The final section of this chapter draws out the main implications in respect of future programme development and policy. In terms of programme development it offers some lessons that may prove helpful to those seeking to establish similar services. As previous chapters of this report have discussed issues regarding programme quality, we do not revisit those issues here.
The policy implications section summarises the influences of policy issues and factors on the programme outcomes, and outcome-related messages for policy from the GOAL project’s experiences. Not surprisingly, there are a number of overlapping themes across these sections. One of these is “readiness”. Whether at the client, programme or policy level, readiness plays a central role in determining what outcomes can be achieved. Another overlapping theme is the relationship between programme outcome data and policy makers’ support for funding. Particularly with regard to this latter issue, the divisions between policy and programme implications are less clear than in other chapters – for example, policy challenges influence the type and amount of data that programmes can collect, and this data in turn influences policy judgements of programmes.
Implications for future programme development
Expectations regarding client outcomes should match client needs and readiness. Even when clients come to counselling with positive attitudes to learning and a generally high level of self-efficacy, they are likely to struggle to to find the information they need. For a client-centred, “custom-fit” counselling service such as GOAL, the aim is not just to provide information about possible next steps, but to provide information that is tailored to the needs, interests and challenges of each individual client. For some clients, this process may take only one session. However, most clients within the GOAL target groups will benefit from two or more sessions.
When establishing initial targets for programme outcomes, client readiness – in terms of how many and what sorts of intermediary steps are required in order to move forward in education or employment – interacts with programme readiness, i.e. the quality of the counselling provided and the number and length of sessions that are available to clients.
Influences of policy
As discussed earlier in this report, guidance targeted at low-educated adults is an under-supported area of adult education, which is itself an under-supported, under-funded sector. This lack of policy interest and support has a number of implications, with the most important of these being related to funding. In the absence of sufficient policy commitment to providing educational guidance for low-educated adults, it will be difficult or even impossible to develop and maintain sustainable, sufficiently well resourced guidance programmes. Resources are needed to provide high-quality counselling over a sufficient numbers of sessions, thus enabling clients to achieve outcomes that will benefit themselves and society more broadly.
However, no amount of high quality counselling (or “programme readiness”) is enough to overcome a lack of free or highly subsidised adult education courses. It is not sufficient to develop programme and participant readiness. For educational outcomes to be achieved, policy readiness is required, in terms of providing an educational landscape that makes it feasible for low-income individuals to act on their educational ambitions. In Slovenia, 61% of GOAL clients entered education or training after receiving guidance, but this figure would have been higher if more funding was available for courses. As evaluators in Slovenia reported, the GOAL target groups in that country were hampered in their educational progress by economic obstacles and/or the unsuitability of the programmes available to them. One-third of GOAL clients in Slovenia said they would like to learn but are unable to enrol in the selected programmes because the education and training costs are too high for them. In that country, some free-of-charge programmes are currently being developed at the national level, with the aim of reaching specific underserved groups. However, there are other vulnerable groups, such as the working disabled, for whom appropriate courses are not yet available. A key challenge in all countries is convincing governments to provide a broad range of affordable courses that are in line not just with specific government objectives but the learning objectives of underserved groups.
Another key implication of the fragmented, complex nature of adult education is the difficulty of tracking clients. The lack of data sharing across educational institutions and policy sectors makes the longitudinal tracking of outcomes from interventions such as GOAL methodologically problematic, in large part because of the tremendous resource investment that would be required both to: a) track programme participants for sufficient time after programme participation, and b) establish and maintain matched comparison groups. In the absence of sufficient – and sufficiently rigorous – longitudinal tracking of programme participants, evaluation assessments of programme impacts are merely indicative, and make it difficult for programme developers and policy makers alike to assess the true impact and thus value of the intervention.
That being said, it is important that programmes do their best to produce high quality monitoring and evaluation data. Evidence that comes with caveats is better than no evidence at all, a fact which has clear implications for programmes as well as policy. In particular, it is possible that a one-session counselling model could have indirect, negative effects on programme sustainability. There are two primary reasons for this:
- One-session counselling models are likely to produce fewer positive impacts than multi-session models.
- Whatever the range of impacts produced by one-session models, it is impossible under such models to produce even the most basic within-programme longitudinal data – e.g. it is not feasible in a one-session model to assess the degree to which clients feel they have achieved the goals they established at the start of counselling. As such it is less possible to produce meaningful data regarding client steps towards longer-term outcomes.
Another programme-level of implication of policy makers’ need for outcome-related evidence is that future programmes may wish to compare outcomes for low, moderate and high need clients. Doing so would provide a clearer picture for programme developers and policy makers alike regarding realistic outcomes for the different levels of client readiness.
Messages for policy
A key message for policy 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 readiness”, i.e. programme quality, across a variety of different national settings and contexts, but although this achievement is a necessary step towards successful client outcomes, it is not a sufficient one. Particularly vulnerable clients are unlikely to achieve measurable educational or employment outcomes without making progress in a range of personal and psychological areas first.
That being said, many members of the GOAL target groups came to the programme with positive attitudes to learning, despite their low levels of education. This suggests that there is a high 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 to guidance could play an important role in helping Member States achieve educational targets. However, as noted above, relevant outcomes cannot be achieved on a large scale without sufficient funding for adult education courses.