• Spain;
  • early school leavers;
  • social disadvantage;
  • educational disadvantage;
  • youth unemployment;
  • labour market

It can be argued that in Spain there is a relationship between the high rates of early school leaving (ESL) and inactive or unemployed young people, as is evidenced by the current situation in which over half the working population aged 25 or younger is unemployed, many having completed compulsory education only. ESL and its social and economic consequences must be considered within the parameters and expectations of the Spanish labour market and how these expectations are/were linked to demands (or not) for continued education. This article considers the monumental social, political and economic changes that have occurred in Spain during a short span of time (including the real estate crash of 2008 and subsequent economic crisis), and how these issues intersect with measures that directly concern the educational system. It also considers a variety of endogenous and exogenous factors related to the Spanish educational system, and the impact these have on rates of ESL. The article ends with a discussion of policies and practices that may reduce ESL rates and help transform the Spanish general perception of early school leavers from a ‘lost generation’ to a generation of young people with potential for helping Spain move out of its current economic crisis.