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Action Day on Combating ELET - Ghent pushes the partnership into the unknown parts of the implementation zone

Edited on

21 June 2018

150 professionals from all sectors and all sorts of organisations (schools, local & Flemish government, ngo’s, private sector, …) were present at De Punt in Ghent, a center for incubation and innovation for the local economy, assessing and formulating progress on the specific barriers and challenges associated with implementing the Ghent plan on early school leaving (ESL).

By Arwen Dewilde, LP

The location was a statement, triggering educational professionals to look beyond the school and educational structures to where one ultimately wishes the students to succeed: participation in society and a good job. The day was not another congress where participants could sit back en take in the presentations (or not). Rather the sessions were designed as mass problem solving sessions, based on an assessment by the ULG of the current state of affairs in Ghent: what is the efficacy of measures, where are gaps and deficiencies in the system,… The participants were challenged to formulate next steps in the implementation process, or to explore new ways to tackle old problems. The results feed the work of several working groups of the ULG responsible for jointly delivering the projects.

Turn On

At the start of the day, testimonies of the youngsters themselves put the challenges sharply in focus. They tell about their school careers and what ultimately made the difference to not drop out or to return to school and certification after leaving early. Often it’s a story of personal commitment. Of one teacher who made the difference. This highlights the value of recommended policy measures like mentoring, or of teachers establishing true one-to-one relationships. Providing additional teacher training and creating a warm school climate in every school is one priority, but not sufficient on its own. 

Tune In

These relationships can only be effective if they are embedded in a cross-sectoral systemic support system able to provide support tailored to the needs of that individual student – needs that can be psycho-social, poverty related, about (the lack of) suitable work placements, … . Such a complicated network of cross-sectoral support measures entails its own challenges: fragmentation, limited knowledge of the possibilities by professionals, referral and coordination problems, … Managing this network to make it more effective and accessible in the right way is the second challenge for the Ghent partnership. Because combating ELET effectively calls for a shift from implementing isolated measures to introducing integrated, comprehensive policies.

During the Action Day, the local alliance to reduce ESL was strengthened and good practices on ESL were shared between the local community. All urban partners were stimulated to tune in to the cross-sectoral Ghent strategy and to explore how to make their measures even more aligned with its goals. 

Tune-up

In 15 sessions, the participants focused on different policy challenges, either where there is still a gap in the Ghent system or where the current measures are not yet efficient enough. The policy challenges provided a tangible context to scrutinize the barriers to a more effective implementation and to tune-up the existing urban implementation capacity. Stay Tuned developed a useful framework of 7 implementation themes and their associated capabilities and skill sets, giving the partner cities a way of structurally and consciously (re)viewing and improving their implementation processes. That framework was used to design the workshops.

That means that during the workshops, the focus is less on the ‘what’ than on the ‘how’. After all, there is sufficient evidence-informed information available as to which policy measures are effective. Many countries and cities implement (all or some of) them already, but with highly varying results. That observation is key. It means that the knowledge and capabilities needs are not in the ‘what’, but in the ‘how’: how can you make something work, how do you transform a concept into an urban reality reaching its targets and results? The difference in the quality of implementation probably does explain a lot of the variations in efficacy of the same measure.

An example is the Ghent approach to mentoring. While it is a proven effective measure against ELET, in secondary education it is not a structural, quality controlled practice with only a couple of schools experimenting on a small scale. During the workshop, a good practice from Rotterdam was explored, giving a good sense of how a qualitative version of the ‘what’ looks like. Because we all know you can’t simply copy-paste a good practice, the rest of the workshop was devoted to exploring the ‘Conditions for Implementation’ - Stay Tuned Implementation Theme #3. Understanding and working with the local conditions within your city will determine how well you can translate a good practice to your own context. Methods such as iPESTLE can be used as a diagnostics for mapping and understanding the city context and local conditions. It became clear that correctly identifying and evaluating the local conditions and assessing the required conditions for successful delivery is not as straightforward as it can appear. Then, the group discussed which methods and steps could be taken to alter the conditions to be more suitable or how to adjust the plan to work with the existing conditions in Ghent. The results of the workshop will be used in the corresponding working group of the ULG.

Stay Tuned

It was an energising, intellectually stimulating day during which the Ghent partnership could make real progress. But at the same time, all participants were aware of the need to invest even more in exchanging knowledge and networking. Tweaking a complicated system of interdependent measures to become more efficient is not easy, and requires strong and continuous commitment of many stakeholders. Or, as the European Commission acknowledged in its feedback on the Final Report on ESL by the WG ET2020: “organising the involvement and contribution of a wide range of stakeholders can be challenging. Successful and sustainable cooperation takes time to develop.”

All stakeholders on the same frequency. Staying Tuned. Boosting the frequency of qualification.