Prison education should be looked at in the broader context of adult education and lifelong learning, says the Prisoner Learning Alliance.
In written evidence to the Education Select Committee’s inquiry, the PLA highlights the educational needs of the prison population and how stronger links with community-based adult education would be beneficial for everyone.
The educational needs of the prison population
The UK prison population has disproportionately low levels of literacy, with almost half of people entering prison having no prior qualifications. Many have experienced little or no success in school, whilst others may have been successful but lack the current skills needed for employment or citizenship.
People in work a year after leaving prison is just 17%. We can and should expect more
Prison education must be tailored to meet the specific challenges of this context.
Despite the clear benefits of prison education, there has been a decline in the number of people participating in education and in achieving qualifications in recent years. This is matched by low levels of employment for prison leavers, with data showing that just 10.5% of prison leavers between April 2018 and March 2019 were in employment six weeks later. People in work a year after leaving prison is just 17%. We can and should expect more.
Benefitting families, communities and prison safety
Engagement with education can significantly reduce reoffending, saving taxpayers’ money and reducing the number of victims of crime.
Families also benefit from prison education, including the educational performance of their children.
The Covid Crisis and the suspension of face-to-face education has compounded some of the existing challenges faced by prisoners, and prisons have seen a rise in self-harm and mental health problems. Education can provide hope and morale for prisoners during difficult times, which can in turn improve security.
Providing people in prison with digital skills is essential for them to meet the demands of the employment market and find a job upon release
Better access to digital learning, alongside face to face teaching, would enable prisoners to continue to learn and develop throughout lockdown. Digital literacy is an increasing requirement for many employers, and providing people in prison with digital skills is essential for them to meet the demands of the employment market and find a job upon release.
Unlocking future employment
Vocational education and training in prisons is not tailored towards future employment. Difficulties recruiting teachers and instructors often leads to an unwillingness in prison management to change courses and the curriculum, regardless of whether a different course or qualification would be more useful or suited towards the local jobs market.
To fully equip prison leavers for employment, vocational education should include core employment skills
On top of this, whilst new commissioning arrangements give Governors the option to commission Level 3 vocational training qualifications, very few have taken this opportunity and qualifications beyond level 2 are rare.
To fully equip prison leavers for employment, vocational education should include core employment skills. Initiatives such as the New Futures Network – which brokers relationships between prisons and employers, securing employment for prisoners on release – are potentially effective, but are currently piecemeal and need to be more widespread.
Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL , which allows prisoners to leave the prison on day release) is currently hugely underutilised, but could enable prisoner students to access college or university courses in the community, creating pathways to more useful and relevant courses. There is currently no central strategy to increase day release for education.
Creating links with education in the community
Prison learning should be seen in the wider context of lifelong learning and should be more embedded in adult education in the community.
Partnerships between prisons and Further Education (FE) colleges would be hugely beneficial for prisoners and prison leavers. Supporting Heads of Learning and Skills in prisons to develop links and referral processes with local colleges would create access to different kinds of opportunities for learners.
Apprenticeships could play a key part in ensuring that training and education transfers to employment in the community.
FE colleges could play a much greater role providing education for serving and former prisoners. More resources and support are needed for them to play an active role in developing these pathways and engaging with prisoners as part of their commitment to local communities.
Apprenticeships could also play a key part in ensuring that training and education transfers to employment in the community. The Ministry of Justice’s 2018 Education and Employment Strategy set out the Prisoner Apprenticeship Pathway as a vocational route to gaining qualifications and work experience, and seemed promising, but so far no progress has been made in implementing this across the prison estate.
Our vision for prison education
There is a strong evidence-base on the value of prison learning and the need to integrate this into other adult lifelong learning strategies. The 2016 Coates review laid out a vision for prison education which is as relevant today as it was when it was published. Many of the recommendations in our evidence would support the implementation of Coates’ recommendations, but unfortunately, our 2019 review highlighted that progress on the recommendations has been too slow.
Equipping prison leavers with the education, skills and training to secure employment on release benefits everyone. In the context of Covid-19 and its effect on employment and the economy, this is more important now than ever.
Read our response to the inquiry here
Unlocking potential – three years on
In May 2016, Dame Sally Coates published her influential review - Unlocking Potential, which set out a holistic vision for prison education. Following publication of the report, the government accepted the main recommendations in principle. However changes in government and administration meant that a detailed implementation plan was not published. In this briefing, we outline progress on the main recommendations.