Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


A focus on basic skills

193. The majority of offenders have low basic skills and few qualifications: 52% of male and 71% of female adult prisoners have no qualifications at all. Half the prisoners screened at reception are at or below Level 1 in reading (the level expected from an 11-year-old); two-thirds are below Level 1 in numeracy and four-fifths in writing. Nearly a third of all prisoners have been regular truants; almost four out of five young prisoners have been excluded from school; and 89% of male prisoners and 84% of female prisoners have left school at 15 or 16, compared to 32% of the general population.[152] Half of all prisoners do not have the skills necessary for 96% of jobs and only one in five ex-prisoners is able to complete a job application form.[153]

194. The Prison Rules 1999 provide that "every prisoner able to profit from the education facilities provided at a prison shall be encouraged to do so". The Rules state that educational classes must be arranged at every prison and reasonable facilities made available to prisoners who wish to improve their education by training by "distance learning, private study and recreational classes, in their spare time". The Rules make specific reference to prisoners with special educational needs and require that "special attention shall be paid" to their education and training.[154]

195. The "Measuring the Quality of Prison Life" audit in 2002 found that 58.4% of prisoners believed that the education programmes in which they were participating in prison helped them with personal development.[155] Research by the Social Exclusion Unit found that prisoners who do not take part in education or training are three times more likely to be reconvicted, and that basic skills learning can contribute to a reduction in re-offending of around 12%.[156]

196. The Prison Service has not in general tended to employ community resources for rehabilitative intervention, preferring instead to establish parallel structures inside the prison estate. However, in relation to education it has adopted a different approach. Since 1993, the Prison Service has contracted with local further education colleges or community colleges for the provision of education services in prisons. Each prison has an Education Manager responsible for the delivery of prisoner education. From 2004, all prisons also have a Head of Learning and Skills, a governor-grade employee who is employed to monitor the education contract and ensure that education is fully integrated within the prison regime.[157]

197. In 2000, the DfES and the Prison Service announced a "new strategic partnership" for the delivery of prisoner education. This resulted in the creation of a Prisoners' Learning and Skills Unit within DfES which assumed responsibility for prisoner education in April 2001, working in partnership with the Prison Service, National Probation Service, Youth Justice Board, Learning and Skills Council and others. In 2003 it was renamed the Offenders' Learning and Skills Unit (OLSU). OLSU co-ordinates the development and delivery of change. It has put in place a core curriculum for prison education, setting out priority areas for learning and stipulating the courses and facilities that should be available. These include basic mathematics, basic English, art and computer skills. From 2004-05, OLSU will have responsibility for the education of offenders in the community.[158]

198. Funding for education in prisons was ring-fenced for the first time from 2001-02 and transferred to the DfES. Funding for dedicated vocational training was similarly ring-fenced and transferred from 2003-04. In 2003-04 and 2004-05, £97m and £122m respectively of additional investment has been provided to support learning and skills provision in prisons. Most of this expenditure will fund new Prison Service contracts for the delivery of learning and skills.[159]

199. The table below sets out the number of educational and vocational awards over the triennium 2001-04. In 2003-04 prisoners achieved over 46,000 qualifications in literacy, language and numeracy, as well as nearly 110,000 qualifications in work-related skills.[160]

The Prison Service has a good record in recent years for meeting its targets in relation to basic skills education. In 2003-04 performance was significantly above target for Key Work Skills (double the target) and for Basic Skills at entry level (exceeded by 70%) and level 1 (exceeded by over 30%). Performance at Basic Skills level 2 was just under target (by 2%).[161]

200. However, much remains to be done in the field of prison education. The Prison Reform Trust claims that the Prison Service's success in delivering basic skills programmes for literacy and numeracy masks "significant shortcomings in the opportunities for learning available to all prisoners across the estate".[162] The Trust argues that "if prison education is seen as remedial activity to tackle perceived skills deficits at the basic level then it would be best not to pretend otherwise".[163]

The Howard League levelled a similar criticism, claiming that the adult education curriculum in prisons is increasingly focused on basic skills and meeting the Key Performance Indicators on Level 1 and 2 qualifications, with access to Further Education and Higher Education courses becoming increasingly limited.[164]

201. The Director of the Prison Reform Trust, Ms Juliet Lyon, told us that the recent achievements in relation to basic skills could be eroded as a consequence of prison overcrowding:

