Early School Leaving

Labour Party

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.

European Parliament to vote on Early School Leaving

Labour Party

My report on tackling early school leaving will be voted in the plenary session of the European Parliament on Thursday. I do not anticipate much opposition and hope the Report will go through with a healthy majority.

Europarl TV has done a brief round-up of issues due to be debated and voted on during this plenary session tomorrow and Thursday, including a short clip of me talking about early school leaving.  

You can watch the whole video by clicking the link here.

Update on my work on Culture and Education Committee

Labour Party

Last  Friday I had one of my regular meetings with the British Culture Trade Unions to discuss developments in Europe.  Sadly it will be the last time I meet with Andy Egan from BECTU the broadcasting union. Andy is retiring and I wish him all the very best for the future. His knowledge and experience have been a great help to me in my work.

 Here is the written report I provided to the Culture Trade Unions,  I think it is a useful summary for anybody interested in the work of the Culture and Education Committee in the European Parliament. Regular readers may be familiar with some of these subjects already!

The Culture and Education Committee in 2011

It has been a very busy year in the committee. Among other things we have had debates on the budget, with a clear signal being sent to the commission that education and culture should be top priorities in the upcoming Multi-annual Financial Framework.  A lot of the focus this year has been on Cultural and Creative industries, with a lot of progress being made in terms of its importance being understood as an important part of our economy.  The Culture Committee is also backing plans to help small independent cinemas make the change over to the digital format.  At the moment it costs a great deal of money to get the new equipment installed, so the commission will be offering grants to help smaller cinemas keep up with the change in technology.

Early School Leaving

My report on Early School Leaving is currently going through the committee.  Early school leaving (ESL) is one of the main challenges faced by Europe:  In 2009, more than six million young people left education and training with only lower secondary education or less, and around 17% of them completed only primary education. Also practically every second “early school leaver” was unemployed or outside the labour market.  In 2003, EU Member States agreed to reduce the EU average rate for early school leaving to less than 10% by 2010. Until now, only 7 Member States have achieved this benchmark.  In June 2010, the European Council reintroduced this target and decided that reducing the share of early school leavers to less than 10% by 2020 would be one of the headline targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. In addition, the Member States agreed to set specific national targets.  In my report I present a more human, less market driven perspective on the problem, looking at the cost to people lives that leaving school without proper qualifications can have, how best to ensure it doesn’t happen, and how to people when it does.

The European Dimension in Sport

Since the Lisbon Treaty came in to force the European Union has had competence in sport policy.  Though, as with education, the main responsibility rests with the Member State, we are now looking for ways that we in the parliament can develop a sports program across the EU.  The commission finally released its communication on sport called the European Dimension in Sport and we in the parliament have read it with interest.  There are a number of very good proposals in the document relating to combating corruption and doping, but also helping to address the gender disparity professional sports.  The only unfortunate thing is that the European Union cannot afford a fully fledged budget at the moment for a proper sports program.  I would like to see more investment and development at the grassroots level as I believe that this is the most important area in any discussion about sports.  Almost a year ago, a number of colleagues and I got a written declaration signed by well over half the parliament urging the commission to increase investment in grassroots sport.  Grassroots sport brings communities together and helps with levels of fitness and general happiness.  I recently saw a very interesting piece of research that stated that for every pound or euro that governments invest into health and fitness initiatives, they save thirteen.  With that sort of return I hope that grassroots sport becomes an important issue in the UK and across the whole of the EU.

Future Work of the Committee

The next six months are likely to be dominated by issues surrounding online copyright and intellectual property.  The internet has changed the way we think about music and film distribution, not to mention journalism.  At the moment the laws surrounding these areas are from a time when the internet was used by a small number of people, now that it’s a global phenomenon, the laws need to change.  The issue of piracy will undoubtably cause the most controversy, but I hope the debates and subsequent legislation will also help facilitate Europe embracing the digital age and all the many benefits that comes with it.

We wil also be looking at the progress of the Bologna process in the Autum.  The Bologna process is crucial to ensuring that qualifications gained at universities throughout the EU are given proper recgonition in other Member States.