This section synthesises the main implications of GOAL with regard to future programme development. In doing so it highlights key messages that may prove helpful to those seeking to establish similar services. These messages fall into two general categories: 1) developing and enhancing programme partnerships, networks and outreach; and 2) providing client-appropriate counselling models and practices.
Developing and enhancing programme partnerships, networks and outreach
Partnerships proved to be a rich source of benefits for the GOAL programmes. These benefits included: more successful recruitment of clients than could be achieved through other routes (see Chapter 7); cross-organisational learning about tools that work well for the GOAL target groups (Chapter 9); and expanded capabilities to provide holistic, cross-organisational and cross-sectoral services for clients (Chapter 10). Other organisations valued their partnership with GOAL, and the sharing of information and methods across partner organisations appeared to produce benefits beyond those that accrued only to the GOAL teams. However, sustainability requires joined-up policy making within and across relevant sectors.
Successful partnership working increases the likelihood that the policy and programme environment addresses the “whole client” rather than just individual, sector-specific aspects of the client. Formalised collaboration is the best and perhaps only way to address the multiple problems and complex issues some clients face.
Partnerships and networks appeared to flourish best when they built on previously existing relationships across organisations. During the pilot, GOAL programme teams devoted significant time and energy to enriching those partnerships, with the positive outcome that partners developed a deeper understanding of how GOAL could complement their own work and add value to the overall policy and programme landscape, without duplicating services. This change in understanding was the product of extensive efforts by the GOAL teams, and depended largely on counsellors’ interpersonal and networking skills, and their willingness to invest time and energy in the process. Future programmes should take account of the clear benefits of such partnership development, but also the costs in terms of programme resources. Successful outreach to generate referrals involves the investment of considerable staff time to build relationships of trust between organisations and between the guidance service and potential clients. The GOAL experience suggests that the efforts and costs associated with outreach are likely to be higher the more vulnerable or hard-to-reach the potential client is. This means that future programmes should be realistic about the resources that are available for this type of activity, developers may need to focus on target groups which are characterised by more active demand for the service or which present fewer outreach challenges (for instance by being in geographic proximity to the service, thus reducing travel costs). In other words, it may be more financially viable and more sensible for educational counselling programmes to target “low hanging fruit” than to use their finite resources to target marginalised people, although these people may be the most in need.
Ultimately, the sustainability of partnerships is dependent on financial mechanisms being in place to support those partnerships. Future programme development will have to carefully consider how sustainable partnerships can be developed and supported given programme and policy resources. This is particularly essential given the importance of partnerships and networks to each stage of the guidance process.
Providing client-appropriate counselling models and practices
A key message for future programmes is that client readiness is a primary determinant of potential programme effects. As evidenced in the GOAL pilot, it is possible to achieve a high degree of programme quality across a variety of different national settings and contexts, and in the face of a variety of barriers. However, although high quality counselling is a necessary condition for successful outcomes, it is not a sufficient one: what happens during counselling is but one part of the equation determining client outcomes. Section 12.7 highlights the role of policy readiness and support in this equation. In the current section we focus on client need. A key message from GOAL is that programmes should base their expections and approach on client need and readiness. Particularly vulnerable clients are unlikely to achieve measurable educational or employment outcomes without making progress in a range of personal and psychological areas first. It is possible for even very vulnerable clients to make progress on “stepping stone” outcomes such as improved self-belief or self-esteem, but this may require very large resource investments on the part of counsellors, and is likely to require counselling in other areas as well, e.g. mental health and substance abuse, that go beyond the professional remit of education-focused counsellors. This highlights one of the values of joined-up, cross-organisation work, particularly with regard to vulnerable clients.
It also highlights issues regarding programme resources and targets. If a decision is made to focus on high need clients, sufficient programme resources will be required, and it is likely to prove difficult to produce significant gains in clients’ education and employment outcomes. Such clients may require more basic support and development on issues such as punctuality and learning how to learn before they are ready for education-focused guidance. Targeting services to less hard to reach adults may be a better compromise given the nascent state of educational guidance for low-educated adults and the possible need for pilot programmes to justify their costs to funders and policy makers. Whatever their objectives and target groups, programmes need to have a clear understanding of the trade-offs inherent in this type of outreach work.
