Memorandum submitted by the Association
of Colleges (AoC)
1. The Association of Colleges represents
further education colleges in England and Wales. Of the 21 lead
providers appointed to deliver learning to prisoners, 14 are further
education colleges, representing 67% of the provider base. This
means colleges provide education in nearly 90 prisons.
2. Colleges are vital in ensuring that prisoners
are achieving qualifications at all levels. For example, colleges
have played the major role increasing the number of basic skills
qualifications. (58,947 prisoners achieved basic skills qualifications
in 2004-05 compared to 16,133 in 2001-02 (28 Nov 2006: Col. 509W)
3. Colleges fully support the Committee's
conclusion in their original report that education and training
received in prison plays a vitally important role in preventing
re-offending by helping offenders gain the skills and confidence
to gain employment on release.
4. Colleges would like to note that the
final terms of the OLASS (Offenders Learning and Skills Service)
contracts differed considerably from the Pre-Qualifying Questionnaire
(PQQ) and the bidding stage. This has resulted in problems for
both providers and the Prison Service. For example receipt of
college ordered materials or resources being delivered into prison
establishments. The transfer of IT hardware to the provider is
planned to 2007 and unless funded appropriately and managed effectively
will be problematic.
5. Overall we feel OLASS has had a positive
impact on offender learning. It has a higher profile both in custody
and in the community and the regional approach is to be applauded,
as is the new accountability to regional and national LSC.
6. There is also evidence of improvement
in standards. The ALI/Ofsted inspections pre-OLASS cited 50% of
prison education as satisfactory. However, recent reports concluded
that 80% of offender learning and skills provision is satisfactory
7. There is, for the first time in five
years, a settled structure managing the provision of prison education
and this has been warmly welcomed by colleges. The first OLASS
contracts, which last four years, have been running for 16 months.
The second OLASS contracts, of three years, have been running
for four months. All nine LSC regions are now working under a
new delivery structure.
8. However, colleges do have major concerns
regarding the process of re-tendering for new prison education
contracts which are due to start on 1 August 2009. This means
that colleges and other providers will have to start the preparation
for a new bid towards the end of 2007. The main priority of all
providers is the delivery of high quality learning and skills
to prisoners but colleges fear that valuable resources will be
used on bidding for contracts only a relatively short time after
securing them in the first round.
9. The length of contract (three or four
years) does not compare favourably with other aspects of FE college
provision and can create instability in terms of staff recruitment
and retention. The LSC has expressed a desire for offender education
to be part of "mainstream" college provision but the
current contracting system makes this difficult. We believe offender
education should be treated in the same way as other areas of
college provision with the LSC conducting an annual assessment
of the provision. If it deemed the provision unsatisfactory it
could issue a formal notice and eventually withdraw funding if
necessary just as it would for the rest of the colleges' work.
10. Currently prison education is included
in the wider inspection of all aspects of prison life conducted
by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons with Ofsted/ALI inspectors
joining her team. However, from 2007 the regular Ofsted inspections
of colleges will cover all areas of provisionincluding
offender education, meaning the same provision in custody and
the community could be inspected twice. We understand inspectors
will be able to share information to prevent duplication but colleges
would welcome clarification as to whether they will be required
to do so. As the Committee will know, preparation for an Ofsted
inspection can be extremely time-consuming for any part of the
education sector and this is no different for prison education.
Therefore it would be important that those working in prisons
would not have to be assessed twice by the same body.
11. Currently funding for offender education
is received by a provider on an hourly basis to reflect the differing
nature of a prison environment from that in a college. The LSC
is currently reviewing the funding mechanism for prison education
and we would like careful consideration to be given to any decision
to change this approach. For example it would not be appropriate
for funding to "follow the learner", as it does for
college provision, because the movement of prisoners/learners
is usually based on overcrowding rather than learner need.
12. When a funding review allows expansion,
consideration must be given to increasing the current vocational
trainers salary only costs into the mainstream OLASS hourly-rate
funding. There is an urgent need for vocational training provision
to match other OLASS funded work (ie 50.2 weeks per year). Funding
must also reflect actual accreditation costs in order to prevent
a situation of offenders being denied national accreditation through
a shortage in the resources budget. There is growing evidence
that this could soon become a reality.
13. Funding agreements between regional
LSCs and providers need standardising. We suspect there are considerable
inequities in the hourly rate.
14. The Home Office have permitted prison
governors to determine which area of education, training or activity
is deemed "in scope" or "out of scope". If
the primary function of the activity is learning and skills then
it is "in scope". If the activity is related to the
day-to-day running of the prison then it is "out of scope".
For example, waste management is "in scope" in some
prisons but "out of scope" in others. We would like
to see a consistent approach across all nine regions to this issue
led by the LSC in full consultation with the Prison Service. We
believe where there is a learning outcome, the activity should
be "in scope" which would give a consistent regime approach
to learning with all courses nationally accredited and running
for 50.2 weeks per year.
15. To reflect equality between adult offender
and mainstream provision funding needs to be identified for special
education needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) and learning support assistants
16. The Committee's original report stated
that "the transfer of records across prisons is a disgrace".
Colleges are extremely disappointed to report that there has been
little progress in developing a national system of data transfer
in prisons since the Committee's original report. It is widely
recognised that such a system is vital if there is ever to be
"end to end offender management".
17. The continuing problems have meant that
some providers of offender education have created their own data
management system. Unfortunately information is only available
to share between prisons where education is supplied by the same
provider because of system incompatibility. The development of
the systems has also been expensive both in staffing and financial
18. A pilot system (MAYTAS) was expected
to roll out in the three developed regions (North West, North
East and the South West) in order to inform a national solution.
In fact the hardware for this system is sitting unused in many
19. Colleges very much welcome the tripartite
approach between the Prison Service, LSC and providers and believe
the establishment of the Heads of Learning and Skills position
in each prison has been a successful initiative. Colleges believe
there should be a national consistent approach to the curriculum
offered in prisons to enable continuity of courses and progression
for learners. It is hoped that the current review of the Offender's
Learning Journey (OLJ) will facilitate this. The core curriculum
must address offenders' individual needs alongside Government
priorities and local, regional and national skills needs.
20. We recognise the LSC's priorities for
offender learning and welcome the match of provision to mainstream
entitlement. This must include internet access and e-learning.
21. Colleges are fully supportive of the
need to ensure security remains the top priority for all involved
in prisons. Currently all learning and skills providers' staff
have to gain security clearance, at the appropriate level, in
each establishment, they apply to work in. Colleges report that
security clearance can sometimes take as long as nine months.
The current system results in appointed staff waiting a considerable
time for security clearance, resulting in staff frequently taking
up alternative employment in the interim. Colleges lose good staff,
time in interviewing and costs in re-advertising.
22. Staff can only work in the establishment
for which they have gained security clearance. Providers are working
in many different prisons therefore colleges need the flexibility
to move staff from one prison to another as and when the need
arises. This can be problematic however, with individual prisons
insisting on security clearing staff even if they have been approved
by another prison of a higher category.
23. Colleges would like to see a national
system of security clearance whereby staff are security cleared
to appropriate levels enabling them to teach in any establishment
within the range of their highest clearance. This would mean for
example that staff cleared to work within the high security or
juvenile estate could work in any similar establishment. Transferable
security clearance would rationalise and simplify the current
system as well as allowing for the transferability of providers'
learning and skills staff which would enhance quality and quantity