Education is seen as a crucial component in developing a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe. In addition, education has an important role to play in identifying early signs of vulnerability and tackling disadvantage through early intervention and the sustained support of vulnerable children and young people. However, educational policies alone are not sufficient to address the educational disadvantage experienced by some individuals in relation to their peers. There is a combination of personal, social, cultural and economic factors which can limit educational opportunities. Cross-sectoral approaches are, therefore, important to link education and training policies with those related to employment, the economy, social inclusion, youth, health, justice, housing and social services among other policies. Such policies should also be designed to correct regional imbalances in education and training.
Division of public policy into specific areas of intervention like education, health, social welfare, etc. ensures specialist and targeted support; however, a lack of coordination and synergies between these policies and, consequently, segmented responses, can hinder awareness of the multiple and accumulating disadvantages some children and their families are facing. As a result, this division promotes fragmented responsibility and leads to ineffective tackling of the issue, covering only one particular segment of it without ensuring a wider approach and continuity. There are indications that, difficult as they may be for policy makers, coordinated multi-strand approaches may offer the best approach to preventing or reducing the impact of multiple and cumulative disadvantage on people’s educational experiences, skills, employability and life chances. Centring such a multi-faceted response to vulnerability on and around schools, the only universal service where the well-being of children and young people can be regularly monitored, would seem a wise step towards achieving universal active inclusion.
Rethinking Education (2012) and other initiatives of the European Commission have recognised the need for joined-up policy action against educational disadvantage. The 2013 Recommendation Investing in Children: breaking the cycle of disadvantage calls for a holistic approach and for multi-dimensional action against disadvantage and exclusion. Increased vulnerability due to the ongoing economic and refugee crisis makes this an urgent matter. Such coordinated, multi-strand approaches do not necessarily demand additional resources but rather imply that existing resources are used in a different, more efficient way. Cross-sectoral approaches imply a shift from targeting problems that have already appeared towards prevention programmes and early interventions, as well as a move away from fragmented action by separate actors towards coordinated – and therefore more efficient and smart – responses, which is especially relevant at a time when resources are scarce. The work of schools in tackling vulnerability should be part of wider strategies for equality and inclusion.