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Learners’ needs should be at the centre of education. All learners are entitled to high-quality education, a relevant curriculum, appropriate assessment, ‘equivalent’ and valued learning opportunities. Schools should provide an environment that accommodates learners’ diversity, including varied learning needs, to maximise each young person’s potential. Quality education should be designed to fit learners rather than requiring them to fit into an existing system. This should ensure that they engage with the learning process, and see a clear purpose for their studies. These are important incentives to remain in school.
It is important that potential learning difficulties are identified during early childhood education and care and that adequate support is provided even before children enter primary school. Whether diagnoses are made at the prevention stage or later, schools should be able to rapidly identify difficulties or signs of cognitive, emotional and behavioural disengagement, and be ready and equipped to respond. A support framework should be in place, comprising a wide range of diversified measures for different groups of learners. Three levels of intervention may be identified:
- Universal support – for all students
- Targeted support – for groups of students at moderate levels of risk or need
- Individual support – intensive intervention at chronic or extremely high levels of risk or need
The support framework for learners should be holistic and comprehensive, addressing all dimensions of a learner's life: academic, emotional, health, etc. There should be an emphasis on building trust, emotional bonds and motivation for education. Support should be inclusive and cautious of possible stigma associated with being designated as an at-risk learner.
Targeted and individual interventions for learners at risk will be more effective if carried out by multidisciplinary teams (in schools or by bringing external professionals into schools), and with the involvement of all those interacting with the learners, be they family members, siblings or volunteers. An individual support plan, agreed with the learner and his/her family, can help to set clear and achievable goals to address issues and monitor progress.
An example of a diversified (three-tier) support system for learners: Finland
The Finnish basic education system has been based on the philosophy of inclusion for a long time. Basic education is the same for all. There is no streaming or tracking, but children are individually supported to successfully complete their basic education. Amendments to the National Core Curricula for pre-primary and basic education (2010) include a new systematic way of organising support. The focus is on earliest possible support in order to prevent the emergence and growth of problems.
Support for growth, learning and school attendance is organised in three categories: general, intensified and special support.
Everyone is entitled to general support. It is a natural part of the everyday teaching and the learning process. Intensified and special supports are based on multi-professional teams’ careful assessment and individual learning plans to address long-term needs.
If general support is not enough, an individual assessment is administered and a plan for the intensified support within the pupil welfare group of the school is developed. Following this, a learning plan is drawn up.
If intensive support is not enough, new and more extensive pedagogical statements are developed. The education provider collects information from teachers and the school’s welfare group. Based on this information, the education provider makes an official decision concerning special support. Following this decision, an inclusive individual education plan is created.
Find out more:
ECORYS, Preventing early school leaving in Europe: Lessons learned from second chance education, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2014.
Eurydice and Cedefop, Tackling Early Leaving from Education and Training in Europe: Strategies, Policies and Measures, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2014.
Nouwen, W., Clycq, N., Braspenningx, M., and Timmerman, C., Cross-case Analyses of School-based Prevention and Intervention Measures, Project Paper 6, RESl.eu Project, Centre for Migration and Intercultural Studies, University of Antwerp, 2016.
Dynarski, M., Clarke, L., Cobb, B., Finn, J., Rumberger, R., and Smink, J., Dropout prevention: A practice guide, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 2008.
Lamb, S, Markussen, E, Teese, R, Sandberg, N, Polesel, J (eds.) School Dropout and Completion: International comparative studies in theory and policy, Springer, Dordrecht-Heidelberg-London New York, 2011.
Rumberger, R.W. ‘Why students drop out of school’, in Gary Orfield (Ed.), Dropouts in America: Confronting the graduation rate crisis (pp.131-155), Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004.
Rumberger, R.W., and Lim, S. Why students drop out of school: A review of 25 years of research, California Dropout Research Project, UC Santa Barbara, 2008.