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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Reviewing prison education

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I think the main challenges will be as much to with the practicalities of ensuring that there are enough staff to ensure that prisoners get to classes and providing the right incentives to get talented teachers to work in custodial settings.

The right incentives for all

Last week (8 September 2015) the Justice Secretary Michael Gove made good on a commitment he gave in his 17 July speech to the Prisoner Learning Alliance and ordered a review of prison education.

In a written statement, Mr Gove set out his objectives:

One of the most important things we can do once they are inside the prison walls is to make sure that they get the literacy and numeracy skills they need to make them employable and positive contributors to society once released. For those serving longer sentences, education and training is a key part of their rehabilitation.

We must have the right incentives for prisoners to learn and for prison staff to make sure that education is properly prioritised. I want to see prisoners motivated to engage in their own learning and Governors with the right tools to be more demanding and creative about the education provided in the prisons they run.

He has appointed Dame Sally Coates to lead the review. Sally CoatesDame Sally has spent her professional life in education, she is perhaps best known for becoming principal at Burlington Danes Academy in White City, West London and turning it around, taking it out of special measures. In summer 2014, she “defected” to become Director of Academies south for rival United Learning.

Dame Sally will be supported by the usual panel of experts described as:

people who have delivered outstanding secondary education, experts in further and higher education, employers, representatives from Ofsted, senior officials from the Ministry of Justice, the National Offender Management Service and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills as well as experienced frontline prison staff.

In the remit for the review, Mr Gove specifies that it will investigate how:

  • How the quality and methods of prison teaching can be improved including in classrooms and workshops,
  • How prisoners can be encouraged to positively engage with learning,
  • The potential for employers to advise on the curriculum to ensure that prisons offer the right courses and qualifications to enable prisoners to secure jobs on release.

Like the Howard League, I think the main challenges will be as much to do with the practicalities of ensuring that there are enough staff to get prisoners to classes and providing the right incentives to get talented teachers to work in custodial settings.

The review is due to report in Spring 2016 and you can find the full terms of reference here.

 

 

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5 Responses

  1. The trouble is with all of this is that ensuring that those who have limited literacy and numeracy skills to the exclusion of anything and everything else as OLASS 4 did curtails education in ludicrous ways. Yes you need to provide classes that help people get the necessary literacy and numeracy skills but you also need to provide courses that take people on long sentences or those who already have decent education as far beyond levels 1 and 2 as they wish to go. If someone wants to take a level three in computing, the funding should be made available for them to do so and they should be cheered on by everyone rather than the current state which is no, no and no to anything like that. If someone wants to study for a degree then every support should be given to them. Classes such as art and music as well as the basics also need to be provided so that people have other outlets to learn and get inspired by. Prison education also needs to be paid a lot better so that people are motivated to go and governors must be instructed to ensure that if they need to cancel something through lack of staff that education is the last thing they should cancel and not the first as it always is at present. The MoJ also needs to ensure that the education provider contracts are not as ludicrous as the OLASS 4 ones were and also allow room for local initiatives and demand.

  2. I work in prison education delivering functional mathematics. I fully support any initiative to place education first. A system were a learner can take a BKSB, paper based, initial assessment (not the diagnostic) and be allowed to enrol on a Level 2 vocational diploma courses is sending the wrong message. It seems very short sighted to have a lower entry requirements for prison education.

  3. Hi Lindsey
    The terms of reference don’t give that information. But there is a commitment to “consider the views of key stakeholders”.

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