Policy in transition: the emergence of tackling early school leaving (ESL) as EU policy priority

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This paper explores, from a Foucauldian perspective, the emergence and nature of the current EU education policy priority issue of ‘early school leaving’. The paper suggests that a number of problematisations developing from the failure to secure Lisbon Strategy objectives have served to create a much stronger focus on the issue of young people deemed to be leaving education and training early in EU states. In examining how EU policy discourse positions such young people (subjectivation), the paper highlights how this has narrowed to a concern with young people as economic problems and principally positioned as economic units which are required to be more productive. Education and training are understood as investments in human capital and as the principal means to secure the dominant global economic position desired by the EU. The paper suggests, however, that human capital theory has been modified within this approach so that merely being retained in an educational setting is seen as proxy for the investment which education and training represent. This is a weaker policy position than previously espoused but, born of economic crisis, one which addresses related EU political aims of softening youth unemployment figures, dampening associated unrest and reducing risks to social cohesion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)819-832
JournalJournal of Education Policy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016


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