To Understand The Causes Of Early School Leaving Education Essay

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This study is going to look at a particular issue in the Irish society called 'Early School Leaving', this issue has become an area of interest for the Researcher because when the Researcher did her 2nd year placement, she was able to see problems associated with dropping out of school early. Although there have been several studies done in the area before, the Researcher thinks that more research should be done in the area to ascertain the view of professionals that work with younger people who are at risk of leaving school early due to multiple problems. Some projects that run clubs for the at risk group have had a massive reduction on their budgets due to the current economic situation, in this study the Researcher will explore more in this area and see the impact on the lives of the people availing the services by looking at current studies done in the area. For the purposes of this study, The Researcher intends to interview professionals i.e. Project workers, Teacher, Life-skill support worker, Family support worker, that work with the targeted cohort in the organisation chosen.

Education is the currency of the Information Age, no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success but a prerequisite. There simply aren't as many jobs today that can support a family where only a high school degree is required. And if you don't have that degree, there are even fewer jobs available that can keep you out of poverty (Obama 2008, cited in Lyche 2010, p.8).


To explore professional perspectives/opinion on the causes of early school leaving


To understand the causes of early school leaving

To understand the average age that people leave school

To analyse the government policies that are in place to tackle early school leaving

To identify the preventative measures in place for early school leavers

To explore the scope for early school leavers in return to education and training in later life.

To provide recommendations on possible interventions to deal with or tackle early school leaving


National Policies

A report conducted by the National Economic and Social Forum on early school leavers (nd) stated that this report maintains the focus on the priority groups, in particular, priority groups A which includes pre-school, primary level and post primary level and children up to junior Certificate. Group B which includes 15-18 years old who left school with no qualification, and who:

â- do not make the transfer from primary to second-level,

â- drop out before sitting the Junior Certificate, or

â- leave school immediately after Junior Certificate without any effective examination results

To this effect, education is a fundamental human right recognised as such in European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Education Act 1998 requires that a child should not be denied to education and that parents have the right to ensure that the education of their children is in accordance with their religious and philosophical beliefs. The Act (1998) seeks to increase the openness of the education system, making schools more accountable, particularly in decision making area such as admission and disciplinary actions. It also provides a statutory framework for primary and post-primary education (Shannon 2005, p.75).

The persistence of early school leaving despite widespread structural change in the Irish education system challenges the view that the system's structure and differentiation into school types of itself causes early school leaving or disadvantage. Rather, it suggests that the Irish school system reflects, reproduces and indeed reinforces the inequalities inherent in Irish society (Stokes 2003, p.178 cited in Joint Committee on Education and Skills 2010, pg17).

This piece of research is relevant to the this study as the Researcher is trying to find out the recommended age for starting school and the actual age that young people leave school whether primary or second level.

EU Studies

Internationally early school leaving has become an on-going issue. According to a conference report conducted by the European Commission on reducing early school leaving (2012, p.1) it was noted that early school leaving is affecting one in seven young people, ESL is one of the main educational challenges in Europe, and reducing its levels is a shared objective of EU countries. In the conference, it was stated that more than 14% of all 18 to 24 year olds in the EU finish their education and training with only lower secondary education or less.

However, as stated in Europe 2020 Target document (nd, p.5) for many years, Spain had a high and growing early school leaver rate, partly explained by a favourable labour market. Although, after 2008, progress on reducing the rate in Spain has accelerated. Malta and Portugal have made good progress in reducing their high early school leaver rates, but progress in Malta has slowed down in recent years, while it has accelerated in Portugal.

Ching and Kritikos (2005) on behalf of the European Commission stated in their report that hypothesis that young people being brought up in a less advantageous socioeconomic environment area more likely to leave school early is strongly supported by the literature. A disadvantageous socio-economic background negatively influences the decision to stay at school and socio-economic characteristics are a significant predictor of Early School Leaving. Poor socio economic backgrounds also play a role in influencing pupils to take "weaker" directions in secondary education directions.

A conference report presented by the E.C. (2012, p.7) where Clare Ryan presented the School Completion Programme as a project designed for areas of lower socio-economic status, the SCP aims to have a significant positive impact on levels of young people's retention in primary and secondary level schools and on the numbers of pupils who successfully complete upper secondary level education. The 124 SCP projects in Ireland work in cluster arrangements, comprising in total 464 primary and 224 post-primary schools. The work follows principles such as working in partnership with schools, parents and local communities, targeting each young person individually and supporting them as early as possible.

This piece of research is very important to this study in a way that Ireland like other European countries is fighting to tackle early school leaving and putting all possible measures in place but this research shows that ESL is a challenge in EU as a whole. With regards to what are the reasons and causes of early school leaving, it will be an insight for the researcher to see the different causes from different EU countries.

