Help Print this page 

Summaries of EU Legislation

Title and reference
Tackling early school leaving

Summaries of EU legislation: direct access to the main summaries page.

This summary is archived.
Languages and formats available
HTML html ES html DE html EN html FR html IT
Multilingual display
Miscellaneous information
  • Archived: true

Tackling early school leaving

The Commission analyses the causes and consequences of early school leaving. It presents the tools at the disposal of Member States to tackle this issue, and the measures that the Union should adopt in order reduce the drop-out rate in the EU.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 31 January 2011 – Tackling early school leaving: A key contribution to the Europe 2020 Agenda [COM(2011) 18 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


In 2009, more than six million young people from 18 to 24 years old, i.e. 14.4 %, left the education system early. Reducing the school drop-out rate * in the European Union (EU) to less than 10 % and increasing the rate of tertiary qualifications to 40 % is one of the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The challenges

Tackling early school leaving is first and foremost an investment in the future. Young people who leave school early are at increased risk of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. They are often in more precarious and less well-paid jobs than those with training.

Completion of the school curriculum is beneficial both from an economic and a social point of view. It produces qualified workers who drive growth and innovation.

Through its positive effect on employability and the fight against social exclusion, a reduction in early school leaving will contribute to meeting other Europe 2020 strategy targets: attaining a 75 % employment rate for those aged 20-64 and lifting 20 million people out of poverty.

The causes

Early school leaving is the result of a mix of individual, educational and socio-economic factors. These features differ from one country to another and according to the region.

Generally, children from low education and socially disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely than others to leave the school system early. The same applies to disabled children, those from a public care background and young people with a migrant origin. Boys are also more affected than girls by this phenomenon.

Transitions between schools and between different educational levels may prove hard for pupils facing difficulties.

The principles

Strategies for combating early school leaving have to take as a starting point an analysis of the national, regional and local specificities of the phenomenon. They must be overarching and include policies such as social protection, youth, family, health and employment.

These strategies must be systematic and aimed at:

  • prevention: by seeking to avoid the conditions from arising that lead to early school leaving;
  • intervention: by addressing the difficulties encountered by pupils as soon as they arise;
  • compensation: by offering opportunities for education and training to pupils who have dropped out.

EU action

The EU may assist Member States in preparing more coherent and comprehensive strategies to reduce early school leaving.

Several measures are to be introduced at EU level:

  • laying down a common European framework for policies to tackle early school leaving and ensuring that comprehensive national strategies are adopted by Member States by 2012;
  • adopting a Communication on education and early childhood which will highlight their effect on the prevention of early school leaving;
  • adopting a Communication on European strategy for integration which will take into account the necessity to tackle early school leaving by children from a migrant background;
  • implementing a strategy for the modernisation of vocational education and training including specific action against school drop-out;
  • proposing reference criteria to measure the employability of young people;
  • forming a European-level group of decision-makers to assist in determining effective measures and practices to meet the common challenges for Member States;
  • organising debates, discussions and conferences to promote the adoption of new strategies and measures and highlight good practices;
  • more intensive use of the Lifelong Learning Programme and the research and innovation related programmes to support innovative approaches to reduce early school leaving;
  • add focus and rigour to investments made under European Structural Funds to tackle early school leaving.

Key terms of the Act

  • Early school leaving: leaving education and training before completing upper secondary education or equivalents in vocational education and training.


Council Conclusions of 12 May 2009 on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (“Education and Training 2020”) [Official Journal C 119 of 28.5.2009].

Last updated: 21.06.2011