We asked Katarina Danielsson, S2W project coordinator from SALAR, about the background of the project, challenges and her personal experiences.
Where does School to Work originate from?
S2W is originated from the Swedish national project for combating early school leaving called Plug in. Sweden has a large number of students with high levels of absenteeism and who leave upper secondary school without a diploma providing basic qualifications for higher education. In the long term, many of these students risk being excluded from society, with no foothold in the labor market.
The objective for Plug In was to halve the number of students who fail to complete their upper secondary studies within four years in the participating regions. One interim objective was to reduce unemployment among young people who do not return to education despite the efforts made.
Main role of SALAR was to develop the overall framework for the project and to collect and analyze results at national level. At the regional level the project was managed by 5 Autonomous Regional Associations. They had a mainly coordinating role; coordinating the development of local initiatives and report to the national level.
What are the main outcomes from Plug In?
Since Plug In started in 2012, there was a full focus on trying out methods of providing more young people with the conditions to complete their studies. This major initiative and all the work put in are now starting to produce results. Half of the participating municipalities believe that school attendance has increased for the target group.
Along with that, the evaluation of the process shows that the project so far has contributed a number of positive interim results that benefit the project’s overall objective:
- Plug In’s local workshops have provided many young people with better conditions for completing their studies.
- The number of NEETs identified has increased – work on the municipal responsibility to be informed about NEETs is highlighted in particular as an area where there has been development.
- Tools have been developed to prevent students leaving school early. The municipalities have also been given more opportunities to make use of these tools in their work.
- Collaboration on the issue of early school leavers has increased, both vertically and horizontally.
- The problem of students leaving school early and the necessity to work proactively have emerged on the political agenda and are starting to appear in various forms of steering documents.
One important element of Plug In is PlugInnovation.se. This is where the methods being developed and tried out in the municipalities involved are brought together. The website also makes research in this field available, along with ongoing development work on statistics, which aims to produce a prototype for student follow-up. During the winter of 2014 Plug Innovation has conducted a series of in-depth analyses to find and summarize success factors from the interventions used in the different sub-projects. The findings so far have identified some important beneficial factors when working with at-risk students:
- Strengthened ties to the school
- A holistic focus on the individual
- Flexibility in terms of organization and content of teaching
For those young people who have dropped out of school the initial findings show that routines for follow-up and intense individualized measures to bring students back to education are successful. PlugInnovation will continue to develop the tentative findings throughout the course of the project.
What are the focuses of Plug In 2? What are the remaining challenges you would like to address?
For all areas, we focus on steering issues, and include the whole chain of actors: local politicians, local administrators, principals, teachers and pupils. In the projects we have different dissemination activities such as participating in conferences, publications support for specific municipalities etc.
OECD has made a case study of Plug In for the Local Strategies for Youth Employment Project. The report says “The overall framework was developed at a national level, moderated at the regional level and translated into individual action project at the local, municipal and school level. This complex governance structure is not without problems but appears to have contributed to the achievements of the sub-goals, notably the development of processes of collaboration, the knowledge about what works and competencies to implement specific measures.”
From your experiences of Plug In, what can a Baltic Sea wide flagship like S2W contribute with to prevent yearly school leaving and combat NEETs?
The core part of Plug In is the more than 70 initiatives or projects developed and implemented at the local, municipal or school level. This multi-level solution has so far proved a success. Over the three years of the project, more than 7,500 young people will take part in around 500,000 hours of Plug In work. This makes Plug In the largest, most complex project dealing with the issue of early school leavers in Sweden. It is also a major initiative in a European context.
Through the knowledge we gained from the Plug in project, that a multi-level management can be very successful in this type of project, we see it as an option to do it in a bigger scale in the Flagship School to Work.
What has been most challenging when forming this flagship?
To gather so many stakeholders from different countries with both different laws, systems for education and project experiences is of course challenging. But since all partners have shared the vision of the importance of preventing early school leaving and find ways to support young people in the risk of social exclusion, the work to form the flagship and agree on themes for all partners has been quite undemanding. The most challenging part for us as the project manager has definitely been to find finance for all parts, and partners. That work is still going, but we begin to see solutions in several areas. It has been a great help to have so many knowledgeable partners in this area with us, like the Nordic Association, national authorities and the ESF.