Latest update : 6 March 2017.

Early School Leaving (ESL) in the EU is recognized as an urgent and serious problem, both for individuals and society as a whole. It represents a waste of individual life opportunities and a waste of social and economic potential (European Parliament, 2011). In this context reducing ESL is essential for achieving a number of key objectives in the Europe 2020 strategy. Its reduction addresses both the aims for ‘smart growth’ by improving education and training levels and the aims for ‘inclusive growth’ by addressing one of the major risk factors for unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. The Europe 2020 strategy therefore includes the headline target to reduce percent of early school leavers (persons between 18 and 24 years old who left education and training with only lower secondary education or less, and who are no longer in education and training) to less than 10% by 2020, from 14,4% in 2009. That EU 2020 headline target was also recognized as one of the five priority areas of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020).

Although a lot of efforts to tackle ESL at the EU level and at the level of EU member states have been already done (not only in the framework of ET 2020, but also its predecessor ET 2010), 2012 Joint Report of the Council and the Commission on the implementation of ET 2020 highlighted that the EU is not on track to meet the headline target regarding ESL till 2020. Education Council (2011) confirmed that all efforts that have been done till now to tackle ESL are not effective and efficient enough and that further and new approaches are needed. Furthermore European Commission (2011) recognized that while the factors leading to ESL vary from country to country, the causes of ineffective policies can be boiled down to three typical issues: a) lack of a comprehensive strategy; b) lack of evidence-based policy-making; c) insufficient prevention and early intervention measures. On that basis the Education Council (2011) recommended the development of framework for coherent, comprehensive cross-sectoral strategies and evidence-based policies against ESL, which would provide a range of school-wide and systemic policies targeting the different factors leading to ESL.

Education Council invited European Commission to support member states’ strategies through the exchange of experience and good practice, and to facilitate effective peer learning, networking and experimentation with innovative approaches on measures aimed at reducing ESL and improving the educational outcomes of children from groups at risk of ESL (Education Council, 2011). Member states are therefore supported to exploit all the opportunities of common EU cooperation in the field, exploit the existing and develop new tool kits, which will enable the EU as a whole to reach the commonly agreed target.

Taking into consideration the above EU initiatives, TITA project contributes to the realization of EU headline target regarding ESL by addressing one of the key policy messages identifying the critical conditions for successful policies against ESL (Thematic Working Group, 2013): promote and support multi-professional teams in schools to address ESL on the basis of evidence-based policies and practices.

TITA evidence-based approach towards ESL

TITA scientific base is prepared in accordance with the European Commission (2007) understanding of evidence-based education. The European Commission (ibid) believes that evidence-based education makes it possible for the member states and EU institutions to identify the most effective education policies and practices and allows their effective implementation. Evidence-based education provides a basis for the modernisation of education systems. Improved use of knowledge within the development of education policies and practices improves both the quality of the content of education policy and governance in the field of education. This means the decision-making in the field of education must be strategically oriented towards improving education based on research and evidence. In the process, policy decision-makers, experts and stakeholders should join forces in the search for ways to develop new knowledge that will, based on high-quality education, contribute to economic competitiveness and social cohesion of the EU (ibid., 12, 13).

The TITA project consortium brings together educational experts and researchers, policy makers and practitioners from European countries in a collaborative research and implementation process, what enables the full realization of evidence-based approach to ESL. By identifying the main factors leading to ESL and reviewing the characteristics of the phenomenon at national, regional and local level of consortium countries, it provides an accurate understanding of the scope and reasons behind ESL, which is precondition for foundation of targeted and effective evidence-based policies and practices towards ESL.

TITA takes into consideration European Commission (2011) recommendation that policy experiments needs to be based on precise information in order to better target measures, monitor its developments, constantly adapting them and draw policy lessons from their results. By providing in depth information on contextual factors of ESL in consortium member states, TITA scientific base take into consideration also Edwards and Downes (2013: 47) thinking that “one implication of recognising the local sensitivity of interventions is the need for practitioners to work with data in order to make evidence-informed decisions about adjusting practices”. Although according to Dale (2010) establishing the relative importance of factors, and the nature of causal links and mechanisms, is a crucial step towards enabling policy makers to formulate evidence-based, and possibly targeted, pre-emptive ESL measures, TITA scientific base is focusing more on describing and conceptualising new ways of working with early school leavers than on assessing measurable outcomes of policy experiments (Edwards and Downes, 2013: 48).

For example: a) Collection of evidence allow for the analysis of the main reasons underlying ESL for different groups of students, schools, and local, regional and national systems; b) The combination of data on ESL and contextual data (e.g. socio-economic information) can help in the targeting of measures and policies for different groups of students, as well for specific local, regional and national communities; c) Gathering and analysing information on the motivation and non-cognitive skills of early school leavers and their employment and career perspectives can also help in the targeting of measures and policies; d) Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of existing policy measures aimed at reducing ESL is an important basis for improving strategies and programmes for increasing pupils’ chances of school success (Council, 2011).

Fields of TITA (scientific) backgrounds

The most overall goal of the TITA project is to support the implementation of innovative policy solutions at institutional level to reduce ESL, in line with the priorities set out in Europe 2020 and ET 2020. By promoting and supporting multi-professional teams in schools, it provides scientific support, tools for actions and training for addressing ESL. Therefore the project provides innovative responses to the commonly identified problem of common EU cooperation in the field of education, and in such way address the European goals.

