13 December 2022
Ofsted’s annual report came out today (13th December). Every year, Ofsted report that prison education is the worst performing sector they inspect. This year, they state that if anything, it is worse still.
They say, ‘The pandemic had a chilling effect on prison education and the thaw is yet to come.’
From March 2020 to May 2022, prisons were subject to exceptional delivery models, with decisions about activity controlled centrally, and most activities suspended.
In October 2021, Ofsted restarted their inspections of education, skills and work activities in prisons. Since then, they have carried out 22 full inspections. Half of those prisons were judged inadequate, and 10 required improvements. Only one prison – HMP Bronzefield – was judged to be good.
Half of prisons were judged ‘inadequate’ and only one was judged ‘good’.
Ofsted also describe the slow pace of recovery in education, skills, and work in prisons. They say that although prison leaders have faced challenges due to COVID-19, far too many prisons do not yet offer a full activities regime, usually due to staff vacancies.
Levels of staff absence were high, both among prison staff and among teachers. Too few prisoners are accessing education.
In some prisons – where leaders helped prisoners to take part in education – people were motivated to learn, displayed good behaviour and took pride in their work.
But Ofsted comment that the pandemic has diverted leaders’ attention from the quality of education and, in many cases, they had been slow to reinstate a full learning programme and qualifications.
The Annual Report also describes the lack of progress found in other types of inspection visit. In April 2022, Ofsted published a review of prison monitoring visits. Only 2 of the 41 establishments included in this review were judged to be making significant progress towards curriculum recovery.
At the moment, learners in prison are missing out on learning opportunities daily, and leaving prison without the skills they need for successful resettlement.
Change is urgently needed, but significant improvements in prison education are dependent on an effective prison system. The prison service needs a strategic approach to recruiting, retaining and supporting staff – both teachers and prison officers – and to provide the funding to make this happen.
The recent PLA report on supporting and training prison teachers describes how this can happen. A Working Group of PLA members developed these ideas, and set out a vision of prison education as a meaningful career choice with a call-to-action to value prison educators.
Prison education is being recommissioned over the next year, bringing an ideal opportunity to ensure that changes are made. We don’t yet know the detail of the new education contracts but support for teachers must be a fundamental part of the new arrangements.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023