    "the number of basic skills hours that have been achieved in education … are tremendous. [However,] they do not, in fact, mop up the increased numbers … and the impact of that. What we are seeing are improvements that are constantly eroded by ever increasing numbers."[165]

The Trust pointed out that the per capita level of spending on prisoner's education is considerably less than that on school pupils. In 2002-03 an average of £1,185 per prisoner was spent on education in jails. That was less than half the average cost of secondary school education at £2,590 per student per year—even though many prisoners have missed out on schooling.[166]

202. A particularly damaging consequence of prison overcrowding is the 'churn' of prisoners through the system arising from a high level of transfers between prisons. This can cause disruption to individual prisoners' participation in education and training. The Chief Executive of Nacro, Mr Paul Cavadino, told us that—

    "moves around the system … impact badly on education courses when they are disrupted or when people have not yet got on them because they are on a waiting list for a course which does not exist at the prison they are going to."[167]

203. The Director of the Prison Reform Trust, Ms Juliet Lyons, gave a vivid example of the problems caused by the 'churn':

    "This is a refrain we are hearing time and again. We have 4,000 prisoners and their families contact our office every year and probably the biggest central theme in a number of letters and calls we get is about transfers to establishments and the business of being re-assessed and re-assessed and re-assessed so that people never move beyond an assessment stage. Yesterday we heard from the mother of a young man at Feltham who, in just a few days, had moved between Feltham, Reading, Onley in Rugby, Rochester, Feltham again and in each establishment he had been assessed. He barely got started on anything before it stopped.[168]

Ms Lyons also cited the case of "a young man at a young offenders institution who was about to sit an A level and he was moved the day before it. That was just shattering."[169] These problems are augmented by frequent failure of prisons to transfer educational records or information when prisoners are moved.[170]

204. In October 2003 the Prison Reform Trust produced a report which investigated prisoners' own perspectives on prison education.[171] It concluded that "despite the highly appreciated efforts of some education staff, there was a desultory second best feel to prisoners' accounts of education". The report identified core failings in educational provision, including transfers disrupting education classes, disparities in funding and curriculum between prisons, lower rates of pay for attending education courses, poor sentence planning neglecting education and skills needs and a general shortage of places on courses and in workshops resulting in long waiting lists.

205. The Prison Reform Trust report made five principal recommendations:—

    i.  Significant extra resources should be invested in education and skills within prisons to make them comparable to those in mainstream provision.

    ii.  The rates of pay for undertaking education and training should be raised to make them comparable to those for other prison work.

    iii.  The prison curriculum should reflect the wide range of abilities and backgrounds of the prison population.

    iv.  Every prisoner should have a 'learning passport' or personal record of achievement.

    v.  Peer support schemes in prison education should be extended.

206. Both the Social Exclusion Unit and the Chief Inspector of Prisons have highlighted the problem of disparate access to educational opportunities across the prison estate. In 2002, a report by the Public Accounts Committee stated that a prisoner's access to programmes owes much to where he or she is sent. The report commented that the average annual expenditure per prisoner on education varies significantly, even between prisons within the same category. For example, amongst prisons holding lower security risk (Category C) prisoners, the amount spent per head in 1999-2000 varied between £205 and £1595.[172]

207. The most recent annual report from the Chief Inspector of Adult Learning, Mr David Sherlock, published in November 2004, contains comments on prison education.[173] The Chief Inspector concluded that most prisons give education and training a high priority, that their understanding of the importance of education to the resettlement of offenders was growing, and that the impact of the newly appointed heads of learning and skills was beginning to be felt. However, he made a number of criticisms, including the following:

  • Co-ordination of education or training between prisons is very poor. Records and information are not passed on.
  • The range of programmes was too narrow: prisons do not give sufficient opportunities to prisoners who would benefit from other levels of programme, whether higher or lower.
  • Evaluation of learning programmes is poor.
  • Planning to meet individual learners' needs was inadequate, with many prisoners not being allocated to the most appropriate type of training.
  • About one in five prisons have unsatisfactory provision for literacy, numeracy and language support.[174]

208. We note that the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee is currently conducting a major inquiry into prison education, which will examine in greater detail at the issues we have discussed in this section of our report. We look forward to receiving our sister committee's conclusions in due course.

