ERG SES D 05, Secondary Education
In this paper the youths that leave Swedish upper secondary education (normally ages 16-18) before their second year are studied. Using registry data this large scale study concerns individual and contextual characteristics in the outlined group over time. The questions asked are a)if there is an over representation of students with certain social backgrounds within the group, b)if this varies among the different upper secondary programs and c)if there are changes over time.
In the Swedish as well as the European context of today, youth education in the later stages is important for the transition to the labor market and the possibilities to take active part in society. Across Europe, the problems with youths leaving school early are similar (see e.g. Ahola &Kivel, 2007; Murray, 2000). Due to this and its large scale design, this study is argued to be of interest outside the Swedish context. In Sweden, policy makers have been concerned about the ‘early school leavers’ since the beginning of the 1970s, when an increasing share of youths went on to upper secondary level. To handle the over representation of early school leavers from working class groups, changes to facilitate the transition from compulsory school and closer connection to local workplaces were suggested (SOU 1981:86). Focus in the paper is on the reforms of upper secondary school during the 1990s, where these ideas were implemented alongside a number of other changes.
In 1990 almost all youths went on to upper secondary level, attending either academic or vocational education within various areas. In 1991, a third year was introduced to the former two-year vocational programs. In 1994 the numerous programs were re-arranged into 16 national ones. Also, the so called individual program was established with the intention to provide a passage to the national programs for those who lacked grades from compulsory school. Furthermore, a new curriculum and a goal-orientated grading system with a clear pass/fail distinction were introduced in 1994/1995. From the mid-1990s the responsibility for schools shifted from state to local level. Another reform during this time was that students no longer had to attend the local upper secondary school. At the same time new directives enabled independent actors to establish schools. The following years the Swedish school system saw a growing marketization, with schools profiling themselves to attract particular groups of students and an increasing share of students attending independent alternatives (Lundahl, Arreman, Lundström & Rönnberg, 2010; Arreman &Holm, 2011).
Recent research has shown that the share of students who studied three years or more in upper secondary school dropped when the goal-orientated grading system was introduced (IFAU, 2014). Despite the falling numbers, the report concludes that this does not necessarily mean that the number of students that actually studied for three years have dropped as much. In the report, focus is on the group of students that leave after two years or more and the group of students that leave earlier is regarded as minor. However, the number of students leaving before their second year is around 5000 each birth cohort (N approximately 100.000) and this paper demonstrate that it is important from an equity perspective to map out different individual and contextual factors for this set of students over time.
Also discussed in this paper is the concept of ‘early school leavers’ and a distinction is made between ‘drop outs’ and ‘push outs’ (Blaug, 2008), where the former links the responsibility to the individual and the latter turns the problem into a system matter. This study also draws on the works of Bourdieu (1930-2002), discussing why some groups systematically fail within the education system.
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