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EUROPE 2020 TARGET: EARLY LEAVERS FROM EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Early school leaving (ESL)1 is an obstacle to economic growth and employment. It hampers
productivity and competitiveness, and fuels poverty and social exclusion. With its shrinking workforce,
Europe has to make full use of its human resources. Young people who leave education and training
prematurely are bound to lack skills and qualifications, and to face serious, persistent problems on
the labour market. In 2012, nearly five and a half million young people between 18 and 24 years old
had not finished upper secondary education and were not in education and training. On average, the
unemployment rate of these early school leavers is 40.1%, compared to 23.2% overall youth
unemployment in Europe. ESL creates great hardship for the individuals and huge costs for European
economies and welfare states. Tackling early school leaving is a stepping stone towards improving the
opportunities of young people and for supporting smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
1.

Key statistical indicators

Europe 2020 set a headline target to bring down the share of early school leavers to below 10% by
2020. Other pertinent orientation points for assessing a Member State's relative performance and its
level of ambition to improve the situation are the EU28 average (12.7% in 2012) and the national
target set by the Member States (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. ESL rate 2012, Europe 2020 target and national targets

Source: Eurostat (LFS).

When assessing Member States' performance, data on the current level of early school leaving should
be complemented by data on trends in recent years (see Figure 2 and annex). The assessment can
be further refined by breaking down the data by sex and country of birth (see Annex B and C
respectively). Together with the information, such as age, socio-economic status or language spoken
at home, this breakdown provides important additional elements to understand the ESL processes in
Member States and to better focus the development of targeted measures against ESL. Knowledge
about at-risk groups and reasons for early school leaving can help to improve these measures. It
should also be noted that in most countries ESL is more prominent in vocational education training
(VET), so comprehensive data on the type of secondary education is another means to strengthen the
knowledge-base at the national level.
2.

Assessment of main challenges in Member States

The extent of the challenge


Figure 2 illustrates the current performance (2012) and recent change (2009-2012) of Member
States as regards their rate of early school leavers. The dashed vertical line represents the minimum
annual progress for the EU28 as a whole that would be necessary to reach the target of "below 10%"
by 2020. If the rate of changes recorded in the past few years are confirmed (or improved) the EU27,
on average, is back on track to reach the headline target, although its progress is too small to be
overly optimistic.
1

The terms early school leavers and early leavers from education and training are used interchangeably in this document.

Minimum progress required

ESL rate 2012

Figure 2. Early school leaving: current performance and recent change2

Headline target

Average annual change in ESL rate (%) over the period 2009-2012
Source: JRC-CRELL and DG EAC calculations based on Eurostat data.

In terms of current performance and recent change regarding the ESL rates, the following groups
of Member States can be distinguished:
(1) Member States with early school leaving rates above 10% in 2012 and on top of that insufficient
progress or even stagnation in recent years. Amongst these countries, IT, DE, FR and CY are
falling behind the minimum progress required for the EU as a whole to reach the headline target
by 2020, whereas HU, BG and BE are even doing worse; early school leaving rates in these
countries have actually been increasing in recent years.
(2) Member States with ESL rates above 10% but nevertheless significant progress in recent years.
This group, found in the upper left quadrant of figure 2, should be divided into two subgroups:
a. Despite considerable progress in recent years, ES (24.9%), PT (20.8%) and MT3 (22.6%) still
have ESL rates above 20%. MT displays the second highest ESL rate amongst all Member
States, but showed progress since 2010. PT has achieved the strongest improvement of all
countries since 2009.
b. ESL rates in the UK, BG, EL, EE and LV are above 10% but decreased significantly in recent
years. In these countries, the average annual change rate between 2009 and 2012 has been
higher than the minimum progress required for the EU as a whole to meet the headline
target.
(3) Member States that show early school leaving rates below 10% but at the same time stagnation
in recent years. In CZ, LU, SE, PL, HR and SK the rate of early school leaving has actually even
increased. Amongst these countries, Poland is still to reach its national target of 4.5%.

Member States having already achieved their national targets are marked in green. Countries are shown according to their
18-24 cohort size, with five categories. Further notes: the average annual change rate is artificial for countries with a
break in series, i.e. Malta (2010), the Netherlands (2010) and Latvia (2011).
The Maltese series on early leavers from education and training have been revised. The revision concerns the classification
of certain qualifications at secondary level. The national target refers to data prior to the revision.

