30 January 2023
Earlier this month – 19th January – we joined prison educators from across the Midlands for a day of networking at HMP Dovegate.
Dovegate is a Category B adult male facility near Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. It is a private prison, managed by Serco, and has the UK’s only privately run, purpose-built therapeutic facility.
The PLA was contacted towards the end of last year by Charlotte Baker-Macdonald, Assistant Director of Regimes and Activities, who had read our Hidden Voices report and was keen to bring together people working in prison education departments across the Midlands.
Hidden Voices – which the PLA co-produced with the University and College Union (UCU) in 2021 – recognises that the prison teacher workforce is undervalued and underinvested in. Teachers surveyed for the report felt that opportunities to meet, collaborate and network with those in other prisons would be beneficial. This is especially the case if a teacher is the only person in their subject area in their prison, which can feel quite isolating. The report made the following recommendation to education providers:
Opportunities to network and share good practice between prisons and with the wider further education community should be increased.
Professional development for prison educators – which we published in October last year – reiterated this recommendation to education providers:
Prison teachers should routinely be offered networking opportunities across all providers and across the wider further education sector.
It was, therefore, really encouraging to see these recommendations being put into practice!
How the PLA supports prison educators
The networking day began with a welcome from Charlotte Baker-Macdonald, and a presentation from Tom Schuller, PLA Chair, and Hannah Stevens, PLA Network Officer, about the work of the Alliance and the ways in which it supports prison teachers. We then talked about some of the key trends and challenges in prison education, and participants were encouraged to share what they’d like the PLA to focus on, and how they’d like to be supported, over the next two years.
Hearing from learners themselves
Two learners then joined us, to give prepared speeches on their experience of education at Dovegate. Our first speaker told us how his school experience had made him feel as if he wasn’t able to engage in education. But at Dovegate, after identifying some additional learning needs, and obtaining the necessary tools and support, he has overcome the challenges he faced. He has now achieved a slew of qualifications, supported other learners, and even taught classes.
Our second speaker told us how, after initially being hesitant to engage in education at Dovegate because of his experience at other prisons, he was making good progress and encouraging other young people to get involved too. Any time he mentioned a particular course or qualification he had taken, he pointed out the tutor who had supported him. At the end of his presentation, those teachers reminded him of other achievements he hadn’t mentioned but should be proud of!
Visiting the education department
Participants then broke out into small groups, and those not based at Dovegate were shown around the education department by those who were. It’s always interesting – and useful – to look around other education departments, to see what they do differently. The ceramics classroom in the therapeutic facility felt calm and welcoming, and the work by students was impressive. We discussed the inclusion of art in the prison curriculum as important in and of itself, but also its potential as a gentle introduction to the education department for those who are hesitant to engage. Other participants visited the optometry workshop, where lenses for glasses are made, and some got to see the puppies being trained by prisoners to be assistance dogs through the Restart Dogs initiative.
Looking back, then looking forward
After lunch, and plenty of time to network, we heard from a representative of the National Justice Museum in Nottingham. We learned about the history of the former courts and jail in which the museum is housed and reflected on how far our criminal justice system has come but how far it still needs to go.
We’re really grateful to Charlotte and the team, and the learners, at HMP Dovegate for inviting us to participate in a really positive day. It was a really valuable opportunity for teachers to come together, to share their knowledge and experience, and to build relationships with other prison education departments.
We hope that this event inspires others like this. Please do get in touch to tell us about any that you are planning.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023