|Institution:||University of Limerick|
|Keywords:||education; early school leaving; Ireland|
|Full text PDF:||http://hdl.handle.net/10344/4317|
Background: The EU set a target of reducing early school leaving to no more than 10% by the year 2020. Previous research indicates that the school context contributes to early school leaving. This systematic review aims to identify factors within the physical, social, cultural and virtual contexts which may contribute to student retention in alternative educational settings. This study contributes an important synthesis of existing evidence for policy makers, educators and other stakeholders to draw upon as they work toward achieving Ireland’s education goal for 2020. Methods: A systematic review that included mixed-methods studies was employed. Twenty-three databases and reference lists of reviews were searched, eliciting 1,586 studies which were screened. Data from 24 studies that met the inclusion criteria was extracted and synthesised. Results: Thematic analysis yielded ‘Schools as Safe Spaces’ as an over-arching concept comprised of four themes: 1) Creating a Sense of Acceptance; 2) Providing Responsive Curricula; 3) Fostering Caring Relations and 4) Establishing School Structures. These themes were underpinned by alternative education philosophy that produces sanctuary-like schools, cultural safety, learner-centred culture and reciprocal care. The philosophy and practices supported students’ success in alternative settings. Conclusion: Marginalised students provided valuable insights about contextual factors that supported or interfered with graduation. Findings from this review suggest ways to strengthen school-based interventions to ensure the EU achieves its education goal. Contextual factors which may shape student retention, such as lack of safety, are amenable to interventions and should be further investigated. This synthesis facilitates an interdisciplinary approach as it draws on interdisciplinary research and is thus readily transferred across stakeholders. Implications for policy, practice and research for alternative and traditional schools are discussed as well as limitations of the present study.