(4) Member States that have ESL rates below 10% and on top of that significant further progress in
recent years. In this group, LT, NL, DK, AT, FI, IE and SI all show a decreasing trend while
already having reached the headline target. Amongst these countries, IE, FI and NL have not met
their national target yet, which is set at or below 8% for all three.
Target groups
(1) Young people with a migration background are at greater risk of ESL from school (with
the exception of the UK and Portugal). In 2012 the ESL rate of young people born abroad was on
average more than double the ESL rate of natives (25.4% in contrast to 11.5% for natives).
Compared to 2010, the ESL rate dropped 1.3pp for natives and only 1.1pp for foreign born.
Greece, Austria and Cyprus show very high gaps with ESL rates of young people born abroad
being at least three times higher than those for natives (See Annex, Table C).The risk of early
school leaving is closely linked to the lower socioeconomic status of migrants, language barriers
and their limited access to sufficient learning support. Examples from Portugal and the UK show
that they can achieve higher attainment than natives if properly supported.
(2) The data available also show that early-school leaving is significantly higher for boys than for
girls (on average, the risk for boys is 24% higher with peaks (>50%) for Poland, Slovenia,
Luxembourg, Latvia, Cyprus and Estonia). This applies for almost all Member States (with the
exception of Bulgaria).
Nature of the challenge
While the factors leading to early school leaving vary from country to country, based on the 2011
Council Recommendation4 on policies to reduce early school leaving, the causes of ineffective
policies can be boiled down to three typical deficiencies:
(1) Lack of a comprehensive strategy: Strategic approaches to address early school leaving are not
yet broadly implemented in Member States, although there is a growing tendency to better link
existing and new measures and develop more comprehensive strategies. In addition, relevant
stakeholders are often not involved in efforts to develop and implement measures. A Peer Review
on policies to reduce Early School Leaving in March 2013 highlighted the need to involve
business in measures to reduce early school leaving to e.g. allow for more work-based learning,
improve guidance for young people at risk of early school leaving and ease their transition from
school to work.
(2) Lack of evidence-based policy-making: with some notable exceptions, Member State policies lack
detailed information on the background of early school leavers and an analysis of the causes and
incidence of ESL. Only a few countries take a systematic approach to collecting, monitoring and
analysing data on ESL.
(3) Insufficient prevention and early intervention: Member States start to devote more attention to
prevention, but still stronger focus on preventive and early intervention measures is needed both
at system level and at the level of individual education and training institutions. As the Peer
Review in March 2013 showed, prevention measures at system level need to address especially
problems of segregation in school education, the negative effects of grade repetition, the lack of
support of groups at risk of early school leaving and the need to improve the attractivenes of
VET.
The 2011 Council Recommendation5 gives guidance to Member States on how to tackle early
school leaving and sets out the way forward. Member States should implement coherent,
comprehensive and evidence-based strategies, comprising prevention, intervention and
compensation measures.
Intervention measures must be designed in a way that does not lead to segregation in the education
system e.g. by creating measures that are beneficial for all students and all types of education and

4
5

OJ C191, 1.7.2011, p. 1.
OJ C191, 1.7.2011, p. 1.

training institutions or by designing alternative educational pathways in a way that they provide
relevant qualifications which allow learners to re-enter mainstream education and training.
Vocational Education and Training (VET) systems can help to reduce early school leaving by
offering an alternative to general education. Successful approaches often combine work experience
with more theoretic and school-based teaching and strongly involve business. Also better guidance
and better targeted support of VET students can help to reduce early school leaving.
3.

Horizontal issues

To ensure the effectiveness of the policies advocated by the 2011 Council Recommendation, it is
important to identify the main factors leading to ESL and to monitor developments at national,
regional and local level. First experiences in countries applying more advanced data collection
systems show that high-quality data monitoring is very useful in maximising the reduction of ESL. As
early school leaving is more frequent among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, among
people with migrant background and ethnic minorities such as Roma, and among boys, these should
be key target groups for policy interventions.
Prevention and early intervention can be strengthened through better support for those at risk at
an early age. There should also be better support for teachers, trainers and other education staff,
parental involvement and cooperation with local communities. Extra-curricular activities and
measures to raise the self-esteem, motivation and resilience of young people at risk of leaving school
early are also important.
Increasing the provision of high-quality initial Vocational Education and Training (VET) can help
reduce ESL. Combining general education with work experience can provide an alternative, and
for some learners, more motivating path through education.

