The research project Professional Actors? Work to Retain Students in Secondary Education (ProAct) aims to demonstrate promising practices on how to retain students in upper secondary education. For many years, Norway has maintained a goal to create a school environment for all students which is referred to as a "school for all". Still, Norway has experienced a high number of students dropping out of upper secondary education. Almost all 16-year-olds start upper secondary education, but about one-third of them do not complete within the period of five years of legal right to access upper secondary education. This is a big societal problem and an indicator that the education system is at risk of failing its responsibility to these students. Education is seen as a key to providing children and youth with a basis to participate in work life and society, and young people, who do not complete their education, will have more difficulties entering the labour market. Over the last 25 years, a range of national reform policies and regulations have aimed to prevent student dropout. Previous research has shown us several student characteristics connected to why the students do not complete upper secondary education. Evaluation studies have found some positive effects of the implemented national policies, but they demonstrate many challenges, for instance how to sustain improvements over time. In contrast to previous studies, ProAct aims to explore how school leaders and teachers in upper secondary education work together with lower secondary schools, school authorities, actors from other public services (e.g. Pedagogical-Psychological Service, Children Care Service etc.) to retain students in secondary education. By comparing schools with low and high drop-out rates regarding the degree and ways of which these professional actors collaborate, we aim to find ways to target possible problems at an earlier stage when interventions can have a larger and more sustainable impact. In this project we collaborate with three counties in Norway.
ProAct aims to identify promising practices to retain students in secondary education. It is designed to demonstrate promising practices of multiple actors by identifying: 1) characteristics of institutional work within and across levels, institutions and professions; and 2) conditions which are the most likely to increase the retention of students in upper secondary education and with what consequences. Thus, the project will contribute to the existing knowledge base in this field including implications for research, policy and practice. The project applies theoretical perspectives and empirical methodologies that capture the complex interrelationships between formal educational policies, regulations, and knowledge sources. Sources will be selected that inform the work of various professional actors (leaders at county, municipal and school level, and involved actors from other public services) as well as their concrete institutional work. The project is positioned within neo-institutional theory, which makes it possible to understand and investigate multiple actors’ translation, institutional work and interrelationships across levels, institutions and professions. Moreover, it has a longitudinal design where counties, municipalities and schools are followed over time. It also applies a mixed-methods approach, beginning with qualitative data gathering and analysis of different involved actors’ professional practices, where the data generated forms a basis for mapping strategies on the country level. The mixed-methods approach considers earlier critiques of empirical research that applied such approaches by emphasizing the importance of ensuring conceptual awareness, coherence and demonstrating contextual sensitivity when analysing the data, as well as critical reflections on findings and their implications. The project is divided into six work packages which are closely linked to each other.