“Prisons need to follow what other educational institutions have been doing”

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Helena Wysocki | 17 September 2020

To conclude Prisoner Learning Alliance’s 2020 conference, a panel discussion brought together different voices in prison education to discuss some of the challenges and innovations we might see in the future.

What type of queries has Prison Reform Trust advice line received during the lockdown?

Marc Conway, Policy Officer at Prison Reform Trust: Progression through sentences and sentence plans has been one of the key concerns raised by prisoners. Usually, education is a huge part of progression, but during lockdown people haven’t been able to continue with classes and exams. Some vocational courses are strongly attached to prisoners’ sentence plans, so these stopping caused a lot of stress and worry for people inside.

Prisons need to follow what other educational institutions have been doing

People in education in prison shouldn’t be treated any differently from people in education outside prison. Sadly, that’s not what’s happening. Prisons need to follow what other educational institutions have been doing – universities have started virtual learning, schools have shielding. In-cell technology would be a massive move forwards and we need to see more of this.

What’s it been like being a provider during lockdown, and what are some of the changes you’ve had to make?

Emma Yorke, Director of Justice at PeoplePlus: One of the biggest challenges as a provider has been communication. One of the key ways PeoplePlus has adapted has been through using WayOut TV and in-cell telephony, which will become increasingly important as learners engage in more self-directed learning.

As Marc mentioned, another major challenge has been managing progression. Hopefully, some of the learning which was postponed will be picked back up at an accelerated pace once face-to-face education returns.

One of the positive things which has emerged from Covid is the way providers have worked together to share good practice and think innovatively about different modes and formats of learning.- Emma

Digital technology would make a huge difference to enabling providers to adapt traditional learning into a format which prisoners can continue to engage with in the coming months. Zoom and virtual teaching is very important to us, meaning we can make sure prisoners aren’t missing out on developments happening outside prison.

What do you think is going to be different about teaching and education provision from autumn onwards?

Jose Aguiar, Educational consultant at HMP Pentonville: One of the key things will be enabling better access to digital technology, which is what HMP Pentonville will be using to continue to deliver its criminology module with University of Westminster.

Our criminology course will be available online from October. We’re currently working on the course and how to transfer our face to face offer to a Zoom course. – Jose

We’ll see much more use of in-cell TV, radio and telephone for educational purposes. Whilst there will be some face-to-face education from the end of September, we are likely to see much more of a blended approach as classes won’t be at full capacity due to social distancing.

Whilst digital, in-cell technology will be important for our approach in the future, it should be seen as supplementary to face-to-face learning. We should focus on moving forwards with a blended approach.

FInd out how HMPPS is supporting prison education during lockdown

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