Select Committee on Education and Skills Seventh Report

3  The need for a clear purpose and overarching strategy

No overarching strategy exists

56. There is a need for clarity of overall strategy and purpose of the management of prisoners so that prison education can clearly be seen as feeding into this broader strategy. There is currently no overarching policy in place. Lord Filkin told this Committee that scoping national policy had only just been started:

57. He said that Ministers, at this stage, were still asking the question:

    'What would a system look like from beginning to end that had as one of its central objectives the maximisation of the number of people getting into work and supporting them (in) doing so?'[36]

58. The lack of any overarching strategy is widely felt amongst the prison sector. As Ruth Wyner, Director of the Dialogue Trust, told the Committee:

    'There is no overarching policy really. With the National Offender Management Service there is the potential for that. I think that it has to come from a political level. There has to be a real intention to do something thoughtful that works, and also to bring in the Prison Officer's Association and so on, so that there is real commitment.'[37]

59. Paul Goggins MP, Minister for Prisons in the Home Office, said that national policy was outlined in the Reducing Re-offending National Action Plan. He told the Committee:

    'The whole purpose of this is about reducing reoffending. That has to be the sole purpose. We see education as a means to an end, equipping people with skills to gain jobs that can sustain a life outside of crime. In terms of policy, we published in July the National Reducing Reoffending Action Plan and a clear mandate that every region of the country must have in place a Regional Reducing Reoffending Action Plan by the spring of next year.'[38]

60. It is not at all clear, however, how well prison education is integrated into any 'National Reducing Reoffending Action Plan[39]' and how joined up the DfES and Home Office have been in producing this Action Plan.

61. The Reducing Re-offending National Action Plan, published in July 2004, listed 7 key recommendations in education, training, and employment to 'develop a new integrated Learning and Skills Service, devise arrangements for partnership working, publish a strategy for working with the voluntary and community sector, develop strategy for a more coherent information and advice service to help plan learning in custody and release, integrate vocational training into education in prisons, improve standards of learning and training in prison, and engage with employers'.21

62. These recommendations are totally insufficient. We concur with the findings of the Home Affairs Committee[40] which said it was 'disappointed with the elementary nature of many of the National Action Plan's action points', and that 'the National Action Plan should be re-issued in an expanded form .. setting a clear timetable for implementation.' The National Action Plan fails to providing an overarching strategy for the rehabilitation of prisoners in which the role of prison education can be clearly identified.


63. It was hoped that the transfer of responsibility for prison education to the DfES would raise its profile and priority, but it is not clear that this has happened. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, Lord Filkin, agreed that asking what the over-arching direction that prison education should be taking was 'one of the fundamental questions'[41] but he did not provide an answer as to what the over-arching strategy was. He thought that there were 'several goals for prison education' and he said that he could 'think of at least three off the cuff'[42].

64. The Government made a manifesto commitment to 'increase dramatically the quality and quantity of education provision in prisons'. Responsibility for delivering this commitment is shared between the Home Office and the DfES. But has dual responsibility between the Home Office and the DfES meant that prison education has fallen between two stools?

65. David Bell told the Committee:

    'I think it remains to be seen in some ways whether the transfer of responsibilities to the DfES will bring about greater priority on prison education, but you are still going to be left, are you not, with the fundamental issue that the Home Office is the department of state responsible for prisons even if the DfES is responsible for the education provision. I think it is an open question, whether giving that to the department of state responsible for education would give greater priority to education. I do not know the answer but I think it is one well worth pursuing.'[43]

66. In theory, the DfES seems to be clear about its working relationship with the Home Office. Janice Shiner, Director of Lifelong Learning, DfES, said:

    'By working together, we need to be clear about the policy that we want to implement and then to use the levers that are available to us to make that happen.'[44]

67. In practice, however, there seems to be a lack of clarity about the overarching policy that is hindering the progress of the DfES in effecting real change in the provision of prison education.


68. We know that the success in the delivery of prison health care has come following a great deal of hard work to raise the priority it holds within the Department of Health. It is not clear that similar work is being done within the DfES. There is no clear champion for prison education. Michael Newell of the Prison Governor's Association identified the need for such a champion and said that progress in prison education had no 'energy' in it:

    'It is working exceptionally well with Primary Care Trusts and it is interesting how the energy for that has gone in, how the very simplistic approach of having a health needs analysis, a mental health needs analysis, looking at the standards, looking at what we do in the NHS and then moving to deliver those, has worked exceptionally well, and there is no energy in education.'[46]


69. As well as there being no clear champion for prison education within the DfES, there also seems to be a great deal of confusion over the role of the Offender Learning and Skills Unit (OLSU). The OLSU was established within the DfES in April 2001 to take responsibility for prison education. However, it is unclear what authority it has and what its relationship is to Ministers and to the Home Office. This has resulted in a confusion over its role within the prison sector as well. Professor David Wilson said:

    'Are they inspectors? Do they inspect prisons? Do they lead prisons at the minute? What is the guidance that is going to come from OLSU? At the moment I can tell you from the various talk shops that the Forum has hosted..[48] that there is a great deal of confusion about what they have done, what they are doing, and that confusion seems to have been intensified as a result of National Offender Management Service.'