Irish Studies and legislation

According to the National Education Welfare Board (nd) the Education Welfare Act (2000) regarding early school leavers stated that the Act will makes specific provision for the continuing education and training of young persons aged 16 and 17 years who have left school early to take up employment, provides for the registration of early school leavers with the National Educational Welfare Board and for the Board to assist them in availing of appropriate educational and training opportunities, prevents employers from employing early school leavers who are not registered with the Board for this purpose, obliges employers to notify the Board when they employ an early school leaver (National Education Welfare Board, nd).

Also, the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 provides a National System for compulsory school attendance while ensures that children of school going age attend school, or if they fail to do so, otherwise receive at least a minimum standard of education. This Act (2000) imposes a statutory duty on the schools to adopt a more pro-active approach to the problem of truancy, and aforementioned minimum education in recognised school or otherwise education (Shannon 2005, p.75).

However, a recent press release by Minister FitzGerald on 7th June 2012, highlighted that "While absenteeism reduced in 2009/2010, over 56,000 students still missed school each day, consisting of approximately 31,400 primary and 24,700 post-primary students.  This must remain a significant cause for concern and demonstrates the need for a sustained and focussed approach to supporting student attendance, participation and retention" (National Education Welfare Board, nd).

To this effect, there is a consistent finding in research in this area over a period of at least 50 years which argues that there is an association between socioeconomic measures and educational outcomes, including retention, which suggests that poverty and deprivation lie at the heart of early school leaving and other forms of underperformance, both preceding it and following it (Greaney & Kellaghan, 1984, cited in Joint Committee on Education and Skills 2010, p.42).

The Education Welfare Act (2000) is very important to this piece of research as the Researcher will explore what opportunities are out there for early school leavers to get back to education. While the statement from Minister FitzGerald will guide the Researcher in obtaining statistics on absentiseem. Whilst finally it will enable the Researcher to get to the bottom root of why young people leave school early when according to the legislation they should be in school.

International studies (Australia, Sweden, U.S.A)

Studies both in Australia and abroad suggest that not completing school also results in significant welfare and other social costs (Hankivsky 2008; Owens 2004, cited in Schwab 2012). However, several studies of the 'returns to education' the long-term economic benefits to individuals and society of investing in education show those benefits are real for Indigenous Australians (Biddle 2010; Daly and Liu 1995; Jununkar and Liu 1996; cited in Schwab 2012).

Socio-economic status (SES) is the most widely used composite index "based on several measures of financial and human resources such as both parents' occupational status, and family income" (Rumberger and Lim 2008; cited in Lyche 2010, p.20). Swedish research shows that students with parents that have higher education level are more prone to complete upper secondary (Swedish National Agency for Education 2008; cited in Lyche 2010, p.20).

On the other hand, being a member of a minority also has a significant effect on the dropout rate as shown by the study carried out by the Nordic Council of Ministers (Markussen 2010, cited in Lyche 2010, p.19). In Australia, the indigenous population has a markedly lower completion rate than non-indigenous population (Lamb et al., 2004; cited in Lyche 2010, p.19). In the US the dropout rate is higher for African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, but the results depend on what factors the multivariate studies include (Lyche 2010, p.20).

Studies suggests that early identification enables broader, less costly measures to be set up earlier and leaves the more costly one-on-one measures for later stages of education to the remaining at risk students that have not yet been picked up. Overcoming then completion challenge requires a close cooperation between educational authorities and many other parts of government such as social and labour services, health services and justice system in some countries (Lyche 2010, p.4).

This study is relevant to this research as it talks about 'returns to education' which as stated on the objective of this research that it will explore in details what scope are out there for early school leavers in back to education at their later life.


The Researcher's topic is ''Assessing the causes of Early School Leaving'', the sample for this research project are people from different discipline (s) who work with the targeted cohort in the project example, family support worker, project worker, teacher, life skill support worker, and the co-ordinator. The envisaged time for this project is by 2013 before the summer examination. The Researcher will carry out the interview from the sample in their workplace. The Researcher had already made contact with the organisation regarding having access to the sample and it was accepted that the Researcher will carry out the interview in the organisation. The Researcher had worked in the organisation and thinks that more research needs to be done in that area especially with the recent cut backs in resources.

The researcher has in mind that limitation might come in the form of not having a variety of sample as the researcher would want because the topic is a sensitive one. Time wise can also be a hinder to the research as the interviews will be carried out based on availability of respondents although the researcher had made arrangement before hand but circumstances might arise thereby interviewee might be short. If the researcher had more time and resources, couple of interventions could be implemented with regards to tackling early school leaving by allocating more resources to already functioning programmes and their success will be assessed and recorded.

