project not only relevant to academics, but also to policy makers, school staff and representatives from civil society.

The last aims of WP 5 thus become:

  1. the development of conceptual models for good practices in intra-muros measures aimed at  tackling ESL; and
  2. the developments of conceptual models for good practices in extra-muros measures aimed at tackling ESL.

Work Package 6 - Policy recommendations

WP6 aims to deliver a transfer of knowledge from the academic results in the project to policy makers, politicians, NGO’s and professionals in social work and education by:

  1. producing three policy briefs aimed at three different levels (school level; regional or country level; EU level). The three policy briefs all share a core part conveying the main research findings of this cross country study. This will be based on Publication 6 (WP5) and will highlight the empirical findings of WP3 (using Project Paper 4, Project Paper 5, Publication 3 & Publication 4) and WP4 (using Publication 5, Publication 6, Project Paper 7 & Project Paper 8). This policy brief will be translated into all the languages of the participating countries.
  2. organising a meeting in Brussels in cooperation with the Sirius EU network on education aimed at EU policy makers, politicians and supranational organizations like OECD, UNESCO, OSI, MPG, MPI and EPC. Policy brief 3, that will describe the main findings for supra-national organizations like the EU (DG Education and Culture), OECD and UNESCO will be presented to EU policy makers and politicians and other supra national organisations.

Work Package 7 - Cost benefit analysis

Work Package 7 aims to provide a cost benefit analysis of the measures proposed in WP5 and WP6 to tackle ESL, by juxtaposing

  1. the costs associated with the design, the implementation and the continuation of the proposed policy measures as described and recommended in the three policy briefs (WP6) that are based on the conceptual models for intra and extra-muros measures in tackling ESL (WP5); and,
  2. the benefits from preventing a possible increase in ESL cases which would occur in the absence of these programs.  The benefit from preventing more ESL coincides with the cost associated with additional ESL cases in a context where no measures would be taken. One such exercise was made by the Thematic Working Group on Early School Leaving (DG EAC) in the document “Overview and examples of costs of early school leaving in Europe.”