70. On paper, the Offender Learning and Skills Unit has a clearly outlined purpose and strategy. Their website states that 'OLSU works with its key partners to take forward the Government's Manifesto commitment to improve dramatically the quality and quantity of learning and skills in prison.' It claims:

    'Our vision is that offenders according to need should have access to education and training both in prisons and in the community, which enables them to gain the skills and qualifications they need to hold down a job and have a positive role in society, and that the content and quality of learning programmes in prisons, and the qualifications to which these lead, are the same as comparable provision in the community.'[49]

71. Despite their published 'vision', however, there is a notable lack of any overarching strategy for prison education to feed into, a lack of ownership and precedence given to the Offender Learning and Skills Unit within the DfES, and a failure to implement any step-change in progress. Their written strategy acknowledges the considerable need for improvements in prison education, but it appears to have made little difference in practice.

The need for the Government to change the public image of prison education

72. There is a poor level of public understanding of the purpose and role of prison education. A large part of the public and the press see prison education as a privilege that prisoners do not deserve, rather than having benefit to the wider community. Professor David Wilson said in evidence to this Committee:

73. Bobby Cummines, an ex-offender and Chief Executive of UNLOCK, told the Committee:

    'I think that the problem with the Government as it is, and the Prison Service as it is, is that they do not publish what they do well: they let newspapers publish what they do badly.'[51]

74. Improvement in public understanding of the importance of prison education requires political leadership. Change in attitude needs to come from the top. Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, told us:

    'I think a change of attitude has to come from the top and it has to be political leadership. What I would like to see is political leadership saying people who have done something wrong must make amends for the wrong they have done and they should be helped to change their lives.. That is the balance which I think the public would engage with. They do not want to see people getting what they think as benefits from having committed a crime. On the other hand, all of us would agree we want to see a safer society where there are fewer victims of crime, and the best way to achieve that is to have a new system of criminal justice which is based on restoring the damage which has been done by crime and changing people's lives by getting them to make amends for the wrong they have done, and that can be done through education, through training and through work.'[52]

    'Until broadly we start promoting what education can do in jail then I think that hierarchy where the educator is seen at the bottom will continue. Therefore, it is about being far more proactive about what prison education can do for the wide community once those prisoners are released.'[53]

75. Prison education can help the wider community by reducing recidivism and thereby reducing the number of victims of crime affected by re-offending, reducing the significant costs to the tax payer that result from repeat offenders (recidivism costs £11 billion a year[54]), as well as filling genuine skills gaps by producing skilled, trained workers. The Government has a pressing responsibility to communicate this message to the general public so that prison education can be properly understood and properly supported as a key part of reducing recidivism for the good of the community.

76. Frances Crook told us:

    'People are interested when something goes seriously wrong, when there is a death or a riot, but you do not hear ministers talking about (prison education). It is not a high political priority. It is never talked about and unless you have strong political and moral leadership given on these issues no­one else will follow.'[55]

77. Neither the Government nor the media have done enough to communicate the importance of prison education to the general public. This Committee believes this is unacceptable. A change in public attitude must be driven by political leadership. The Government must act on its responsibility to inform the general public of the purpose and importance of prison education as part of a broader strategy to rehabilitate prisoners in order to reduce recidivism for the benefit of the wider community.

35   Q 764 Back

36   Q 767 Back

37   Q 260 Back

38   Q 764 Back

39   Home Office, Reducing Re-offending National Action Plan, July 2004. Back

40   Home Affairs Committee, First Report of Session 2004-05, Rehabilitation of Prisoners, HC 193. Back

41   Q 762 Back

42   Q 762 Back

43   Q 427 Back

44   Q 728 Back

45   Q 525 Back

46   Q 517 Back

47   Q 18 Back

48   Q 20 Back

49   Department for Education and Skills, Offender Learning and Skills Unit Action PlanBack

50   Q 7 Back

51   Q 261 Back

52   Q 187 Back

53   Q 7 Back

54   Social Exclusion Unit, Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners, July 2002. Back

55   Q 188 Back

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