Early school leaving must be solved with comprehensive policies

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Following up on the European Commission’s Communication on Achieving the European Education Area by 2025, the Education Council of the European Union adopted a Council Resolution on 19 February 2021 that establishes the European Education Area as the new strategic framework for the European cooperation in education and training for the period 2021-2030. This Council Resolution suggests three benchmarks to be reached by the EU Member States until 2030 concerning reducing underachievement of pupils in basic skills and to increase the attendance rate in upper secondary education by reducing early school leaving. The upcoming “Pathways to School Success” initiative will provide policy recommendations to the EU Member States on how to reach certain benchmarks by 2030 outlined in this Council Resolution. This was explained in the spring 2021 within the European Commission public consultation.

On 16 November the ETUCE Committee adopted an ETUCE position on the “Pathways to School Success” – Fight against early school leaving and underachievement with the intention of impacting the European Commission’s upcoming proposal. ETUCE believes that the European Commission’s proposal for the Council recommendation should focus on the roots of early school leaving and underachievement of the children, and not only on their symptoms. This should include efforts to combat teacher shortages through ensuring better career opportunities, high job security, social protection, and decent salary for all teachers and other education personnel.

Education trade unions also argue that this initiative should encourage countries to ensure that every school has education support personnel such as psychologist and education counsellors. These specific personnel can provide targeted support for children at risk of early school leaving and underachievement. They can also help students with mental disorder, depression, as well as fighting against harassment and bullying. ETUCE believes that it is essential to involve education trade unions in the framework of effective social dialogue in designing and implementing the necessary educational reforms that this policy will entail. It should also be supported by sustainable national public investment to education.

Additionally, the position paper underlines the concerns of the education trade unions in relation to the impact that the use of digital technologies and ICTs in education have on underachievement and early school leaving. There are already attempts to replace in-presence teachers in rural schools with teachers connecting to the lessons online. It is important to remember that in-presence education is the most important tool to ensure physical contact between and among teachers and students, and to reduce underachievement and early school leaving. While ETUCE understands that it is still essential to ensure that all students have access to digital tools, these should be the tool and not the aim of teaching and learning. Therefore, ETUCE argue that digital skills should be integrated within teachers’ initial education.

ETUCE’s member organisations have been discussing for a long time about reducing early school leaving. The outcomes are available within the Embracing Diversity in Education research report  and ETUCE’s Factsheets on Key elements of Inclusive Education + Teachers’ Training and Professional Development.


The ETUCE position on Pathways to School Success can be found here.