Annex: Additional statistical indicators


A. Early leavers from education and training (total).
2000
EU 28

2009

2010

2011

2012

14.2

13.9

13.4

12.7P

Austria

10.2

8.7

8.3

8.3

7.6

Belgium

13.8

11.1

11.9

12.3

12.0

Bulgaria

14.7

13.9

11.8

12.5

Croatia

3.9

3.7

4.1

4.2

Cyprus

18.5

11.7

12.7

11.3

11.4

5.4

4.9

4.9

5.5

Denmark

11.7

11.3

11.0

9.6

9.1

Estonia

15.1

13.9

11.6

10.9

10.5

Finland

9.0

9.9

10.3

9.8

8.9

France

13.3

12.2

12.6

12.0

11.6

Germany

14.6

11.1

11.9

11.7

10.5p

Greece

18.2

14.5

13.7

13.1

11.4

Hungary

13.9

11.2

10.5

11.2

11.5

11.6

11.5

10.8

9.7

Czech Republic

Ireland
Italy

25.1

19.2

18.8

18.2

17.6

13.9

13.3

11.6b

10.5

16.5

8.7

8.1

7.2

6.5

Luxembourg

16.8

7.7

7.1

6.2

8.1p

Malta

54.2p

36.8p

24.8b

23.6

22.6

Netherlands

15.4

10.9

10.0b

9.1

8.8p

5.3

5.4p

5.6p

5.7p

Portugal

43.6

31.2

28.7

23.2

20.8

Romania

22.9

16.6

18.4

17.5

17.4

Slovakia

4.9

4.7

5.0

5.3

Latvia
Lithuania

Poland

Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom

5.3

5.0

4.2

4.4

29.1

31.2

28.4

26.5

24.9

7.3

7.0

6.5

6.6

7.5

18.2

15.7

14.9

15.0

13.5

Source: Eurostat (LFS). Notes: b= break; u= unreliable; p= provisional.

Overall situation, general trends:


The share of early school leavers among the population 18-24 is tending to decrease in most Member
States. The rate of early school leavers in the EU28 decreased by 0.7 percentage points or 4.4%.
Countries with special performance/trends:
In general central and eastern European countries and Nordic countries show the best results. Malta
(22.6%), Spain (24.9%) and Portugal (20.8%) still show the highest rates of early school leaving, but
made most progress compared to 2011. An increase of the early school leaving rate in comparison to
2011 could be observed in Luxembourg, Sweden, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia,
Slovenia, Poland and Cyprus.

