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Prisoner reading scheme proves impact

Evaluation of Shannon Trust "Turning Pages" peer based prisoner reading scheme finds significant impact that goes well beyond improved literacy.

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Turning Pages

I was delighted to see that Shannon Trust has just (12 January 2017) published an evaluation of its prisoner reading scheme “Turning Pages, Changing Lives” which proves its effectiveness.

Shannon Trust is a small charity that aims to increase the reading abilities of adult prisoners who identify as beginner readers or who may lack confidence or experience as readers. The charity’s vision is “every prisoner a reader”.

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the work of Shannon Trust but many, like me, may not have been aware that the trust changed its teaching methods in 2015. The organisation originally used the Toe by Toe reading scheme, a programme designed to support children’s reading development through a phonics based approach. The new approach, Turning Pages, was specially commissioned by Shannon Trust and designed specifically to support the reading development of adult learners.

Turning Pages comprises a set of workbooks, known as ‘manuals’, that the Learner owns and works through systematically. Manuals are complemented by a set of stand-alone Turning Pages ‘Readers’ (fiction and non-fiction), some of which draw on user-generated content.

The Shannon Trust Reading Plan sits outside formal education and Turning Pages is facilitated entirely by ‘peer Mentors’ rather than teachers or tutors. Turning Pages makes use of a synthetic phonics approach to supporting reading development and has been implemented in 124 prisons across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


The evaluation, conducted by Tom Hopkins and Alex Kendall of Birmingham City University, found very positive results in improved reading skills:

  • Significant gains in word reading and non-word reading scores were found for all Learners involved in the Turning Pages evaluation (regardless of their initial reading ability) during the first three months and from baseline to the final six-month period.
  • Learners reported an increase in reading confidence over the six-month period.
  • Learners reported a significant increase in their self-rated reading attainment, enjoyment and reading comprehension ability over the six-month period.
  • Learners who had either completed Turning Pages or were reading the final manual, read significantly more words and non-words compared to their peers and rated themselves as more able readers over the six-month period.

Perhaps even more interesting were the findings about the effectiveness of the peer mentor model. Learners and Mentors were found to place significant value on the informal, non-institutional nature of Turning Pages and identified the adult focus of the programme, one-to-one support of Mentors and the opportunity to work at their own pace as key factors in supporting successful learning.

This last point was particularly interesting – weekly sessions raised for 3 to 5 times per week but the number of sessions did not have an effect on reading performance.

The evaluators found that the Learner/Mentor pairing was highly valued by all parties and central to the success of the programme. What they describe as the “nuanced, individualised approach to support taken by Mentors (‘grounded pedagogies’) in negotiation with their Learners” was seen by Learners as central to their success.

It appears that the success of Turning Pages is related to the ‘un-schooled’, social approach Turning Pages has to adult learning (i.e. occurring outside formal education) which, based upon responses in this evaluation, was successful in attracting Learners.

Most importantly, there were many related benefits for Learners after six months on Turning Pages:

  • Learners were reading more for functional participation within prison and for social engagement. This also included reading materials that Learners had reported a lack of confidence reading prior to their engagement with Turning Pages, such as legal letters, books and application forms.
  • Turning Pages provided Learners with productive opportunities to re-engage with learning, build confidence and work towards goals that were meaningful to their own lives.

These successes have much more impact when recounted in learners’ own words:

It’s not so embarrassing because before I used to go and ask people if I had a letter can they read it for me…since I’ve been doing Turning Pages I can read it, I can read it myself so it’s private, it’s not shared.

You will improve and you will get somewhere…it progresses you more because you’re taking in things better than you would if you were stuck in a classroom with 10, 12 other people. You know what I mean?

It’s just the fact that I’m learning…so obviously I’m feeling better about myself, for the first time learning, instead of sitting inside doing nothing…it’s an investment for the future.

My Mentor is dyslexic…obviously he’s a lot better at reading than me…but he understands what you’re going through, how hard it is mentally and physically for yourself.

You can follow @Shannon_Trust on Twitter.


All prison posts are kindly sponsored by Prison Consultants Limited who offer a complete service from arrest to release for anyone facing prison and their family. Prison Consultants have no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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