School refusal: warning signs

Some 150,000 students drop out of school every year and the peak period is around the move from collège to lycée, i.e. in troisième or seconde, when pupils can feel bored, see their marks go down, feel lost and isolated.
Here, we look at the reasons why children drop out  and how to spot the warning signs that your child might be becoming demotivated so you can act before it is too late.

Moving from collège to lycée
Almost half of all school drop outs occur in seconde and troisième which is when compulsory schooling ends (at 16) and students have to choose what specialities to pursue post-collège. Lycée also puts new demands on the student such as changing schools and the need to learn to work more independently.

Lack of support
Interviews with students who have dropped out show that nearly half of them (41%) felt they had not received any support when they started missing lessons and disengaging from school. Those who were supported were supported primarily by their family (49%) then their friends (31%) and only 10% by the school itself.

Loss of motivation
The reasons these students gave for dropping out centre on a lack of motivation, low marks and low self esteem. A full 92% say they had lost interest in school and schoolwork; 35% were discouraged by falling marks and 30% say they no longer understood what they are doing at school. Thirty-seven percent also mentioned personal problems.
Fifty-one percent say they would have liked someone to have noticed their difficulties and given them the confidence to stay on at school and 71% felt they had been badly advised when choosing their subjects at the end of troisième.


Before dropping completely out of school, a student starts to 'drop out' inside their head. They are still attending classes but are not organising and completing their work, particularly at home and their concentration levels and motivation start falling, followed by a drop in their marks.
At this stage the pupil needs plenty of encouragement, from both teachers and parents, as well as help in understanding how to study effectively.

Other events can also lead to a crisis point such as a long period of absence following an illness and the difficulty of catching up, a child who is finding it difficult to adjust to repeating a year or one who has chosen the wrong subjects.

Changes in behaviour such as increasing incidents of being late or absent in class, increasing unsociability, withdrawal in class, aggressive behaviour, increasing sanctions for discipline problems all signal a student who is in difficulty and needs encouragement and reassurance.

If you are concerned, the sooner you act the better – don't wait for the school to signal a problem. Ask to meet with the class teacher, the vie scolaire or even the in-school psychologist. A school is more likely to take an interest in a pupil if they know that the parents are ready to support the child as well.

source: study by l'Afev, Association de la Fondation Etudiante pour la Ville, created in 1991 to help young people struggling at school 

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