Promoting and supporting the development of multi-professional teams in schools at the EU level has been identified as one of the keys of successful strategies to reduce ESL. To work on ESL with other professionals and to set up student-centred measures, education staff needs to understand ESL, basic principles of multi-professional cooperation and develop or strengthen special skills. Therefore TITA comprehensive scientific base in four subsections provides an in depth evidence-based understanding of: early school leaving (as a main policy problem which TITA project addresses); cooperation (as a promising solution to reducing ESL) and training (as a tool for coming to the solution). In addition a reflection on a changing role of school in contemporary society from the viewpoint of ESL is provided.

Methodological aspects of TITA scientific base

According to the rationale of the TITA project, its scientific base is based on interdisciplinary approach (policy analysis, theory of organisations, pedagogy, andragogy, psychology, philosophy). By taking into consideration wide range of research evidence, it provides a holistic approach to ESL, its understanding and targeting policies. TITA scientific base is prepared on the basis of the following sources and methods:

- Theory and literature review

Comprehensive review of existing theoretical and empirical research on ESL, multi-professional cooperation and training in order to provide comprehensive theoretical bases and multidisciplinary background for developing policy experiments and elaborating its results. In that framework scientific monographs and articles of high academic quality and based on sound evidence are the main source of review.

- Review of primary sources (official documents)

Review of official sources, forming policy framework for tackling ESL at the EU level as well at the level of consortium countries (France, Spain, Luxembourg, Switzerland). The main source of investigation in that framework presents EU strategies, Council recommendations and Commission communications, as well national laws, strategies and other legislative documents.

- Review of existing (good) practices

Analysis of existing (good) policies and practices and measures in order to expose “what works” in tackling ESL in different environments and which approaches are worthwhile to learn from by developing new (school, local, national) approaches for ESL. Data for analysis are gathered by different sources (mainly DG EAC and EACEA website, ESL project websites, national reports etc.). While the focus of TITA scientific base is ESL in EU, we are also referring to practices outside Europe, where they strengths the evidence base and suggest alternative solutions.

- Synthesis of the available quantitative information on ESL

Data gathered and analysed from different points of view (longitudinal analyses, comparison between member states, different regions and local environments in the EU). Strong disparities in rates of ESL might indicate specific structural problems in certain geographical areas or educational tracks and to identify the national, regional and local specificities of the phenomenon. Primary source will be EU qualitative reports, country reports, inspection reports, EU and OECD indicators.

- Secondary analyses of data from international comparative assessments studies

Secondary analyses of the data from international comparative assessment studies are done in fields where existing studies do not provide sufficient information on ESL, which are of special importance for TITA project. These data can provide additional strong and robust evidence base for tackling ESL at the level of consortium countries. These data can provide an important insight in factors causing ESL (identification and prevention) and effective school and policy practices that contribute to its reducing (intervention). In addition, that kind of data can not only explain the big differences between EU member states in attaining the EU benchmark, but also to identify the factors, which contribute to reducing ESL in the most successful and progressing member states.

In order to provide comprehensive review of the ESL phenomenon, TITA scientific base consists of scientific review articles, organised in sections and subsections. Each scientific review article consist of its title, key message in which the main idea of the article is highlighted, abstract in which content of the article is summarized and main body of the article, which elaborate specific TITA related content.
At the end of the project TITA scientific base will be summarized in Briefs for practitioners. Briefs will summarize key (policy) messages of each scientific review article. TITA consortium finds it important that strong and robust evidence are presented to practitioners, policy makers and other interested public also in easy-readable format in order to attract their attention to the topic and to enhance opportunities that TITA innovative measures are translated into ESL policies and practices at the school, local, regional, national and international (EU) level.

Various uses of TITA scientific base

TITA consortium believes that ESL policies and practices should be evidence-based and adaptable to local, regional and national conditions. Developing such policies requires strong political commitment but also solid knowledge of ESL processes among wide range of involved actors. The TITA scientific base is therefore prepared as:

- Scientific input to TITA consortium for preparing and implementing evidence-based and targeted policy experiments for addressing ESL by promoting and supporting multi-professional teams in schools and to successfully conduct other tasks in project.
- Scientific input to the practitioners, implementing policy experiments in four consortium countries (France, Luxemburg, Spain, Switzerland). To work on ESL with other professionals and to set up student-centred measures, education staff needs to understand ESL and to develop or strengthen special skills. A scientific and comprehensive database on ESL, summarized in Briefs for practitioners will be prepared in order to support that mission.
- Scientific input to policy makers at the national and at the EU level (European Commission) to understand the policy relevance of the project results. TITA scientific base from policy point of view will provide a basis for the effectiveness, efficiency and conditions for scalability of policy experimentation results and enable transnational transfer of good practices. Ultimately, the TITA consortium believes that the use of proposed and tested measures has the potential to be a major catalyst for the integration of effective and efficient ESL measures in education systems across the EU.
- Scientific review on ESL for other interested actors. The comprehensive TITA scientific base will be freely available to other interested actors to exploit it according to their needs and interests. Although there have already been an enormous amount of researchers done on ESL, NESSE (2010) identified a need for a more comprehensive review of the existing knowledge about ESL. A TITA scientific base is an attempt towards matching these needs.