One of the European Union’s priorities in the field of education is to reduce early school leaving to less than 10% in EU Member States by 2020.

What are the causes of early school leaving?

Early school leaving is an obstacle to economic growth and employment, as it undermines productivity and competitiveness and increases poverty and social exclusion. Young people who leave education and training early will have insufficient skills and qualifications, being more at risk of unemployment, social exclusion, and poverty.

Early school leaving results from a cumulative process of disinterest that stems from personal, social, economic, geographic, educational, or family reasons. These reasons can be external or internal to school experiences and processes, and often have a strong personal and individual component. In many cases, dissatisfaction results from the most varied reasons, namely intimidation on the part of colleagues, poor academic performance, poor relationship with teachers, lack of motivation or insertion in the wrong groups; while in other cases, withdrawal is motivated by personal or family problems, such as drug use or homelessness.

However, a significant part of the problem is due to the lack of support and guidance, lack of interest in school and secondary education programs that often do not offer sufficient options in terms of course varieties, alternative teaching pedagogies, learning opportunities based on experience, or lack the necessary flexibility.

Europe 2020 Strategy

The Europe 2020 Strategy has set a priority to reduce the percentage of young people between 18 and 24 years old who drop out of education and training to below 10%.

In 2011, a recommendation from the Council of the European Union on school dropout reduction policies was adopted, proposing that Member States adopt cross-sectoral strategic approaches. These focused on all levels of education, prevention and intervention measures, as well as “compensation” measures, so that students could resume their studies.

In 2013, the EU Council issued a recommendation on the creation of a Youth Guarantee, in which it asked Member States to make a commitment to ensure that all people under the age of 25 receive an offer of employment, training, internship within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed. In addition, it recommended Member States to offer education and training opportunities to young people with insufficient qualifications.

For its part, the European Commission launched the “New Skills Agenda for Europe in 2016. In this context, the “Skills Improvement Pathways” initiative, adopted by the EU Council in December 2016, emerged. The latter recommended Member States that provide adults with 25 years of age or more with flexible “paths”, that give them options to re-enter education and / or obtain qualifications equivalent to upper secondary education. This may imply the recognition and validation of informal and non-formal learning, such as skills acquired in the workplace. In this way, we can conclude that this strategy, in most Member States of the European Union, is being successful. According to a 2020 study on the rate of early drop-out in the European Union, 18 Member States have already achieved the Europe 2020 goal. Germany (10.3) and Portugal (10.6) are very close to reaching the goal of reducing early school leaving. On the other hand, Spain is considered the country with the highest rate of early school leaving, with a rate of 17.3%. It should also be noted that Switzerland and Norway have values ​​below 10%, while the United Kingdom and Iceland have values ​​above 10%, however, the United Kingdom is closer to reaching the target with a rate of 10.9%.

“Youth on the Move”

“Youth on the Move” is one of the flagship initiatives of “Europe 2020” and sets out a series of actions aimed at helping young people acquire the qualifications and skills they need to be successful in the labour market. The measures proposed by the European Commission focus on three areas:

Modernize education and training, ensuring a better fit with the needs of young people and employers. It is also intended to make higher education more attractive and to increase the number of young people with higher education qualifications.

Support for mobility for learning and training purposes, including new measures, such as: sources of information at EU level, a Council recommendation on the removal of obstacles to mobility for learning purposes, a new generation of education funding programs EU on education and training and the improvement of the European EURES job portal.

Creation of a new European framework for youth employment, which includes recommendations to Member States on labor market reform, and increased assistance to public employment services to improve support for young people.

In short, a significant reduction in the number of young people who leave school prematurely is a crucial investment, not only for their individual future, but also for the future prosperity and social cohesion of the EU.


European Commission. “Early school leaving”. Available:

European Commission (2013). Reducing early school leaving: Key messages and policy support. Available:

European Commission (2015). Política educativa: Uma abordagem escolar integrada para a prevenção do abandono escolar. Available:

European Commission (2014). Study on the effective use of early childhood education and care (ECEC) in preventing early school leaving (ESL). Available:

PORDATA (2020). Taxa de abandono precoce de educação e formação: total e por sexo. Available:

European Parliament (2011). Reducing Early School Leaving in the EU. Available:

European Commission (2010). Youth on the Move. Available:

Written by: Maria Luisa Pereira

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