Reversing the spiral

A project working with young people who have been excluded from school is helping to prevent the downward spiral that can leave them with an education below their abilities, says Nicole Vettenburg.   

Flanders is experimenting by putting into practice four time-out projects, financed by the departments of education and welfare. These are aimed at young people who, as a last resort, have been threatened with exclusion because of their behaviour.

Removal from school is no solution to the problems of such young people, and can often cause a downward spiral whereby they end up receiving an education far below their abilities.

The objectives of these time-out projects are to:

  • Reintegrate the pupil in the regular school system, preferably in the school he or she attended before, except when another solution is agreed to be in the best interests of the young people concerned.
  • Stimulate changes in the school to prevent young people from dropping out.

The time-out projects try to meet these objectives through temporary out-of-school tuition and therapeutic guidance over a period ranging from two to 12 weeks.

The methods are diverse. They all involve individual work – such as teaching social skills or therapeutic work – as well as group work – for example, editing a magazine. The basic programme is made to fit the needs of the individual and the group.

The projects can be divided into stages: entry, intake, the programme and after-care. All this happens in collaboration with different partners: school, tutors, parents and social workers.

The supervisors and counsellors of the four projects meet about five times a year to discuss co-operation with parents, registration, the evolution of the goals of the project, after-care and so on.

In addition, a working group of policymakers considers options to make the projects more permanent and structural.

An early, limited evaluation of the time-out projects showed that the objectives outlined can be partly realised. Most of the young people did not return to the same class and school – mainly because of being kept back a year, or refusal by the school or the pupil – but they stayed in the regular education system.

A change was seen in most cases: young people became more aware of their own actions and were prepared to change their behaviour.

Encouragingly, most schools saw these projects as positive: there was less pressure on the teachers and principals, and there was a better understanding of the behaviour of the youngsters.

In view of these results, it has come as no surprise that these projects have become more popular in different settings, and that the projects are seeking funding to operate in a way that is permanent and structured.

Nicole Vettenburg is a lecturer at the department of social welfare studies at Ghent University. For more information, contact 


  • Belgium, which is legally bi-lingual French and Flemish, covers 30,510 sq km (about one-eighth the size of the UK) and has a population of 10.3 million. About 17.5 per cent of the population are aged up to 14.
  • Ethnic groups: Fleming (58 per cent), Walloon (31 per cent), mixed or other (11 per cent).
  • Flanders is one of three regions in Belgium (along with Wallonia and Brussels). The population of Flanders is 5.9 million – about 58 per cent of the total population.


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