23 SES 04 C, Inclusive Policies in Different Education Contexts
Unauthorized absence from school is a problem that has been increasingly noted by the National Agency for Education, county councils, communities, and media in Sweden. There are elementary school students in Sweden who have not attended school for several years (Springe 2009), the phenomenon is found all over the world. There is an increased political interest in these questions worldwide, and most politicians emphasize school and the capacity to read and write as prerequisites for democracy (Reid 2012a). At the same time, schooling is questioned. Research has shown that school and development do not necessarily go hand in hand and that schooling increases segregation, inequalities, class differences, and gender structure. It is beyond the scope of this article to problematize schooling in this regard, but these school-related problems are entangled in several ways, and this question is returned to in the conclusion.
The point of departure in this research review must be that elementary education is a prerequisite for democracy and that ensuring future generations’ ability to read and write is to a large extent a task for schools. It is well documented that failure in school and early dropout can have negative effects (cf. Bradshaw, O’Brennan, and McNeely 2008). Research indicates that the road to criminality, drug abuse, and social exclusion is open (Nelson and Baldwin 2004; Henry, Thornberry, and Huizinga 2009) and that there is a straight line from truancy to dropout, youth crime, gang membership, teenage pregnancy, poor health, and reliance on social service (Kronholz 2011). Truancy is a more pre-eminent risk predictor even compared to average grades, according to Hallfors et al. (2002). This dark picture could be countered by Hill and Jepsen (2007, 600), who have demonstrated that many teen mothers and high school dropouts “experience success in the labour market, with earnings well above the poverty line and full-time jobs.” These successful individuals turn back to post-secondary schooling when they are in their mid-twenties. The authors have recommended policies that assist young people who have taken missteps. Truancy can also be linked to high potential academically; students that are under-challenged at school (Sälzer et al. 2012). There are many dimensions and perspectives in this study; the individual, institutional, organizational, societal. In a research review like this one, however, the illumination of the relation between research and development is a strong incentive and an object of the study.
In spring 2012 a community in Sweden sought out a researcher who could get to the root causes of the perceived local problem of unauthorized absence from schools. The questions raised in this community were how school absence could be prevented and attendance be stimulated through interventions in the school as well as in the local community. One part of this project was a review of research results focusing on prevention and attendance; this article presents the result of this research review. What does research globally demonstrate about what schools and communities can do to stimulate attendance and to prevent unauthorized absence?
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