209. There are models of good practice which could be more widely employed across the prison estate. We mention in particular the 'Toe-by-Toe' system, promoted by a charity, the Shannon Trust. This is a 'buddy system' whereby prisoners who can read and write teach those who cannot, using a manual called Toe by Toe, building up the self-esteem of both parties. Originally devised for use in schools, the Toe-by-Toe system has been demonstrated to work successfully in a prison environment. Having been piloted at HMP Wandsworth, the scheme is now functional at over 80 establishments, with a network of about 300 prisoner 'mentors'. It has received the support of the Prison Officers' Association. Being based on peer group teaching, the system requires only modest extra resources.[175]

Prison education: conclusions

210. The provision of basic education to address the very high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy amongst prisoners has hitherto been a successful intervention strategy by the Prison Service. Impressive targets have been met, as the statistics demonstrate. We commend the Prison Service's efforts to date.

211. We recognise, however, the challenges that remain. The evidence suggests that implementation remains incomplete. The number of basic skills awards gained in 2003-04 was over 46,000. This is a fine achievement, but needs to be placed in the context of the 130,000 prisoners estimated to pass through the prison system in a year.[176] We note the other deficiencies to which the Adult Learning Inspectorate has drawn attention, which reflect our own observations.

212. There is a disturbing degree of variation between individual prisons in the extent of prisoners' access to education and the provision of educational programmes. Such variation reflects disparate investment in education by individual prisons and demonstrates the lack of a unified education policy across the prison estate. We recommend that minimum standards be imposed by the DfES by way of key performance indicator targets which every prison must meet.

213. In the medium to long term, we consider that an overly narrow emphasis on basic education should not be encouraged. We welcome the appointment of Heads of Learning and Skills in each prison to take forward a broader education strategy. In particular, we consider there to be a strong case for widening the methods of delivering education. Transplanting the formal educational classroom model into the prison rehabilitation regime is not necessarily the best method of encouraging prisoners to learn.

214. We recommend that consultative forums be established in each prison to allow prisoners the opportunity to contribute to decisions regarding delivery and content of educational programmes.

215. Consideration should be given to the feasibility and desirability of raising the payments given to prisoners attending education and training courses, with a view to ensuring that there is no significant disincentive to prisoners to attend such courses.

216. We note the damage done to prisoners' education by the 'churn' of prisoners through an overcrowded system. We support the proposal by the Prison Reform Trust that every prisoner should have a personal record of achievement which they will take with them when transferred to a new prison. Communication between prisons, and co-ordination of educational provision within the prison system, should be improved to minimise the disruption caused to prison education by transfers.

217. We recommend that the Prison Service consider encouraging more extensive use of the 'Toe-by-Toe' system of teaching basic reading and writing skills.

Vocational training

218. 'Vocational training' is defined by the Prison Service as "workshop activities where the primary function is to provide prisoners with the skills and qualifications needed for employment on release". The Service told us that vocational training workshops and work areas offer a wide range of occupational skills for the majority of prisoners.[177] However, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, was critical of the state of vocational training provision across the prison estate. She said that—

    "when we were compiling the material for the Annual Report [2003-04] … we inspected 19 training prisons whose functions should be focused on training, and in only five of those did we find that there was actually enough of the right kind of education and training happening. We found those that were managing those resources well, and those that were managing less well."[178]

219. The Prison Service recognises that there are "major issues" in relation to current inadequate provision of vocational training. These include:

    i.  poor initial assessment, advice and guidance leading to prisoners inappropriately placed on training courses.

    ii.  delivery of training at substandard levels not valued by employers.

    iii.  delivery of training in occupational areas where the chances of employment are poor.

    iv.  duration of courses not appropriate to the length of stay of prisoners.

    v.  poor outcomes from training and few qualifications achieved.[179]

220. The Prison Service has invested £4.5 million over the past two years in upgrading vocational training workshops across the prison estate.[180] From 2004, the Offenders Learning and Skills Unit (OLSU) in DfES has taken over the budget for vocational training (ringfenced at £12 million per annum).[181] The long-term objective is that as new arrangements are put in place for delivering education in prisons, vocational training will be incorporated.[182]

221. Under the National Action Plan, OLSU is working in partnership with the Prison Service Enterprise and Supplies Services to introduce accredited training into prison industries workshops through a pilot scheme in 2004-05. At regional level, Regional Offender Managers will be expected to identify and enlist employers to provide opportunities for offenders and ensure regional skills gaps are targeted.[183]

222. During our visit to HMYOI Aylesbury we visited a motor mechanics training centre run by the prison in partnership with Toyota. This is based in a fully equipped workshop where young adult prisoners can obtain NVQ qualifications from Levels 1 through to 4. This training facility was praised by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons following an announced inspection in 2003.[184]

