MoJ: the expectations and options behind governor commissioning

27 Sep 2017

Ministry of Justice speaker at the Prisoners Learning Alliance Conference 2017

“It’s an important and exciting time for prison education,” a senior Ministry of Justice official told an audience at this year’s PLA Conference. “We are at the beginning of the final bit of the process that leads to significant changes, as governors are able to control how education is structured, and by whom and how it's delivered.”

Richard Ward, who has been at the centre of the prison education agenda since 2004, including its most recent reform program, outlined the upcoming changes to prisons education, at the heart of which is giving governors greater control over, and responsibility for, delivering education in prison.

As part of this, the MoJ has established a new definition of prison education, which echoes that included in Dame Sally Coates’ review of prison education, and in the PLA’s own.

It is:

“The purpose of education in prisons is to give individuals the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment and become assets to their communities. It should also build social capital and improve the wellbeing of prisoners during their sentences and once released.”

This new definition, said Ward, was intended to give a “clear signal” about the value of education beyond employment. Part of this is due to the reality of demographics – there are now more men over the age of 55 in prison than there are men under the age of 25. “Employability is always going to be important,” said Ward, but for the older population it inevitably became less of a driving outcome.  

The MoJ has now laid out 12 minimum requirements for governors. As well as creating a benchmark by which to measure outcomes, these requirements will “ensure the coherence of the system” for prisoners moving between institutions.

It was clear from Dame Sally Coates’ review, said Ward, that “you can’t have 105 separate fiefdoms - there is a need for consistency”.

Part of achieving this consistency is establishing new framework contracts for Information, Advice and Guidance services and for libraries, said Ward. The MoJ will also begin a procurement process for new awarding bodies for the seven main prison subjects (Maths, ICT, Cleaning, Construction, Catering, ESOL and English), so that “those starting a course at one prison can bank and build on their progress if they move elsewhere”. Underneath this will sit smaller organisations and local providers.

“The intention is that we have a very open specification, so that governors can buy what they need to fill in the gaps in their establishments; what is needed in their prison,” said Ward.

Ward’s advice to providers that were interested in working in prisons is to register their interest as soon as possible.

Find further information about the Conference agenda and participants, what was said in workshops and other panels here.