28 SES 03 A, Vulnerable Students and Early School Leaving in Europe
Early school leaving is considered today as one of the most important issues educational systems are facing. Defined as the ending of studies before completion of the secondary education, and also named “dropping out”, it constitutes a very serious impediment in the access to employment of the people concerned. This is why the decrease of dropping out is considered by the European public authorities as a priority. European countries are all pursuing policies tackling early school leaving. However, the phenomenon is more or less important according to the national context. A wide spread of ESL (Early school leaving) rates differentiates European countries, from 5% in Slovenia to 20% in Spain. France is in a rather central position at 9,2%. These gaps show that the educational system context has a crucial effect on the risk of dropping-out, and that the students’ school experiences are specific to each context. The paper presented here addresses this issue in the French context: to what extent the self-reported dropping-out motives reveal particular school experiences, and what do these motives tell us about the school contexts in which students live.
The many results of research today allow to determine the individual and contextual causes of school dropping out [RUMBERGER, 2011]. They show that early school leaving is only the final step in a process that unfolds over time. Studying it must bring one to pay particular attention to the contexts in which those school careers develop: the school’s context, through the concept of « school effects »; and social context, through the population’s social mix [BRYK and THUM, 1989; DUMAY and DUPRIEZ, 2004].
These results demand that research be conducted on the school experience of students in the process of dropping out. This orientation allows a better understanding of the different paths that can lead to quitting school, but also of the reasons behind dropouts’ actions, notably concerning their relationship with school. Indeed, though nowadays we have a good knowledge of the socio-economic characteristics of young people dropping out, we don’t have as good an understanding of how they experience their dropping out.
The goal of the research presented in this article is to better grasp the subjective aspect of the school careers that lead to dropping out. Another of its ambitions is to demonstrate the links between the subjective dimension of dropping out, perceived through the reasons given by the young people, and their objective characteristics, on a socio-demographic level (gender, age, social and family environment) as well as an academic one (grade repetition, educational guidance, etc.).
The work presented here is based on a sociology of school experience framework. It is built on the theory that students’ school experience is structured in several successive phases [DUBET and MARTUCCELLI, 1996]. After the integration and strategy phases, which are characteristic of compulsory education, the individualisation phase is built as a response to school challenges. The teenager evolves as an autonomous subject, asserting his or her choices and plans, which are perceived as personal. For the young people who are the most invalidated by school, the impossibility to create themselves in the world of education leads them to challenge the institution. An indicator of that particular relationship towards school can be revealed by the reasons students dropout, as they explain them themselves.
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