My report on the problem of Early School Leaving (ESL) has been voted on by the European Parliament. I’m happy to report that it was passed almost unanimously with 543 MEPs voting in support of it. Of course the 23 Tories present, including London MEPs Marina Yannakoudakis, Syed Kamall and Charles Tannock, voted against it.
I hope now that the report will help reach the EU 2020’s very ambitious target of reducing early school leaving by 10% by 2020.
This report follows on from my work on Early Years Learning in the EU, where I highlighted the importance of Member States providing high-quality early years services for children aged 0-6. It also follows the publication (in January 2011) of the Commission’s Communication on Tackling Early School Leaving.
Writing this report has taught me that ESL is a complex phenomenon and one of the hugest challenges facing Europe at present. Although rates vary across EU Member States, as well as between towns and regions, the European average in 2009 was 14.4%.
In my report I define early school leavers as individuals between the age of 18 and 24 who have left education and training with only lower secondary education or less. Though for some not having this level of qualification may not be such a hindrance, but the fact is over 50% of people in this category are unemployed.
My report also looked at the causes ESL, which are typically a process of disengagement, as a result of personal, social, economic, geographical, education or family-related reasons. A significant part of the problem can also be attributed to lack of support or guidance, disengagement, and courses and modules that are too rigid.
The consequences are far reaching as well, contributing to social exclusion in later life and driving economic and social instability, with higher rates of antisocial behaviour, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.
But there are solutions to this problem and in the report I recommend that a personalised and inclusive approach be adopted, with counselling service in schools, better career guidance for students and mentoring schemes. I also believe that Member States should introduce a system of means-tested financial support for those who need it, like the educational maintenence allowance in the UK, which the Tories unthinkingly destroyed. There are numerous studies that show that such support means that young people who would otherwise have to leave school at 16 to support their families or, more importantly, themselves can afford to continue their secondary education.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems is the provision of ‘Second-chance’ schools. These should be able to reintegrate school leavers back into the education system without stigmatisation and with proper support. The report even recommends that if someone is working, their employer should provide them with reasonable, but limited amount of time off to get their secondary qualifications.
The fact is that there are fewer and fewer jobs that do not require some level of qualification. This is a problem that could lead to even higher levels of unemployment in the future if it is not addressed now. What’s more, young people who have been let down by the education system will find themselves increasingly excluded and impoverished.
This report will now be sent to the Commission and the Council and I hope that it will inform a larger part of the discussion around these issues.