Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by A4e (Action for Employment)


  1.  The funding and delivery of Offender Education is unnecessarily fragmented and inefficient because of the number of different programs and provider organisations. To move closer to a seamless and more efficient delivery model for Offender Education all contracts should be unified under the Learning and Skill Council's National OLASS contracts.


  2.  A4e (Action for Employment) delivers the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) in two of the three Development Regions (North West and South West—Contract start date 1 August 2005) as well as delivering OLASS in two of the second round regions (East of England and South East—Contract start date 31 July 2006). As such A4e directly delivers education to offenders in 33 prisons across England.

  3.  Although A4e does not have a long history of delivery of Offender Education in a custodial setting, as an organisation, we have an exceptional pedigree of providing a range of services to the disadvantaged on behalf of the Government; for example as the largest provider of Jobcentre Plus New Deal programmes, annually we support more than 60,000 people in their return to work and as part of the financial inclusion agenda, we have supported over 100,000 people to convert to electronic payment of benefits across the United Kingdom through our Direct Payment work.

  4.  Offender Education has received a higher profile, as illustrated by the rollout of OLASS and the release of the Department of Education and Skills (DfES) Green paper Reducing Re-Offending through Skills and Employment (December 2005). OLASS, and significantly, the transfer of responsibility for Education in Prisons from the DfES to the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has gone a long way to providing a more uniform standard of education delivery across the Prison estate.

  5.  OLASS was intended to be a seamless service that would provide offenders with an education service which would follow them throughout their sentence; education delivery would continue regardless of whether an Offender was transferred around the Prison estate or transferred from Prison into the Community. For such a service to be successfully realised a number of conditions would have to be present: OLASS would need to be the key delivery service for Offender Education and the service would need to be uniformly delivered in all Criminal Justice Areas in both Prisons and Probation settings. It is A4e's contention that these conditions do not exist. Education services delivered to offenders are fragmented, and although OLASS is the main education contract within prisons a significant proportion of offender education is funded outside the scope of OLASS.

  6.  The following is a list of some of the education contracts that are delivered outside the scope of OLASS, it is meant to be illustrative and in no way reflects all currently delivered offender education contracts.

  7.  The Prison Service: Within the prison system, some Vocational Training remains outside of the scope of the OLASS. Whilst the size and scope of Vocational Training varies from prison to prison when considered across the whole prison estate it represents a significant education delivery tool. The Prison Service controls and delivers Vocational Training outside of the scope of OLASS.

  8.  The National Offender Management Service and the Probation Service: "Employment Pathfinders" are education contracts which involve providing offenders in the community with employment focused qualifications and training. Pathfinders are regional contracts which are put out to tender and would be open to Probation Services, private sector companies and voluntary community organisations to deliver.

  9.  Jobcentre Plus funds a number of contracts providing employment focused training to offenders. They include "Fresh Start", a resettlement service which enables offenders about to be released to engage with Jobcentre Plus at the earliest opportunity, this service is delivered both inside prisons and upon offender release. It enables them to consider jobs and training or other provision, as well as speeding up the process for receiving Jobseeker's Allowance. "Progress to Work—LinkUP" is a voluntary scheme that offers free and confidential services to a range of hardest to help customers including offenders. The overall aim of this project is to support customers to re-engage in education, training, voluntary work or employment. It offers specialist advice, guidance and support to help offenders to explore their options for the future. It works on a one to one basis supporting individuals back into employment. These contracts, which will be delivered by private sector companies and voluntary organisations, are put out to tender on a Jobcentre Plus district wide basis.

  10.  DfES, with CISCO Systems sponsorship, funds a scheme called the Prisons ICT Academy (PICTA). The scheme runs in 20 prisons across England and aims to promote IT training. PICTA delivers industry recognised qualifications and practical work experience to improve the employment prospects of offenders.

  11.  The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) are responsible for contracting out the OLASS program nationally. Outside these main contracts, the LSC are also responsible for a range of other Offender focused initiatives. These include the "OLASS in the Community" contracts. The first round of OLASS contracts included both Custody and Community elements. The second round did not include funding for education delivery after the offender is released from prison or for offenders who serve a wholly community based sentence. The LSC has, within the last year, begun to put out contracts for the community element of OLASS. These are discrete from the OLASS in Custody contracts and were subject to an open and competitive tendering exercise. Organisations delivering OLASS in prisons have not been automatically awarded the OLASS in the community contracts. This means that the two different sets of contracts are delivered by different organisations.


  12.  It is A4e's contention that the proliferation of these different activities/contracts negatively affects the quality and scope of Offender Education for four main reasons.

  13.  Reason 1—The number of Offender Education contracts makes the central aim of OLASS, to provide a seamless offender education service, impossible to deliver. The offender, in the course of their sentence, could access education services from a range of different contracts, all delivered by different organisations. This situation would be acceptable if it would be possible to ensure that an offender's education records are effectively transferred. Effective transfer would ensure that the education received by the offender is continually developed and built upon; it would also reduce time wasted delivering work/education that the offender has already covered. At present there is no coherent and universal system for the transfer of an offender's Individual Learning Plan, and as such, the more service providers involved in offender education the more likely an offender will receive duplicated assessment and education provision. Not only is such duplication an ineffective use of funding, it also de-motivates and disengages the offender.

  14.  Reason 2—Fragmentation of Offender Education also means that funding which could be spent on frontline delivery of education is inevitably used to fund multiple instances of the backroom services involved in delivering these contracts. If all Offender Education was co-ordinated/managed under one contract substantial efficiencies of scale could be achieved.

  15.  Reason 3—The number of Offender Education contracts from different funding sources increases the chances of double funding. Double funding occurs when there are multiple contracts funded to provide the same service to offenders. Double funding creates unnecessary competition between education providers and is an inefficient use of funding.

  16.  Reason 4—There are potentially pockets of best practice in Offender Education, which if disseminated across all delivery would result in an improvement of overall service delivery. The fragmentation of Offender Education will reduce the chances of this dissemination because of a resulting lack of clarity and visibility of all the services being provided.

  17.  It is our recommendation that in the future Offender Education activity is consolidated under the LSC's National OLASS contracts. This will go some way to further unify Offender Education with resulting improvements in funding efficiency, quality of service and best practice transparency.

December 2006

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