This section addresses key policy implications arising from the issues discussed in this chapter and indeed the full report. In doing so, this section also provides policy messages related to these implications. In contrast to earlier chapters in this report, implications and messages are discussed together under a set of thematic headings. These are:
- General policy issues affecting GOAL and likely to affect similar services if they are offered in the future. In particular, the challenges to joined-up, cross-sector policy-making and the implications of adult education’s low status in terms of policy interest and support.
- Limited policy understanding of the needs and potential of low-educated adults, and the role of adult education guidance in fulfilling this potential.
- Funding and resource issues, and how they affect client outcomes and programme sustainability.
The GOAL target groups tended to face a broad range of serious challenges in life, and to thus be in contact with multiple policy service organisations across a range of policy areas. The complex range of interrelated needs and challenges faced by GOAL clients is characteristic of what has been referred to as “wicked policy problems”, i.e. multi-domain problems that cannot be successfully addressed via only one policy area and/or programme intervention (Briggs, 2007). Wicked policy problems have a number of notable characteristics, including:
- multiple antecedents (“multi-causality”)
- multiple impacts
- social complexity at the user level (i.e. the service providers must understand not only the individual, but the individual’s family, neighbourhood and social networks)
- social complexity at the service provider level (i.e. appropriate service provision involves the cooperation of multiple agencies)
- the need to bring about behaviour change.
Such problems require joined-up policy work, which itself requires policy learning and adaptation. GOAL programmes largely achieved their aim of convincing organisations in other policy domains of the added value of GOAL, and developing close working relationships with some of those organisations. This is a potentially valuable example of policy learning at the local level, and the development of joined-up approaches to addressing complex client needs.
The GOAL partnership thus represented joined-up policy in action – that is, there was an explicit aim to develop, contribute to and benefit from partnerships that crossed policy boundaries and moved beyond the traditional “policy silo” approach to public services. This is a noble but extremely challenging task: observers of policy in Europe and the rest of the world will have noted the high ratio of joined-up policy rhetoric to actual joined-up policy action. Despite their best intentions, policy makers in countries around the world (and at multi-national level, e.g. the European Union) have struggled to move beyond a policy silo approach to addressing complex problems and needs. Education policy continues to address the educational aspect of an individual’s life, while health policy addresses health aspects, employment policy addresses labour market aspects, and so on. The individual is divided into component parts, based on the traditional division of policy areas and government ministries. This approach, which is generally efficient and more or less successful when addressing the needs of the majority of the population, has proved resolutely unsuccessful for individuals facing multiple overlapping problems across a range of policy domains. GOAL therefore provides an important example of efforts to join up organisations and efforts in a more holistic way. As such, it has produced a number of lessons about the influence of policy on cross-organisational partnership working, and several messages for policy (see especially Chapter 6).
To provide better support for partnerships and networks, policy makers need to develop a clearer understanding of how educational guidance for low-educated adults fits in with existing (and more high profile) policy objectives and commitments, e.g. reducing early school leaving or increasing participation in lifelong learning. More efforts at joined-up policy making and programme development need to be pursued, and policy makers should focus at least some of their efforts on understanding how to surmount cross-sectoral partnership barriers, and the benefits of doing so. The European Commission should in principle play a central role in these efforts through its ability to fund cross-national projects; however, it should be noted that even the Commission itself is somewhat hamstrung (when it comes to exploring and supporting cross-policy endeavours) by its traditional policy silo structure.
At the national level, cross-policy partnership working could potentially be supported by the establishment of organisations (e.g. in the form of national development institutes) focused on adult education in its full breadth, rather than adult education as it is relevant to a particular policy area. Such an insitute exists in Slovenia, and is central to the adult education policy environment in that country, which is very well developed compared to most other EU countries. A more systemic, partnership-oriented approach, whether led by government or a non-governmental body could initiate and steer the process of connecting systems (e.g. healthcare system, welfare system, educational system) to facilitate joined-up working targeted at meeting the broad range of inter-related needs of low-educated adults.
Adult education guidance for low-educated adults is an under-developed, under-funded and under-researched sub-field within the broader field of adult education, which is itself under-developed, under-funded and under-researched compared to other education sectors and compared to related policy fields such as employment. With some exceptions, the importance of adult education is not sufficiently well recognised throughout Europe. (Exceptions within GOAL are Slovenia and Flanders; there are also some exceptions outside GOAL, e.g. Norway.) However, in contrast to the relatively straightforward compulsory education sector in most countries, adult education is fragmented, complex and difficult to understand and navigate. Whereas mainstream newspapers frequently report on the compulsory and higher education sectors, adult education is a niche topic, even amongst politicians and other policy makers. This lack of recognition and support hinders the reach and quality of adult education in general, and adult education guidance within it. As discussed below, this has particularly significant impacts on programme funding.
On the whole, GOAL appears to have somewhat increased policy knowledge of and interest in adult education guidance for the GOAL target groups. Because of GOAL, a number of policy makers are now aware that client-centred guidance can benefit the target group in ways that institution-centred guidance may not. However, as of the conclusion of this evaluation, policy interest had not translated into structural support or funding.
