The barriers to studying in prison: what PET learners told us

Home > The barriers to studying in prison: what PET learners told us

Lived Experience Consultants, Will and Erika Flowers | 25 June 2024

In this blog, Lived Experience Consultants (LECs) Will and Erika Flowers share some of the data and findings gathered in prisons across England and Wales over the last nine months as part of PET’s National Lottery Community Fund project to reach and support more learners in prison.

This is blog number two of the series,  following on from our first blog introducing the project and the LEC cooperative approach. Illustrations are provided by Erika – you can find more of her work here.

Even though PET has been funding courses for over three decades now and is very aware of the challenges and blockages people face when studying by distance learning or engaging with education in prisons, getting feedback directly from people in prison experiencing it is still imperative – especially within ever-changing prison environments. This is key to PET’s values and aims.

In our personal experience of being in prison, facing the challenges of the daily routine is hard enough. So, when you make a personal decision to try and change your life through engaging in education, it is hoped that it can be done in a positive and stress-free way as much as possible – or at the least a straightforward way.

Overcoming the barriers that the regime in prisons often presented felt like a constant uphill struggle. We can relate to the feedback PET collected and use our experience to help find solutions to the challenges learners face today.

PET wanted to look at these challenges and what helped learners study their course and complete it. We got direct feedback by using a mixture of prison visits, PET’s free Advice Line, and information from feedback forms that are sent out at the beginning of every course funded.

Over nine months, we:

Visited 8 prisons   

Spoke to 61 people     

Facilitated 7 focus groups, including 1 solution-focused workshop (a session where people in prison suggested a set of solutions to the challenges)        

Recruited 6 Lived Experience Consultants (LECs) from within the community to collaboratively inform this project work   

What we found out

The top 3 activities that people said are currently helping them complete their course:

  1. PET separately funding course extensions
  2. Peer support from other learners and mentors
  3. Updates to the PET Course Prospectus to reflect current courses and career pathways and the Advice Line for direct communication with PET

The top 3 challenges people said they came across when trying to complete their course in prison were:

  1. Accessing exams to fully complete a course
  2. Accessing tutor support and delayed assignment feedback, meaning that courses expired before learners could complete them
  3. Being able to continue a course when transferred to another prison

These were the top points people told us enabled them to complete their course:

  • Information about employment pathways – this was motivating for many people
  • Using their own personal resilience
  • Clear processes – both PET and prisons
  • Access to tutor support
  • No breaks in learning when transferring between prisons
  • Their successes celebrated, not just a sign-off from course providers saying “course completed”
Next steps

We now have a good mixture of information to review and dissect, hopefully leading to solution-focused developments and the implementation of resources for people in prison across England and Wales studying by distance learning.

PET’s Engagement and Development team and the LECs are reviewing and updating our support for learners and prison staff – for example our result letters, prospectus content and prison staff resources available through PET’s website, to mention a few.

As a service which spans England and Wales, available to people in over 120 prisons, PET must largely support people remotely, so it’s important to develop resources that can be accessed by all.

As promised, we will be sharing an update later this year on the resources PET create as a result of this engagement.

Also, look out for the next blog: PET’s new Lived Experience Coordinator will be introducing themselves, their new role and their experience of education!

PET’s free Advice Line

We would also like to tell you about PET’s free Advice Line. This is available to people in prison, family and friends, and prison and education staff. The line is to help and support with information, advice or guidance as needed.

If you are part of an organisation working in or visiting prisons, please mention the PET Advice Line. The more people accessing education the better, in our view!

We also welcome any feedback people may wish to share via the Advice Line about any experiences of studying by distance learning in prison.

Speak to a member of PET’s Advice team on 0800 048 7520 on:

Tuesdays: 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-16:00
Thursdays: 10:00-12:00 and 14:00-18:00

You can also write to FREEPOST, Prisoners’ Education Trust (you do not need to use a stamp).

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