Early school leaving: a joint research project

Exploring the phenomenon of early school leaving is the purpose of the research project "Early school leaving and the influence of neuropsychiatric disorders" carried out by Intesa Sanpaolo and the Neuroscience Lab of Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center with its scientific partner Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca.

A joint research project addressing a widespread social phenomenon

The research project was born with the ambition of developing a combined strategy of exploration, information and training aimed at the in-depth knowledge and dissemination of the causes of youth discomfort that contribute to the arising of the phenomenon of early school leaving and to build ad hoc psychometric tools for the detection of concausal factors.
The research focused on the study and identification of the psychological determinants potentially underlying early school leaving in male and female secondary school students.

Presentation of the research project results

On 11 March, the results of the research were presented at the Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca. The event was held in Lucca, at the Cappella Guinigi of the Complesso di San Francesco di Lucca. Review the event


The Joint Applied Research Project

Early School Leaving – Definition

Early school leaving is a multidimensional and multi-causal phenomenon that requires a broad and multidisciplinary view in order to be understood and, above all, addressed. Numerous factors contribute to the manifestation of this phenomenon, including socio-economic and family status, parents' level of education and the presence of undiagnosed psychiatric disorders.  
In the research project, early school leaving means either early interruption and definitive abandonment of schooling or reaching school level, but significantly in longer time than expected.

The research phases in a nutshell

The scientific literature

Review of the scientific literature to identify the already known causes of early school leaving and thus identify: socio-environmental factors, behavioral clues, indicators of psychological distress and the tools to measure them

The study of the phenomenon

Selection of questionnaires to be administered to a voluntary population of male and female students

The sample involved

Over 4000 students from secondary schools in Turin and Lucca to whom the selected questionnaires were proposed

The analyses

Analysis of collected data with sophisticated statistical techniques to identify factors associated with intention to drop out of studies. Selection of the most predictive questions to create screening tools


Starting from a composite context, Intesa Sanpaolo believes that action must be taken on several fronts. Hence, in addition to proposing orientation programmes and helping to improve teaching a by proposing experiential and multidisciplinary formats, it has chosen to activate an applied research project with the Neuroscience Lab of Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center and its scientific partner Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca to explore the factors of school drop-out from a neuroscientific point of view.
In particular, the Neuroscience Lab is an Intesa Sanpaolo Innovation Center initiative that develops applied research projects in the field of neuroscience to  the support of Gruppo Intesa Sanpaolo  and the market.
Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca  is a university, research and higher education institution that deals with the study and analysis of economic, social, technological and cultural systems.
For the involvement of schools in the Turin and Lucca areas, support was requested from the Fondazione Links  and the Fondazione per la Scuola  - which play a connecting role between the various actors, both public and private, of the education community.


The target of the research

The research was carried out in the cities of Lucca and Turin, examining two territorial realities that differ in terms of population density, educational institutions, social stratification and presence of cultural identities, making it possible to assess not only the incidence of the various factors but also the possible presence of different indicators directly linked to the nature of the social context.
More than 4000 students from 15 secondary schools in the two cities were involved, belonging to all types of subjects (high schools, technical institutes and vocational institutes), from all age groups (1st to 5th year).

The tools created

The data collection enabled the research team to create two screening tools that have no diagnostic value but can help to identify possible risk factors in good time:

  • - a questionnaire, containing a limited but significant number of questions, which can be filled in online; a self-analysis tool for the benefit of girls and boys to create self-awareness, and also for professionals in the sector (school, health, psychology) who wish to use the psychometric tool in their daily practice
  • - a checklist for the benefit of the teaching staff to detect in advance behaviors and emotional manifestations associated with the intention to abandon studies.

Psychological distress and stigma - Learn more

Persistent stigma towards mental distress often discourages people from seeking help when they face difficulties. This stigma can be described as a negative social stigma associated with mental health conditions, which leads people to hide their distress instead of seeking support. However, there are numerous opportunities to address this challenge, from raising awareness of the language used to structural interventions that promote understanding and acceptance of mental health experiences.

Why this research

The Context

For many years, the European Union's education and training policy has been to reduce the rate of early school leavers. In Europe, the dimension of the phenomenon is the share of 18–24-year-olds who have at most a lower secondary qualification and are out of the education and training system (Early Leavers from Education and Training, ELET). This was set in the Europe 2020 Strategy, with a European target set at 10 per cent, now reduced to 9 per cent by 2030.

The situation in Italy: ISTAT data

Early school leaving is a social problem that the European Union has been trying to tackle for over 20 years in order to reduce it. In most cases, published statistics measure explicit early school leaving, i.e. the share of young people aged between 18 and 24 with a secondary school degree or equivalent qualification no longer in education. These statistics do not include the measurement of the phenomenon of the so-called implicit early school leaving, i.e. the share of young people who obtain a diploma but do not even remotely reach the expected and/or expected levels of competence at the end of the school cycle.

In the school year 2021/2022, in Italy, 9.7% of students in the last year of secondary school will fall within the definition of implicit early school leaving. This is a stable share compared to the previous year but increasing compared to the school year 2018/2019. The phenomenon follows the traditional geographical gradient, with lower values in the North (3.7%) and the Centre (9.2%) than in the South (16.5%), where in some regions the share of female students/youths in dispersion reaches and exceeds 18% (Calabria, Sardinia, and Campania). The phenomenon concerns more boys (12%) than girls (7.4%).
Source: ISTAT Analysis of Statistical Measures by Goal

The correlation between educational opportunity and future economic distress

Lack of educational opportunities educational opportunities increases the likelihood that the individual will experience economic hardship as an adult, since low education implies greater difficulty in entering the labour market and is linked to employment in low-skilled and low-paid jobs. Comparing the employment status of young ELETs with their peers who have completed education and training after attaining an upper secondary qualification, it can be seen that more than half of the latter (53.6%) are already employed a few years after leaving school, compared with just a third of ELETs (35.4%), underlining the undoubted advantage of having a diploma.
Source ISTATCycle of hearings on the topic of early school leaving

The impact of the recent pandemic

The recent pandemic has made the phenomenon of early school leaving afflicting young Italians in the 18-24 age group even more evident. In fact, in the aforementioned target group there is also an increase in psychiatric disorders of the developmental age that, if not adequately treated, will have devastating effects over time.Recent publications record an increase in serious psychological problems and demands for hospitalisation among young people. Between 2020 and 2021, the absolute numbers and severity of disorders have increased, including: self-harm, suicide attempts, eating disorders, psychosis with impaired reality examination, aggression and destructive behaviour, social withdrawal and internet addiction
Source - Fondazione Mondino_Emergenza Adolescenti in Lockdown