28 January 2022
The last annual report by Ofsted revealed that only 9 of the 32 institutions inspected were judged to be ‘good’, with the vast majority requiring improvement, or deemed ‘inadequate’. How do you defend the Government’s poor record on prison education?
This was the first question asked in the final evidence session of the Education Select Committee’s inquiry on prison education. Since the start of 2021, the inquiry has heard evidence from people with a wide range of expertise and experience in the area, including people with lived experience, in order to examine the provision and support available to learners in custody.
Last week, the Committee questioned Skills Minister, Alex Burghart, and Prisons Minister, Victoria Atkins, alongside Director General of Prisons, Phil Copple, and Deputy Director for Apprenticeships, Participation and Traineeships at the Department for Education, Louise Wright. The session covered the reports by Ofsted, in-cell technology, the Accelerator Prisons Project, and the transition into the community.
In response to the opening question regarding Ofsted, Victoria Atkins referred to the Prisons Strategy White Paper as an outline of the Government’s aspirations for prison education. She said that, as the White Paper highlights, education and skills training is integral to rehabilitation through assisting with employment on release.
Alex Burghart said that he believed that the autonomy the Ministry of Justice had, and the responsibility for prison education, previously commissioned by the Department for Education, has been valuable. He pointed out that the four providers of prison education (Milton Keynes College, Novus, People Plus and Weston College), offer services outside the prison estate, too and have each been found by Ofsted to be ‘good providers’. He said that, where Ofsted assessments are poor, ‘it tends to be because of things like curriculum planning or available space’. He attributed these issues to the fact that this is the only third year of implementing the recommendations of Dame Sally Coates’ 2016 review on prison education.
Victoria Atkins highlighted that the implementation of digital technology in prisons for education and rehabilitation had proven to be valuable during lockdown restrictions. She shared that she recently met with a prison governor who, despite his initial reservations about in-cell technology, admitted that he has seen ‘such good results throughout his prison’ following its deployment.
Phil Copple felt that the funding for reducing reoffending in the spending review is encouraging. He emphasised that normalising digital technology, which is embedded in the community, is important to rehabilitation – particularly for people who have served long sentences. He also highlighted that digital technology has been assisting with the delivery of resettlement services, such as offering job interviews via video for people approaching release and shared plans to develop a digital job seekers’ platform that matches candidates leaving prison to suitable job opportunities.
There are sixteen prisons involved in the ‘Accelerator Prisons Project’, and five of these have initiatives around education provision and delivery. These include employing Curriculum Progression Leads and Neurodiversity Leads; providing a ‘prisoner learner plan’, which is to be digitised; and offering laptops to learners. Phil Copple explained that another key focus is how progress in education can be communicated between establishments to support a learner to continue a course if they are transferred. When best practice is established in the Accelerator sites, this initiative will be rolled out across the estate.
Alex Burghart stated that the best way to prevent recidivism is to support each person leaving prison to secure stable and sustainable work. He said that, in recent conversation with a governor, he learned that there is little information available from Government data sources about the roles gained by people on release. He believes that access to this would influence governors’ decisions when selecting education, training and employability services. Victoria Atkins added that, while Curious (the monitoring information system used for education) sets and measures the personal progress of people in prison this must also extend to outcomes leaving prison. She said that the ‘resettlement passport’, set out in the White Paper, is intended to assist with the transition to the community.
Phil Copple said that, in reducing reoffending, there is to be a focus on working with probation to broker opportunities with further education providers and employers in the community. This will ensure continuity of education, skills training and employment.
Alex Burghart told the Committee that there is no primary legislative barrier preventing prisoners from being offered apprenticeships. He said that the Government is looking into the possibility of a scheme that allows prisoners to begin an apprenticeship in prison, such as on ROTL (Release on Temporary License) and continue it on release.
Read our initial thoughts on the Prisons Strategy White Paper here.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023