B. Early leavers from education and training by sex.


Males
2009
EU 28

2010

Females

2011

2012
p

2009

p.p. diff

% diff

2010

2011

2012

2012

2012

16.1

15.8

15.3

14.4

12.3

12

11.5

10.9

3.5

-24.3%

Austria

8.5

8.4

8.8

7.9

8.9

8.2

7.8

7.3

0.6

-7.6%

Belgium

12.8

13.8

14.9

14.4

9.3

10.0

9.7

9.5

4.9

-34.0%

Bulgaria

13.7

13.2

11.2

12.1

15.8

14.5

12.6

13.0

-0.9

7.4%

Croatia

4.1

4.6

4.8

4.6

3.6

2.6

3.4

3.6

1.0

-21.7%

Cyprus

15.2

16.2

15.1

16.5

8.7

9.8

8.1

7.0

9.5

-57.6%

Czech Republic

5.5

4.9

5.4

6.1

5.2

4.8

4.4

4.9

1.2

-19.7%

Denmark

14.3

14.1

12.1

10.8

8.1

7.7

7.0

7.4

3.4

-31.5%

Estonia

18.4

15.2

13.1

14.0

9.3

7.8

8.6

7.1

6.9

-49.3%

Finland

10.7

11.6

11.2

9.8

9.0

9.0

8.4

8.1

1.7

-17.3%

France

14.3

15.1

13.8

13.4

10.1

10.0

10.2

9.8

3.6

-26.9%

Germany

11.5

12.7

12.7

11.1

10.7

11

10.8

9.8

1.3

-11.7%

Greece

18.3

16.5

16.1

13.7

10.6

10.8

10.1

9.1

4.6

-33.6%

Hungary

12.0

11.5

12.1

12.2

10.4

9.5

10.3

10.7

1.5

-12.3%

Ireland

14.7

13.4

12.8

11.2

8.5

9.6

8.8

8.2

3.0

-26.8%

Italy

22.0

22

21.0

20.5

16.3

15.4

15.2

14.5

6.0

-29.3%

Latvia

17.5

17.2

15.8b

14.5

10.4

9.4

7.5b

6.2

8.3

-57.2%

Lithuania

11.5

9.9

9.7

8.2

5.7

6.2

4.5u

4.6u

3.6

-43.9%

6.0

4.8

5.5p

5.2

-48.6%

Luxembourg

8.9

8.0

7.6
b

10.7

6.6

Malta

40.1

31.2

29.6

27.5

33.2p

17.7

17.1

17.6

9.9

-36.0%

Netherlands

13.1

12.1b

10.8

10.2p

8.6

7.8b

7.2

7.3p

2.9

-28.4%

6.6

7.2p

7.4p

7.8p

3.9

3.5p

3.8p

3.5p

4.3

-55.1%

Portugal

36.1

32.7

28.2

27.1

26.1

24.6

18.1

14.3

12.8

-47.2%

Romania

16.1

18.6

18.5

18.0

17.2

18.2

16.6

16.7

1.3

-7.2%

Slovakia

5.7

4.6

5.4

6.0

4.1

4.9

4.6

4.6

1.4

-23.3%

Slovenia

7.2

6.4

5.7

5.4

3.2u

3.3u

2.5u

3.2u

2.2

-40.7%

37.4

33.5

31

28.8

24.7

23.1

21.9

20.8

8.0

-27.8%

8.0

7.5

7.8

8.5

6.0

5.5

5.4

6.3

2.2

-25.9%

16.9

15.8

16.2

14.6

14.5

14.0

13.8

12.4

2.2

-15.1%

Poland

Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom

Source: Eurostat (LFS). Notes: b= break; u= unreliable; p= provisional; p.p.= percentage points.

Overall situation, general trends:


The share of early school leavers among females is about 24% or 3.5 percentage points lower than
among males. The female early school leaver rate is thus already near the EU benchmark of 10%. On
the other hand progress since 2009 has been slightly better for males.
Countries with special performance/trends:
Bulgaria is the only country where males have lower ESL rates than females. Romania, Austria,
Hungary, the United Kingdom and Germany have a relatively good balance. The Baltic States, Poland,
Slovenia, Cyprus and Luxembourg have the greatest relative gender differences in favour of females.

C. Early leavers from education by country of birth.

2009
Total
EU 28

Foreign-born

2012
Native-born

Total

Foreign-born

Native-born

14.2

27.7

13

12.7

25.4

11.5

Austria

8.7

22.5

6.2

7.6

17.7

6.0

Belgium

11.1

20.5

10.0

12.0

22.6

10.6

Bulgaria

14.7

14.8

12.5

12.6

Croatia

3.9

4.0

4.2

4.2

Cyprus

11.7

23.0

7.8

11.4

20.7

8.1

5.4

15.0u

5.2

5.5

9.3u

5.5

Denmark

11.3

15.8

11.0

9.1

10.1

9.0

Estonia

13.9

14.1

10.5

10.6

Finland

9.9

21.8

9.3

8.9

14.9u

8.7

France

12.2

24.2

11.3

11.6

22.9

10.8

Germany

11.1

9.5

10.5p

9.1

Greece

14.5

44.5

10.0

11.4

42.0

8.3

Hungary

11.2

11.1

11.5

14.4:u

11.4

Ireland

11.6

13.9

11.2

9.7

12.3

9.2

Italy

19.2

42.3

16.7

17.6

39.1

14.8

Latvia

13.9

14.0

10.5

2.3:u

10.6

8.7

8.6

6.5

14.1:u

6.4

Czech Republic

Lithuania
Luxembourg

7.7

13.4

5.4

8.1

10.6

7.1

Malta

36.8p

37.3

22.6

20.1:u

22.7

Netherlands

10.9

14.2

10.7

8.8p

12.2

8.6

5.3

5.3

5.7p

5.5:u

5.7

Portugal

31.2

29.4

31.4

20.8

20.3

20.9

Romania

16.6

16.7

17.4

17.4

Slovakia

4.9

4.9

5.3

5.3

Slovenia

5.3

13.0u

5.0

4.4

10.1u

4.2

31.2

45.2

27.9

24.9

40.7

21.4

7.0

11.9

6.4

7.5

12.8

6.7

15.7

11.5

16.3

13.5

12.2

13.7

Poland

Spain
Sweden
United Kingdom

Source: Eurostat (LFS). Notes: b= break; : = data are either not available or not reliable due to very small sample size; u= data
lack reliability due to small sample size; p= provisional. Data for the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovenia lack reliability due to
small sample size in 2012.

Overall situation, general trends:


The share of early school leavers among foreign-born is on EU average more than twice as high as for
natives (25.4% compared to 11.5%).
Countries with special performance/trends:
Countries with a particularly high early school leaver rate of migrants compared to natives (> 15
percentage points) include Greece (33.7pp), Italy (24.3pp) and Spain (19.3pp). The ESL rate for
foreign-born is at least twice as high as for native born in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Greece,
Italy and Slovenia. Countries with a low gap include Denmark (1.1pp), Luxembourg (3.5pp), the
Netherlands (3.6pp) and the Czech Republic (3.8pp). In Portugal (-0.6pp) and the United Kingdom (1.5pp) foreign-born have a lower early school leaver rate compared to natives.