For the purposes of this research, the Researcher will use the qualitative research method to gather information which uses interview as a means of obtaining data. According to Punch (2005, p.186) qualitative research "allows study of something holistically and comprehensively in its complexity and understand it in its context". Early school leaving is not straight forward as there are different reasons why young people leave school early which the Researcher will explain in great details in the Thesis itself. In other to measure why young people leave school early, Coffey and Atkinson (1996) cited in Punch (2005, p.94) stated that variety of questions can be asked and "different versions of social reality that can be elaborated".

Punch (2005, p.169) points out that "interviews are the best way of understanding other person's construction of reality which can come out by asking them". Use of qualitative research becomes important in a way that respondents are able to produce facts due to their lived experiences and their feelings as to what their views are on young people and their families who left school early. According to Descombe (2005, p.147) There is more room for respondents to produce answers that reflect exact facts and their opinions without having to choose from options supplied in questionnaires. Sometimes ticking boxes can be frustrating for participants and some might just throw the questionnaires away. If participants are given a chance to really explain their experiences they will find it more interesting and will be more co-operative (Descombe 2005, p.160).

In this research project, the ideal method to use is Qualitative method in other to avoid bias. Because the Researcher has a family support worker that wok with some families that have left school early and there are tendencies of their young children leaving school early. However, Bryman (nd) states that "the development of standard questions by researchers can lead to structural bias and false representation where the data actually reflects the view of them instead of the participating subjects". In this case, the way the Researcher words the research question will represent the answers given. During the interview process, if the participant is going off tangent in answering question, the Researcher will have the opportunity to redirect the participant.

Qualitative research method will be used as it has been found to be more efficient in producing a good thesis. Also data analysis will be employed in transcribing the readings rather than the use of SSP, which would be used if the researcher cheese to do the research with quantitative method of research.

A Quantitative research method according to is a scientific investigation that includes both experiments and other systematic methods that emphasize control and quantified measures of performances (Proctor & Capaldi 2006, cited in Hoy 2010, p.1). Also in quantitative survey, measurement and statistics are central to quantitative research because they are the connection between empirical observation and mathematical expression of relation (Hoy 2010, pg1). In this study, quantitative research method could also be used as there is an advantage of obtaining information from a wider sample and it also has high reliability (Sarantos 2005, pg363).

Quantitative research method would be appropriate for this type of research in order to avoid the researcher from bringing in personal experiences, as stated by Descombe (2005, p.159) all respondents will answer the same questions by ticking the box relevant to them with no room for variation and researcher cannot bring in interpersonal factors. There is a possibility of respondents not going off tangent in answering question as the respondents are given closed questions, and they get to tick the boxes from given options (Descombe 2005, p156). Regarding time constraints with quantitative research, it could also be effective as Sarantakos (2005, p.363) states that "quantitative research has fast data processing and analysis…". For the purpose of this research, Quantitative survey can also be beneficial as this Researcher is trying to access the causes of early school leaving. Therefore after weighing the two different options on the types of research methodologies that could be used, the researcher choose to use qualitative research method.


Due to the sensitivity of this topic for most individuals, for example the Researchers sample might have experienced the topic at some points in their lives. However, the Researcher will initially discuss with the participants that they have the right to opt out at any given time if they are uncomfortable with any question asked. The Researcher will assure the participants that any information obtained will be used for the dissertation purposes only and participants will be advised on anonymity where they do not have to use their names and in some cases they forget, the Researcher will always bring it to their attention. No names will be included and all interview sheets will be kept in safe place for a period of six months in case it is requested by the Researchers supervisor and it will then be destroyed.


Early school leaving as defined by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills (2010, p.19) is leaving education without having completed the Leaving Certificate Examination or equivalent.

Educational disadvantage as defined in the Education Act (1998) ''means the impediments to education arising from social or economic disadvantage which prevent students from deriving appropriate benefit from education in schools''.

Educational disadvantage according to Combat Poverty Agency (2003, p.3) is a multidimensional problem and not simply an education-related issue. While it is a problem in its own right, educational disadvantage is more correctly understood as a symptom of a wider range of issues affecting the lives of children and adults, their families and their communities, and the structure and content of the education system.


Lally (nd) stated that gender differences in figures for early school leavers are stark. 15% of males aged 18-24 were identified as early school leavers in 2008 compared to only 8% of females from the same age group. As a general rule across the country, there are two male early school leavers to every female early school leaver. Males participate in more apprenticeships and labouring positions than females which may go some way to explain the gender bias.


The Participant will be assured that the document is an academic piece and the only people that will have access to the information obtained will be the Researcher's Supervisor and the Researcher herself and that the document will be kept in the college for eighteen months after words will be destroyed. The information includes all audio and written piece of work which was gathered during the research process.