Making the case for prison education: PET responds to parliamentary inquiry

Home > Making the case for prison education: PET responds to parliamentary inquiry

Francesca Cooney, Head of Policy | 12 February 2021

Looking after our supporters

Are prisoners being left behind? That is the question asked by the Education Select Committee’s inquiry into prison education.  

Here we highlight seven suggestions we put forward in our evidence – changes that would make a real difference to prison learners and help to unlock their potential.

Read our full response to the inquiry here

1. A diverse curriculum with courses at higher levels

PET provides opportunities for people to study subjects and levels that are not otherwise available in prison. But we would like to see a core curriculum that is broader, richer, and with more courses at higher levels. Ideally, this would include basic skills, vocational skills training, and academic qualifications, as well as creative activities.

We believe that access to GCSEs and A levels should be standard provision – these are the qualifications most recognised by employers and colleges and that open the door to more opportunities.

2. Support for distance learners

People studying through distance learning in prisons do not always get enough support. Distance learning needs to be embedded into standard education provision, with adequate staff time to provide both the administrative and the study skills and learning support needed. Every learner must have the means to complete assignments and take exams too.

3. Prison regimes that support education

The prison regime gets in the way of providing education – a lack of staff and too much lock up mean it cannot always happen. And prisoner learners can be transferred to another prison unexpectedly, in the middle of a course – losing the chance to complete assignments or take exams.

We believe that learners who are doing courses that are not available elsewhere, or who have exams that cannot be taken in another prison, should only be transferred on completion of their course.

4. Supporting engagement

Education should have the same status and pay as other activities in prisons, and every prisoner should receive advice and guidance from trained staff that identifies their skillset and aspirations.

Education that is relevant and practical, courses that are nationally recognised and valuable to employers, and clear progression routes all build aspiration and motivation.

5. Rolling out digital technology

Technology is essential for effective learning, developing digital skills and communication – never more so than during Covid. Rolling out in-cell access to digital technology would make the most incredible difference to educational delivery. It would revolutionise learning in prisons, meaning people could study at their own pace and participate in a much wider variety of high quality courses.

6. Working with the community

Prisons are part of our society. They should be included in all regional and national initiatives for skills training, apprenticeships and further education, and funding for these should cover prison leavers too.

HMPPS must also develop a national strategy that sets out clear plans for working with colleges and universities. Many prisoners and prison leavers could benefit – allowing them to study inside, while on Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), and then on release.

7. More resources

The budget for prison education is inadequate. It should be better funded, and made equivalent to adult education in the community.

Prison governors should also have adequate budgets for activities that meet the needs of their learners. This should include the library, gym, arts, recreational activities, IAG (information, advice and guidance), and peer mentoring qualifications.

There needs to be a culture change in prisons, so that the value of education is properly understood and recognised. It is not a transaction, a privilege, or an unnecessary add-on.

The benefits of effective education are well evidenced – we know that it builds skills and confidence, supports employability, and reduces reoffending.

The Education Select Committee is asking if prisoners are being left behind. Right now, the answer is yes, but this could be so different. Making the changes we outline above would mean prison learners and prison leavers get the chances they need to get ahead – rather than left behind.

Read our full response to the inquiry here

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