BACKGROUND: This article describes the rationale and contents of an intervention program aimed at strengthening students' social relations in order to reduce dropout from vocational schools in Denmark. Taking its theoretical cue from the concept of 'social participation', a qualitative study was performed to investigate the specific relationships between the social environment within the schools and the institutional structures in order to analyse reasons for school dropout and their relation to well-being, cigarette smoking and substance use.
METHODS: The development study was based on ethnographic methods, including 22 qualitative interviews with students 17-19 years old and fieldwork with participant observations at four vocational schools over 40 days, including informal interviews and discussion meetings with managers, teachers, counselors and students. As part of the fieldwork, four additional qualitative interviews and four group interviews were conducted with students 16-25 years old.
RESULTS: The qualitative data collection resulted in seven major themes to be addressed in the intervention: social relations, sole focus on professional skills, institutionalized individualization, importance of the introduction period, physical surroundings and schedules, tobacco and cannabis use and communication about drug use. The program addressing these themes incorporates suggestions that are meant to improve how teachers welcome new students, to enable greater integration of social and educational activities and to enhance the capacity of teachers and counselors to deal with drug use problems among students.
CONCLUSION: The development of new intervention programs might benefit from adopting a theoretical and methodological perspective that enables a closer exploration of the everyday social practices in which interventions are embedded. Thus, we aimed to create a comprehensive intervention that worked through organizational changes in everyday school practices. Intervention programs must be planned in dialogue and collaboration with practitioners in the field to ensure the pertinence and usability of the program.