For the past 20 years, researchers worldwide have shared a consensus that tracking leads to failure in school. But educational systems continue to use this practice for many reasons. One argument used to support the practice is that students who enter the vocational track early in their careers tend to enter the labour market more quickly. Data show, however, that when these people are in their 40s, they become the most vulnerable to poverty, especially during periods of economic recession. In addition to moving towards more comprehensive educational systems as the best long-term way to improve the chances of all future adults, our research demonstrates that schools can play a key role in preventing and reversing the risk of unemployment and poverty of low educated youth. The INCLUD-ED project has analysed effective actions in eight European countries (Slovenia, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Romania, Belgium, Finland, and Spain) that respond to the educational needs of those who have experienced tracking. These effective alternatives are vocational programmes that include an academic-type of curriculum and allow students to move to higher education, as well as adult education programmes in schools which meet families' training needs, improving their opportunities in the labour market. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd..