08 July 2021
Developing the prison curriculum is a priority for the PLA, following consultation with our members. This webinar looks at how educators can engage and reengage prison learners as lockdown eases.
In this webinar we consider the implications of potential changes to the prison regime, the impacts of lockdown on education progression, and the ongoing challenge of the lack of digital technology in our prisons.
Chaired by the Chair of the PLA Curriculum Working Group, Toni Fazaeli, we were joined by Steve Johnson, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Leeds; Femi Laryea-Adekimi, Network Coordinator at Prison Reform Trust; and Maria McNicholl, Training and Development Manager at St Giles Trust. All spoke passionately of their commitment to supporting people in prison and to creating better outcomes for them.
With over two decades of experience working in the prison service, Steve highlighted that education is a way of rehabilitating people, but the way that prison education is measured does not always support an individuals’ development. Steve therefore has a focus on reframing the way in which prison education defines a successful outcome.
The lack of face-to- face education throughout Covid meant that learners were offered in- cell education material. At Leeds, some people have been more able to engage in education because they feel safer and more able to focus in their own space. This means, Steve and the team at HMP Leeds are working on a ‘blended’ model of education. However, the prison is at risk of not reaching set targets, which are more focused on ‘bums on seats’ and the numbers of people attending classes.
‘We need to be reactive around our education provision. Rather than doing a needs analysis because we are obliged to, we are actually listening to what our men need and want, and linking that with the community.’
Steve talked about consulting with learners and understanding what success means for them. Following speaking to learners,, Steve is pushing to change the idea that only English and Maths means attainment, and trying to provide subjects which support the men to resettle and gain employment in the community. Steve also mentioned that HMP Leeds is utilising animal therapy as a way to engage vulnerable prisoners with activities to improve their self-confidence. The prison is designing a regime that makes men feel safe and able to work, and that should mean engagement in prison education engagement would improve.
Acknowledging Impacts on Mental Health
Femi works at the Prisoner Policy Network at the Prison Reform Trust, engaging current prisoners with the work of the organisation. With lived experience of prison education, Femi explained the detrimental impact of lockdown on the wellbeing of prisoners. Femi highlighted the impact on both those unsure about education to those who were previously enthusiastic education mentors.
‘Engaging prisoners’ post-lockdown into education, we need to have a focus on how lockdown has affected these men as people… People who were very engaged in education may not want to engage as they did before.’
Femi’s job involves a lot of consulting with prisoners. He explained that they value participating in education in their own time, without being penalised for not attending class in person. A different approach is needed to understand the realities of the impact of lockdown on mental health and to support people.
Working with Peer Mentors
Maria works at the St Giles Trust, an organisation which passionately believes in employing people with lived experience of prison. They train prisoners in peer support role offering professional training and qualifications. This equips them with the basics of supporting people (this includes: legislation, confidentiality, GDPR, signposting, etc). Peer mentors can go on to complete a Level 3 City Guilds accredited Advice and Guidance qualification.
Maria also shared a first-hand account from a prisoner about his experience during lockdown, after interviewing him last week. He explained that during Covid, peer mentors were an invaluable support to prisoners – particularly for those at induction and release. They provided significant information and support to other prisoners.
Following the input from speakers, the audience shared examples of good practice in their prisons and there were questions and discussion on arts, digital technology and information sharing.
Listen to the webinar recording now to learn about the challenges and opportunities as prisons reduce lockdown restrictions.
We are very grateful to all our fantastic speakers and to the participants in the discussion.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023