One example of GOAL-related efforts to achieve this move from policy discussion to policy action is in Flanders. In that country, counsellors had high hopes that GOAL services would receive enough national-level policy support within the life of the pilot to ensure long-term programme sustainability. Partner organisations and local policy makers expressed similar hopes. However, the GOAL programme coordinators within the national Flanders Department of Education and Training were less optimistic, recognising that political interest and will were lacking at national level. To address this lack, programme coordinators used the Needs and Strengths Analysis aspect of the current evaluation to map the strengths and weaknesses of a range of guidance services targeted at the GOAL client groups. Working with the national GOAL advisory committee, programme coordinators then built on that service map by developing a “Blueprint for education guidance in Flanders”, which proposes an overarching, systematic and structurally embedded model for educational guidance services for the whole of Flanders. The aim in Flanders is to get this policy paper on the agendas of all Flemish political parties in time for national elections in 2019. It is hoped that this will lead to concrete policy commitments in the next Flemish government agreement.
As noted earlier in this report, the Czech Republic was starting from scratch in terms of adult education guidance. In this country, GOAL appears to have played a positive role in the development of policy in this nascent area. The Ministry of Education has expressed support for GOAL and feels that the outcomes of the project will stimulate further political dialogue that could lead to a structurally embedded service in the future. GOAL staff in the Czech Republic suggested that such steps could potentially help to produce a virtuous cycle of policy and programme development: through programme success (in the GOAL pilot), the policy environment may become more open to supporting adult education guidance for low-educated target groups, increasing their likelihood of being embedded in national and local policy systems, rather than existing only on pilot or project bases. This would increase policy knowledge and understanding of GOAL-style guidance (i.e. guidance drawing on the key GOAL principles and approaches) and its potential benefits in areas such as dropout prevention and vocational education and training. This would in turn help GOAL-style programmes become more efficient in areas such as outreach, as they would be more widely known and supported.
As discussed in Chapters 5 and 7 in particular, GOAL clients could be categorised into three general groups:
- Some clients came to GOAL with relatively clear ideas of their educational goals and the steps they needed to take to achieve those goals.
- Others were less clear and/or less motivated.
- Still others faced particularly significant barriers, including poor psychological and/or physical health, substance abuse problems and social isolation.
Like all GOAL clients, individuals in these first two groups had low levels of education. However, most entered GOAL with very positive attitudes to learning and moderate to high self-efficacy scores. These positive findings suggest that the problem faced by most GOAL clients before the pilot was not a lack of interest in education or general self belief, but a lack of knowledge about educational opportunities and potentially a lack of domain-specific confidence about the achievement of educational goals. As noted by counsellors, domain-specific confidence and knowledge often go hand in hand: it is difficult for individuals (particularly those with limited qualifications) to feel confident about the next steps in education if they do not know what opportunities are available to them or even how to find information about those opportunities. The GOAL pilot appears to have played an important role by meeting these clients’ need for the information and support.
This suggests that there is a substantial level of untapped desire (or at least willingness) amongst the low-educated population to improve their qualifications. For many individuals in the GOAL target groups, the key barriers to doing so were not dispositional or attitudinal but were instead related to the complex, highly opaque information landscape in adult education. Clients were enthused to learn about the educational opportunities that were available to them, and a high percentage of clients reported acting on those opportunities with the support of their counsellor. This suggests that the GOAL approach could play an important role in helping Member States achieve educational targets.
Most GOAL clients lack the financial capability to pay for adult education courses themselves, meaning that in countries where adult education is not heavily subsidised, clients could not act on their increased hopes and expectations. Guidance provided information and support, and thus enhanced individual agency, but such agency is not sufficient in the face of large-scale structural barriers to advancement. Even in Iceland, where clients were the most vulnerable and those the most likely to take only small steps, some clients were, by the end of their guidance journey, ready to take the next step into further education. However, they lacked the financial means to do so. Adult education courses in Iceland tend to be too expensive for low-income adults, and there is a lack of scholarships and subsidies. As one counsellor observed, this produced insuperable barriers:
Lack of funding for adult education meant that clients could experience important internal changes, in terms of improved motivation, ambition and self-concept, but could not act on those changes. This highlights an important policy issue: one role of policy is to increase individual agency and raise human capital; however, a complementary policy responsibility is to support the development of systems that enable individuals to act on their agency and take advantage of (and further develop) their human capital. In most GOAL countries, this second policy responsibility is lacking with regard to adult education. This suggests that adult education guidance programmes are not a sensible investment for governments in the absence of free or subsidised courses that clients can move into as a result of guidance. Where free or affordable courses were available, e.g. in Flanders, the rate of enrolment appeared to be high, however – suggesting that the GOAL approach can produce valuable results in the right policy environment. This finding regarding Flanders is supported by results from Slovenia, where enrolment was high and would have been higher had more (funded) courses been available.
Funding also plays a central role in programme sustainability. In the absence of sufficient policy commitment to providing educational guidance for low-educated adults, and educational opportunities for those adults to pursue, it will be difficult or even impossible to develop and maintain sustainable, sufficiently well resourced guidance programmes.