Abstract: This research analyses and compares national research programmes across Europe that are gathering information on school leavers’ or graduates’ path after compulsory education. This research analyses the context of the school leavers and graduates data collections, their main aims, their methodology, and their financial and institutional background.
The school leavers and graduates research information is used widely; therefore the data collections have to satisfy the needs of different stakeholders involved. As national research programmes are under scrutiny, the majority of them are financed by central government, thus the main aim of the data collection has to be applicable in educational policy planning, monitoring and evaluating. Policymakers need a national level picture; they only need institutional level data for accreditation purposes. Thus, institutional leaders, planning officers and career advisors – the other important set of users – might not gain a full picture through the official national data collection on how their leavers and graduates are doing.
This investigation is built on three subsequent phases. The cross-sectional phase discusses the present forms of the school leavers’ survey programmes in Europe using extensive documentary analysis; the case studies on England, Finland and the Netherlands are using élite interviews and further documentary data; the third phase uses school leavers research data to test the possibilities of the analysis. For the purposes of current research documentary data is collected systematically on all European Economic Area countries. The countries that have national programmes collecting data on school leavers and graduates are categorised according to whether the project is based on cross-sectional or longitudinal data and whether they use a sample or a census type of approach. The cases are chosen to represent the two types for both dimensions. The case studies are built on a minimum of 15 in-depth interviews in each of the three countries, mostly done face-to-face. Interviews are conducted with ministerial experts, institutional leaders and planning officers, career guidance experts as well as the data producers themselves. The last phase uses statistical data analysis to identify the possibilities of using one particular type of school leavers data.
The three cases are different in terms of their scope and their methodology. Whereas England has several separated leavers and graduates data collections, Finland and the Netherlands have research programmes that gather information on the educational system as a whole with regards to post-compulsory transitions. Whereas in the Netherlands and in England the research programmes are carried out through cross-sectional survey research, in Finland registry data is compiled into longitudinal accounts of leavers information. The analysis through uncovering the main similarities and differences of school leavers and graduate surveys, arrives at a European ‘best practice’ of such data collections.