Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence

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 or better.


  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 provision—including 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 (LSAs).


  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 terms.

  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 prisons.


  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 of provision.

December 2006

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 19 July 2007