On the verge of early school leaving. Subject-scientific perspective on supporting agency in general upper secondary school guidance

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, lecture hall L2

Topic of the dissertation

On the verge of early school leaving. Subject-scientific perspective on supporting agency in general upper secondary school guidance

Doctoral candidate

M.Ed. Kirsi Raetsaari

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education and Psychology, Learning and Learning Processes

Subject of study

Educational psychology


Professor Sanna Vehviläinen, University of Eastern Finland


Docent Teemu Suorsa, University of Oulu

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Ambiguity in the concept of early school leaving may complicate the accessibility of counselling in general upper secondary schools

Leaving general upper secondary school early has lacked an unambiguous definition before the implementation of the Compulsory Education Act (year 2021). According to my research, that has made discussing the early school leaving more difficult. The worst, it may have prevented the counseling offered to the students who consider early school leaving.

Although the definition now exists, it does not seem to reflect the views of students or professionals involved in their counseling. – Despite the fact that the law provides for the support of students considering early school leaving, some students are left without support, the researcher says. There are many reasons.

This research shows that students experience challenges in their studies differently than their counselors. While counselors focused on challenges in students' studies, students described challenges as being part of their entire lives. The importance of general upper secondary school studies for students as part of their lives is only just building up or changing during their studies.

In this study, early school leaving is approached as agency. Agency is supported by the counseling provided in the general upper secondary school. This research introduces quite a new set of concepts and methods for counselors.

With those, it is possible to support the agency of the student who participates in counseling. – The counselors are also able to observe the practice of the school and perceive procedures, which are not functioning optimally according to the participants, Raetsaari says.

In the light of this study, it is essential to pay attention to the management of multi professional collaboration. The research also offers a fresh view at for example the absence of the students and effectiveness of counseling. According to my research, the counseling offered by the school professionals is only one form of support experienced by the students in their everyday life. Only some students consider it as their possibility.

While there is a debate about the need to increase the resources available for youth counseling, this study highlights the need to find out how resources are used in schools. Counseling is the job of the entire staff, but sometimes it is necessary to specify the job descriptions of the professionals. It is also appropriate to assess out-of-school health services for young people, as school staff too often have to support them. However, general upper secondary school is an educational institution, not a nursing institution, reminds the researcher.

The group of participants in this study includes 32 professionals involved in students’ counseling, and 18 students who had encountered difficulties in their general upper secondary studies. Half of the students had left the school early, and the other half had graduated. The research material was produced in group and personal discussions with the participants in accordance with the principles of subject scientific psychology.

Last updated: 23.1.2024