Disadvantaged life itineraries and the use of personal agency among Italian early school leavers and at-risk students

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Italy is now crossing an emergency situation as regards the elevate number of youngsters who leave school before achieving an Isced-3 school certificate (about 800.000 in 2009, 19,7% of the 20-24 aged population), standing at one of the lower positions in the Eu ranking of “best performing countries” (close to Greece, Spain, Portugal). Young people who live in the Southern regions or islands are more exposed than others to the risk of early leaving, feeling a high level of disengagement from formal education. Notwithstanding the constant commitment of social sciences (sociology and economy) in order to enlighten the structural factors producing this negative outcome, school dropout still represents a neglected problem for policy makers. National and local measures cannot meet the target adequately, due to the prevalence of a bureaucratic image of “school leaving”. This kind of approach – based on both a selective or emergency model - fails in considering the direct implication of the subject in the decision to give up studying. In order to change direction in the dropout prevention, the Italian Ministry of Labour, represented by ISFOL, carried out in 2011 a national study with a structured questionnaire to a probabilistic sample of 1500 “at-risk students” (who have taken Isced-2 in 2005 with the lowest mark). Three life itineraries have been focused and deeply analyzed: 1) ESLs who are employed in low qualified, precarious jobs or in a NEET condition; 2) students who have achieved Isced-3 certificate in VET courses or are going to achieve it, 3) students who have achieved Isced-3 certificate in school education or are going to achieve it. The essay presents the research design and some results of the study describing some personal, social and scholastic determinants of each profile. The examination of ESL profile (n=576) leads to confirm the usefulness of a vision of ESL as a personal agent, unless avoiding to remark the weakness of social supports surrounding those subjects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-35
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Abandono escolar prematuro
  • Early school leavers
  • Italia
  • Italy
  • at risk biography.
  • bajos niveles de cualificación
  • biografía de las personas en riesgo
  • disadvantaged young people
  • jóvenes desfavorecidos
  • sociologia de la educacion
  • sociology of education
  • underachievers


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