02 June 2023
In this blog, PLA member Emily shares how she became an Outreach Tutor at a Category B male prison after studying Education at university and volunteering at a jail – with the support of a well-connected tutor. It is the second in a series – routes into prison teaching – highlighting the variety of careers in prison education, and the variety of career paths leading towards them.
I’ve never been sure about what I wanted to do ‘career-wise’. My university degree is in ‘Education Studies’ as I wasn’t sure whether teaching in a school was for me, but I knew I had an interest in education. It wasn’t until the summer after my second year when my mind was opened to the idea that, just because I wanted to teach, didn’t mean I necessarily had to teach in a school.
My mind was opened to the idea that, just because I wanted to teach, didn’t mean I necessarily had to teach in a school
I had to decide that summer what I was going to write my dissertation on. After a bit of a tough time, my dissertation wasn’t at the forefront of my mind.
During that summer I decided to get some experience that was ‘outside the box’. I went to volunteer in Uganda at a primary school for 2 weeks. Whilst the school and the whole village was a fascinating, beautiful place, it was the conversations I had and the people I met that would have the defining impact on me.
In Uganda there were roughly another 12-15 volunteers, one of whom was a lady who taught in a prison. As I listened to her talk about her role, I became more and more interested to hear the many different tales she had to tell. The idea of teaching in a prison was instantly appealing to me and I decided there and then that prison education would be the focus of my dissertation.
Once I got back to university in the September, we all submitted our dissertation ideas and were assigned a tutor who they deemed most suitable. Fortunately for me, my tutor had a keen interest in and focus on offender learning and had a connection to the Curriculum Team Leader at a Category B male prison. When she asked if anyone would be interested in visiting to talk to some of the learners and tour the prison, I jumped at the chance!
Fortunately for me, my tutor had a keen interest in and focus on offender learning and had a connection to the Curriculum Team Leader at a Category B male prison
As our visit came to an end, the Curriculum Team Leader mentioned that anyone interested in a placement or in volunteering should get in touch. At this point I had finished university and was working part-time. Thankfully I had the time to be able to commit, and I volunteered at the prison within the education department each Monday for almost 2 years. During my time, I would split the day between maths and English classes. Then in February 2016 a position for a Functional Skills Tutor came up, I decided I felt ready to apply, and managed to secure the job!
For me, getting into prison education really was a case of being in the right place at the right time and being fortunate enough to have a tutor with good connections! However, I also did give up my time to gain the experience necessary.
Getting into prison education really was a case of being in the right place at the right time and being fortunate enough to have a tutor with good connections
Fast forward a few years and I am currently working as an Outreach Tutor. My role involves taking education to the learners who cannot attend mainstream education. Learners are referred to me through either our Healthcare department or Safer Custody (the team that supports people in prison with their safety and wellbeing). I deliver English and Maths from pre-entry (non-readers) up to Level two (which is similar to GCSE 4-9 or A*-C).
Working in this role is something I really enjoy. It allows me to tailor each tutorial to the individual as I am predominantly working on a 1:1 basis, which enables any learners with learning difficulties and disabilities to gain the full support they need. A lot of my learners have issues around working in classrooms and being around large groups of people. Being on Outreach allows them to still access that learning, just outside of the classroom environment.
The role, however, is not without its challenges. It can be exhausting teaching such a variety of levels on a daily basis, and my learners often have various needs and their own individual challenges which impact their education. However, what I enjoy the most is building up that level of rapport with my learners, allowing them to communicate openly and professionally with me. I say to my learners: we all have bad days, all I ask is that you communicate that with me, and we will come together to create a solution which works for us both.
Outreach opens education up to become a whole prison activity
In my experience, Outreach opens education up to become a whole prison activity. I have seen officers on the wing encouraging learners and helping them complete their work. I will often be approached whilst on the wing by staff to ask how a certain learner is progressing. Also, now I have been in this role for some time, my face is familiar to the different departments which house prisoners – not just the houseblocks. I have seen learners in Healthcare and the CSU (Care and Separation Unit), and so the staff can encourage my learners, whilst in their care, to continue with their learning.
Once in her role, Emily gained a Level 5 Diploma in Education and Training (DET), which qualifies her to teach post-14 learners. Through CPD, she has also achieved a Level 3 Award in Specific Learning Difficulties and Behaviour Disorders and a Level 3 qualification in Assessment.
© Prisoner Learning Alliance 2023