15 November 2019
Evidence submitted by the PLA has been used in the Justice Select Committee’s new review of Prison Governance. The review looks at the role of the prison governor, exploring who they are accountable to, and how the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Prison Service should oversee prisons.
As part of their inquiry, which took place very soon after the new PEF contracts and DPS had come into place, the committee looked at how education was working in prisons. The Prisoner Learning Alliance submitted evidence, and attended a session as a witness.
We were pleased with the committee’s conclusions and five of their recommendations were about prison education. These all tie in with areas that the PLA are working on and support changes that we would like to see implemented.
Accountability for education
The committee noted that there is a lack of clarity about the new arrangements and the accountability measures for governors and measures to hold service providers to account. Their recommendation on this area is that the MoJ should set out the performance measures that will be used to hold service providers and governors to account. They also asked for further information about how prisoner progression is going to be measured.
Supporting governors and prison staff
In our evidence, the PLA noted that the training on managing the PEF contracts has been too little and too late, and that some prison staff were not yet confident about managing and monitoring the new education contracts. The Justice Select Committee welcomed the changes to education provision, believing they represent an opportunity to deliver positive change to support the rehabilitation of prisoners.
However, they were also concerned to hear that some governors do not feel they have the skills or support to manage the new education contracts and this represents a real risk to the long-term success of the new arrangements. They recommend that the MoJ urgently review the training and support available to governors and their teams.
Monitoring the DPS
The PLA has been working with Clinks to monitor and evaluate how the DPS contracts are running. We have had a roundtable with the Prison Service, MOJ and provider organisations to review this in detail.
We have raised concerns about the complexity and waiting periods involved in the DPS process. The committee noted that the DPS was intended by the MoJ to give prisons access to suppliers that are able to meet the bespoke educational needs of their establishment and offer a flexible route to services that add real value.
However, the committee was concerned that the roll-out of the system has had the opposite effect, acting as a disincentive to governors to tender for services and to service providers to apply for them. The committee recommended that the MoJ should urgently review how the DPS could be more accessible and less time consuming for service providers and prison staff. We note that a similar system is being considered as part of the MoJ’s probation reforms; a full evaluation of the roll-out of the DPS must be undertaken before this happens.
The length of DPS contracts
Another of our concerns has been that the contracts are too short, and we raised this in our evidence. The committee agreed, stating that there is clear evidence to suggest that small providers need longer-term contracts to offer them security. Their recommendation, strongly supported by the PLA, is that the MoJ should review the arrangements for awarding contracts under the DPS to enable contracts of longer than one year to be offered. Short contracts are particularly problematic for providing information, advice and guidance services, which is about half of the overall DPS spend at the moment.
Promoting the importance of education in prisons
Lastly, the Justice Select Committee stated that education is an important part of the prison regime and the MoJ needs to ensure that it retains a focus on this, and other purposeful activity, as well as safety and decency. Their last recommendation relating to education is that the MoJ reviews the training available to prison officers and governors to ensure they are best able to support prisoner’s access to education.
As a general election is looming these recommendations will not be followed up over the next few weeks. However, once a new government is in place, we expect the Prison Service and MOJ to respond to the review and say what they will do about the recommendations.
Leadership in prison education
Meanwhile, over the next couple of months, the PLA will be publishing research into leadership in prison education. Many of the themes and findings from the committee’s report are reflected in the research, which involved talking to prison education managers, heads of learning and skills and governors.
We look forward to sharing our findings with our members and the wider public, and continuing to advocate for positive changes in prison education.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023