13 August 2021
‘Prison education is a neglected area, in society generally and within post-secondary education. Yet we have a large – and growing – prison population, whose educational needs are as great as any. For individuals and for wider society, education can play a crucial part in enabling their rehabilitation and subsequent reintegration. Teachers in prison have a crucial role in strengthening this, yet their voice is rarely heard in discussions about policy, rehabilitation or prison reform.’
We are therefore delighted to share with you our new report, ‘Hidden voices: The experience of teachers working in prisons’, in partnership with the University and College Union.
Over 400 prison educators completed the survey and this report aims to highlight their experiences and advocate for the changes that they would like to see.
The survey found that prison educators are motivated by spending time with learners, and the transformational impact that education can have on people’s lives.
Teaching in prison is a highly specialised role but support for new prison teachers is generally inadequate – with just under 1 in 10 respondents feeling that induction processes were good enough.
Education staff would welcome more input from prison management and officers. There is an appetite for additional training on the operational and cultural aspects of prison life. Prison teachers would welcome regular communication and updates from the prisons they work in, and to feel more integrated into the prison.
Teachers responding to the survey expressed a need for further professional development, opportunities for mentoring, shadowing, networking, sharing good practice and developing specialisms. There is also a need to support teachers’ well-being much more effectively, including providing therapeutic support.
Pay and conditions, and the lack of progression are significant issues for prison teachers. Lack of digital technology prevents teachers from supporting learners with essential skills and knowledge. Infrastructure, lack of resources and poor facilities also disincentivise both teachers and learners.
The turnover of prison teachers is too high, and many expressed an intention to leave prison work within the next few years. This is extremely concerning, and action needs to be taken swiftly to prevent this. The Ministry of Justice and HMPPS should take responsibility, working alongside education providers to support the workforce more effectively.
Many prison educators feel that, as neither part of the further education sector nor the prison sector, their voices are hidden and unheard.
We are grateful to the educators who generously and honestly shared their personal experiences and to the University and College Union for working with us to produce this report.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023