The Netherlands’ approach to low literacy differs radically from the approaches of the other partner countries. The diffused nature of the Dutch approach to low literacy means that the programme is particularly dependent on the establishment of strong partnerships, with organisations who have a completely different main objective administering the Literacy Screener and then referring potential clients on to another organisation. Social organisations have to recognise their role in finding and schooling people with low literacy, despite the administrative and other burdens this creates for themselves. The pilot organisations recognise the importance of screening for low literacy, as information about low literacy also has added value for setting up their services. The use of unpaid workers (volunteers or trainees) in three of the four organisations leads to a reduction of the additional costs. In the Netherlands, there are no formal criteria for guidance practitioners and thus a great divergence in quality between various service points. An implication for programme development is that steps should be taken to ensure that staff members are empathetic and have good (motivational) interview skills in order to deal with the issue of shame and avoidance.
Introducing and conducting the Literacy Screener is a smooth process in the four pilot organisations. Good examples in this respect can be used by other organisations for implementing the Literacy Screener in their work processes. The follow-up is a major difficulty: in general, the inflow in language courses of clients with an unsatisfactory score on the Literacy Screener is still low. This is due to difficulties in the organisations and in the service users.
In two organisations, the internal cooperation between various departments/employees involved is not running smoothly. A common vision and integrated approach with clear working arrangements are essential for the design of a good follow-up. Additionally, the penitentiaries experience specific difficulties that are related to the special nature of the organisations: they have a limited number of available language volunteers, they have to try to include language courses in the detainees’ schedule, and they have difficulty monitoring continuity (detainees are transferred to other departments, sometimes suddenly, or are released from prison). A solution that might make planning language courses easier is disconnecting education from the daily programme: an open hour instead of a regular educational programme for every department. Additionally, collaboration with local partners/networks outside the PI is important for continuing the language support that was started in the PI.
In addition to the difficulties organisations are facing, the low follow-up is partly due to the fact that the clients do not always want to opt for a language course. People with low literacy whose native language is Dutch, do not recognise or admit the unsatisfactory score on the Literacy Screener and are not open to taking a language course. Lack of time is another reason for clients for not being prepared to take a language course. At Aksept, the language lessons are integrated in the guidance that clients receive, which means that they do not require any extra time either for the organisation or for the clients. Sometimes, the language lessons are organised on the work floor. The availability of language lessons during working hours can make them more accessible for service users. This also applies to PIs where clients often prefer work to education. In addition, we’ve found differences between male and female respondents in the obstacles that have stopped them from improving their education or career up till now. Too busy taking care of family, lack of confidence and other personal reasons were more often mentioned by female respondents, whereas the obstacle of low main language proficiency was significantly more often mentioned by male respondents. These gender related differences are important to address when referring clients to a language course.
In the context of the low follow-up figures, the interview about the result of the Literacy Screener is essential. The follow-up can perhaps be improved by having this interview conducted by someone who sees the client more often and who has built a relationship of trust with the client (e.g. the mentors in the PIs and the client managers in the municipality of Emmen). This is important not only because of the feelings of shame which often accompany low literacy, but also because such a person is better able to judge how the language lessons have practical added value for the client. Furthermore, such a person has the opportunity to emphasise the importance of language lessons on a frequent basis (and the client does not need to make an immediate decision).
In practise, the pilot organisations do not register whether an improvement in the level takes place. Thought needs to be given, in consultation with the organisations, about how progress with the language lessons can best be registered and made visible.