However, the capacity of most GOAL clients to progress should not be underestimated. A key message from this pilot is that, amongst low-educated adults, there appears to be a high level of unmet need for contextualised information and support about educational opportunities. The potential impact of this information and support on clients’ lives is significant. A key factor in providing the right levels and types of information and support to clients is the matching of the counselling model to the client need. In practice, this means that the needs and the context of clients will be the key determining factor of the length, number and content of the guidance sessions, and thus in the amount of programme resource that is needed. Programmes that are built around a model where only one guidance session can be offered would do well to target counselling only to those clients who can be expected, because of their higher levels of motivation and/or clarity of direction, to be able to take the next step after a low-level, relatively low resource intervention. This type of programme may be more suited to an institutional environment such as a college, where potential pathways are more clearly defined and limited, clients have more pre-existing awareness of the range of available options, and counsellors have more in-depth knowledge about those options.
Programme developers embarking on more intensive counselling programmes need to consider how best to provide resources for counselling models (particularly with regard to the appropriate number of sessions) that provide the ongoing support that clients need in order to take the steps required to eventually achieve longer term outcomes such as enrolment on a course. In countries where the target group is particularly disadvantaged, very basic steps are necessary before larger steps can be taken in education or employment. Counsellors in Iceland referred to this process as “planting seeds” that might later grow.
In supporting counsellor competence development, it is important that programmes provide sufficient opportunities for informal workplace learning. As illustrated in Flanders, a supportive approach to workplace learning can play a significant role in overcoming other barriers to counsellors’ competence development, and in producing and supporting a strong professional identity. However, resource limitation impose barriers on learning-oriented workplaces. To be sufficiently supportive of on-the-job learning, the workplace needs to ensure that the counsellors have a high enough proportion of their working time devoted to GOAL, and, as part of that, should strive to reduce administrative and other non-counselling burdens.
With regard to tools to support counselling: a) counsellors require a toolkit of resources to support counselling, and this toolkit needs to contain instruments that support every stage of the counselling journey; b) from this toolkit, what clients need is a bespoke service with the tools that best serve their individual needs selected by a counsellor whose competences mean they have the knowledge, expertise, and sensitivity to choose and to use the tools. For the target group it is especially important that: a) the range of tools include those that are able to uncover the psychological factors that underpin the client’s situation; b) that the tools enable the client to be an active participant in the guidance process. Seven themes emerge with regard to using tools to provide high quality counselling to the GOAL target groups:
- Not every tool is right for every counsellor with every client: effective use of tools involves the selection of the right tool for the individual client-counsellor relationship.
- The process of collecting monitoring data on clients can serve as an effective tool for structuring and developing counselling sessions.
- No strong need to develop counselling tools from scratch emerges: it is feasible to develop effective tools for the target group from existing resources.
- Selecting which existing tools are best suited to the target group starts with a mapping exercise which at its most rigorous will involve close evaluation by experienced counselling staff.
- The range of tools included in the mapping exercise, and the range of expertise involved in their development, is broadened and enhanced where collaborative working practices such as method groups are employed, with consultation across a number of policy and geographic areas.
- The use of social media can be a powerful tool, enabling more frequent, informal contact between the counsellor and client, with the aim of keeping the client active in the counselling process.
- The definition of counselling tools should include tools such as manuals and flowcharts that support the work of the counsellor.
There is a recognition that the flexible and contextual use of tools is more feasible for more experienced counsellors than for the less experienced ones. In that sense, having good manuals for tool use along with a supportive workplace learning environment that facilitates cooperation between the more and less experienced counsellors is crucial for the development of sound judgement about which tools are the most appropriate for each client. In addition to guidelines supporting tool selection and use, counsellors in GOAL did benefit from the use of the data monitoring tool. Though originally conceived as an evaluation instrument, this tool served as an effective means for providing a general structure to guidance sessions, and for collecting contextual and specific data that was essential in understanding clients and addressing their needs. A version of this data monitoring instrument, modified to suit local needs, could be used by future programmes. This would support a general model of guidance, while also facilitating the collection of data for monitoring and evaluation purposes.