Sarah Fitzgerald, Head of Education Quality at HMPPS, kicked off this year’s Prisoner Learning Alliance conference with an overview of the key changes to prison education which were introduced in 2019 and an update on how HMPPS is supporting education during lockdown. Here, we provide an overview of Sarah’s key points.
Crises are often catalysts for that kind of innovation. I think it’s important we now examine where changes to our usual ways of working, but particularly ones driven by technology, can better support service users. – Sarah Fitzgerald
HMPPS support for education during lockdown and its current priorities
The start of lockdown brought about the temporary closure of all face-to-face educational activity, with educational and library staff no longer able to enter prisons.
To facilitate individual, in-cell learning for prisoners, HMPPS has created a library of educational materials for prison staff. HMPPS managers have maintained direct dialogue with Prison Education Framework (PEF) providers (external providers of the core educational curriculum) and local staff to encourage the delivery of educational materials.
Some prisons, identified as at low-risk of Covid by HMPPS, are now gradually opening education departments, enabling localised regime recovery plans. Although progress is unlikely to be uniform across the prison state, and unlikely to be linear, HMPPS guidance aims to provide consistency in decision-making, and the flexibility to enable governors to make decisions with their resident communities in mind.
Because of the current focus on reinstating face-to-face learning in the coming weeks, there are currently no adjustments planned for wing-based delivery.
Long-term improvements in prison education
Sarah highlighted that one of the Conservative Party’s election manifesto commitments clearly states that they will “create a prisoner education service focused on work-based training and skills… [and] improve employment opportunities for ex-offenders including a job coach in each prison.”
The New Futures Network aims to broker partnerships between employers and prisons, including on day release and upon long-term release. Having been introduced into three pilot areas, the Network is now being rolled out across England and Wales.
Digital accessibility and in-cell technology in prisons was a key theme through the conference. HMPPS acknowledges the need to increase access to enable prisoners to continue education over the coming months, and to develop digital skills. Technology would allow for a blended learning approach, supplementing classroom teaching with learning on wings and in cells.
Find out more about the PLA’s campaign for better access to digital technology in prisons here
HMPPS is currently looking to deploy additional investment to develop digital infrastructure to promote the teaching of digital skills and use of in-cell technology.
The Virtual Campus platform has also been redesigned in order to offer better learning experiences and will be available to prisoners once they have access again to education blocks. This includes the introduction of a Digital Personal Learning Plan (DPLP) which captures all of a prisoner’s learning aims achieved throughout their sentence. It also includes job search and application facilities, a digital CV builder, online exam facilities, secure messaging, and multi-format educational materials. Available in the community, it is a genuine through-the-gate platform.
Watch Sarah’s full talk on Zoom (password: uD=47F?z)
PLA written evidence to Education Select Committee
In May, the PLA submitted written evidence to the Education Select Committee on the impact of Covid-19 on education and children’s services. Read the full text, including key points and recommendations, here.
Leadership in Prison Education: Meeting the Challenges of the New System
Based on interviews with over 50 staff in ten prisons, the report explores the challenges Governors and senior staff are facing in leading and managing prison education, in the light of the new contracting and commissioning arrangements.
The Digital Divide: Lessons from prisons abroad
Our briefing looks at the use of digital technology in prisons from Spain to Australia, of in-cell tablets to virtual reality headsets. We hope that England and Wales can learn from some of these lessons from abroad.