223. We welcome plans to integrate accredited training into prison workshops. Nonetheless, the Prison Service deserves criticism for having failed hitherto to remedy the core defects that it has itself identified in its vocational training programme. Vocational training workshops enable a more innovative and integrated approach to education and work, setting training alongside work opportunities for those prisoners who reject the formal classroom model of education. We were impressed by the well-equipped motor mechanics training centre at HMYOI Aylesbury, jointly run by the prison and Toyota; but we note also the massive gap between this and the standard provision that is available in YOIs and in the prison estate as a whole. During our prison visits, many prisoners told us that they attended particular classes because they were the only ones available, not because they thought they would help them get jobs.

224. We consider that the management of vocational training by DfES provides the potential for a more holistic approach to the delivery of education and skills.

225. We welcome the investment in upgrading vocational training workshops and recommend that this should be sustained to re-equip and modernise all workshop equipment. It is vitally important that all vocational training workshops should be designed to meet the relevant industry standard and provide recognised qualifications or awards.

226. Without this investment, prisoners will be trained on machines which are out-of-date in practices which are no longer relevant in the modern workplace. Prisons with appropriate, well-resourced workshops, in favourable locations and with medium- to long-term prisoners are likely to be better able to attract work contracts, provide a fuller working day and pay enhanced or 'real' wages.

152   Prison Reform Trust, appendix to memorandum (not printed) Back

153   Social Exclusion Unit, Reducing Re-offending by Ex-Prisoners (July 2002); HC Deb, 14 January 2004, col 240WH Back

154   Prison Rules 1999 (S.I., 1999, No. 728), Rule 32 Back

155   Ev 292 MQPL (June 2004) Figure 6.3.1 Back

156   Ev 201 (para 4.1); see also Ev 139 (para 3.3.2) Back

157   HC Deb, 25 March 2004, col 1015W Back

158   HM Prison Service, Annual Report and Accounts 2002-03 (2003) Back

159   Ev 139. Other specific areas of spending include capital expenditure to improve equipment and build capacity; the appointment of Heads of Learning and Skills for all prisons to act as a "champions" for the management and organisation of learning and skills provision in each prison and enhanced advice and guidance services for young people in juvenile establishments. Back

160   DfES memorandum submitted to the Education and Skills Committee (to be published), p 3 Back

161   Prison Service Annual Report and Accounts 2003-04 (HC 718 of Session 2003-04), published on 15 July 2004, p 31 Back

162   Ev 201 (para 4.2) Back

163   Ev 202 (paras 4.4-5) Back

164   Ev 192 Back

165   Q 4 Back

166   Prison Reform Trust memorandum submitted to the House of Commons Education and Skills Committee in its inquiry into prison education (to be published), para 3.4 Back

167   Q 25 Back

168   Ibid. Back

169   Q 33 Back

170   Ev 202 (para 4.4) Back

171   Prison Reform Trust, Time to Learn (2003) Back

172   Committee of Public Accounts, Fifty-third Report of Session 2001-02, Reducing Prisoner Re-offending (HC 619), para 8 Back

173   Adult Learning Inspectorate, Annual Report of the Chief Inspector 2003-04, published on 24 November 2004. The Inspectorate is a government-funded body set up in 2001 to monitor "standards ds of education and training for young people and adults in England, publicly grading the training providers on the quality of learning provision they supply and making focused improvements possible". Its remit includes "learning in prisons". Back

174   Ibid., "Keynotes: prisons" Back

175   See; and memorandum from the Shannon Trust to the Education and Skills Committee inquiry into prison education (to be published) Back

176   See DfES memorandum to the Education and Skills Committee inquiry, p 1 Back

177   Ev 179 (paras 43, 44) Back

178   Q 163  Back

179   Ev 179 (para 45) Back

180   Home Office answers to Committee Questionnaire on Departmental Annual Report (June 2004) (to be printed). For example, at HMP Wellingborough, an out-of-date workshop has been refitted with modern technical equipment, including MOT test equipment, to enable prisoners to be trained in motor skills. Back

181   Ev 180 (para 49) Back

182   Q 339 Back

183   National Action Plan, p 19 Back

184   HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Report of an Announced Inspection of HMYOI Aylesbury, 28 April to 2 May 2003, pp 13-14 Back

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