Age norms and early school leaving

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Series Details Vol.20, No.2, 2018, p281-300
Publication Date April 2018
ISSN 1461-6696
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This article examines the issue of early school leaving from upper secondary education in light of life course theory on age norms. Based on existing literature, it examines how definitions of early school leaving relate to chronological age in indirect and direct ways, and thereby express historically specific norms concerning the ideal timing of events over the life course.

The article suggests that by the rise of early school leaving on the international policy agenda in the 2000s, young people’s pathways are increasingly measured against the academic track as ‘normal’ – the ideal of prolonged and orderly school to work transitions. Transition patterns long within the bounds of normality within vocational education, often resulting in qualifications gained later in life, may thus appear as problematic.

Pupils in vocational tracks tend to follow routes that are less orderly and less standardized according to age. Early school leaving can be seen as a new form of deviance, created by the universalization of age norms that conform better to academic routes through education. The historical, conceptual and theoretical discussion in this article indicates that age norms are a seldom addressed, but potentially constraining, feature of contemporary school to work transition contexts.

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